By G. H. Peiris –
Almost all recent media reports in the west on the impending United States resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council ‘Periodic Review’ scheduled for next March state as a firmly established fact that 40,000 civilians were killed in the course of the final phase of the Eelam War. Most of these reports also imply that, in sponsoring such a resolution, US government is impelled by its conviction that the government of Sri Lanka is accountable for that colossal crime. In none of these reports is there a reference to the fact that even the Darusman Report, despite the blatant duplicity of its approach, and replete though it is with distortions, has never said that 40,000 Vanni civilians were killed during that phase of the war. What it did say was that the number of civilian deaths could be as high as 40,000.
But to the United States and its allies in Europe that are arrayed against post-war Sri Lanka trivia such as factual accuracy and fairness do not seem to matter. There is sufficient evidence in the confidential communications from their own official informants – diplomatic missions stationed in Colombo – that the Sri Lanka security forces exercised greater caution to avoid civilian deaths than their own armies have ever done in military offensives conducted outside the United States, and even there if one were to think of the 19th century. That appears to be of no consequence. What matters is ‘regime change’ – the need to evict the popularly elected government of Sri Lanka because it does not genuflect in the way minions of the international community are required to do, and a charge of ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ is the only façade that could conceal the clandestine strategies being adopted to achieve that cardinal objective.
How the self-appointed global guardians of human rights help sustain the crumbling hegemonic global power arrangement is vividly illustrated in the media account of the ceremony held in London for the launch of Frances Harrison’s Still Counting the Dead (October 2012). Here are some extracts from the pronouncement reported to have been made on that occasion.
Eric Solheim – Norwegian politician who, in his role as ‘mediator’ in the Sri Lankan conflict, hardly ever bothered to conceal his commitment to promote LTTE interests during the last 10 years of the Eelam War.
“In Sri Lanka, the government was winning the war and victory was at hand. They had no intention of stopping. In January 2009, the government declared war. The call for the LTTE to accept an organized end to the war which included the LTTE handing over weapons, registering LTTE cadres and every single Tamil civilian supervised by international authorities — the UN, US, India, etc. was not heeded…If that happened, the lives of all the Tamil Tigers and Tamil civilians could have been saved. But, Prabakaran rejected this offer. If the LTTE agreed, the Sri Lankan government had no other option than to accept it. Though the LTTE leadership rejected the offer, it can never ever be used as an excuse by the government to indiscriminately bomb very dense Tamil areas”.
Alan Keenan – International Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Project Director, according to whom 40,000 to 147,000 civilians were killed in the Vanni war.
“If you look at the other conflicts around the world where there have been many thousands of people killed in illegal ways, they don’t generally get sorted out legally very quickly. There is a long game to be played, a frustrating game for all involved specially families of the victims, survivors, but I think, over the longer term, there are still options, there are still possibilities. What we need are those involved to produce documentaries like Channel 4, books like Frances Harrison’s, Reports like my organization (International Crisis Group) can continue to produce….Together, cumulatively, with effective lobbying, we can keep the Rajapaksa regime and those associated with them on the defensive and ultimately, I think, as political developments happen within Sri Lanka and outside, there will be a moment when they are not reigning supreme as they are now, then these issues come back to bite them”.
Yasmin Sooka, One of the 3-member UNSG ‘Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’ and co-author of the Panel report which placed the upper margin of civilian deaths in the Vanni war zone at 40,000.
The government of Sri Lanka claims that they mounted a humanitarian mission to rescue the civilians from the LTTE. GOSL also claim that there were zero civilian casualties. “But we think that as many as 70,000 civilians died. I think LLRC did produce some valuable lessons but in terms of the question of accountability it is a big failure”.
Callum Macrae, producer of the macabre Channel 4 documentary, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’.
(His fanaticism seems to make him forget that crude melodrama like his are produced by the hundreds at Hollywood, Bollywood, Kollywood and many other places all over the world).
“We need to keep telling this story. Most importantly, we want to get this film by the end of January and launch it internationally in the build-up to the Human Rights Council. We want to show this film in Asian countries and African countries as well. We need to go to the Non Aligned nations and say this is a matter of human rights. This is a fundamental matter of international law. This is an issue the rest of the world has to take up. This will be ready for the Human Rights Council. Then we need to use this film to campaign to CHOGM at the end of the year in Sri Lanka”.
Frances Harrison, BBC Correspondent who has had close contact with the Tiger leadership from about 2002 is the author of Still Counting the Dead. Reproduced below are only a collection of a few brief extracts – not the really spicy flights of imagination.
“Today marks three years since the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka. I would like to mourn the dead but still I do not know how many. Estimates range from 7 to 147,000. It is a shocking difference. How is it possible in this world of satellites, rolling news and internet we have no idea how many human beings really perished, even rounded up to the nearest thousand? … Numbed to the sight of death, families were forced to abandon the corpses of their loved ones as they ran for their lives. A brave doctor who saved thousands of lives is haunted by the memory of the 150 patients he abandoned under a tree on the last day of the war; he can no longer stand the sight of blood and does not want to be a surgeon. It was a place where loving parents discussed suicide with their children, unable to tolerate the agony of dying one by one. A medic saw a baby born with a bullet lodged in his tiny leg, shot while still in the womb. In the makeshift hospitals dying mothers screamed for their babies to give them one last feed – knowing the breast milk would be their last gift of life”.
To those of the west, mesmerized by this type of “truth”, what do numbers matter? Why count the dead even if you could device a reasonably acceptable method of doing so, unless you just go on counting until you somehow reach a total which the Sookas, the Harrisons and the Macraes of this world say now it’s sufficient for our purpose? There are tens of thousands in Sri Lanka who mourn the dead – relatives and friends – but not with crocodile tears and not in pursuit of money, power and fame. We are intensely saddened every time we learn about the murder of countless civilians in, say, Vietnam, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan – a process that will go on and on until the “world is safe for democracy”. We are also aware that, for certain mourners, the Vanni dead are very special (if not unique) in that there is plenty of diaspora largesse for those who invent death-counts or bemoan the absence of a count.
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