By Pon. Chandran –
Praveen Swami’s “Questions about Wars” in the context of Sri lanka is rather misleading. Praveen Swami (PS) deserves in a way all appreciation for wielding all his expertise being a Strategic Affairs Editor and the Resident Editor of The Hindu for using all the wear withal of his “knowledge” to bury all the unfolded facts and the objective studies, under the carpet of his logic, the “ethics of war” and unwittingly exonerate Rajapakshe and his regime from the accusation of Genocide, Genocidal war, War Crimes and the Crimes against Humanity!
A gullible reader would be made to believe that all is well in a war, particularly the Eelam War, since the “language of war is killing”. He has further deftly questions the veracity of the numbers which is haunting the international community and concludes that “we do not know how many lives it (the Eelam war) claimed or indeed whether a genocide took place at all”! He further argues that “There is no expert consensus on whether civilians were targeted on purpose, and if so, when?” However, he has no choice but to concede that there were “indeed several well-documented cases of extrajudicial executions, but these are not the same as a genocide”.
In short, PS has used all his arguments to establish that there was neither Genocide nor a Genocidal war in Sri Lanka. There weren’t any “deliberate killings” of the civilians and the reported numbers of the causalities is only a conjecture which cannot be established. Further although there were a few extrajudicial killings, the author has intrinsically justified the same as it was part of a “campaign against the LTTE”, which is inseparable from the “language of war, that is “killing”. While he is silent about the numbers obliterated, buried alive, crippled, displaced, sexually assaulted, widowed or orphaned, he has no qualms to concede the claim of the Sri Lankan army that “they were losing 40 solders a day during the last phases of the war”.
Perhaps the Strategic Affairs Editor may have reasons for not mentioning the reported use of Thermobaric bombs, cluster bombs and other heavy artilleries and chemical bombs on the civilian targets, on the make shift hospitals, on the “safe zones” etc. Whereas, he has no hesitation to state categorically that the “Sri Lankan Army was facing fire from the LTTE’s 130mm, 140mm and 152mm artillery up to May 17”. He has even laboured to dig out the photographic evidence of the Times of London “showing what appear to be pits for sting mortar, an arms trailer and a bunker, in the midst of a civilian location in the no-fire zone” While he is so precise about the use of artillery by the LTTE, he does not even refer to the type of arms used by the Sri Lankan army! Alas, it questions the Intellectual honesty of a journalist of his repute!
Finally, the sum and substance of his write-up is that there were only justified collateral damages, in view of the changing “ethics of war”, in the campaign against the insurgency launched by LTTE, and in the backdrop of “War on Terror” pursued under the hegemony of United States, the world over. He draws his ethics of war from the US invasion of Iraq which entailed in the loss of lives of 461,000 in Iraq, as reported by University of Washington’s Amy Hangopian and 11 co-authors.
The author demands that as the Laws of War were written in the wake of 1945, “driven by a particular experience of war, where the nations and nation states had no lived experience of insurgencies”, it needs to be contextualized, as such! In short, the author dismisses the Laws of War propounded by the United Nations Charter of Human Rights and the related Protocols, as irrelevant, because a new ethics of war has since emerged. Hence, according to PS, in the given context the Eelam War cannot be deemed as an Act of Genocide or an Act of War Crimes or Crimes against Humanity!
While the above exposes the prejudices of the author, an ace strategic analyst, one would also wonder to see the conspicuous absence of certain claims and facts presented by the people and institutions of significance.
It was during the thick of the war the Sri Lankan authorities and the then Indian Foreign Minister Shri.Pranab Mukerjee claimed that there were only less than 70,000 civilians in the “No fire zone” who needed humanitarian assistance. It was during this period a couple of Sinhala journalists (Names withheld for want of safety and the continuing threat of impending White Van abductions!) visited Chennai and exposed the diabolical designs of the Sinhala regime and its accomplices, as they claimed that there were more than 330,000 civilians in the “No-Fire Zone” suffering without adequate food, proper sanitation, and the minimum health care.
