Here we go again. It is carnival time (or shopping time or sight-seeing time) again in Geneva as the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council kicks off on 3 March 2014.
Two years ago on 15 March 2012 I wrote an article (still on the net), titled “UN Human Rights Council Meting. Another Farce”.
I started with
“This is not a document for easy reading, nor is it meant to be. It is a reasonably comprehensive record of the abysmal record of the UN and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in addressing human rights violations.
I am not going to repeat this comprehensive article.
A few days ago I was completing another article:
“Sri Lanka. Rape of Tamil women, men and children by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and their collaborators”.
It is for release on International Women’s Day 2014, March 8.
In the opening pages, I dealt with the various legal and human rights bodies. Here is what I wrote about the UN Human Rights Council:
“The UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) sits in Geneva every three months. It is just a talk-shop, a political one at that (not consisting of experts in human rights), that does nothing, despite its outstanding Head, High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay.
Pillay is only the Head of the HRC – not the HRC. She has asked for an Independent International Investigation into what happened in the closing stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka (18 May 2009) for years. Yet nothing has happened.
Soon after the massacre of Tamil civilians in 2009, UN HRC passed an outrageous Resolution actually commending Sri Lanka! On May 26 and 27, 2009, a week after the end of the massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians, the UN HRC in a ‘Special session’, clearly sponsored by Sri Lanka, passed a Resolution largely commending Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch slammed the Resolution: “Sri Lanka: UN Rights Council Fails Victims”.
With a return to sanity in 2012 and 2013, UN HRC passed two Resolutions critical of Sri Lanka but still gave time (a year each time) for rape, murder, ‘disappearance’ and other major human rights violations in the Tamil areas to continue. These Resolutions were ‘watered down’ to make them politically more acceptable so that what was finally passed was quite meaningless. Even these ‘watered down’ Resolutions have been ignored by Sri Lanka.
In a few weeks (March 2014), yet another ‘Resolution’ will be passed on Sri Lanka’s human rights record, and possibly on the need for an International Independent Inquiry. Whether that too be ‘watered down’, I do not know but I think it will be. Even if it not, there is nothing to stop Sri Lanka from doing nothing. Given the past record, I am not optimistic.
The Rajapaksa junta has already said that an international investigation into war crimes is ‘interfering with a sovereign State’ and that this is unacceptable. It has also said that international ‘meddling’ will ‘complicate’ the issue. That, of course, is arrant nonsense. International action to stop abuse will greatly simplify the problem (and even stop it), not ‘complicate’ it.
In the unlikely event of a powerful Resolution being passed against Sri Lanka, there is nothing to stop the Sri Lankan regime from telling the UN HRC to get lost. As far as I am aware, there are no penalties if a Resolution passed against a country is simply ignored. Without penalties, these Resolutions are useless. People like ‘President’ Mahinda Rajapaksa and his all powerful brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary (in reality the de facto President – his brother being only the de jure President), will probably ask the UN HRC to get lost (as they have in the past), or say that they need more time – endless years of time – ‘to sort things out’ and that any other alternative is an attempt to ‘bully a small country’ or support Tamil Tiger ‘terrorists (even if they have been crushed by the Governments own admission). Incidentally, with a land area of 25,000 sq miles, Sri Lanka is not a particularly small country and one that is much larger than many UN countries.”
Those who read the draft copy of my article urged me to hold off till the UN HRC meeting was over since there might be a surprise (meaning that for once it would do something of value to address the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka.
I said that I will be glad to wait but I did not share their optimism. Well, I do not need to wait. It is now out in the open – another useless Resolution that addresses nothing. In a way it does, since it allows the murderous regime in Colombo to continue with the serious abuse of human rights in the Tamil areas – more of the same.
There was the usual clap-trap (‘Recalling’ this and that) and then it ‘Recalled’ the HRC Resolutions of March 2012 and March 2013) “on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka”,
Then came the expected nonsense – no different from the nonsense “Resolved” in the previous two years.
Here is what it is about to tell the Sri Lankan government:
“.2. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka: to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable; to hold accountable those responsible for such violations; to end continuing incidents of human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka; and to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner;
3. Reiterates its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;
4. Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate all attacks, by individuals and groups, on temples, mosques, and churches and to take steps to prevent future attacks; and calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of attacks on places of worship, journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups, and other members of civil society;
5. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to release the results of its investigations into alleged violations by security forces, including the attack on unarmed protesters in Weliweriya on August 1,2013, and the Army Court of Inquiry report of 2013;
6. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to provide the Northern Provincial Council and its Chief Minister with the resources and authority necessary to govern, as required by the 13th Amendment of Sri Lanka’s constitution;
7. Welcomes the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka to facilitate the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and to issue an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants; and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including by setting dates and providing access;
8. Welcomes the High Commissioner’s recommendations and conclusions on the need for an independent and credible international investigation in the absence of a credible national process with tangible results, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to assess progress toward accountability and reconciliation, to monitor relevant national processes, and to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka, with input from relevant special procedures mandate holders as appropriate, and to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh fourth session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth fifth session”
What will President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government do? To say “Thank you so much” to those who put up this Resolution and let this murderous regime off the hook (yet again) so that the Tamil people in the North and East can continue to be brutalised by the (Sinhalese) Armed Forces and have their life shattered even more so – if that is possible.
