t the end of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent visit to Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Mass Media and the Official Government News Portal announced that on 6th Oct the PM addressed the Parliament of Japan, known as the National Diet. In fact he did not. According to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun he delivered a ‘lecture session at an office building of House of the Representatives’ lawmakers.’ The Mass Media ministry and ‘News.lk’ further claimed that Wickremesinghe was the third world leader after Barack Obama and Narendra Modi to address Japan’s Parliament. This too was a piece of fiction. Obama and Modi have never addressed the Diet.
Needless to say, officials circulating this type of clumsy propaganda do a disservice to the country’s leaders, while also undermining public trust. An invitation to address the legislature of any State is generally considered a special honour. Was this embellished story intended to show that the new Government was held in ‘high regard’ by the world community after Geneva 2015?
HRC and Sovereignty
The bigger question that arises is whether other disinformation is taking place as well and whether, as a result, the public are being misled on the implications of the US-led resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council.
The resolution in its present format has locked the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) into acceptance of the Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), through Operative Paras 1 and 18. By uncritically accepting this country-specific resolution GoSL has created a precedent that would be detrimental to the interests of other developing countries too. No developing country (Asian, African, Latin American groups) signed on as co-sponsor of this resolution – except of course Sri Lanka.
With the concerned country itself having acceded to the terms of a resolution which permits interference in the domestic affairs of a member State, its friends in the HRC were compromised in voicing their opposition. Ironically it was India (and not Sri Lanka) that expressed concern over the issue of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. In comments following talks between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York, the Indian External Affairs spokesman expressed India’s hope that the dual objectives of justice and Sri Lanka’s sovereignty could both be met.
Since the OISL Report is biased, it is difficult to see how a resolution that draws on it can deliver justice, leave alone reconciliation for Sri Lanka. At first glance the Report’s language may appear ‘sober and balanced.’ Deceptively so. A closer look at its contents, and its gaps and omissions, betrays a serious lack of balance. Here are just a few points to consider:
Needless to say, officials circulating this type of clumsy propaganda do a disservice to the country’s leaders, while also undermining public trust
There is clearly an imbalance in the material that has been examined by OISL and in the methodology used. As a result its conclusions, based on a highly subjective ‘reasonable-grounds-to-believe’ standard, are also skewed. At every turn the Report refers to ‘information obtained by OISL,’ or ‘information available to OISL,’ or ‘cases reported to OISL.’ If no information was received, it didn’t happen, as far as OISL was concerned.
In the ‘Overview of Government, LTTE and other armed groups’ (Ch.4) the Report has 10 pages on Government security forces and paramilitary groups allegedly linked to them, replete with charts, diagrams and tables illustrating chain of command and names of officers. On the LTTE, the Report has 3 pages.
On the ‘Conduct of hostilities’ in the final phase of conflict (Ch.13) the Report has 7 pages on allegations of violations leveled against government forces and less than 2 pages on allegations against the LTTE. Detailed testimony given by security forces personnel (to LLRC and MoD) on their knowledge of where civilians were located which they said helped to target fire so as to avoid civilian casualties, is perversely turned around by OISL to conclude that civilian casualties “may have been anticipated, known and accepted by the Government and military leaders” – in other words, deliberate.
On Torture (Ch.9) the Report has 6 pages on allegations against the Government forces and half a page on allegations against the LTTE.
Under ‘Patterns of unlawful killings’(Ch.6) the Report says over 1000 cases of alleged assassinations were reported to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). It does not mention that the vast majority of Ceasefire Agreement violations documented by the SLMM (over 3000) which were also the most serious, were by the LTTE.
Written submissions to OISL relating to LTTE abuses were among 329 received from within Sri Lanka, while those received from outside Sri Lanka, presumably relating to abuses by Government forces, were almost ten times that number (‘Call for submissions’ Ch.2).
OISL says incidents in the section on unlawful killings (Ch. 6) are analyzed within the framework of International Human Rights Law (IHRL). But it fails to mention that IHRL does not apply to non-State actors like the LTTE. The entire section on IHRL (Ch. 5) is on the State party’s responsibilities.
Though it is invisible in this Report, the heavy toll of civilian life taken by the LTTE throughout the country during 30 years of conflict
For example, OISL says it ‘received no information’ that hospitals were used by the LTTE for military purposes. “There were no LTTE military installations placed inside hospitals; According to information received by the OISL,” (p.153). OISL says the LTTE by placing military positions in densely populated areas contributed to civilian casualties by drawing fire. But it does not acknowledge that this was a deliberatestrategy used by the LTTE, especially during the latter stages of the war when they used civilians as a human shield. This episode represents one of the LTTE’s worst crimes against Tamils, whose cause they claimed to be fighting for.
