By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah
Since day one the Rajapaksa regime has successfully manipulated the whole UN establishment including its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, his chief of staff Nambiar and the UN Human Rights Council, and has in the process not only made a mockery of the UN system but made Ban him self look weak and not in control.
The regime has used every tactic in the book before, during and after its brutal war with the LTTE to cleverly out-maneuver the UN and twist Ban round its fingers. All this at a high cost amounting to colossal loss of lives; untold human suffering; obstruction of justice including distortion of the truth. The UN Panel of Expert’s Report has turned out to be an expose of the Rajapaksa regime’s conduct of the war and the aftermath. Although cornered, the Rajapaksa regime is defiant; while denouncing the report and in a last ditch effort to prevent the publication of the report is engaging in political and diplomatic maneuvers in a multi-pronged attack against the Panel’s findings. The regime described the report, according to AFP, as “fundamentally flawed and patently biased,” and adding that it was “presented without any verification”.
Also hitting hard at the UN and its organs and bodies, the Panel lay blame on the UN for not protecting lives.
There was indeed a manipulation of the United Nations system by the actions of the Rajapaksa Regime and a few individuals and nations, fraught with lies, intrigues and cover-ups which led to the failure of the system to protect lives and enabling however the passage of a “deeply flawed” motion, put forward by the Rajapaksa regime in May 2009 soon after the war at a special session of the Human Rights Council, prompting the Panel to call for both a reconsideration of this resolution believing it was “acted on the basis of incomplete information” and a “comprehensive review of the humanitarian and protection mandates” of the United Nations.
But in direct contrast G L Peiris, Sri Lankan External Affairs Minster resisting publication of the report said the release of the full report would actually damage the UN system.
Jeeva Skandamoorthy in an article titled ‘Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide and the Failure of the UNand International Community to Protect’ alludes to Ban’s low-key rhetoric and implicit support of GoSL’s conduct of the war, the TIMES revelation that Ban was told in advance that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels: “Mr. Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground on 23rd May 2009,” and “never mentioned this figure to his Sri Lankan interlocutors” (Gulf Daily News, 7th June 2009).
Skandamoorthy also refers to Prof. Boyle’s criticism of Ban for not appointing a commission of inquiry: “UN Secretary General has an obligation to act to prevent criminal activity and either refuses to or fails to do so, that would render him ‘complicit’ with the underlying criminal activity- in this case genocide – article 111(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention which prohibits, criminalises and calls for the punishment of those ‘complicit in genocide’.”
In addition he cites the revelation by “THE TIMES, relating to Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to Ban, in his role as a UN envoy and his dealings with GoSL which was called into question since his brother Satish has been a paid consultant to the Sri Lankan army since 2002 and was a close supporter of General Sarath Fonseka (Commander of SLA forces).
Jeeva also cites TamilNet which on 30, May 2009 carried an item from the French paper Le Monde, which quoted Vijay Nambiar as telling UN representatives that the “UN should keep a low profile” and play a “sustaining role” that was compatible with the (Rajapaksa) government”. He refers to Prof. Boyle’s comments about the complicity of both the UN and its officials in aiding the Rajapaksa regime: “In other words both the United Nations organizations and its highest level officials are guilty of aiding and abetting Nazi-type crimes by the GoSL against Tamils.”
Skandamoorthy recalls certain anecdotes which clearly reveal Sri Lanka’s strategy to get the member nations on board for its war of attrition against the oppressed Tamil population by depicting it as a ‘war on terror’ and preventing the application of the principles embodied in R2P – Responsibility to Protect: On UN failure with R2P in Sri Lanka, Norman Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of linguistics at MIT said at the UN General Assembly the “hypocrisy was so profound, it was suffocating.”
The International Crisis Group said in its report dated 11, January 2010. “India and Western governments may yet come to regret giving Sri Lanka the green light and even assisting it to fight a ‘war on terror’.”
As the world waited on Thursday 21, April to finally see the official version of the UN Panel’s report in full, what it got was a late briefing from Ban’s, Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq telling the media that the Sri Lankan government “is being given another chance to respond.” This was contrary to Haq’s position just the previous day that the Rajapaksa regime’s lack of response, “doesn’t need to tie our hands down regarding when we are going to put out this report. As we have said repeatedly, we’ll put it out this week.”
