22 June, 2021

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UN Has A Second Chance To Right Wrongs On Sri Lanka

By Gordon Weiss

Gordon Weiss

There is little doubt that in 2009 the government of Sri Lanka pulled off one of the nastiest episodes of mass killing since the Rwandan genocide – and got away with it. Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred, with barely a trickle of Syria-like imagery emerging from the battle zone.

In a new report released in New York, the UN has shouldered its portion of responsibility for this bloody catastrophe. It is a heavy burden indeed.

The Petrie Report predicates its scouring of the UN’s role on a vast and intricate web of evidence pointing to crimes committed by both government and Tamil Tiger forces. Of the two, government forces bear the greater culpability.

Despite a clear advantage over the near-vanquished rebels, the army bombed packed hospitals, used starvation tactics, executed civilian captives, raped and killed female guerillas and corralled women and children into “safe zones” before shelling them. When that was done, it interrogated and then killed the Tamil Tiger political and military leadership, along with their families.

The UN’s investigators conclude that the UN system faltered just when it was most needed, from the field level up to the powerful Security Council, where Australia is now taking a seat.

While many UN staff acted bravely and dutifully, other key staff forgot their first responsibility, the protection of life. Instead, according to the report, they favoured bureaucratic stratagems, trading off civilian lives against misconceived priorities. While the Sri Lankan government successfully shrouded the kill zone from the prying eyes of the international press, UN dissembling obscured it further.

For its part, the UN Security Council studiously ignored the warning signs so obvious in a civil war. Syria, now in the glare of international scrutiny as a result of media coverage, is a useful direct comparison.

In Sri Lanka in 2009, with a battlefield blacked out by the government, the gathering massacres were out of sight, and thus more easily kept out of mind. While the council has met dozens of times over the Syria crisis, and has sent in observers, in 2009 it failed to officially meet even once on Sri Lanka. It refused to consider the issue despite solid indications from UN personnel, diplomatic missions, satellite images and individual member states that something awful was unfolding. Did Sri Lanka read this as a nod to go ahead, whatever the cost?

For its part, the UN Secretariat failed on two fronts. First, as the Petrie report tells it, the Secretary-General’s team recoiled from telling the Security Council in stark terms what it didn’t want to hear. Then, as UN staff buckled under intimidation and threats from Sri Lanka’s government, the UN Secretariat withheld the kind of support its staff needed to push back.

When Australian UN humanitarian worker James Elder warned that children were being killed, a government official accused him of supporting terrorists. The government expelled Elder. That government official, Palitha Kohona, is now Sri Lanka’s representative at the UN. His deputy is a former general accused of mass killing.

For UN loyalists, the report pulls no punches, and is uncomfortable reading. It will almost certainly lead to reform, despite the cynics who believe that the UN is merely a talk-fest.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is making good on his commitment to full accountability in his realm. The fact that the report was written by insiders (Charles Petrie, a former UN diplomat, was supported by a team of brilliant UN staff), means its criticisms and recommendations are founded on a solid and largely disinterested familiarity with how the UN functions in a crisis, and how it ought to function better next time.

“Never again” might seem cynical, if it were not for the many who continue to work for the UN and who believe in that phrase, despite Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Sri Lanka.

But it is vital to remember that the UN’s mea culpa moment pales alongside the culpability of the government of Sri Lanka, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. Theirs is a sovereign government, democratically elected, which chose a deliberate path that led to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a post-9/11 world, the mere mention of the word “terrorist” apparently provided a licence to kill large numbers of Sri Lanka’s citizens. Given that the current government controls the crime scene, and has excluded all outsiders, the dead will remain uncounted for many years.

Yet the government of Sri Lanka gave a written guarantee to the Secretary-General that it would provide a true account of what happened at the end of the war. Indeed, next March, Sri Lanka is due to front the Human Rights Council in Geneva. There, the government will describe just how it has complied (or not) with its guarantee. And here, oddly, Australia has an additional if little-known role.

Some years ago, under the auspices of the Australian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, Australian lawyers began listening to the stories of Tamil refugees arriving on our shores.

They deposed witnesses to the war and opened files. In time, these efforts morphed into the International Crimes Evidence Project, which is now led by the Sydney-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. ICEP is probably now the single largest repository of evidence related to war crimes in Sri Lanka in the world. ICEP’s personnel includes veterans from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Next month, ICEP will hand a brief of evidence to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with evidence gathered and attested using the highest standards of international criminal law. While Sri Lanka is certain to argue next March that it has given a true account of the end of the war, ICEP’s brief will demonstrate otherwise.

The UN has a second chance at righting the wrongs committed in Sri Lanka, and Australia has a role, both through ICEP and our presence in the UN Security Council chamber.