The smiling Rajapaksa will smile even more broadly and throw his arms round the USA, UK and India in a gesture of absolute appreciation, whatever the threats were a few months ago.
Is will be ‘business as usual’ for the Sri Lankan government and its murderous Armed Forces. The (massive) Sri Lankan delegation that usually arrives in Geneva, can relax, finish their shopping and sight-seeing, and go home relieved. They will be wildly cheered on arrival in Colombo – and perhaps even garlanded, for a job well done, despite the gloomy prospects just a few weeks ago. All the fear was completely unfounded as previous UN HRC Resolutions have consistently showed.
If people still believe that the UN or the Human Rights Council are going to save the Sri Lankan Tamils, or for that matter, Sri lanka itself, from a Totalitarian murderous, incompetent and corrupt regime, they are not in the real world..
As Professor Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law, Illinois, USA has pointed out it is “all the work of the new US Secretary of State John Kerry, who assumed office on 1 Feb 2013, was Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations in 2009 that brought out a report advising the USA to help Sri Lanka’s military without insisting on political solutions. Finding a clear link between the 2009 Kerry Report and Kerry’s State Department”,
The only option is to take those guilty of gross human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity – not just what they have done in the past 5 years, but for what they are doing today, to an International Court, and that might not be easy.
While these international games are being played, the Tamils in the Sri Lankan North and East will slowly disappear and cease to be a people. That, in my book, is Genocide.
It is not widely appreciated that the current chaos in Sri Lankais partly due to the damage done by colonial Britain, and later by the failure of the Commonwealth, to act when all the Commonwealth ‘core values’ had been systematically and blatantly violated by a succession of Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) governments. The result is a Totalitarian State where human rights have taken a bashing, democracy has been dismantled, Parliament has been reduced to a rubber stamp, the ‘Separation of Powers’ – the basis of any democracy – has ceased to exist, the Judiciary and the rule of law have become a farce and now, the very existence of the Tamil people is under threat. With corruption, nepotism, serious debt-repayment, an escalating cost of living, and the resort to violence by the Government, whatever the problem, the country is heading for a “Failed State”.
While the elite (the Rajapkasas and their henchmen) journey to a destination somewhere near the top of the world, the dispossessed are spiralling down to chaos. This climate of frustration, fear, anger and national disillusionment is the perfect breeding ground, history tells us, for Totalitarianism and Fascism.
There have been widespread concerns that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be held in Sri Lanka (15-17 November 2013), because of extensive violation of human rights in Sri Lanka. It is a relief that 10 days ago, the Prime Minister of India, and, two days ago, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, decided to join the long-standing decision of the Prime Minister of Canada, not to attendCHOGM.
The commendable decision by all three countries is very important. Canada is a major Commonwealth country, India is the most important regional power, and Mauritius an Indian Ocean country which is scheduled to host the next CHOGM in 2015. It is regrettable that India is sending its Foreign Minister and not some inconsequential person as Canada is doing.
Although British Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be going to CHOGM, he has just released a statement of serious concern, after he watched the newly released (UK) Channel 4 film “No Fire Zone”:-
“‘No Fire Zone’ is one of the most chilling documentaries I’ve watched. It brings home the brutal end to the civil war and the immense suffering of thousands of innocent civilians who kept hoping that they would reach safety, but tragically many did not. Many of the images are truly shocking……..I will raise my concerns when I see President Rajapaksa next week in Colombo. And I will tell him that if Sri Lanka doesn’t deliver an independent investigation, the world will need to ensure an international investigation is carried out instead”.
Prime Minister Cameron’s statement is one of the strongest made by the Head of State of any country on the need for an international investigation into what has occurred in Sri Lanka. This has been repeatedly stressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
Mahinda Rajapaksha tells Jonathan Miller he is NOT concerned by war crimes allegations.
The chaos in Sri Lanka
Is there chaos in Sri Lanka? Well, here is the situation, you decide.
Every internationally credible Human Rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and International Crisis Group (ICG), in a series of reports this year (2013) have detailed Sri Lanka’s disastrous human rights record, the drift to authoritarianism and the silencing of dissent.
Democracy has been replaced by a Totalitarian State, the ‘separation of powers’ which are the pillars of Democracy, no longer exist. Parliament has been reduced to an irrelevancy by the Executive President with sweeping powers. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, after a recent visit, said the country is “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”,
There has been Government interference with Judicial independence, including the removal of the Chief Justice and her replacement by a Government stooge. The Media has been silenced or made into a mouthpiece of the Government. International Media organisations have stated that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for independent journalists and free speech.
