By Suren Surendiran –
I wrote in the UK Guardian on 30 May 2009, eleven days after the tragic end of the war titled ‘The ÚN has failed the Tamils’ where I referred to and identified many of the failings and weaknesses now being acknowledged after an internal inquiry within the UN, three and half years later. If I had known all of these then and during the war, it begs the question why an international body which was formed fundamentally to protect humanity didn’t know or did it know and failed to act?
This is not the first time the UN had failed in such catastrophic proportions. Even in my piece back in 2009, I stated that UN inaction in Rwanda, Bosnia, Gaza and Darfur has led to many thousands of innocent lives being lost and many more displaced. Yet lessons were not learnt. If after so many repeated failings, this institution hasn’t learnt its lessons, what gives us any confidence that it will learn any lessons after this report?
“Never again” said the UN after acknowledging its own failings in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Fifteen years later and after many more failings which cost more innocent lives, in Sri Lanka, the UN repeated the same errors of inaction and failings at the highest levels of authority.
It is acknowledged in the UN Panel of experts’ report that over forty thousand innocent civilians could have been killed. However other credible estimates place a much larger number of deaths ranging from 75,000 to 146,000. The latter being the estimate by a distinguished local Bishop who lived through the war.
The UN Secretary General reacted late, nevertheless reacted in setting up a panel of experts to advise him on accountability and what measures he could take to address accountability for what happened during the final stages of the war. The experts came up with their findings and made a set of recommendations. The Secretary General left that report to hold dust since it was published on 31 March 2011 to date. I am sure he blames the lack of political will on part of the member states, particularly the powerful five Security Council members.
A local Tamil politician was quoted as saying that “We all know that the international law is only on paper but, in practice it is international politics.”
Beyond the UN, some of the other human rights and humanitarian institutions must also take responsibility as they could have been more vociferous than they were as they all knew what was happening at that time was nearer a genocide.
Ambassadors and High Commissioners of countries who claim to uphold the highest values of human rights, who failed to address and inform their respective country foreign ministries the real story must feel ashamed and will have to live the rest of their lives with guilt.
Even today, President Rajapaksa and his brothers who were all implicated as alleged war criminals in the UN Panel of Expert’s report carry on with their criminality with impunity. After three and a half years after the end of the war, there is no political solution for the Tamil National Question, instead even the Indian sponsored 13th amendment to the constitution, which was never accepted by the Tamils has been put under threat by an executive president and his war mongering brothers. The constitutional protections that maintained independence of certain key institutions such as the Election Commission, the Supreme Court appointments, the Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission, Appointment of Election Commissioner etc. have all been removed by the introduction of the eighteenth amendment to the constitution. Disappearances are on the rise to historic proportions. Threats to the lives of journalists who dare to challenge the regime are on the increase. Chief Justice has been threatened with a process of impeachment as a direct result of her challenge to stop unconstitutional actions of the regime.
Believe it or not this is the same Sri Lanka that has been promoted as a dream destination by many firms including the Lonely Planet, the British Airways etc.
It is beyond belief that even Her Majesty the Queen may be considering attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which is due to take place in Sri Lanka during the fourth quarter of 2013. One would hope the Buckingham Palace would have learnt its lessons after the debacle of Her Majesty who hosted the late dictator of Romania Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in 1978 who were executed by their own people for their crimes against humanity in 1989.
We certainly hope common sense will prevail and learning from history, Her Majesty will avoid giving yet another alleged war criminal undue publicity which will help him to remain in power.
* Suren Surendiran who is the spokesperson for the Tamil Diaspora organisation Global Tamil Forum (GTF)