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Sri Lankan Tamils: A Disconcerting Situation For India – Analysis

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My attention has been drawn to a disturbing documentary titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” produced by Mr. Jon Snow of the Channel4 TV channel of the UK.

The documentary highlights the results of a forensic investigation into the bloody culmination phase of the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Security Forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in April-May, 2009. It alleges that the culmination phase, which physically wiped out the leadership of the LTTE for which no right-thinking person opposed to terrorism need shed tears, was also marked by executions, shelling of civilians and other atrocities carried out by the Security Forces. The documentary is available at http://bit.ly/mDpkez .

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa

In the culmination phase, the Sri Lankan Security Forces did face a cruel dilemma because the ruthless leadership of the LTTE headed by Prabakaran was making a last-ditch effort to save itself from capture or killing by taking shelter in the midst of civilian refugees. It was not an opportunistic tactic in the face of the mounting pressure from the Security Forces. It was a consciously-planned tactic of Prabakaran to force the international community to intervene by creating a situation in which hundreds of civilians were used as cannon fodder in a futile attempt to save the LTTE leadership from extinction.

After the operation ended with the elimination of the LTTE leadership and the collapse of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, there was a spate of allegations from well-reputed international human rights organisations, humanitarian workers, representatives of Western Governments and UN officials —many of whom often levelled the allegations independently of each other and not in a concerted campaign— that the Sri Lankan Security Forces could not escape their share of the blame for the large-scale violations of the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians living in the operational area under the control of the LTTE.

Two kinds of violations were alleged. Firstly, that the leaders of the LTTE, including Prabakaran, wanted to surrender but were not given an opportunity to do so, but instead were physically eliminated. Secondly, that the Security Forces consciously used disproportionate force with light, medium and heavy weapons knowing fully well that such use could kill many civilians. Protecting the civilians caught was not on the agenda of either the LTTE or the Security Forces.

These allegations have been accompanied by demands for an independent international enquiry under the auspices of the UN to determine the truth and for action against the officers of the Security Forces and others found responsible for the violations — in a manner satisfactory to the international community. It has been alleged that some of the atrocities amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Sri Lankan Government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has strongly and consistently denied these allegations. While it admits the possibility that there might have been some violations to determine which it has been holding its own enquiry, it has indignantly refuted the allegations that the violations were of such a serious nature as to call for international intervention and action.

Unfortunately, human rights violations are rarely avoided in counter-insurgency situations however much the Security Forces try to do so.Terrorist and insurgent organisations train themselves well in creating situations where human rights violations do occur in order to seek the intervention of the international community.

What distinguishes a civilised and responsible Government sensitive to the rights of its civilians from a Government which is totally insensitive to the human rights dimensions of counter-insurgency operations is that the former takes cognisance of the allegations instead of summarily rejecting them, enquires into them and takes the follow-up action warranted by the results of the enquiry.

That is what the Sri Lankan Government has promised to do. Should it be trusted to do justice to the Sri Lankan Tamils or should it be distrusted and pressured to let the enquiry and follow-up action be handled by an international mechanism set up under the auspices of the UN?

While there were obviously serious violations, evidence available till now do not bear out the stand of those who accuse the Rajapaksa Government of violations amounting to crimes against humanity or war crimes.

In our anxiety and sympathy for the legitimate rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils, we should not exaggerate or over-state our arguments in support of or against an international enquiry. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora which has been active in demanding an international enquiry has stepped up its pressure on Governments and non-Governmental personalities, including reputed journalists of India and other countries, to take cognisance of the forensic evidence collected by the documentary and support the demand for an international enquiry.

The Government of India should pay serious attention to the alleged evidence produced by the documentary and have it examined by our legal and humanitarian experts in order to see whether the documentary needs to be taken up officially and at the bilateral level with the Government of Sri Lanka and, if so, in what manner and for what objective.

The objective should be to ensure that justice is done to the relatives of the victims and that the honour of the victims is respected even if it be posthumously. It should not be to use the documentary as a stick to beat the SL Government with.

The Rajapaksa Government will facilitate a more meaningful Indian role in calming the feelings of indignation and concern of the Sri Lankan Tamils if it handles the documentary with the seriousness it deserves.Inaction is not an option for the Government of India. But action should be within acceptable limits of our bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and should not be overdone.

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B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

2 thoughts on “Sri Lankan Tamils: A Disconcerting Situation For India – Analysis

  • June 17, 2011 at 8:36 am
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    Mr.Raman Pl see this SL Army brutally attacks public meeting of politicians, journalists in Jaffna
    [TamilNet, Thursday, 16 June 2011, 16:34 GMT]
    In what is seen as retaliation for Channel 4 broadcast Tuesday, the genocidal SL Army occupying Jaffna brutally attacked TNA parliamentarians, journalists and public in Jaffna on Thursday, causing injuries to an unspecified number of people, according to initial reports. The blatant attack by SL Army in uniform took place when the TNA politicians held a meeting at A’laveddi in Jaffna, inaugurating their political campaign for the forthcoming civic elections. Tension prevailed as SL Army was deployed in the area and the public that came for the meeting sought refuge in the nearby houses. “British diplomats satisfied with Army’s role in Jaffna,” said a website of the occupying Army on Tuesday, after the visit of the Deputy High Commissioner of UK, announcing ‘reintegration’ of ex-LTTE combatants in detention through the occupying Army.