*Gordon Weiss was the UN’s spokesman in Sri Lanka. He is the author of The Cage and a founding adviser to ICEP.

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    “Sri Lankan government successfully shrouded the kill zone from the prying eyes of the international press, UN dissembling obscured it further.”
    “despite Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Sri Lanka.”

    “Theirs is a sovereign government, democratically elected, which chose a deliberate path that led to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

    “Australia has a role, both through ICEP and our presence in the UN Security Council chamber.”

    Well Said! What’s more;

    Encore, Encore, :)

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    Gordon Weiss is equally or more guilty than the UN itself.
    Instead of speaking up when he was in Colombo, he was busy collecting material for his new book 2 years later.

    He was also guilty of being silent after he left Colombo.

    Gordon Weiss and Vejay Nambiar also should be investigated.

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      Ask any “beekeeper” and they’ll tell you the same. ;)

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      Donald,
      How much responsibility do expat LTTE organisations bear for allowing Prabha to hold civilians against their will as human shields?

      Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that pro-LTTE disapora groups wanted a huge Tamil civilian death toll.

      “Ambassador [Blake] briefed the minister on the results of the meeting Asst Sec Boucher had hosted with American (SL Tamil) Diaspora representatives. He explained that the Diaspora had rejected U.S. calls for them to urge the release of civilians.

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        Mango, if as alleged VP was holding the Tamil civilians as a Human Shield, how come the whole lot except the LTTE who remained with VP, were allowed to cross the lagoon and come to the mainland under the Forces Command. For one thing according to the Govt. news alone VP was dead but he was there to direct the LTTE to surrender in the end where according to the news surfacing they have been massacred by the Forces. All this govt. speculation will come to naught once the facts are revealed.

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          “Mango, if as alleged VP was holding the Tamil civilians as a Human Shield,”

          It is not ALLEGED it is a war crime accepted and have proof unlike many discussed here.

          “were allowed to cross the lagoon and come to the mainland under the Forces Command.”
          So if there was a deliberate killing of the civilians how come they come to the defence lines of the army??

          I think anybody question LTTE’s role in civilian deaths and try to whitewash them should have no right to question that of SLA.

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        well said.
        I think Gov should play the same game played by the diaspora. They funded terrorism here. They killed people here. Some even celebrated whenever there is a suicide bomb. It is these ppl who has turned into HR activists. why cant the gov make them accountable for funding and supporting a terrorist org. Many of them can be prosecuted. Adel Balasingham who has trained child soldiers is living in London. SO why no action against her. She engaged in a war crime.

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      arent u guilty?

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    Gordon , [Edited out]

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    http://colombotelegraph.com/comments-policy/

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    Gordon Weiss is simply trying to repeat in this article what he tries to do in his book ‘The Cage’, to blame the government of Sri Lanka for civilian casualties rather than those who were truly responsible, the Tamil Tigers. It was the Tigers, including their civilian supporters, who made the civilians accompany them into the Vanni so they could use them as a bargaining tool and as a human shield to try to protect the Tiger leadership. Inevitably in such circumstances there were civilian casualties, but there is no evidence that “tens of thousands” of civilians were massacred as he and Charlies Petrie claim. This is just internet gossip, nothing more. No bodies, no remains, no graves, no perpetrators, no names of the missing to justify such a grossly exaggerated claim.

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      Also if there were thousands of ppl who died, why there arnt any evidence for mass graves? there are sattellite imagery but none give the evidence of masss graves of huge no of dead ppl. If there was a such big number of deaths then there should be hastenly dug graves. But none are there.

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      ” No bodies, no remains, no graves, no perpetrators, no names of the missing to justify such a grossly exaggerated claim.”

      If this has not been investigated by anybody how do YOU know?

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    An International Investigation of War Crimes seems on the cards!

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      The sooner the better. That is the only way to get to the Truth.

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    It is a well-orchestrated strategy to cover up the real interests in the Sri Lanka war. Is there seriously anybody who doubts about what really happened? Do you think that the entire international community or at least the West are so scared by Sri Lanka? The usual answer is that China is behind the affair. Wrong. It is India plus other European countries with special economic interests (in primis, the UK) and that’s why the West hasn’t the courage to intervene.
    We are discussing and debating about episodes that are crystal clear: a brutal carnage of civilians. And the time is passing.

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      a brutal carnage of civilians? hmmm i want to know how 300000+ civilians are alive today? Why did they flee from LTTE to army defence lines? If it was a genocide how come they flee towards the so caled oppresser? these are questions remain unanswered n ignored for mere political goals.

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    Why can’t the UN take some drastic action now at least to inspire the great the patriot Modawansa to stage a fast-unto-death?