A book titled ‘Narrative III – the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka’ giving a detailed account of how the last stage of the war was fought was submitted to the OHCHR. Its authors Dr. Godfrey Gunatilleke and Jeevan Thiagarajah, heads of two of Colombo’s most respected NGOs, met the OISL team leader in Geneva. Their study said the majority of the LTTE’s war crimes during the last phase were a result of this strategy.
So in this instance OISL’s omission cannot be on account of ‘information not being received.’ OISL merely raises an eyebrow in relation to LTTE behaviour, saying it raised ‘serious questions as to the intentions behind such acts.’ It does not use the words ‘systematic’ and ‘widespread.’ Is this because to do so would have undermined the OISL’s project of laying the groundwork for war crimes prosecutions against the Sri Lankan forces?
Invisibility of Sinhalese and Muslims
The High Commissioner for Human Rights when presenting the OISL Report to the Human Rights Council placed much emphasis on its ‘victim focus.’ There seems to be an assumption here that victims of the Sri Lankan conflict were only Tamils. Sinhalese and Muslim civilians targeted in LTTE attacks remain invisible in the Report. Under ‘Unlawful killings’ the Report says the LTTE killed “individuals they believed to be cooperating with security forces and the Karuna Group as well as politicians, public officials, academics and other Tamils perceived as being moderates” (p.49). Curiously there is no mention of civilians murdered in cold blood by the LTTE for no other purpose than to instill terror. There is no mention of the Sinhalese victims of massacres at Dollar and Kent Farms, at Anuradhapura bus stop and the Sri Maha Bodhi, Arantalawa, Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy, the villagers massacred at Kallarawa and Gongala, the Muslim worshippers gunned down in Kattankudy mosque etc, to name but a few.
Among the very few incidents relating to targeting of civilians by the LTTE, that the OISL Report mentions is the landmine attack on a busload of Sinhalese civilians at Kebithigollewa. But this is explained as retaliation for killings in LTTE controlled areas in the North and East. OISL mentions the LTTE’s use of roadside claymore mines and suicide bombers, but suggests their main targets were security forces. Were ‘security forces’ the intended targets in the bomb attacks on the Central Bank, CTO, Pettah bus stop, Galadari Hotel, Dehiwela train and countless other public places too numerous to list? Civilians of all ethnicity perished in such attacks. They were targets and not collateral damage.
Though it is invisible in this Report, the heavy toll of civilian life taken by the LTTE throughout the country during 30 years of conflict, often in a most inhuman and brutal manner is indelibly etched in the collective memory of the Sri Lankan people. It is part of their lived experience. Graphic and detailed accounts (with ‘photographic evidence’) of these incidents have been recorded in local media reports throughout the period. All the media could not have lied uniformly about these incidents. It remains a mystery as to why the OISL has left this huge gap in the material it chose to survey.
The Human Rights chief calls for the disbanding of the Paranagama Commission (with no reasons given) and for the setting up of some other independent institution to deliver justice in consultation with victims’ families. It would be interesting to know if he envisages consulting families of victims/victims/survivors of LTTE attacks in such a mechanism (seeing that the resolution expressed concern for ‘both sides’).
Focus on Karuna
From its treatment of the subject of LTTE killings, it is clear the OISL has great difficulty acknowledging that the LTTE is a terrorist group, and has failed to understand the true nature of this organization. In describing how the LTTE gained dominance over other Tamil militant groups it says “it gradually asserted its authority as the so-called “sole and legitimate representative” of the Tamil people” (p.33). The reader is given no inkling of the kind of internecine warfare that took place where the LTTE engaged in a process of ruthless elimination of its rivals, some of whom were burned alive in the streets of Jaffna.
There is a disproportionate focus on the Karuna Group and its alleged violations after breaking away from the LTTE. The references to crimes by the LTTE are on many occasions quickly deflected away from the LTTE and towards the Karuna Group. The reason for this particular imbalance could be that OISL’s information in these instances came from the LTTE or LTTE-linked sources. Pages upon pages of the Report’s text are based on unidentified witness’ statements (footnoted as ‘WS on file’). The identities of these witnesses will never be known owing to the OISL’s policy of secrecy in this regard. This leads to a further injustice, as those making grave allegations against not only Karuna Group but also against Sri Lanka’s armed forces and political leadership, can never be cross examined.
Cover of anonymity
While many OISL’s findings would be from authentic sources, the likelihood that false and distorted accounts would have been submitted under cover of anonymity by the LTTE, bent on revenge, does not seem to be factored in by the investigative team. considering that the organization still operates a sophisticated propaganda machine and fundraising network overseas.
While its language may sound neutral, the OISL Report is actually biased in its content and prejudiced in its approach. Its conclusions seem to have been pre-judged and it works towards establishing them by using data selectively. The tragedy is that the main casualty in the process, the Sri Lankan State, has caved in and accepted it instead of mounting a spirited defence, for which it could have easily rallied the support of representatives of the ‘majority world’ in the UN.