    One of the TNA supporters assaulted by the SLA, photographed at Thellippazhai hospital Thursday night
    Mahajana Chapai, after SLA assault
    TNA politicians photographed before the meeting at A’laveddi. Ramesh is seen between Suresh Premachandran [right] and Maavai Senathirajah. Mr. Ramesh, who was recently attacked by the SLA at Achchuveali, was again assaulted Thursday by the SLA while he was protecting the TNA parliamentarians at the stage on Thursday.The Attack took place around 6:30 p.m., when Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Mr. E. Saravanabhavan was addressing the public meeting held at Chaiva Mahajana Chapai Hall at A’laveddi.

    TNA parliamentarians Maavai Senadhiraja, Suresh Premachandran, A Vinayagamoorthy, S. Sridharan and MA Sumanthiran were also present on the occasion.

    Around 15 SLA soldiers in uniform entered the hall and attacked the participants with rifle butts and batons.

    Photographer of Uthayan, and staff reporter of Thinakkural were among the injured, while senior staff reporter of Uthayan narrowly escaped.

    Unconfirmed reports said TNA parliamentarian Sridharan was beaten by the SL soldiers, but the TNA sources declined to confirm whether any of their parliamentarians were subjected to attack at the meeting.

    The assault of the SL Army took place after verbal altercations between the Army and the politicians in the stage. When the SL army attacked the parliamentarians the bodyguards of the parliamentarians intervened. The bodyguards in turn were attacked, receiving injuries in the process.

    The bodyguard of Suresh Premachandran, Mr. Ramesh, who was injured in an earlier attack allegedly by the SLA, was again injured on Thursday. Mr. Premachandran alleges that the SL Army while attacking the public meeting had a special eye on his bodyguard.

    The injured bodyguards are admitted in hospitals.

    Many of the injured are treated in the Thellipazhai hospital.

    The crowd gathered for the meeting dispersed seeking refuge in the neighbouring houses.

    A large number of troops were deployed in the area to search the houses. The occupying Army, using the registry it conducted on families in Jaffna, identified the outside public that found refuge in the neighbouring houses, and took them away.

    Journalists at the site, fearing reprisals, requested not to contact them over mobile phone.

    Meanwhile, the TNA parliamentarians rushed to the SL Police station in Thellippazhai to lodge a complaint on the episode. They were seen picketing the police station.

    The SL Police on Wednesday harassed the Chaiva Mahajana Chapai for providing the hall for the meeting.

    The Commander of the occupying Army in Jaffna, Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe denied any attack by his troops. But the TNA alleges that the SL commander carried out the attack after receiving ‘orders’ from the ‘higher ups’.

    Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, the commander of the occupying SL Army in Jaffna had recently told Mr. Saravanapavan MP that he was not worried about TNA MP Suresh Premachandran’s complaint at SL Parliament seeking inquiry over alleged threats by Hathurusinghe.

    The SLA commander had claimed in an interview to a local media that Suresh Premachandran MP was attempting to provoke uprising among the people and had come with a veiled threat that the SLA was prepared to arrest Mr. Premachandran. Later, the assistant of Mr Premachandran, Mr. Ramesh, was attacked with sharp weapons at Achchuveli, allegedly by the SLA.

    Commenting on the episode, Secretary of the North Ceylon Journalists Association, Mr. K. Ramesh said that the attack on journalists attending the public meeting shows the critical stage of the already fragile press freedom in the island.

    Meanwhile, in the international front, there were veiled threats by Rajapaksa supporters that Eezham Tamils in the island would be affected by retaliation, in the event of any campaign for conducting an international investigation on war crimes in the island.

    Earlier, Rajapaksa supporters in the diaspora and media reports from Colombo hinted that the imposition of Sinhala National Anthem in Jaffna was a result of the cancellation of Rajapaksa address in Oxford, due to diaspora protests.

    Presidential sibling Basil Rajapaksa recently indicated in Jaffna in a threatening tone that it was useless for Tamils to have hopes on war crimes investigations.

    The Channel 4 broadcast on Tuesday shook the international conscience, but Sri Lanka totally denied any war crimes committed by it. Another presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Thursday said that the broadcast was fake and was made for LTTE money, reported Daily Mirror.

    Genocidal Sri Lanka’s confidence comes from the double standard of the international establishments, the dualism in perception between public and defence institutions in certain countries and from the ‘friends’ of the Rajapaksa regime in certain quarters, Tamil political circles said. Some of them also recollected that attack on Tamils used to escalate after every visit of the Indian Troika.

    Reply
  • June 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm
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    Long before the LTTE was eliminated, such films showing the govt forces being brutal were being circulated by the terrorists. If you wear the enemy’s uniform, speak their language and stage a ‘show’to accuse them of extreme behaviour, how valid are these efforts. And is the C4 video any different?

    Reply

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