The Executive Summary of the Panel’s report and parts of the main document were mysteriously leaked after it was delivered to the government to look at first. Kusala Perera journalist explains: Ban Ki-moon’s Independent Advisory Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, that is not based on any UN resolution and is not binding on UN to follow up on, is being hyped and carried as an official investigation by the UN, to give MR the space to go on a blitzkrieg that would once again have the Sinhala majority running behind Rajapaksa patriotism. For this, there was a necessity to have some “leak” to work on, make statements and start a campaign. The Sunday Island seemed the immediate pick. Its Editor Prabath Sahabandu has told ICP, his newspaper has no issue like other newspapers with this government, as they see eye to eye on the war.” The UN itself thinks the leak was orchestrated by the regime.
In another new development it seems going by the Trancurrents website the release of the Panel’s Report has been put on hold “pending discussions between Ban and External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris scheduled for April 23. According to sources the portal said the story is that G L Peiris wants to discuss an issue with Ban. G.L Peiris is also expected to persuade Ban not to publish the report and Ban on the other hand wants to publish the report in full whether the response is ready or not: “Pressure exerted by powerful western nations and International human rights agencies on Ban would ensure such release.
Sarah Smith reporting from New York for Channel Four News UK describes how the Rajapaksa regime orchestrated a sabotage of UN’s plans to release the report on 21st April, before the Easter weekend: The Sri Lankan government “knew they were about to be accused of war crimes and insisted that they be allowed to publish their response at the same time and they had so far refused to come up with that response so they have deftly managed to avoid having the report published and embarrass the UN at the same time.”
Sarah Smith alluded to the regime’s tactics of finding a good time to bury bad news: “They have had a copy of the report for nine days now. They have had time to leak substantial sections of it to the Sri Lankan newspapers. They have had time for the Foreign Minister to have a press conference denouncing the report’s conclusions and insisting that the UN don’t publish it. But at the same time not coming out with their official response, he has done that and stopped the UN from publishing it. And it means it is likely to come out over the Easter weekend getting a lot less attention than it would have otherwise. And it is a pretty clever way to find a good time to bury bad news to the Sri Lankan government.”
The so called “bad news” for the Rajapaksa regime being the Panel’s findings of “credible allegations” which “if proven, indicate war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed,” both by the Rajapaksa government and the LTTE.
While buying time, advancing its cause and using its persuasive powers and influence, as before amongst certain member countries in the UN at the expense of further sullying the reputation of this august body and its officials, the Rajapaksa regime is busy pursuing political and diplomatic maneuvers to try to scuttle due process. The regime though cornered is defiant as ever, denouncing the report and engaging in a multi-pronged strategy against the Panel’s findings at home and abroad:
At home it’s planning a massive May 1st Rally mobilizing the faithful to protest against the Panels findings of credible allegations. Although according to BBC a “Rift over Sri Lanka president’s call for anti-UN rally” has emerged. Trade unions affiliated to Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition are divided over the president’s call for mass protests against a UN report.
The Rajapaksa regime has also initiated a petition the Sunday Leader reported. A government minister C.B. Ratnayake involved in the project launched the public petition aimed at gathering a million signatures against the report at a private bus stand in Pettah.”
The Ground Views web portal was critical of the Rajapaksa regime’s efforts to whip up mass appeal: “This petition, and others that will invariably follow after the report’s official publication, is emblematic of Sri Lanka’s peculiar democracy, where highly emotive issues ratcheted up by expedient politicians with little or no grounding in actual fact are actually able to whip up mass appeal….. and support of Sri Lankans who know little or nothing of what they oppose, reflects the significant challenge of reconciliation and accountability, post-war.” Ground Views ncluded.
The Rajapaksa regime in its most crucial counter offensive to win diplomatic support against the report is ironically using the issue of reconciliation to argue against the publication of the report. Sri Lanka asked the United Nations on Thursday not to publish a forthcoming report on alleged war crimes… saying it could set back reconciliation efforts: “The publication of this report will cause irreparable damage to the reconciliation efforts of Sri Lanka. It will damage the UN system too,” Peiris told reporters in Colombo, stating This UN report is preposterous.” But most human rights defenders and journalist and legislators think truth, accountability and justice is most crucial for genuine reconciliation.
The Rajapaksa regime has dispatched its envoys to persuade all of its allies, especially those countries which supported Sri Lanka in the 2009 UN HRC resolution. The countries which voted for Sri Lanka’s motion were: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay and Zambia. Those who voted against were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and those abstaining were: Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea and Ukraine.