Involuntary ‘disappearances’ are a daily occurrence (the second highest in the world after Iraq). There is rampant corruption at all levels, and a Police force which is the most corrupt in the world. There is, what can be termed, “An epidemic of Rape’ of Tamil women, girls and even men, in the North and East by the Sinhalese ‘Security’ Forces (!), the Police and others working with the Government”.
A massive Army out of control runs the Tamil North and East, and treats the area as ‘conquered territory’ and the people as ‘the spoils of war’. There is a failure to provide a reason for the need for such a huge Army of 230,000 – the highest per capita of the population in any country in the world.
Thousands of (Tamil) people are in prison or illegal detention centres, and held without charge or trial.
Sri Lanka has been dragged before the UN Human Rights Council, with more to follow. A disastrous Report by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts into Accountability says that Sri Lanka has a case to answer. There are increasing international demands for an independent inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity, and even Genocide of the Tamils.
A deluge of reports by internationally credible Human Rights organisations have expressed serious concern. The Government has refused to allow these organisations, one of them (Amnesty International), a Nobel Prize winner, not to mention the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts, to enter the country, and see what is going on behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka.
Is this chaos? It certainly looks like it.
Sorting out the chaos
Sri Lanka has had 65 years to sort out the problems left by the British when they quit in 1948, effectively handing over power to the Sinhalese, despite serious (and as it turned out, justifiable) fears expressed by the Tamils. A succession of Sinhalese leaders chose to go down the path of political opportunism in favour of the majority Sinhalese (76% of the country) by discriminating against the Tamils. Britain and the Commonwealth did nothing. Indeed, they have actively encouraged Sinhalese governments to do what they want in total violation of the ‘Independence Constitution’ which set out the conditions under which Ceylon was given its independence from British colonial rule.
If Britain is part of the problem, it must also be part of the solution. This has certainly has not been done. On the contrary, the outrageous decision to allow Sri Lanka to host the 2013 CHOGM would seem to be a ‘reward’ for violating the ‘core values’ of the Commonwealth. It is a disgraceful decision that will have a serious impact on the relevance of the Commonwealth, and the credibility of Britain.
In order to understand the chaos in Sri Lanka, and why it is unsuitable to host CHOGM, or even be in the Commonwealth, it is important to appreciate what has happened in that country and the failure of the Commonwealth in general, Britain in particular, to act.
‘Ceylon’ (renamed ‘Sri Lanka’ in Sri Lanka’s Republican Constitution of 1972) is a British colonial construct that has failed. For hundreds of years there have been three ‘Kingdoms’ – the Tamil Kingdom in the North (Tamil), the Kandyan Kingdom in the centre (Kandyan Sinhalese), and the Kotte Kingdom in the South West (Low-country Sinhalese). These ‘Kingdoms’ were essentially separate ‘States’ or ‘Nations’, each with its own people, customs, culture, and way of life.
A “Nation” is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture. It is generally accepted that that a nation possesses a common ethnic identity, a continuous linguistic and cultural tradition, a defined territory as a homeland, a common way of life and shared historical experience.
It is all these together that generate in a nation a sense of collective consciousness which gives it the capacity and will for political organisation.
It is clear that Sri Lanka has two vibrant nations – a Sinhalese Nation and a Tamil Nation.
In most cases where two or more nations live together in a single country, the political structure is federal, each nation having an autonomous state or regional government. It is this autonomy, and in the inviolability of its territory, that a nation in a multi-ethnic country finds its security for the preservation of its separate identity, language and culture.
This ‘3-nation’ country, Ceylon, was successively occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.
In 1505, the Portuguese occupied the Sinhalese Kotte Kingdom (Low-country Sinhalese), and the Tamil Kingdom (Tamil), followed by the Dutch in 1656, and the British in 1796.
The Kandyan Kingdom (Kandyan Sinhalese) which withstood the Portuguese and Dutch, and early British attempts at conquest, was ceded to the British by the Kandyan chiefs in 1815.
Despite getting control of the whole country for the fist time, the British continued to administer the three ‘Kingdoms’ as separate entities.
A Colonial construct
In 1833, there was a serious change. The colonial British, for administrative ease, abolished the separate administration (‘unified’ the country), and centralised power in Colombo in the (Sinhalese) South West – the ‘Colebrooke-Cameron’ so-called ‘Reforms’. So, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is a British colonial construct.
The colonial British were well aware of the ethnic divisions. In 1799, Sir Hugh Cleghorn, the first Colonial Secretary of Ceylon, wrote the famous ‘Cleghorn Minute’:
“Two different nations, from very ancient period, have divided between them the possession of the island: the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior in the South and Western parts …..and the Malabars(another name for Tamils) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religions, language and manners”.
In 1833, they were brought together by British fiat (the Colebrooke-Cameron ‘Reforms’). During the colonial period, they lived in “union but not unity”.
The ‘unification’ of the country, and particularly the centralisation of administration in Colombo, has been a disaster. It resulted in the development, indeed the overdevelopment of Colombo, and the developmental neglect of the periphery, which included the entire Tamil area and the ‘deep’ Sinhalese South.
