Ms Navi Pillai’s Visit to Sri-Lanka in August 2013 Gives UNHCR Chance to Rectify its Mistakes

By: Dr C P Thiagarajah

A report compiled by a committee co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Ms Madeleine K. Albright for United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Institute of Peace, and Brookings Institution, has criticised the international reaction to Sri Lanka during the final stages of the conflict in May 2009. Former presidential special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson was the other co-chair. The findings were:

The concept of R2P is embraced by countries in the UN including the USA. The main aim of this provision is preventing and halting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. However, the international community neglected its responsibility to take timely action when it was apparent that violations of humanitarian law were taking place during January to May 2009 when the Sri-Lankan government advanced into LTTE held areas with the help of India and Western countries. The report stressed that tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war with little international outcry or effective UN response.

This late but a good report reflects the conscience of the majority view of the non-political world population. The Ms Madeline et al report gives a brief history of the conflict and the wanton ill-planned war had on the common Tamil civilian who had no part or any connection with the LTTE nor the Sinhala government. The report briefly give the history (writers comment subject to dispute from Tamils) of the war. For over twenty-five years, the conflict in Sri Lanka pitted the army against the separatist insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, levels of violence escalated rapidly as the government pursued a strategy of military victory and advanced into LTTE-held territory between January and May 2009.The consequence was that the civilian population suffered significant casualties and were unable to escape the conflict zone due to LTTE threats and the Sri Lankan military’s prohibitions on movement.

Belatedly on pressure from Human Rights activist and Amnesty International (AI) the United Nations estimated that up to forty thousand civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced during the final phase of the conflict, which ended with the defeat of the LTTE and the deaths of its senior leaders. The report concludes in highly distressing terms. “Despite the high number of civilian casualties, the international community did little beyond issuing statements of concern. The UN Security Council, High Commission on Human Rights, and General Assembly held no formal sessions on Sri Lanka during this period. In Sri Lanka, both the government and the rebels can be faulted for failing to protect civilians”. It goes on to say that the case of Sri Lanka exemplifies a challenge for implementing R2P when sovereign governments confront an internal threat from a group that is designated as a terrorist organization.

The report is highly pessimistic on what happened after the UNHCR intervened belatedly to produce a report on Sri-Lanka war viz UN Expert Panel Report. “Since the end of the conflict, the government has steadfastly denied that the mass killing of civilians and war crimes took place. While launching its own inquiry into the military’s actions, the government has obstructed international efforts to investigate potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. Critics question the independence and balance of the government commission’s report and argue that accountability requires a more credible investigation. If a recurrence of conflict in Sri Lanka is to be prevented, the international community should help the government respond to the needs of all communities in the country, while undertaking a national reconciliation process that addresses wounds inflicted during nearly three decades of conflict”.

This report comes out at a critical time. UNHRC Ms Navi Pillai is visiting the doomed country for the minorities, Sri-Lanka, to find out the progress made by the Sinhala government on the much criticised fictitious LLRC report during the last week of August 2013.

Although the person who represented US government Mr Robert Blake was in Sri-Lanka during the war he did nothing to bring in the R2P response. Then why this Ms Madeline’s report shedding posthumous crocodile tears for the Tamils now? The number of Tamils butchered by the Sinhala majority race after driving out them from their homes and villages, using heavy weapons and weapons of mass destruction like cluster bombs amounts to a dizzy 146000 including those missing. Not 1000 or 10000s. Surely one could sense that there is something fishy in the way the war was carried out as a war without witnesses. It is accountability. Accountability, accountability and accountability. Tamils lost are human lives and Tamils cannot be allowed to be killed and discarded like a farmer throwing rotten apples or mangoes from his/her fruit basket, for example. There is much more secrecy and treachery played against the minority Tamil race by the majority Sinhala race using the state machinery. BBC’s Mr Callum Macray’s (may he live long) three video productions have revealed the conspiracy of the UN and the IC to hush up Human rights violations. It is time Ms Navi Pillai take the bold step and expose the culprits and take them to courts.

Therefore, Ms Navi Pillai has been given a wider remit and a long list of matters and secrecies that has to be investigated to rule out war crimes and crimes against humanity by Madeline and other reports from international community. She or her assistants may have to fly many sorties to elicit the facts revealed in the UN satellite picture of the no-fire zone 3 before and after the Sinhala bombardment of that area. Even with modern forensic expertise it will be difficult to produce evidence of crime as many would have been erased by the perpetrators of crime as they know quite well that the punishment for such crime is rigorous. The other factor is time. Nature would have destroyed much of the desired evidence even if the almighty wanted justice to be meted out to the criminals.

Ms Madelline report stated that Sri-Lankan military advanced into LTTE held territory. There was no military frontiers to advance. What the Sinhala military did was to drive out all Tamil civilians out of their homes and villages. This is not a done thing in war except in totalitarian states. The report also speak about death of LTTE leaders without specifying how they died. It was reported in the world press that many leaders were summarily executed on the orders of the government when they were surrendering en-mass. If it was a war why were there no prisoners of war? Why were the entire population of Vanni driven out during war and later kept in concentration camps thus crippling their economic, social, mental and spiritual well-being? The nature of the camp’s uncongenial accommodation/provisions were well described by a retired chief justice of Sri-Lanka Mr Silva. The LLRC ignored all these as military emergencies. Was communal passions (Sinhala hegemony) playing a great part in this war of attrition? If not why was there not a Sinhalese politician to raise this issue in the UN? Why so many embargo on food medicines and agricultural fertilisers and implements including torch light batteries to Tamil areas by successive Sinhalese dominated governments. Why was collective punishment imposed on the Tamils creating war widows war victims of rape and disability? Why army occupation even after four years of the genocide war?

This is a challenge for Madame Ms Navaneethan Pillai who is really on a mission on protecting human rights and preventing future war crimes and genocide. I wish her well on her mission. Odds are against her. I hope she will not fail or founder. Good luck.

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