By Paul Newman –
On the 27th morning, the Sri Lankan Minister for Plantation and Special Envoy to the President of Sri Lanka on Human Rights Mr.Mahinda Samarasinghe, made the annual statement on behalf of Sri Lanka at the High Level segment of the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council 2013. In the usual rhetoric the Minister spoke of the commitment of Sri Lanka towards peace and normality after eliminating terrorism by successfully conducting a humanitarian operation to free a captive population. The 5 R’s (Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation) would usher in an era of sustainable development, social progress and durable peace.
The north had witnessed a growth of 27% where as the growth rate of the rest of the country was 8%. The Government of Sri Lanka was relaying the railway line to Jaffna. The last batch of Internally Displaced Persons had returned to their places of origin on 24th September 2012. The strength of the military has been reduced in the north, the military was involved in reconstruction work of the north. The former High Security Zones have ceased to exist. Only 396 ex-combatants (in his word, beneficiaries) are undergoing rehabilitation. Sri Lanka had completely settled the issue of Child Soldiers. The minister claimed that at no time the ex-combatants or LTTE sympathizers were targeted, but reintegrated into the society.
A court of Inquiry was established by the Commander of the Sri Lankan army to inquire into the observations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in its report on alleged civilian casualties during the final phase of the humanitarian operation, the court of inquiry would also examine the Channel 4 allegations. The case of the 5 students killed in Trincomallee and the 17 ACF workers killed in 2006 was further investigated.
In the second part of his speech the minister came down heavily on the Western countries and the UN Human Rights Commissioner Ms.Navi Pillay. He accused the western governments of falling prey to the disinformation, outright falsehood and pressure tactics of the remnants of the terrorist organization which has resulted in biased and unequal treatment of Sri Lanka.
He called the resolution passed on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC in March 2012 as entirely unnecessary,unwarranted and unfair. He said Sri Lanka strongly objected any unfair, unprincipled and unjust approach adopted by the HRC and there should be no debate on any country specific resolution.
He felt it was the government’s primary responsibility to resolve domestic issues and unwarranted Internationalization would undermine the local reconciliation process in Sri Lanka impacting their efforts to reap the dividends of peace. Targetting Sri Lanka unfairly would further polarize the affected parties, particularly in the context of no threat from Sri Lanka towards International peace and security. The subjective selectivity of focusing on Sri Lanka was unacceptable.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner Ms.Navi Pillay, was scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in April 2011 but has refrained from visiting the country though she had sent a high level delegation in September 2012. Ms.Pillay paid inordinate amounts of attention to Sri Lanka in her statements within and outside UN Forums, whether it is the Security Council, Human Rights Councils, democracy conferences or merely comments on a wide range of issues since May 2009 which could influence delegations. Her constant targeting of Sri Lanka was based on “unsubstantiated evidence founded on conjecture and supposition only supports the impression of a lack of objectivity”.
Apart from this the Minister spoke of the efforts of the Sri Lankan government to educate its people on the right to freedom from torture. He also emphasized that due process of law was followed in the impeachment of the former chief justice and the appointment of the new one.
He said Sri Lanka has been “instructed by people who know little of our history,culture and socio-political background, from the Asokan Rock Edicts of the 3rd Century before the Christian era, societies in our region have been guided by values underscoring good governance and human rights. We need not be told. We need not be taught. We are fully aware of what we need to do domestically and internationally”.
To conclude he said that the cornerstone of the Sri Lankan policy was effective reconciliation based on home grown solutions and Sri Lanka did not did not wish to adopt a policy of ‘destructive disengagement’ but would continue with the policy of constructive and open dialogue. He felt that the subjective measures based on unsubstantiated assertions aimed at ‘naming and shaming’ are indicative of a different agenda unrelated to the objectives of the council. With time and space, Sri Lanka would deliver for its people and country.
What Mr.Mahinda Samarasinghe forgets is that we are living in an age of information. The so called humanitarian operation was nothing but a gruesome genocide carried out on innocent Tamils. The war started from the eviction of people from the western coast villages of Arippu, Silavuthurai and Mullikulam ended at the east coast of Mullivaikal. Never were the innocent civilians given a chance to cross over to the army controlled areas. They were herded like cattle from one coast to another for a period of 18 months from the end of 2007 to May 2009. The civilians were reduced to the status of walking skeletons.
The UN Habitat states that 160,000 houses were destroyed. This must be the first humanitarian operation in the world where the collateral damage caused the destruction of 160,000 houses, 146,679 missing people, 4 million Palmyra trees destroyed, cluster bombs used, government proclaimed no fire zones shelled, surrendering prisoners of war carrying white flags shot point blank. Even surrendered women and innocent children were not spared. The UN Panel of Experts says 40,000 civilians would have been massacred on a conservative estimate.
About the 27% development in the north, who are the real beneficiaries? The new roads are for free movement of the Sinhalese soldiers and the business men from the south along with the war zone tourists travelling from the south. The new houses are for the Sinhala settlers. The minister did not utter a word about the substantiated evidences on Sinhalisation.
Militarisation is the hallmark of the daily life of the Tamil civilians in the north and east, both governed by former military personnel. There was not a word of the cultural suppression of the Tamils who are denied their basic right to mourn their dead. Their cultural remnants razed to the ground and new Sinhala landmarks have appeared in their place.
It is a blatant lie to claim that there are no more High Security Zones (HSZs). In Jaffna alone 70,000 Tamils are yet to return home as their land is occupied as HSZs. The entire village of Mullikulam is displaced into the jungles and a naval complex is coming up. In Jaffna the Talsevana military resort has come up in the place of land occupied from Tamils.
Out of a total land mass of 65,619 sq kms of land in Sri Lanka, the Tamils inhabit 18,880 sq kms of land in the north and east, after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq kms of land.
More than 93,000 people are estimated to still be displaced as of late December 2012, living in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts, in transit sites or with host communities. Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (January 24, 2013)
The Channel 4 videos have been authenticated world over, Sri Lanka is yet to accept it as it would amount to accepting its own guilt. Torture, rape of Tamil women and disappearances continue unabated as depicted in the recent report of Human Rights Watch. What is the hallmark of justice in Sri Lanka is the army conducting its own inquiry against crimes conducted by its men!
About the home grown solutions, the President of Sri Lanka put an end to it on the 4th of February 2013 by remarking that there cannot be any privileges given to the Tamils, his home grown solutions are Buddhisisation, Sinhalisation and militarization of the Tamil areas.
No country would have interfered in the internal matter of Sri Lanka if they had settled their issue amicably. Sri Lanka must understand that they do not exist independently, time and again Sri Lanka has sent its own soldiers to settle issues elsewhere as part of the UN forces. The world will not ignore the genocide of the Tamils who have contributed significantly to humanity around the world.
As regards the unscrupulous attack on Ms.Navi Pillai one feels sympathetic to the desperate plight of the Sri Lankan government who did not refute any of her claims since 2009 with substantial evidences. Mere targeting an individual will further alienate Sri Lanka which is trying to prevent the UNHRC from performing her duty.
The whole world except Sri Lanka knows that Ms.Navi Pillai is doing her job to the best of her abilities and intimidating her will only get some cheap popularity of the chauvinistic Sinhalese. To conclude, the desperation of Sri Lanka could be seen in their panicky move to directly attack Ms.Pillai. Even a few African countries which were contemplating on abstaining are now thinking otherwise. Sri Lanka is ready to welcome another resolution!
*Dr.Paul Newman from the 22nd UNHRC, Geneva, 2013.