This British colonial construct, glued and held together by colonial might, started to get unstuck when the British left. It is claimed that the Tamils in the North and East who want a Separate Tamil State, Tamil Eelam, are trying to break up ‘a tiny country’. For a start, Sri Lanka (25,200 sq miles) is not a ‘tiny’ country. If divided, the Sinhalese State, 18,000 sq miles is larger than 63 UN nations, the Tamil State, 7,200 sq miles is larger than 38 UN countries.
The first people who demanded a division of the country were not the Tamils, as is popularly believed, but the Kandyan Sinhalese.
In 1927, the British sent a Commission headed by the Earl of Donoughmore “tovisit Ceylon and report on the working of the existing constitution….”. Many organisations submitted memoranda. The Kandyan National Assembly (Kandyan Sinhalese) requested a Federal system:
“Ours is….a claim of a nation to live its own life and realize its own destiny…..We suggest the creation of a Federal State as in the United States of America…A Federal system…will enable the respective nations of the several states to prevent further inroads into their territories and to build their own nationality”.
This can very well be applied to the Tamils.
The very least that the departing British could have done was to have left a political structure that was Federal. However, the British were only interested in making sure that the supply of tea (at ridiculously low prices) and their military bases in Trincomalee and Colombo, were in ‘safe’ Sinhalese hands.
Before dealing with the transfer of power, it is important to set out the British strategy in dealing with their colonies. The British politician, Lord Macaulay wrote his historic ‘Minute’ in 1835 (in a comparable situation in India):
“We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but British in taste, in opinions, morals and intellect”.
Bluntly put, it was to produce a class of “Black Englishmen”.
Because of my family connections, I was physically there to witness the transfer of power that took place on 4 February 1948. At the appointed hour, the Rt Hon D.S. Senanayake, (a school drop-out), mounted the podium in a pin-striped suit and tail-coat (looking as British as they come) to receive the instruments of the transfer of power from the Duke of Gloucester, representing King George VI.
While the ‘Black Englishmen’ rejoiced in celebrations with visiting British Royalty and scions of nobility, I doubted whether it meant much for the millions of ordinary Ceylonese.
Soon, through the arithmetic of the ballot box and Sinhalese majoritarianism and chauvinism, it became clear that what had been ‘won’ was ‘independence’ for the Sinhalese. The Tamils were left with ‘assurances’ and Section 29 of the Independence Constitution which guaranteed protection for the ‘minorities’ at the hands of the majority Sinhalese. All this turned out to be nothing but pieces of paper, which were ‘torn up’ by a succession of Sinhalese ‘leaders’. What did Britain do at this act of blatant violation of their ‘Independence Constitution’? Nothing.
This is a critically important section of the Independence Constitution. It was the only guarantee that minorities had to protect them from majority (Sinhalese) rule and possible discrimination. It prohibited the making of any law that was discriminatory against persons of any community or religion. In a Court Case that went before the Privy Council in Britain, Section 29 was deemed to be unalterable – an entrenched provision in the Constitution. It stated:
“They (Section 2 (a) (b) (c) and (d)) represent the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental condition on which inter alia they accepted the Constitution, and these are therefore unalterable under the Constitution”.
If the Section 29 (2) safeguards were unacceptable to the Sinhalese or the Tamils, then the Constitution itself would have been unacceptable and there would have been no transfer of power and no independence.
The Ceylon Parliament therefore had no power or competence to alter, amend or repeal Section 29(2). That could only be done by the King/Queen in Council or the British parliament with Royal assent.
However, that is precisely what the Sri Lankan Government under Sirima Bandaranaike and her Marxist allies did in 1972 – to draw up a new ‘Constitution’ in which Section 29 (2) was dropped (and the name of the country changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka). It was therefore a violation of the Constitution as it stood, and hence illegal.
What did Britain do at this gross violation of the Constitution which removed all the safeguards that the Tamils had at the hands of the Sinhalese? Nothing.
Having cleared the way for discrimination, the Sri Lankan government under Sirima Bandaranaike did just that – got into blatant discrimination against the Tamils. What did Britain do? Nothing.
A Presidential dictatorship
Worse was to follow. Life under Mrs Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party and her Marxist allies became impossible, with a loss of personal liberties, arbitrary arrests and detention without charge or trial, a breakdown in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
J.R. Jayawardene, from the other side of the political divide, the United National Party (UNP), pledged that he would usher in what he called a government that was dharmista (‘just and righteous’). What he did not say was that it would be ‘just and righteous’ in terms of Sinhalese-Buddhists!
He was swept into power with the necessary 2/3 majority to do what he wanted. He did just that. He created the position of an Executive President with sweeping powers and then promoted himself to the position. A Democracy (of sorts) was replaced by a frank Presidential Dictatorship. What did Britain and the Commonwealth do? Nothing.
