By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Chief Minister Wigneswaran attempted to explain away the Northern Provincial Council’s ‘Genocide’ Resolution by saying it was not directed against the present administration but rather against its predecessor. He was not telling the truth, to put it mildly. The Resolution has a specific target and that target is unveiled in the very title. The Resolution goes into the record under the title “Sri Lanka’s Genocide Against Tamils”. Thus the charge is not against Mahinda Rajapaksa—not that this would have made it right—but against Sri Lanka. It is Sri Lanka, the country—our country—that stands accused. It stands accused of ‘genocide’. Any reference to the previous administration appears in those sections dealing with ‘recent genocide’, while every section on ‘recent genocide’ is preceded with one on ‘historic genocide’.
What is the pith and substance of the resolution? There is no room for confusion. It says:
“This resolution provides an overview of the evidence demonstrating successive Sri Lankan governments’ genocide against Tamils, and respectfully requests the ongoing United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to investigate the claim of genocide and recommend appropriate investigations and prosecutions by the International Criminal Court. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (Genocide Convention) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9th December, 1948, and acceded to by Sri Lanka in 1950, and provides:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Although the OISL investigation is a time-bound effort focused on February 2002 – November 2011, Sri Lanka’s genocide against Tamils began with the island’s independence. Since then, Tamils across Sri Lanka, particularly in the historical Tamil homeland of the NorthEast, have been subject to gross and systematic human rights violations, culminating in the mass atrocities committed in 2009. Sri Lanka’s historic violations include over 60 years of state-sponsored anti-Tamil pogroms, massacres, sexual violence, and acts of cultural and linguistic destruction perpetrated by the state. These atrocities have been perpetrated with the intent to destroy the Tamil people, and therefore constitute genocide.
This Council is of opinion that during the period extending from 1948, when the Citizenship Act was passed to strip citizenship from a segment of the Tamil community and render them stateless, and continuing through the present day, successive Sri Lankan governments have perpetrated genocide against Tamils. Extensive evidence demonstrates that acts have been committed that constitute four of the five enumerated genocidal acts in the Genocide Convention…” (p.1)
The resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council solemnly places our country, Sri Lanka, in the company of Hitler’s Germany, Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
“…This Council notes that the spread of false rumors to incite violence against a group is a hallmark of genocides throughout history, such as in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia. The Sri Lankan government has used false rumors as one tool in organizing Sinhalese mobs to commit genocide against Tamils.” (p.3)
The Resolution accuses Sri Lanka of committing “cultural genocide” against the Tamils.
“…The governments of Sri Lanka also committed acts of cultural genocide, beginning on June 5, 1956, when the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike government passed the Sinhala Only Act, or the Official Language Act, which replaced English with Sinhala, spoken by 70% of the population at the time, as the sole official language. This act failed to officially recognize Tamil in any capacity. In the first republican constitution of 1972, Buddhism was privileged “at the foremost place” among religions in the constitutions. Although the term “cultural genocide” does not appear in Genocide Convention, it was included in the initial draft, and international criminal tribunals have found acts of cultural and linguistic destruction to constitute acts of genocide. The Sinhala Only Act and the privileging of Buddhism undermine the Tamil people’s language and religion, predominantly Hindu.” (p.5)
The Resolution states that the Sri Lanka sought to physically eliminate the Tamils in the same manner as in Rwanda. One of the methods by which this Rwanda–style “physical destruction”, albeit in slow motion, defined as “slow death genocide”, was sought to be effected, was through – wait for it—university admissions policy.
“…Moreover, according to international criminal jurisprudence from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the term “physical destruction” “should be construed as the methods of destruction by which the perpetrator does not immediately kill the members of the group, but which, ultimately, seek their physical destruction,” which would “include, inter alia, subjecting a group of people to a subsistence diet, systematic expulsion from homes and the reduction of essential medical services below minimum requirement”. By pushing Tamils out of the workforce and rendering them financially insecure, the Sinhala Only Act and university admissions standardization ultimately aimed to destroy the Tamil group at least in part via a “slow death genocide.” This Council further notes that during the war, the government imposed prolonged blockades against humanitarian aid and embargos on necessary goods, preventing basic goods and supplies from reaching the NorthEast.” (p.7)
Did you know that a military blockade is still in place against ‘Tamil areas’, causing the “historical impoverishment and isolation of the Tamil community”? Note the despicable use of the present tense, and the open-endedness, in the phrase “has been in place since 1990”.
“A military blockade against Tamil areas has been in place since 1990, except for ceasefire periods, which has contributed to the historical impoverishment and isolation of the Tamil community. The blockade has prevented ordinary items such as basic medicine, school books, cement, gasoline, candles, and chocolate from entering Tamil areas. During certain periods of the ethnic conflict, the military adopted a harsher stance, and blocked all humanitarian aid intended for civilians.” (p.7)
According to the Resolution, the genocide is ongoing: “To this day, Tamils in the NorthEast suffer from Sri Lanka’s ongoing genocide …There has been no change in the oppressive level of militarization in the NorthEast with the election of Maithripala Sirisena…” (p.11)
So what’s the bottom line? What does the Northern Provincial Council, its Chief Minister Wigneswaran and by extension the Tamil National Alliance which has failed to denounce the resolution and whose most moderate member justifies it entirely, wish to be done with – and to—this country, Sri Lanka? What is sought to be done? What is the agenda? There is no room for confusion on this score.
