By Rajiva Wijesinha -
As pressures mount in Geneva, my bemusement increases at our failure to answer systematically the many charges made against us. I had long pointed out that the criticisms made were by and large untenable, but there were certain incidents which required to be investigated further. This view, based on close observation from the vantage point of the Peace Secretariat where I had set in place mechanisms to monitor allegations and check on them, was confirmed by the LLRC Report. That highlighted the need to check on the treatment of surrendees while affirming that indiscriminate attacks on civilians etc were absurd and tendentious charges.
To dismiss those charges however requires logical argument based on evidence. This approach is sometimes not acceptable, as I realized when I was roundly attacked for having declared way back in June 2009 that there had been civilian casualties. The then Attorney General asked me why I had said this, to which my answer was that it was true. I could however understand his assertion that people would try to make use of my answer, and I sympathize with those who feel they might succumb to leading questions and therefore stay silent. But the way of dealing with such matters is to point out the nonsensical nature of such stratagems – as I did with Stephen Sackur on ‘Hard Talk’ when he asked whether I was admitting there were civilian casualties – rather than hiding one’s head in the sand, ostrich-like, and pretending one knew nothing, or even worse, denying reality.
Unfortunately, given that we have so many ostriches in the country, blank denials are thought preferable to logical argument. Thus we seem internationally to have lost the battle with regard to the number of casualties, which has reached the inflated figure now, sanctified by the blessed Darusman, of at least 40,000. These are claimed to be civilians who were killed in indiscriminate firing.
The facts speak otherwise, but we do not use the facts. The recent census report is not publicly discussed, and though there is a report that tries to use data from it to rebut allegations, the process is flawed because the report is long-winded and would not be read by anyone except those already convinced.
What is needed rather is short, sharp arguments based on facts. In this case the statistics are in line with those maintained by other agencies such as the ICRC, but since for a long time we did not work sensibly with the ICRC – for reasons that were not entirely our fault, but reasons that were outdated a couple of years ago – we have not been able to present our arguments forcefully.
In this case, the statistics indicate that the vast majority of alleged disappearances are of those of an age in which they would have been forced by the LTTE into combat. There are very few children amongst them or adults over 40, and a very high percentage are of those in the 20-30 age group – which suggests that deaths were of those engaged in combat.
There is other inductive evidence to show that attacks were not indiscriminate and few civilians in the fullest sense – that is civilians who had not been forced into the frontlines by the LTTE – were killed. We all know that the UN had several workers in the Wanni whom the LTTE kept back, using them at one stage to slow down the army advance – when it kept pretending to be about to release them, to the infamous remnants of convoy 11. Not one of those UN workers was harmed, except that one of them trod on a landmine when she finally made her escape, and was attended to immediately by our forces, who arranged special transport to Colombo.
Again, the LTTE kept back all the workers of the NGOs, when these were asked to leave the Wanni in September 2008. They, along with the UN staff, continued to provide the humanitarian assistance which it is claimed we stopped. Indeed the one person who tried to stop this was Guy Rhodes (of the shadowy Solidar whose vehicles the Tigers used to build defensive bunds) who turns out to be the principal source of American allegations against us, according to Wikileaks. I was present at a meeting at which he claimed, contrary to the position of the other more established agencies such as Oxfam and Save the Children, that they would have to stop functioning in the Wanni since there were no internationals. His rationale for this was that their agreements with donors demanded the presence of international staff, but I stopped that nonsense by pointing out that he had no business to have clauses in aid agreements pertaining to Sri Lanka that were kept secret from the Sri Lankan government. Needless to say, he could not produce such texts, and his colleagues, who were genuine humanitarians as opposed to politicians in disguise, continued with their good work.
None of those NGO workers was killed. Had our firing been indiscriminate, it is unlikely that we managed to avoid all these purveyors of aid. But equally, we could be sure that they would not have been sent to the frontlines, whereas others were ruthlessly conscripted, which is why we do have records of about 3000 youngsters missing.
They do not include priests or doctors or anyone who could have avoided conscription. Indeed, though this should be studied more, I believe all Principals and most public servants remained safe. Unfortunately no one in government has had the sense to draw up statistics of such persons, which would go a long way to establishing that firing was not at random. And indeed the survival of all the doctors makes it clear that there was no random shooting at hospitals either.
But to make all this clear, and in brief, requires an intelligence that government is not willing to deploy, when ostriches are much easier to emulate.