In November 1982, Jayawardene decided that General Elections were ‘not necessary’, and extended the life of Parliament for six years, without holding an election. Thus, the Parliament in which the UNP held a five-sixths majority, elected in July 1977 (which was to end in 1983) would continue until 1989. It is well known that had Elections been held in 1983, the UNP would have been decimated. If it was, Jayawardene would have had to go. Even if his party had been re-elected, there was no way that they could have obtained a five-sixths majority to allow Jayawardene continue his iron grip. What did Britain and the Commonwealth do? Nothing.
The damage that Jayawardene did to democracy is overwhelming and probably irreversible. The Sri Lankan President is more powerful and less accountable than any President anywhere in the world. Indeed the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa has removed any remaining restraints (the 18th Amendment to the Constitution) and made himself even more powerful and given himself the ability to remain as President for as long as he choses.
The reaction of Britain and the Commonwealth to this omnipotent President with sweeping powers and no accountability, who could do, and did, what he likes, is to reward him with CHOGM and make him the ‘Chairperson-in-Office’ for the Commonwealth for the next two years! This is what will happen at CHOGM in November 2013, attended by Prince Charles, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Heads of all the Commonwealth countries, except (commendably) Canada and, in the past 2 weeks (significantly) India, and in the past few days, Mauritius.
The first Act of the newly independent country, Ceylon, in 1948, now under the Sinhalese, was to decitizenise and disenfranchise a million Plantation ‘Indian’ Tamils, who had been brought there in the mid 1850s from India to work on the (British) tea estates. One seventh of the population of the country (at that time) were made non-people, in one of the worst acts of political barbarism anywhere in the world. The Tamils lost 40% of their parliamentarians because ‘non-people’ could not be represented. This was done under the nose of the British Governor in ‘independent’ Ceylon. What did the British do about this outrage? Nothing.
This was done the very year that Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) joined seven other countries to form the (British) Commonwealth!
Having ‘dealt with’ the ‘Indian’ Tamils, the Sinhalese ‘leaders’ turned on the ethnic Tamils. To get the support of the Sinhalese ‘majority (74 % of the population), they started systematic discrimination against the Tamil ‘minority’. I must stress an important point. The Tamils were not a ‘minority’. They were ‘made’ into a minority by the British when they ‘unified’ the country. They were an overwhelming majority in their Kingdom – the Jaffna Kingdom.
Anti-Tamil discrimination was serious. In 1956, they lost their language when English, the Official Language’, was replaced by Sinhala only, to the exclusion of Tamil. In 1972, Tamils, especially from Jaffna, had to obtain a higher mark than the Sinhalese to enter the University, in what was blatant educational discrimination.
There was discrimination in employment. From 1956-1976, of 189,000 recruited to the public sector, 95% were Sinhalese. The Armed Forces and Police are 99.9% and 95% respectively Sinhalese. It is simply not possible for a Tamil to get into the Armed Forces.
There has been a government-sponsored demographic change in the Tamil East in favour of the Sinhalese. This has now escalated. The electoral consequences are obvious.
Standing as equals with the Sinhalese in subordination to the colonial British, the Tamils for a time became ‘junior partners’, and by the 1960s had been reduced to a subject people under the rule of Sinhalese ‘masters’.
The Tamil leaders launched a series of Gandhi-style non-violent protests at this obvious discrimination. The protesting Tamils were beaten up and even killed by Sinhalese hoodlums, backed by the Government. What action did the Commonwealth take at this unacceptable behaviour of a (British) Commonwealth country? None.
At the slightest ‘provocation’, and sometimes for no identifiable reason, the Tamils have been beaten and sometimes killed by Sinhalese hoodlums and thugs, supported by the Government and Sinhalese chauvinist bigots in yellow robes, the politically-active Buddhist monks.
With the failure of the democratic process and non-violence to achieve anything, in 1972 Tamil youths in the Tamil North and East decided to pick up arms, as the African National Congress did in Apartheid South Africa. It was a ‘liberation struggle’ to liberate the Tamil people from Sinhalese domination and discrimination. What did Britain and the Commonwealth do? They branded the Tamil militants as ‘terrorists’, banned them, and helped the Sri Lankan government to crush them and the civilian population. The human cost was enormous – some 70,000 Tamil civilians killed, in addition to the Tamil militants. “Crushing Tamil Tiger Terrorism” was the claim.
It is of interest that a year earlier (1971) in the South, disadvantaged Sinhalese youths had done exactly the same, because of a developmental neglect of the periphery, a consequence of the centralisation of power in Colombo. They were crushed with the loss of some 7,000 young Sinhalese lives. They rose again in 1988, and were crushed again with the loss of more than 40,000 lives. What did Britain, and the Commonwealth, in particular India, do? They helped the Sri Lankan regime in this mass murder calling it an ‘insurrection’.
It has been wrongly claimed that on 19 May 2009, the 26 year ‘civil war’ between the Tamils and the Sinhalese came to an end. This is plainly wrong. There has not been a ‘civil war’ in Sri Lanka since 1915 (and that was between the Sinhalese and the Muslims). What there has been are a series of pogroms, wanton killing of Tamils, in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981 and 1983.