“…Resolved that the obligation to prevent and punish genocide under the Genocide Convention is not a matter of political choice or calculation, but one of binding customary international law. This Council urges OISL to comprehensively investigate and report on the charge of genocide in its 11 submission to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015. The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions based on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Alternatively or concurrently, domestic courts in countries that may exercise universal jurisdiction over the alleged events and perpetrators, including but not limited to the United States, should prosecute these crimes.
To this day, Tamils in the NorthEast suffer from Sri Lanka’s ongoing genocide…There has been no change in the oppressive level of militarization in the NorthEast with the election of Maithripala Sirisena…This Council urgently calls upon the international community to create conditions suitable and sustainable to protect the Tamils of the NorthEast Provinces in Sri Lanka from genocide.
The case of genocide in Sri Lanka is unique among genocides in history because it occurred over several decades and under different governments before intensifying into a no holds-barred war for nearly three decades and culminating in the mass atrocities of 2009. It is accordingly vital that Sri Lanka’s historic violations against Tamils, in addition to the 2009 attacks, are addressed through an international mechanism in order to combat Sri Lanka’s institutionalized impunity. This international intervention, coupled with action to promote the respect of human rights, is necessary to ensure a sustainable future for self-determination, peace, and justice, in Sri Lanka and for the Tamil people.” (p. 11)
So that is what the elected representatives of the Northern Provincial Council and their Chief Minister, think of the country in which they live, work, do politics and pontificate in. It is a country in which genocide is ongoing; a country which has perpetrated and is perpetrating genocide.
What do they want? They want to put the charge of genocide foursquare on the international agenda. They want Sri Lanka to be prosecuted. The charge is against “Sri Lanka”—the country; this country; our country. They want “international intervention” –their term, not mine—to prevent (ongoing) genocide against the Tamils.
It isn’t only the provincial representatives who think so. The moderate Mr. MA Sumanthiran, poster boy of Colombo’s cosmopolitan civil society, completely justifies the Genocide resolution. He also indicates the opportunities that will open up with the institution of a ‘domestic mechanism’ into accountability, with the “supervision” of the OHCHR, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Taken together with the genocide resolution and Mr. Sumanthiran’s endorsement of it, there can be little doubt that the ‘domestic mechanism’ proposed by the new UNP administration will open the space for making the charge of genocide stick, and infiltrating into the High Commissioner’s report and thus the international agenda, firstly in Geneva. Excerpts from the Ceylon Today interview given to Ananth Palakidnar follow:
“The Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran, defending the NPC’s genocide resolution as democratic and timely, emphasized on the need for the war victims to prepare themselves to gather more evidence in order to strengthen the OHCRC’s OISL report to be released in September this year. He also added that an internal investigation with the OHCR’s supervision, unlike the local investigations in the past, is essential to ensure a constructive UN investigation into the alleged war crimes in the country.
Q: What is your view on the recent ‘genocide resolution’ passed by the Northern Provincial Council?
A: The resolution is timely and the facts which have been listed out in it are nothing but true. It was a sheer democratic action and very well drafted, taking into consideration the grievances of the people directly affected by the war. Various comments could surface with regard to the resolution, but it was aimed at seeking justice for the people who have been affected by the ruthless war in the North. The Chief Minister of the Northern Province or the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) cannot be criticized for bringing about the genocide resolution, since the NPC represents the people who were very much affected by the war. So the NPC, which represents those people and being a democratic institution, has done its part in the right manner in bringing out the resolution. The Chief Minister has clearly pointed out the atrocities committed systematically towards the Tamils since the country gained independence. Therefore without addressing the genuine grievances of the people affected by the communal upheavals in the past, we cannot talk of reconciliation. Therefore, the genocide resolution was brought out to identify the perpetrators who had committed the war crimes and bring justice to the war victims. The resolution is not at all meant to hurt the feelings of those who strive for peace and reconciliation in the country…
Q: Do you think the delay in releasing the OISL report will make way for the perpetrators to do the manipulations over the accusations against them with regard to the alleged war crimes?
A: Nothing like that. The OISL report has its own findings. It cannot be influenced or adjusted. The TNA is constantly in touch with the OHCHR officials. On the other hand the people who had experienced the adverse effects of the war should do everything to strengthen the OISL report by adding more evidence to it. When the report is released in September it should bear the right weight. The war victims should come forward without any hesitation to strengthen the report further. They should be bold enough to give their evidence. There are several witnesses who had seen for themselves, directly, the atrocities committed during the war. A large number of key witnesses had given their evidence in the past, secretly. However, they should now cooperate within the other six months to make the OISL report more meaningful.
Q: How do you comment on the proposed internal investigation under the supervision of the OHCHR in Sri Lanka?
A: A local mechanism to hold an internal investigation into the alleged war crimes is important. It will not be a strategy adopted in the form of commissions in the past. The internal investigation under the supervision of the OHCHR will help in a big way to protect the witnesses as well. In any country, to support the OHCRC action, an internal investigation is also carried out in addition to the UN investigation. Therefore, the internal investigation, which is the Lankan Government is clamouring for, will only add weight in an extensive way to the UN action. Here again the people, without any hesitation, must cooperate in the investigations in whatever form to reach a constructive end results.”
Mr. Sumanthiran’s Ceylon Today interview reveals the intentions and expectations of the TNA and gives an inkling into the nature of the pincer move comprising the ongoing OHCHR international investigation and an OHCHR-supervised “domestic mechanism” that Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the Wickremesinghe administration appear to have agreed to.
*Dayan Jayatilleka was Minister in the North–East Provincial Council in 1988-’89 and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN Geneva in 2007-2009