This was brought to the notice of the international community and the human rights movements, the world over, by PUCL, taking the message through out the country with the help of the democratic minded Sinhala journalists and the local media. It is a sigh of relief and satisfaction that our efforts preempted a larger massacre of the civilians in the so called “Safe Zones”. Although this was reported in the leading dailies from New Delhi, where the office of the Resident Editor of the Hindu presides over, this exposure is not acknowledged by PS.
Well, why PS is silent about the submission of the Bishop of Mannar Rev Joseph Rayappu to LLRC which gave the precise figure of 146,679, being the number of missing persons from Sept 2008 to 18th May 2009? No wonder that PS conveniently ignored the Bishop’s submission, as the much trumpeted LLRC itself failed to record the Bishop’s submission in their Report!
PS has also omitted to refer the figure of 70,000 deaths during the last phase of the war as quoted in the Internal Report, headed by Charles Petrie, of the UN.
The recorded testimony of Vani, a Medical Attendant who served in the war zone has exposed the shocking nexus between the Red Cross and the UN officials with the Sri Lankan regime, which perpetrated the Crime of Genocide, during the last stages of the war.
The targeted bombings of the civilians have been recorded profusely in the report of the UN Expert Panel. The Panel has gone on record stating that targeted bombings were conducted on the make-shift hospitals and on the people who stood in the queue for collecting food and medicines.
It was Gotabaya who declared openly that his regime cannot provide safety to the personnel of the international agencies like UN and IRC and the Press who were in the war zone and they were forced t to leave the war zone. This led to a full length war without witness. It is under these circumstances, the international community is groping in dark for estimating the damages caused and hence demanding for an independent international investigation.
Finally, to call the Sri Lankan campaign against the Eelam Tamils as Genocide and Genocidal war and Structural Genocide, in the Post War scenario, one should dispassionately study the intentions of the Sri Lankan Regime right from the days of the island’s independence.
The denial of franchise to the Plantation Tamils with the intention to dislodge the Tamils politically, was the first war, with out bloodshed, against the Tamils of Sri Lanka, with the intent of Genocide. The Sinhala Only Act, the socalled Standardisation and the suppression of the democratic struggles of the Eelam Tamils, the killing of 53 Tamil Political prisoners in Welikade prison and to top it all, the burning of the Jaffna Public Library and the entire pogrom of Black July in 1983 are only a few of the campaigns by the Sri Lankan Regimes with Genocidal intent. It was under these circumstances, the youth of the Eelam Tamils plunged into a guerilla campaign for the liberation of Tamil Eelam and eventually for establishing a Socialist Tamil Eelam. This entailed in the establishment of a defacto government of the Eelam Tamils for over two decades, despite an oppressive economic embargo and encirclement.
It was finally, in the process of the overthrowing the established defacto State of the Eelam Tamils the War culminated with lethal Genocidal intent, when Gotabaya commandeered the soldiers to throw the Eelam boys in to the sea and enjoy the Eelam women to quench their ‘worldly’ pleasures.
Historically, the act of Genocide is never expounded and explained by the number of deaths but by the “acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such” (Refer Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) which needs no further proof, in the case of Sri Lanka.
However, it is the demand of the international community to press for an independent international inquiry into the alleged Genocidal War and the War Crimes and the Crimes against Humanity perpetrated by the Sri Lankan Regime and their accomplices, particularly during the last phase of the Eelam War.
It is imperative that reputed journalists like PS, stop burying Mullivaikkal, the contemporary synonym of Genocide, like the Hitlerian Holocaust, under the garb of the modern ethics of war, under the guise of combating insurgency and unleashing a War on Terror, which will only serve the Rogue States like Sri Lanka and the Imperialist regimes. Instead, they should call for a credible international investigation into the alleged Genocide if they sincerely intend to help the Sri Lankan regime to come out clean from the present quagmire.
Despite the availability of overwhelming documented evidences, it is unfortunate that a section of the Press and intellectuals are still in the denying mode; denying the history of Genocide in Sri Lanka, wittingly or unwittingly, at the behest of Sri Lanka, to stall the inevitability of the internationally monitored Referendum by the people of Eelam Tamils, in Sri Lanka and among the Diaspora, which will possibly pave the way for an independent Tamil Eelam, for which the people of Eelam has laid down their body and soul, for over six decades.