Then came the ‘Final Solution’ after Rajapaksa became President in November 2005 – the genocidal killing of Tamils. The agenda of the Rajapaksa junta was to make multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual and multireligious Sri Lanka, into a Sinhala-Buddhist Nation. What did Britain and the Commonwealth do at this extreme ethno-religious chauvinism? Nothing.
With all this slaughter, what has the Commonwealth done? Nothing.
Worse still – many Commonwealth countries actually helped the Sinhalese regime to wipe out the Tamils.
President Rajapaksa and his cronies are not alone in this criminality. His predecessor, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, decided, in 2005, to carpet-bomb Jaffna with half a million Tamil civilians who had a right to be there. It resulted in a mass exodus, referred to as “The Exodus”, as hundreds of thousands of Tamils, men, women, children, the sick and the elderly, fled the Jaffna Peninsula.
What did the Commonwealth do? Nothing. Even Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then UN Secretary General expressed concern at the humanitarian tragedy.
When those who fled returned to their homes, more than 1,000 were taken into custody. Some 900 of them ‘disappeared’, their bodies found in mass graves in Chemmani, in the Jaffna Peninsula. The brigadier in charge, Janaka Perera, who was responsible for this outrage, was ‘rewarded’ by President Kumaratunga by being sent as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to a Commonwealth country, Australia!
It is not that Australia was unaware of the background of this mass-murderer. I made sure that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs was informed. I even got a TV station to put together a TV program to show the atrocities that Janaka Perera had committed. A representative of Amnesty International, an Australian Forensic scientist who was there in Chemmani for the exhumation, and an eye witness to these atrocities appeared on the program, aired at prime time on Sunday’s Channel 9 program.
I went to Canberra to see the Australian Foreign Ministry, with documented evidence to criminally implicate the new Sri Lankan Ambassador. I was told that he was ‘the most decorated military officer in Sri Lanka”. I responded, “Decorated for making Tamil (and for that matter, Sinhalese) people disappear?”
Diplomats from other Commonwealth countries in Canberra were well aware of the background of this mass murderer. What did they do? Nothing.
This is important because history does repeat itself. Rajapaksa’s war criminals who should be taken to the International Court of Justice, are being sent as Sri Lankan Ambassadors to several countries, Commonwealth countries included, and even to the United Nations and other international organisations. What has the Commonwealth done? Nothing. In fact, they welcomed these people who had blood on their hands. In passing, Australia’s surrent Sri Lankan Ambassador was the Head of the Sri Lankan Navy that shelled unarmed Tamil civilians and whose ships prevented the sick and injured from seeking medical help that was not available in the area. What has Australia done about this man? Nothing.
The ‘Final solution’
Then came the ‘Final assault’ by Rajapaksa and his cronies to wipe out the Tamils in acts that were Crimes against Humanity, if not genocide. Commonwealth countries, India and Britain included (and of course China), supplied the weapons, funds and even the expertise to help with the slaughter.
When the Rajapaksa junta expelled all international humanitarian agencies, including the UN workers, before committing the mass slaughter, what did the Commonwealth do? Nothing.
What has the Commonwealth done to hold the mass murderers accountable? Nothing.
Interference with the Judiciary
This is serious. It includes the impeachment and removal of the Chief Justice, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, by President Rajapkasa on 13 January 2013. The ‘Divi Neguma’ Bill created numerous community organisations, banks and banking societies. It would be controlled by the Ministry of Economic Development headed by President Rajapaksa’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa, and would carry out development activities. According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka most development activities are devolved to the Provincial Councils. The Bill’s constitutionality was challenged, and Chief Justice Bandaranayake and two other Supreme Court Judges held that it cannot become law unless it was endorsed by every provincial council.
The Government controlled eight of the nine provincial councils but the ninth provincial council, in the North, had not been functioning as an elected body since it was established in 2007. The Bill was approved by theNorthern Province‘s GovernorG. A. Chandrasiri, a former Army Officer and an appointee of President Rajapaksa.
The Chief Justice held that this was inadequate and that the Northern Provincial Council had to sign off on the Bill.
This irritated the President who decided that the Chief Justice had to go.
Geoffrey Robertson QC recently addressed a meeting in London where he referred to this:
“ I wrote a report earlier this year for the Bar of England and Wales on the removal of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka by the Government. Removal of her for bringing in a decision that the 9thProvince , the Northern Province, largely the Tamil province of Sri Lanka, should not have its assent assumed by the Governor who had been forced on it by the Government.
It was a very important decision, it was a correct decision as the Constitution stood but because it angered the President and prevented the Divi Neguma Bill going through, which upset his relatives who all seem to be Ministers in the government, they moved against her and in a break of judicial independence and in a betrayal of the principles that should govern the Commonwealth, they, the MPs of the government party, voted to have the President dismiss her. They voted corruptly, and they voted wrongly.
It seemed to me that those MPs who behaved so badly in destroying judicial independence in Sri Lanka shouldn’t be allowed to enter this country, they should not be allowed to put their children in schools in this country, we should say that once you break human rights so obviously by getting rid of a judge for doing her duty, then we should have nothing to do with you”.