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    Whose responsible ?
    The diaspora who presented a pair of horns to Prabakaran & LTTE.
    Diaspora has blood on their hands & attempting to wipe them on GOSL. These disgraceful yet unable to come to terms that they got Prabakaran to destroy their own own future generations. Sad but true.

    Gordon Weiss, a typical cooley. Did he ever bother about the suffering Tamils in the North? Answer is a categorical NO.
    He was in Sri Lanka preying on anothers carcass. The Cage is proof.

    It is mainly these White men from the powerful Western block exploit the thrid world for their personal gain after their governments have created turmoil in the third world. Thus enable their jobless graduates gain meaningful employments as do gooders and consultants.
    These white unemployed blokes then assume themselves as advisers fallen from the sky and begin to nurture their own lives from third world perils.
    With it comes the INGOs who hire locals to create an enviorment of dog eat dog to assist these unemployed white Grads secure to become god saving consultants.
    Such INGO is one who appear regularly in these columns & who fled SL for fear of the JVP with stink in his pants. Who knows it all.
    Yes. We find canine eat canine Baseell Fernandoor of AEhRCee.

    Sri Lankans will always be divided & be a playground for host of unemployed white grads who then revel in their appointments aided by local NGOs..

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      ‘It is mainly these White men from the powerful Western block exploit the thrid world for their personal gain after their governments have created turmoil in the third world. Thus enable their jobless graduates gain meaningful employments as do gooders and consultants.
      These white unemployed blokes then assume themselves as advisers fallen from the sky and begin to nurture their own lives from third world perils.’

      wellsaid…..our peril is their fortune

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        No matter what you say every nation will exploit another nation and its human nature to do so rather than not!

        Pray, Sinhala Buddhist then give me the name of a nation that does not exploit whilst in power?? Rajaporkistan by the gun for the gun with gun.

        However, no matter what excuse politicians dream up for waging war, the underlying cause of all wars is economic in nature.

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          So exploiting is ok with u? U are a mentally handicapped person. what s wrong in me being a sinhala buddhist? U are wrong, proven dead wrong many times and display racist behavior every time. Actually even MR is better than rotten heads than u

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    Because the UN was silent during the bloodbath, the people in the Northeast have been oppressed immensely in the last 41 months. The UN has to compensate for that too and to find a solution to the 64-yr conflict.

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    while I have no doubt that Gordon Weiss believes what he has written here. If he checks his conscience again he is guilty of NOT taking a stand then and making a serious point of what was going on.

    Does he imply he DID NOT KNOW? I somehow doubt it. Of course in hindsight we know the extent of the tragedy, but the news black out meant that those like the UN had a particular responsibility which they simply abrogated for enlightened self interest which in light of the latest report casts doubt on that practice.

    It is too late for those who were killed, but people who can must clear the conscience of those who were simply corralled into the LTTE trap which turned into the Army’s canon fodder.

    The fact that NOONE has been held responsible to this date is a shame on the human race. Until there is accountability there will be no pause in the current level of intolerance. So if SL is to go forward those currently believing them immune from their worst excesses must be brought to book.

    Maybe 2013 is their Waterloo, they should be shaking in their boots but are not in the least bit worried!

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    The Report is by Western Standards and it logically follows that the
    UNSG could tender his Resignation honorably. What Weiss has written
    again is directly from the horses mouth – the closest UN Memeber on the
    scene in the absence of an independent media.
    The dispora will not rest until there is an outcome – as would any
    community under these circumstances. We Sinhalese should understand
    the basics.

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    When tamils in their thousands protested in the capitals all over the world they were getting information from their friends and relatives in the war zone. They knew what was happening to their kith and kin but because the UN and other countries like, UK, USA and particularly India who knew that a real tragedy was taking place to the civilians kept quiet, the Rajapaksa regime was able to convince the entire world that the diaspora protests were to save the LTTE.

    It was a shame that Gordon Weiss and others in the know did not speak out at the time but they will have to live with this in their conscience for the rest of their lives. However, the fact that Gordon Weiss and others have bravely informed the world at least after the war’s end that the Sri Lankan regime killed tens of thousands of its own civilians with impunity I feel that they should be commended. Without people like Gordon Weiss the case against the Rajapaksa regime will be much weaker. So I would urge Donald Gnanakone and others to think hard before criticising Gordon Weiss. This UN report and the Darusman report are strong enough to indict the Rajapaksa brothers and their military commanders at the IC for war crimes and Gordon Weiss and others will have an important role to play in this.

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      Piranha

      The people were caught between devil and the deep blue sea.

      The Tamil diaspora never demanded the LTTE to release the Tamil captives numbering more than 300,000 of them nor persuaded the LTTE to accept the Indian offer of arms surrender to third party.

