By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe LLB, LLM. MPhil Attorney-ay-Law
The West won the world not by superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non Westerners never do.’ Samuel. P. Huntington as quoted by J.B. Muller in his dissertation Anglophiles, Eurocentric Arrogance and Reality –The Island November 5, 2010.
There were recent media reports that British parliamentarians have called on their government to boycott this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, at a debate held in the Houses of Parliament recently. The debate, saw MPs from across the political spectrum speak out against Sri Lanka and slamming international inaction on the issue, with many calling for the British Government to refuse to attend the CHOGM due to be held in Sri Lanka, and called for robust action at the UN Human Rights Council. Many of the lawmakers blasted the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record, with Siobhain McDonagh saying,
“If the Queen were to put her foot on the soil in Colombo it would be regarded as a vindication of the Sri Lankan Government’s actions—and this is at a time when at least 40,000 people are still dying or missing.”
Lee Scott also added,
“Should we forget Auschwitz, Rwanda or the atrocities committed in Northern Ireland? No, we should not. That would be an insult to the memories of the people who lost their lives on all sides, and that is not acceptable.”
To remind the British of their past actions in Sri Lanka consider what J.B. Muller states in the dissertation quoted at the outset of this piece referring to the General Order issued in 1818 during the British Colonial Rule in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to put down the rebellion in Uva-Vellassa as follows: ‘Kill every man, woman and child including the babes suckling at their mother’s breast. Destroy all dwelling houses. Burn all crops. Cut down all fruit trees. Slaughter all cattle; take what meat is necessary to feed the troops and burn the rest. Destroy all reservoirs, canals and channels. Poison the wells. Lay waste utterly the countryside denying any relief whatsoever to the rebels.’ Muller further states: ‘This order was carried out, laying waste Uva and Vellassa, a destruction from which it is yet to fully recover.’ British writers commented that every tree from Ratnapura to Badulla was devastated with hung bodies of rotting human beings that gave off a revolting stench. The word ‘genocide’ was coined in the 1940’s meaning the wiping out of a people, but if this wasn’t genocide then, what is? This is the manner in which the British who have now become human rights crusaders against Sri Lanka dealt with a rebellion by the Ceylonese people at that time.
It was reported recently in the print and electronic media that the Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee (FCO) of Session 2010-12 titled Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs presented in the House of Commons, the lower House of the British Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by command of Her Majesty in September 2011 from paragraphs 137-141 inter alia contained the following recommendations concerning Sri Lanka: Recommendations 38 and 39.
Paragraph 138: We commend Channel 4 for its documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, which showed horrific scenes of crimes carried out in 2009. We reaffirm the view of our predecessor Committee and call on the UK Government to press for the setting up of an international war crimes inquiry to investigate allegations of atrocities carried out by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war (Paragraph 161).
It further states, ‘We share international concern about the credibility of the Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission process, but the Sri Lankan Government has indicated that the Commission will consider the allegations contained in the Channel 4 documentary. We will consider all further options in light of the Commission’s conclusions and recom mendations.’
It is well known that the British are methodical and meticulous in their dealing with any situation and that they strive to do justice in all given circumstances. If the British are to sit upon judgement on the Sri Lankan Government’s dealings during what they term the ‘Sri Lankan civil war’, the British should first establish a Committee of Inquiry to investigate their own vicious scorched earth policy they used to put down rebellions in the colonies in the British Commonwealth and human rights violations committed by the British troops under the General Order given in 1818,and the historical evidence available on the devastation they caused in 1818 (193 years ago) in Uva Wellassa during the rebellion. Wellassa (Wel lakshaya in Sinhala) was composed of hundred thousand paddy fields yielding a substantial crop, which has not yet recovered from the scorched earth policy of the British. If the proponents of the Channel 4 video were present at that time they could have recorded horrific scenes of babes suckling at their mother’s breast being snatched by British soldiers and their throats being slit in the presence of their wailing mothers, who were then shot. Setting fire to acres and acres of golden paddy fields resplendent with crops resulting in the wanton destruction of the fruits of hard labour of the poor Sri Lankan farmers all of whom were killed then would have met the eyes of the Channel 4 team. The strategy of destroying the food supply of the civilian population in an area of conflict has been banned under Article 54 of Protocol I of the 1977 Geneva Conventions. The relevant passage says: ‘It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.