The current humanitarian situation in the Tamil North and East
This is a disaster, well-documented by International Human Rights groups, the UN Panel of Experts appointed by UN Secretary General to look into accountability in the closing stages of the war, and by outstandingly brave people such as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph and the Catholic clergy in Jaffna and Tamil ‘Civil Society’.
Has Britain or the Commonwealth countries acted? No, they are not interested. It is certainly not for lack of information of the situation behind the closed and censored doors of Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka.
I will briefly summarise this here. A more comprehensive account is not possible because of the constraints of space. Nor is it possible to deal with the disastrous evolving situation in the Sinhalese South. The violence that was turned on the Tamils in the North and East is now being turned on the Muslims and Sinhalese in the South. More is in store from a Government whose only solution to any problem is violence. It is a murderous policy which will achieve nothing – certainly not national reconciliation or Peace with Justice – a Just Peace.
The Tamil North and East are under military occupation that treats the area as ‘conquered territory’ and the people (Tamils) as ‘the spoils of war’. The military is 99.9% Sinhalese, while the population is predominantly Tamil.
18 Divisions of out of the 20 Divisions in the Sri Lankan military, are stationed in the North and East, the homeland of the Tamils. The military-to-civilian ratio is 1:5.
The (Sinhalese) military and (Sinhalese) Police are everywhere in the Tamil North and East. They can do whatever they want to anyone they want, with no accountability.
The widespread mental state among Tamil civilians in the area is fear. People are just silent – not without reason.
Military taking over local economic activity
The military are engaged in a variety of economic activity, from agriculture to running shops and cafes. Large areas of fertile land belonging to the Tamil people have been taken over by the military. The Tamil people are unable to challenge this because the military has the full backing of the Government. They are unable to take legal action because the police (95% Sinhalese) and the legal system are dysfunctional and pro-government.
The Tamil people can only watch, as their lands and businesses are taken over and run by the military, or by Sinhalese brought by the Government from the South and given State-subsidies to do whatever they want. Such subsidies are not available to Tamils.
Military in key administrative positions
Many key positions in civilian administration are filled by former military men who have a case to answer for the massacre of the Tamil people during the conflict. The Governor of the Northern Province is Major Gen G.A.Chandrasiri (former Jaffna Security Forces Commander), and the Governor of the Eastern Province is Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema (former Navy Chief of Staff).
Several others hold other administrative positions, despite having no experience in these areas.
Thousands of acres belonging to Tamil civilians, in proximity to military camps have been taken by the military for military bases and to permanently house the families of military personnel (all of whom are Sinhalese) and government-sponsored Sinhalese civilians from the South.
Sinhalese civilian settlements
Sinhalese civilians from outside the Tamil areas have been offered incentives to settle in the Tamil areas, with the clear agenda of changing the demography of the area – ‘Sinhalisation’ of the Tamil areas. They have been offered round-the-clock protection from the rightful owners of the land by the Sinhalese Police and military.
The electoral consequences are obvious. If this continues (which it will if no action is taken), the Tamil people will have no representation in Parliament . They will be ‘non-people’.
Sexual assaults on the Tamil civilians
In an upcoming publication: “An Epidemic of Rape of Tamil women, girls and men in the Tamil North and East by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, Police, Sinhalese settlers, and Tamil paramilitary forces working with the Sri Lankan Government”, I will detail this serious problem, which has been documented by human rights groups (Human Rights Watch) and others. What has been documented is a fraction of the real situation because the vast majority of cases go unreported because of shame or fear.
There are 90,000 widows, 30,000 orphans and 25,000 disabled people, and thousands who have lost their livelihood because of the policy of the Sri Lankan government and the military. Is the Commonwealth concerned about this massive humanitarian problem? If it is, there is certainly no evidence of this – not even the expression of concern, let alone action to address this problem.
The immediate admission of internationally credible human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, to the area is mandatory and urgent.
Some 200,000 houses were damaged during the war and are now uninhabitable. The Sri Lankan government has done nothing to address this problem. The Indian government offered to build 50,000 homes, which the Sri Lankan government obstructed.
Just 1,000 homes have been built over the past four years, and these have been handed over, not to those who lost their homes but to those with connections to the ruling regime who have never been in this (Tamil) area, and former members of the military (Sinhalese).
Using the Government’s own records, the Bishop of Mannar, Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph, presented figures to the LLRC, to show that 146,679 people in the Vanni (in the Tamil area) were unaccounted for. The government has failed to explain this (or to produce evidence that the claim was invalid).
Despite claims to the contrary by the Sri Lankan government, there are thousands of Tamils held in detention without charge or trial in prisons and (illegal) detention centres. It is in an attempt to conceal this that the Government refuses to allow international human rights groups access to the area, and even to the country.
The façade of ‘development’
‘Development’ is indeed happening in the war-torn areas, but it is a development of roads, military bases, Buddhist monuments and shrines.
Developing what the Tamil people urgently need, a place to live in, and access to their homes and land, is simply not happening.