      Self serving Tamils and Sinhalese ought to understand that outsiders cannot arrange peace between Tamils and Sinhalese.

      Seek peace within you not in Gordon’s brief case.

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    Everybody is speaking about the mistakes of the WAR.
    The government needs to think and talk about why the war took place.
    The government is behaving worse than before the war.
    The government is continuing to kill the people.
    The government is continuing to manupulate the people.
    The government is behaving much more abusive than before.
    The government is becoming more arrogant than before.
    Where can the Thamils go? It is better for them to die, by at least by fighting for their life than to be just murdered, or slowly killed by powerty, imposed to them by the goverment.
    The government has to think and talk about the RIGHTS OF THE MINORITIES, NOT TO MISUSE THEIR MAJORITARIAN POWER, to be come a SIHALA oly state or Budhist only state. What is the use of planting Buddhist statues all over the place and specially in the Northeast? It is the right of the local people to fight against the government. It is the right of the people in diaspora, to assist their kith and kin to have their human rights.

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    Mr Gordon Weiss is not direct in calling a spade a spade. For eg. he says “There is little doubt that in 2009 the government of Sri Lanka pulled off one of the nastiest episodes of mass killing since the Rwandan genocide – and got away with it. Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred, with barely a trickle of Syria-like imagery emerging from the battle zone”. Why not call what happened in Sri-Lanka is genocide. Again he is understating an ethnic cleansing by the Sinhalese government and government forces in May 2009 as ‘Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred’. It was all Tamils. Tamils from the Traditional Homeland of the Tamils Vanni. This minimise the effect the news has on the public. The Ruwandan genocide was an ethnic cleansing of its minorities.

    The communal nature of the war is clearly seen in the actions that Gordon describes in the following para. “Despite a clear advantage over the near-vanquished rebels, the army bombed packed hospitals, used starvation tactics, executed civilian captives, raped and killed female guerillas and corralled women and children into “safe zones” before shelling them. When that was done, it interrogated and then killed the Tamil Tiger political and military leadership, along with their families”. The Sinhala government surrounded Vanni, a traditional homeland of Tamils and corralled the entire population into safe zones and misdirected the world by saying that the Tigers took them as hostage. An IC inquiry will have to bring the truth out. Will a true democratic government ever kill its citizen even if they were minority Tamils unless driven by communal hatred?

    Mr Weiss further adds “For its part, the UN Secretariat failed on two fronts. First, as the Petrie report tells it, the Secretary-General’s team recoiled from telling the Security Council in stark terms what it didn’t want to hear. Then, as UN staff buckled under intimidation and threats from Sri Lanka’s government, the UN Secretariat withheld the kind of support its staff needed to push back”. All these would not have to the limelight if not for the valiant journalist Mr Cyrill Matthew Lee of the Inner City Press of the UN. He deserve the Nobel Prize for bringing the blood bath genocide of Sri-Lanka to world’s attention. May he live long!

    Dr C P Thiagarajah

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    The recent UN report on Sri Lanka(SL), given to the UN Secretary General, revealed the slackness or negligence on the part of the UN to protect Tamil civilians during the last days of the war in 2009.

    This was caused by the indifference shown by the countries in the UN, especially by India and the West.

    SL and India propagated blatant lies about the truth in SL, with the view to brand LTTE as only a terrorist organisation. They used Tamil puppets and stooges to do it.

    The US, the UK and the EU swallowed the ropes and banned the LTTE as a “terrorist organisation”. They failed to state and implement the truth.

    LTTE was “a liberation organisation that was also terrorist in some of its actions” Liberation was the main intent of LTTE and terrorism was a side action.

    The west wrongly identified the side action as the main action and blundered within the legislatures of their countries and the UN, causing Tamil genocide.

    The liberation aspect of Tamils should be correctly identified now to rectify the error committed in the UN.

  • 0
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    The recent UN report on Sri Lanka(SL), given to the UN Secretary General, revealed the slackness or negligence on the part of the UN to protect Tamil civilians during the last days of the war in 2009.

    This was caused by the indifference shown by the countries in the UN, especially by India and the West.

    SL and India propagated blatant lies about the truth in SL, with the view to brand LTTE as only a terrorist organisation. They used Tamil puppets and stooges to do it.

    The US, the UK and the EU swallowed the ropes and banned the LTTE as a “terrorist organisation”. They failed to state and implement the truth.

    LTTE was “a liberation organisation that was also terrorist in some of its actions” Liberation was the main intent of LTTE and terrorism was a side action.

    The west wrongly identified the side action as the main action and blundered within the legislatures of their countries and the UN, causing Tamil genocide.

    The liberation aspect of Tamils should be correctly identified now to rectify the error committed in the UN.

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