In Russia’s case according to Sri Lanka Daily Mirror, the Russian envoy in Colombo visited Gotabaya Rajapaksa and is supposed to have said the UN must not complicate the reconciliation process: “We speak not about a ‘UN report’, since it was prepared neither by a UN body or nor even by its request. It was just a personal initiative of the UN Secretary General”, the Sri Lanka defence ministry said quoting Russian ambassador in Colombo Vladimir P. Mikhaylov. Finally, the Ambassador concluded saying “we believe that now, when Sri Lanka is healing its wounds after long armed conflict, the UN may render its assistance, if needed, and not complicate the process of reconciliation. Our representative to the UN in New York recently reconfirmed this position.” It’s also interesting to note that Ban is visiting Russia himself and is seeking its support for his re-appointment for a second term.
Well known Tamil Analyst Ithaya Chandran explains the regimes strategy: Rajapaksa purposely leaked few pages of the report through the Island, in order to mobilize the Sinhala masses, religious leaders and politicians against UN. His first move began yesterday to obtain 10 LAKHS signature from Sinhalese to oppose the report. Gotabaya’s planned meeting with Russian Ambassador Valdimir P.Mikhaylov at the Defence Ministry was to get an undertaking from Russia. Gotabaya has declared that he has got the Russian and Chinese veto powers in hand. Through the leftist Minister, Vasudava Nanayakkaara, he is trying to get the support of left- oriented and anti-US countries, especially from the NON-Aligned movement. By manipulating the friction between Ranil Wickremasinghe and Sajith Premadasa, he would obtain the support of one faction of the UNP. By portraying the UN report as a ploy by western nations and by bringing all the left politics towards his authoritarian center, he plans to ultimately, deny access to any form of ‘concurrent international mechanism’ suggested by the UN trio.
Most Tamils are looking to India for its response to the Panel’s finding that tens of thousands of people were killed by government shelling which the Tamils think constituted a crime of genocide. Meenakshi Ganguli, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told PTI that “if India wanted to emerge as a leader on the global stage then the country’s leadership would have to show its intention of “protecting the rights of people over government.”
If calls for accountability grow, observers have noted that the Indian government would probably discuss the issue privately with the Rajapaksa regime. India’s position on human rights has come under increasing scrutiny as New Delhi hopes to get a permanent seat in the Security Council. Recently India, which is currently a non-permanent member on the Council, voted for the first round of sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi but it abstained on the resolution authorising use of force. “There are people in Tamil Nadu who also care about it (India’s position on the Lankan war crimes),” Ganguli said.
Although India is keeping silent on the leaked contents of the UN Panel’s report so far, it would be interesting to find out how it would react to the report. Recently Sonia Gandhi who was visiting the UK to deliver a Common Wealth Lecture on “Women as Agents of change” declining to comment on the war crimes issue but replied to concerns raised by Global Tamil Forum about the militarised north, crimes including rape of women committed by the military and the need for Tamil rights to be restored: “I am very, very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Tamils should have their rights restored and it’s their rights you know. We are with the Tamils, you must know, we are with the Tamils.”
And just today April 22, 2011 Jayalalithaa herself “demanded that the government take ‘immediate steps’ to make Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa stand trial for alleged war crimes during the conflict between the Lankan armed forces and the LTTE following a UN report.
Slamming her arch rival and DMK president M Karunanidhi for his ‘three-hour fast’ in 2009 demanding a halt to the Lankan government offensive, she said the UN report “clearly holds that the carnage lasted till May 2009, well after Karunanidhi had made his dubious claim that hostilities had ended following his fast on April 27.”
“The Indian Government, on its part, should initiate immediate steps to make Rajapaksa and his cronies stand trial in the International Court of Justice for his war crimes,” she said. Jayalalithaa’s statement before her anticipated victory in the Tamil Nadu legislative elections is timely and comes when a high profile statement was found wanting from the Indian sub continent.
While the release of the real, unmodified report in full is being awaited, there are a few measures recommended by the Panel which the Rajapaksa regime must seriously consider taking as an important step towards genuine reconciliation: Making a public and formal acknowledgment of its role and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties and institute a reparations programme. The question is will the Rajapaksa regime be prepared to do it?