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PROPAGANDA WARS,PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, AND THE PRESSING NEED FOR A POLITICAL SOLUTION

2011-10-31 19:49:47
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Prof. Peiris also warned that the push for a “punitive role” viz the proposed Commissioner could split the Commonwealth. With the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) coming up on 28-30 October, several countries including Canada and Australia are likely to use the opportunity to pressurise Sri Lanka into allowing an international investigation into the latter stages of the war. The other major trigger was the screening of the controversial Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ in several Western legislative bodies. The European Parliament was the latest venue, and the screening of the one-hour film has drawn strong reactions from government representatives. Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU Ravinatha Aryasinha expressed dismay at the decision to allow the screening. Ambassador Aryasinha asserted, “Those responsible for facilitating this private event, and in allowing the European Parliament to be used as a platform by LTTE apologists only serve to strengthen the rump elements of the LTTE seeking refuge in the West, who use the propaganda value derived from the screening of this film, as a tool to intensify its fundraising and recruitment activities, thereby undermining the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka”. Echoing his views, Presidential Advisor on Reconciliation and Parliamentarian, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha said that calls for an international probe into allegations of war-crimes in Sri Lanka were being spearheaded by individuals who are friends of the LTTE. Prof. Wijesinha too has emphasised that the Government would resist all attempts to derail the national reconciliation process. The screening in the EU Parliament was jointly organised by the International Crisis Group (ICG), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI). The panellists for the event were Alan Keenan, Project Director, Sri Lanka, International Crisis Group; Lotte Leicht, EU Director, Human Rights Watch; Yolanda Foster, Sri Lanka Researcher, Amnesty International; and Callum Macrae, Director and Producer of the documentary in question. Members of the European Parliament Ana Gomes, Marietje Schaake, Laima Andrikiene, Raul Romeva i Rueda, and Paul Murphy also participated in the event. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Paul Murphy opined, “The Sri Lankan government will not bring justice to the Tamil people,” while MEP Raul Romeva Rueda insisted that “reconciliation will only come if truth and justice is put in place,” according to Crisis Group tweets after the event concluded. In separate Twitter comments, Callum Macrae, director of the documentary said, “You do not achieve reconciliation by pushing crimes under the carpet.” Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ contain footage of what is – in the main – purported to be (1) extra-judicial executions of LTTE fighters by Sri Lankan forces towards the end of the war, (2) dead bodies of female LTTE cadres who appear to have been sexually assaulted, and (3) indiscriminate shelling of civilian hospitals. The Sri Lankan government has consistently maintained that the visuals have been falsified. Explaining their motive for co-sponsoring the screening, Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka Project Director and Senior Analyst of the International Crisis Group maintained that it “accurately depicts many incidents that potentially constitute war crimes and that require a fair and thorough investigation.” However, Ambassador Aryasinha has insisted that its “authenticity is in question, as it includes footage of dubious origin, content that is distorted and without proper sourcing, and makes unsubstantiated allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka.” To counter the claims made in the Channel 4 documentary, government emissaries have used several Western platforms to distribute copies of the documentary ‘Lies Agreed Upon’ and report entitled ‘Humanitarian Operation: Factual Analysis’, produced by the Government. The former is a direct response to ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ while the latter outlines the various stages of the war in detail.

Dr.Godfrey Gunatilleke’s observations
In this context, it is pertinent to reflect upon the observations made by Dr. Godfrey Gunatilleke, Emeritus Chairman of Sri Lanka’s oldest think-tank – the Marga Institute. In a Working Paper prepared for the Seminar on ‘Accountability, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation: A review of the Report of the UNSG’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’, Dr. Gunatilleke states: “The LTTE had deliberately integrated the civilian population into their military effort and turned the NFZs to battle fields. By the mass conscription of civilians for military activity in the NFZ the building of fortifications with civilian conscripts and the use of all means available for military purposes, the LTTE had effectively blurred the distinction between civilians and combatants. How is intentionality and proportionality of army actions to be judged in such a situation?” “The LTTE was refusing to surrender. It was becoming clear that the defeat of the LTTE and the rescue of the hostages would entail heavy human cost-deaths of the LTTE combatants, conscripted civilians, soldiers and non combatant civilians. At this point the army after weighing the options available and their likely consequences had apparently decided that it could not halt the offensive and had to go ahead and put a speedy end to the resistance of the LTTE. It has to be noted that the government would have had to take into account that the LTTE in their desperation might resort to acts of the utmost brutality that might involve deaths of civilians on a massive scale.”

The need for devolution
As important as diplomatic engagement is, even more important is the very real and urgent need for a political solution to the country’s national question. The government’s development drive is also highly commendable as is the decision to increase development expenditure in the North and East as reflected in the Appropriation Bill presented to Parliament by Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne on Tuesday. However what is disturbing is the manner in which certain high-ranking government members have pooh-poohed the devolution issue both publicly and privately, with one particular high-profile government member stating in no uncertain terms that devolution was no longer a priority following the defeat of the LTTE. The fact remains that although the LTTE has been militarily defeated, the grievances that led to the rise of the LTTE and fuelled pro-LTTE movements all over the world are yet to be been addressed. So long as such grievances exist, a re-emergence of an armed Tamil nationalist movement cannot be ruled out. The Euro Police’s reported warning to Sri Lanka about increased LTTE activities internationally is an indication of this reality. This is why the present leadership needs to demonstrate a rock-solid commitment to facilitate an effective political process that will build bridges by formulating a mutual acceptable power-sharing mechanism. If the PSC is to be that mechanism, then it should not be allowed to sit lazily on the back-burner but should be given top priority. This was a key demand put forward in the protest fast on Monday by leading Tamil political parties, including the TNA, TULF, PLOTE, EPRLF (Pathmanaba Wing), EPRLF (Suresh Wing), TELO, and TNPF. The protesters also demanded a halt to the re-registration of lands in the North and East. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader V. Anandasangaree, speaking to the Daily Mirror from Jaffna, asserted that the people of the Northern Province were experiencing untold hardships and urged the government to redress “a most tragic situation”. The respected Tamil political leader expressed disappointment at the government’s failure to find a political solution that was palatable to all groups, and called on the government to give precedence to resolving the ethnic question, and re-building the lives of a war-weary people. A power-sharing mechanism is an imperative for sustainable peace and social cohesion, and as such the President should not entrust it entirely to Parliament but must give it leadership and direction. This is especially important given that numerous such processes have failed in contemporary Sri Lankan history. If there are minimum positions that are non-negotiable, then the PSC should be given clear guidelines and be made aware of these positions instead of being allowed to waste precious tax-payer time engaging in futile deliberations. For example, if there is discomfort in using the phrase ‘federal constitution’, then it is simply pointless going round in circles trying to introduce the word to the discourse. In short, one hopes that the government will be able to prove that this is not yet another time-wasting endeavour but a very serious and genuine attempt to make peace and reconciliation a reality.


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