By Athithan Jayapalan –
The much anticipated 25th session of the United Nations Human Right convention (UNHRC) is unfolding in Genève, and Tamils across the world are following its proceedings vigilantly. While some elements within the Tamil polity vehemently opposed the UNHRC process others desperately hoped that engagement would yield some concessions to alleviate the plight of their nation. The question of whether to denounce it altogether or not, the UNHRC caused an unfortunate division among the Eelam Tamil diaspora, the Eelam nation on the island and the pro-Eelam agitators in Tamil Nadu, India.
In this regard the UNHR draft resolution was leaked on 03.03.2014 to the anguish of the U.S. sponsored process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Transcending the internal divisions the leaked draft caused a widespread disapproval from various Tamil organizations and movements across the world for its insidious project of watering down an already toothless international stand on the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL).
Furthermore the politics inherent in the U.S. led resolution upholds the unitary Sri Lankan state and denies the genocidal nature of the crimes perpetuated against Eelam Tamils. Nevertheless the resolution holds the potential if steered correctly to transcend the arising divisions caused by the UN process amongst activists. Thereby it should avail the efforts to mobilize a united front among the forces advocating Eelam.
Silencing of Genocide and National oppression
The draft resolution was denounced by Tamils for a variety of reasons, but chief among them was that an international investigation is not advocated and genocide is denied. Instead the GOSL is given the opportunity to conduct an investigation into its own crimes. Moreover the well documented violence which target Tamils based on their national characteristics is effectively distorted and narrated as religious violence. As a final nail to the coffin the much demanded international investigation was to be considered only after an assessment of progress made by the GOSL after a period of more than a year.
It is reckless of the international community to claim to harbor expectations of the Sri Lankan state to be capacitated in investigating their own conduct during the last war through impartial mechanisms, when the state has an enduring history of genocidal practice and a strong culture of impunity. Such an international stand espouses that the state violence experienced by Tamils was not coordinated and was not determined on the basis of their political persuasion, language or ethnicity. Thereby any atrocities committed against Tamils is not presented as being institutionalized which effectively absolves the state from the accusation of systematic persecution of Tamils . Only through such logic can it be claimed that such a philistine state is capable of conducting any form of impartial investigations. Such a stand also effectively denies the genocidal nature of the violence Tamils have been subjected to since 1948. In addition it also denounces the legacy of the national resistance mobilized by Eelam Tamils as measures to fight state terrorism.
The international approach thereby corroborates the Sri Lankan state centric discourse which denies genocidal crimes and naturalizes the military onslaught in 2009 against the Eelam Tamils as being a “humanitarian rescue mission” successfully executed to liberate Tamils from the LTTE. An ocean of evidence points to the contrary and documents the nature of the violence against the Tamils. The comprador status of Sri Lanka and its geo-political importance renders the Western powers rather preoccupied with intimidating an adventurous Sri Lanka venturing towards China back into the fold of the Western imperialists. Punitive actions on the basis of justice for Eelam are a farfetched notion for the imperialists and the resolution is most likely a reminder to Sri Lanka of the consequences of aligning with China.
From the 8th-11th of December 2013 the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) convened in the German city of Bremen to conduct the Peoples Tribunal on Sri Lanka. The PPT has previously held proceedings on war crimes and genocide on Zaire, El Salvador, Guatemala, East Timor and Afghanistan. Moreover the PPT has its origins from the historic Russell’s tribunal on Vietnam, which in 1967 found the U.S. guilty of war crimes at a time when the ground situation was effectively blacked out by a combination of media cover up and U.S. state propaganda which denied U.S. atrocities and demonized the Vietnamese resistance movement
The verdict concluded upon by the PPT and its panel of experts, corroborated that Eelam Tamils constitute a nation and that the Sri Lankan state is guilty of perpetuating structural genocide against the Eelam Tamils (1). Moreover the U.S. and the U.K. were found to be complicit in the genocide of Tamils owing their military, financial and political links with the perpetrator state. In the absence of political will at the international level to pursue the cases of vicious crimes against humanity, the PPT has since the Vietnam War been a forum to establish the truth. Thus for a critical assessment of the current UNHRC debacle there is a dire need to account for the PPT verdict and other documentations of genocide against Tamils.
In short, the resolution reflects the U.S. led international community’s structural approach towards the Sri Lankan nation-state.
Denationalization and denial of national existence
The draft resolution also furthered that the co-sponsors of the resolution are “Recognizing the Human Rights Council’s support of all Sri Lankans to enjoy their right regardless of creed, faith or ethnicity, in a peaceful and unified land” (2).
This passage might appear harmless and even progressive as it seems to emphasis equality. Nevertheless the U.S. liberalist language is perceptive, when one bears in mind that the human rights violations in question is perpetuated by the state against a distinct social group on the basis of ethnicity, language, belief and territory. When they urge an egalitarian Sri Lankan identity, they effectively denounce the national existence and consciousness of the Tamils and impose the national identity of the oppressor upon the oppressed. When doing so they also deny Tamils their inalienable right to self-determination subsequently silencing their political aspirations.
