By Rajiva Wijesinha, MP –
At the Frontline Club discussion on Sri Lanka, I finally came across Frances Harrison. The name had been familiar, for in recent years, whenever I went to England, she used to tweet madly about me, in what seemed to me desperate hysteria, though I soon enough found out that many journalists tweet in that mad fashion. This time round, her fascination with me continued, in that she saw the discussion as ‘Ch 4 vs prof rajiva debate’ as she tweeted an hour before the discussion.
It is possible however that the lady is cunning rather than obsessional, because this was also a way of cutting out the contribution of Arun Tambimuttu to the discussion. Initially it had indeed been meant to be me and the High Commissioner debating Jon Snow and Callum McRae, but Snow dropped out. I thought it was because he was nervous since previously, when the High Commission had asked Channel 4 to invite me for a discussion, they had dodged, except once when we managed to corner them with the help of the BBC Today programme. However it is possible that, as one of his loyal fellow employees said before the discussion, in explaining his absence, he simply says ‘Yes’ to everything, and then changes his mind.
The Frontline Club then changed the goalposts, a common feature where Sri Lanka is concerned, by asking both Amnesty International and Tamils Against Genocide to participate. Given the absurdity of the position of the latter – which also dodged a debate with me, when Bruce Fein cried off – we had, instead of the High Commissioner, Arun Tambimuttu, a Tamil whose parents had been killed by the LTTE, evidence of how ruthless the LTTE was with moderate Tamils.
He therefore was ignored by Frances Harrison, but that was better than most, which suggests she has at least some decency in her. Roma Tearne, an esteemed author as advertised in the article she wrote, claimed that Arun was ‘shamelessly misused’ by me for ‘its own ends’. Even worse was the article in the former LTTE mouthpiece ‘Athirvu’, which was doubtless written by Siobhain McDonagh’s researcher, the young man called Daran, who had previously told me that he had supplied Channel 4 with material for its coverage of Sri Lanka. He promised to send me some of this, but then told me he had thought better of it, and instead sent me a video he claimed was startling, which was so obviously edited that I began to wonder even more about the standards Channel 4 employs.
Daran kept taking photographs during the event, and I understood why when ‘Athirvu’ the next day had a report which included a picture of Arun with a red circle round his neck. He is clearly being figured as a target, though I can only hope the murderousness of the LTTE, which had the same sort of picture years ago of Lakshman Kadirgamar and Neelan Tiruchelvam, before they were assassinated, will be controlled for the future. I hope though that our High Commission has informed the British Foreign Office and Scotland Yard as to what these characters are insinuating.
Compared with such characters, Frances Harrison is clearly angelic, but she too has her own problems. One is to twist things when facts militate against her prejudices. I had pointed out, when Jan Jananayagam, pursuing her own little obsession of genocide, declared that the Sri Lankan forces worked with the objective of annihilating civilians, that the ICRC said quite the opposite. The actual words used, as cited in a Wikileaks account of a conversation in Geneva, was that ‘In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths’.
I cited this, but Frances Harrison claims that I said ‘the international Red Cross had praised the Sri Lankan army for its restraint’. She then declares that ‘The same Red Cross publicly confirmed its staff had come under fire inside a hospital from positions held by the Sri Lankan military’ which is more sleight of hand since none of the ICRC public statements referred explicitly or implicitly to one or the other party to the conflict. In fact the army changed its trajectories when the ICRC warned of possible damage to hospitals, which is why there were so few shells in hospital premises, even though the LTTE used heavy weapons from such places. And surely even Frances Harrison must realize that, when there were no casualties amongst all the UN workers the LTTE kept behind, and the ICRC workers who died were not injured on hospital premises, that her claims are at best dubious.
And her final shot, in claiming to refute my statement, while ignoring that it was made specifically in response to Jan Jananayagam’s extraordinary assertion that genocide was practiced, was again misleading. She claimed that the ICRC declared that what happened was an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe“, but I could not find the claim that ‘the Red Cross said it had seen a lot of wars, but rarely one where civilians had been so badly affected’. And she omitted the fact that a few weeks earlier, when over 100,000 fled to government areas but the LTTE kept back almost as many by force, the Red Cross said, in an unusual naming of the guilty, ‘The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely’.
We too had kept urging the International Community to demand that the LTTE let the people go. I don’t think Frances Harrison and her ilk did anything of the sort at that time. And that is why I find the whole process so sordid. All those who now screech about the Sri Lankan forces do add in a few words of criticism about the LTTE. But they are well aware that the LTTE leadership is no longer with us, and those who support the LTTE like Daran are working in different ways now. So this perfunctory criticism, which Callum Mcrae also claimed he advanced, suppressing the fact that all the visuals – which is what television is about, after all – were directed against the Sri Lankan forces, should be contrasted with the stunning silence in 2009, when the LTTE was permitted to take 300,000 people hostage. When the NGOs left Kilinochchi, and when their employees were forced to stay behind, when the families of UN workers were kept back, with mocking denial of the efforts of the rump ofConvoy 11 to bring them out, there was no categorical demand that the people should be allowed to leave.
So one worries about the agenda of these characters. When we see evidence of collusion, Frances Harrison evidently being closely associated with Sam Pari who had been in the forefront of LTTE activity in Australia, when Daran works for Siobhain McDonagh and supplies material to Channel 4, when Benjamin Dix is given a job by Amnesty International, one realizes that there is a forceful network of activists with a political agenda. Whose tools these people are remains to be seen, but it is certainly a rich and immensely powerful grouping, given the money they can so readily lavish on their protégés.