The British were never invited to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, They invaded this peaceful little island, known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and robbed it of all its wealth in the form of tea, rubber, coconuts and coffee. They improved the infrastructure in the form of roads, railways etc, not for the love of the local population but to improve the economy to fill their own pockets. They terrorized the local population and made them their slaves. J.B.Muller in his dissertation referred to above further states: ‘In the plantation Raj I met a man in his sixties by the name of Kalu Banda .He had a sinister furrow curved diagonally across the face from above his right eye to below his left ear lobe. He told me that the road on which we were standing was once a horse-track and the European who owned a tea plantation a few miles away was to ride this way often. He met him one day and failed to remove his turban and bow. For this act of ‘disrespect’ the European struck him across the face with his leather riding quirt, drawing blood and leaving a huge gash which healed slowly. He told me tales of labourers being tied to trees and whipped until their backs were shreds of torn flesh. There was no one to complain he said. Then, pretty women or girls as young as 12 years from the Labour Lines or the village were ordered to be brought to the bungalow at dusk – properly bathed and with the coconut oil in their hair washed out thoroughly. The plantation areas have many bastard children-some with blue eyes and blonde hair-the result of the sexual exploitation of the voiceless in ‘the good old days.’ The British left a trail of similar human rights violations all over the world in the countries they subjugated in their quest for expanding the British Empire. The term ‘commonwealth’ implies, though unintentionally, that the British plundered the wealth of all the countries they brought under their rule.
Those were the deeds of the British, who have now become the greatest protectors of human rights in Sri Lanka. The Bible states, ‘No man should sit upon judgement on another lest he be judged.’ This saying is more relevant when applied to a wrongdoer assuming the role of a judge over others. As that great British Jurist, then Master of the Rolls Lord Alfred Thompson Denning once questioned: ‘Who made thee the ruler and judge over us?’ repeating the saying in Exodus 7.27 –The Bible, the Sri Lankan Nation can now question the British in the same manner. How could the British sit upon judgement on Sri Lankans when their fore-fathers have committed blatant unmentionable atrocities and human rights violations in our country and in all the other countries that came under their rule? The British have no right whatsoever even to debate such matters concerning Sri Lanka being well aware of the atrocities and human rights violation committed by their own forefathers during the British rule in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Government should establish a Commission of Inquiry into the human rights violations and economic devastation caused in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, during the British Rule and based upon the findings of such an inquiry call upon the Government of the United Kingdom to pay suitable compensation for those atrocities committed by the British during their rule in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. Much publicity has to be given to the findings of such an inquiry supported by historical evidence available in many documents so as to expose the barbaric manner in which the Sri Lankans were dealt with by the British. In the alternative the Sri Lankan Government ought to call upon the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom to initiate such an inquiry and display their genuineness on accountability in such matters.
The British parliamentarians are acting in this manner because of the fact that their electorates consist of members of the Tamil diaspora whose franchise is needed to bring them to office. Their actual selfish intention is covered up by crocodile tears that they are shedding regarding alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. If the British wish to open old wounds that are best forgotten then Sri Lanka could also open older wounds that would expose the true barbaric nature of the British themselves who were indeed the initial human rights violators in this country to their dismay and utter disgrace. The British, with their dubious history on protection of human rights should mind their own business and leave the other Sovereign Nations in the World to find their own solutions to any human rights violations in their lands. Sri Lanka is in a process of reconciliation and there is peace and tranquility in our country. Our people regardless of any differences whatsoever should unite and through a process of consultation, compromise and consensus reach our own solutions to any conflicts or disputes that we may have without inviting foreigners, especially those who have devastated this country once, to intervene again and let history repeat itself.
In conclusion let me repeat the saying in Psalms in the Bible thus: ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’