It is to be noted that the political mobilization of Tamils consolidated first under the banner of federalism before advocating independence as a bid to organize national resistance. This was a consequence of the growing national oppression perpetuated by the Sri Lankan state which effectively shut down democratic venues to address the national question. Thus the legacy of resistance and of national oppression is inevitably inscribed into the fabric of Tamil identity and collective memory. Thereby the camouflaged imposition of the unitary state through such liberalist rhetoric legitimizes the national oppression of Tamils, which is foremost grounded on the denial of nationality. The resolution also reiterates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state and naturalizes its rule over the Tamil homeland. Hence the draft indicates a dangerous tendency of facilitating the full-fledged denationalization of the Eelam Tamils.
The draft further reads that the co-sponsors are “Alarmed at the rapid rise in violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, particularly against members of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians“.
Such a narration shadows the genocidal nature of the violence in Sri Lanka. It is the blatant truth that Tamils are subjected to oppression on the basis of their ethnic identity and not on religious grounds. The politics of framing Tamils as Christians and Hindus, seems to promote divisions on religious grounds among the oppressed Tamils as well as to depoliticize the Eelam Tamils regarding their national entitlement. This is a means to ensure the destruction of the spirit of national resistance exhibited by the Tamils even under an oppressive military occupation.
The UNHRC draft resolution despite addressing militarization, human rights violations and state sponsored violence, deliberately silences the genocidal nature of the above mentioned processes. Instead it narrates gender and religious violence as paramount in the island. This effectively equalizes the genocidal oppression in Eelam with the authoritarian and dictatorial regime perpetuated by the state in other parts of the island. In a similar vein, national oppression is reframed into being rising religious and gender violence. It is noteworthy that a concept of gender violence in conflict situations absolved from intersection with ethnicity, nationality and language is in line with the U.K. government’s much aggrandized about international campaign against sexual and gender violence. Thereby what constitutes the interests behind the resolution seems to be based on geo-politics and external affair considerations of the U.S. and the U.K.
To reframe the whole situation of national oppression as being based on religion and gender is audacious, and is a blatant attempt to create a narration in favor of the Sri Lankan state. The reiteration of the 13th amendment is also indicative of the attempts by the West to appease the Indian state, which has its own peculiar role in the great geo political game which strangles Eelam.
The future of the Tamils is decided upon by the GOSL, the U.S. led coalition of nation states and India. The crooked nature of such extra local decision is that a beleaguered nation subjected to genocidal processes is denied any form of self-determination.
In the aftermath of the leaked draft resolution various struggles commenced across the globe condemning such injustice. Similarly student mobilization is unfolding in Tamil Nadu denouncing the draft while agitating to pressure India to demand an international investigation against GOSL and to bring forth a plebiscite on Eelam.
The faith in the international community is increasingly waning off, as time after time the procedures promised are strikingly weak consequently reproducing the status-quo while creating an illusion of progress. It slowly and shrewdly attempts to depoliticize the national question in the island as well as it tries to contain and disintegrate Tamil national mobilization by fixing identity categories such as Christian, Hindu and Sri Lankan. Even those who held faith in the US led processes, subsequently fighting off internal criticism from more radical hold, are now left in the cold regarding interpreting the draft resolution and in assessing the yield of their pro-West lobby. Around 10 000 Eelam Tamil diaspora members from various European countries, gathered in Genève in an unprecedented protest against the weak resolution. Reflecting the popular sentiment in Tamil Nadu and among Eelam Tamils on the island, the demonstrators demanded an international investigation into genocide and a plebiscite for Eelam (3).
The permanent representative to the UN Ambassador Ravinath Aryasinha ironically condemned the UNHRC resolution terming it biased and unwarranted (4). Furthermore he accused the U.S. for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and for jeopardizing the “hard won peace”. He further claims that the main incentive for the resolution was the attempt by these countries to appease LTTE sympathizers in their respective electoral constituencies. Such a discourse accredits the U.S. resolution as being anti- Sri Lankan, consequently presenting the U.S. and Sri Lanka as being polarized and on collision course. Such an illusion is divertive of the real truth and creates a belief that there is confrontation between the West and Sri Lanka. There is evidently friction between the former allies, which Tamils can utilize to isolate Sri Lanka, the structural links and the geo-politics of the region renders Washington and Colombo allied. This is most vividly represented in the meticulous wordings in the U.S. resolution which reiterates Sri Lanka’s unitary state and its territorial sovereignty. Moreover the resolution draft attempts to manipulate ground reality, by silencing the genocidal processes against Tamils. Such representations are in effect legitimizing the Sri Lankan state and its operations which in a coordinated manner target the essential foundations of the national existence of Tamils. The U.S. sponsored UNHRC resolution thereby enhances the denationalization of Tamils by propagating the discourse of minorities and denial of genocide.
1) For the pdf version of the full PPT verdict, see : http://www.tamilnet.com/img/publish/2014/01/pt_bremen_2013december.pdf
2) For the full version of the US draft resolution, see : https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/140303.UNHRC_.DraftResolution.pdf
4) For the full statement of Sri Lanka’s Permanent representative to the UN, see: http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/44172-draft-resolution-violates-sls-constitution-provisions-sl.html