The problem is compounded by visitors, especially expatriate Tamils, who fly into the area, have a superficial look at these ‘developments’, leave and then claim that ‘all is well’. They most certainly do not talk with the ordinary civilians whose lives are shattered and remain so.
The military and freedom of association and speech
The military is present at every event. A circular has been sent to all government departments and schools that no function can be held without the presence of the military. Not even funerals or a private function are exceptions. It is a degree of militarisation unmatched in any country in the world.
High Security Zones
Large areas of Tamil-owned land have been declared “High Security Zones”, out of bounds to civilians. This has nothing to do with ‘Security’ but to do with excluding Tamil people from existing. This ‘land-grab’ by the military and the Sinhalese government is illegal, an act typical of a Totalitarian regime that can do what it wants with no accountability.
The escalating military budget
The average defence budget during the peak of the military conflict in 2008 was Rs 166 billion. This increased in 2009 to Rs 175 bn. After the end of the armed conflict, it has escalated.
In 2011 the Government spent Rs 214 bn ($1.92 bn), which increased to Rs 230 bn ($ 2.1 bn) in 2011. The ‘defence’ budget for 2013 stands at Rs 290 bn ($ 2.2 bn).
With the Tamil Tigers crushed and the armed conflict over, it is pertinent to ask the Sri Lankan government, who the enemy is to justify this escalating military budget. It cannot be to defend the country against an external enemy since none exists.
Genocide of the Tamil people
There is overwhelming evidence that the agenda of the Sri Lankan government is to wipe out the Tamils in the North and East. This is Genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention – signed by Sri Lanka in 1950: Resolution 260, Article 2 states: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. In Sri Lanka, the ‘part of the ethnic group is the part that lives in the North and East.
At a recent (28 September 2013) Conference in London on Genocide in Sri Lanka, Geoffrey Robertson QC had this to say:
“I have spoken to so many of the sufferings, the appalling sufferings, of the Tamil community in the 2009 – Genocide probably, certainly a Crime against Humanity, which was committed against them by the Government (of Sri Lanka) and the Armed Forces”.
What is serious is that it is continuing- “Slow Genocide” as Madeline Albright put it in relation to another conflict.
Tamils ceasing to exist as a ‘people’
In February 2012, in the run-up to the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February- 23 March 2012), 19 Tamils, non-politicians, “Civil Society”, including Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, sent a letter to the US:
“The Sri Lankan Government’s current activities in the North and East are challenging the very existence of the Tamil people and more time to the GOSL to implement the LLRC’s recommendations will only mean further time for the Government to play havoc in the North and East and subjugate the interests and aspirations of the Tami people. If the International Community does not act now, like they did not act in May 2009, the Tamils will cease to exist as a ‘people’ in the country”. ‘Ceasing to exist as a people’ is Genocide.
Extermination (of the Tamils)
The 124 page, “Report of The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts into Accountability in Sri Lanka”(released 31 March 2011), was the most serious indictment of the Sri Lankan government ever published. Section 251 (page 68) referred to what happened as “Extermination”.
Under the ICC (International Criminal Court) Statute, ‘extermination’ includes “Intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of the population” Article 7(2)(b).
The fact that these senior lawyers with international credibility should use the word “extermination” is highly significant. Extermination is Genocide.
This is not just matter of words. If Genocide, or extermination, or ‘ceasing to exist as a people’ is in progress, then international intervention is mandatory to save the population at risk.
International independent investigation
Every international human rights organisation, the UN Expert Panel into accountability and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillai, have all called for an independent international investigation into war crime and crimes against humanity that occurred in the Tamil North and East.
The Sri Lankan government has refused absolutely to allow this, claiming absurdly that there were ‘zero civilian casualties’! The Government insists that an investigation can be done by Sri Lankans – the LLRC (Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission).
This is seriously flawed – as was pointed out by AI, HRW and ICG when invited to attend. AI followed this up with an extensive article, ‘When will they get justice’ (see below).
This is what Geoffrey Robertson QC thought:
“So, under this pressure, particularly and importantly and valuably, pressure from Hilary Clinton, on behalf of the United States, Rajapaksa established in May 2011, the so-called “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission”. But this was a sham truth commission packed with former Government officials which wasn’t interested in establishing the truth but rather in supporting the Government’s propaganda. It had no power to protect witnesses who dared to criticize the Army, and human rights groups simply refused to cooperate with it. The Report was published in December 2011. It concentrated on condemning the Tigers, it white-washed the military which it claimed, obviously dishonestly, given quote: “The highest priority to protecting civilians”.
Well, this was an obvious lie and the Report increased the lies by attributing blame for the murder and rapes of Tamils that had obviously happened, to rogue elements in the Army rather than to officers or commanders”.
The demand for an independent international investigation will continue to grow, not least by the UN Human Rights Commissioner at the next UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva (March 2014).
I have already quoted the just released statement by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, which is highly significant. To quote this again (because of its importance), he said, “I will tell him (President Rajapaksa) that if Sri Lanka doesn’t deliver an independent investigation, the world will need to ensure an international investigation is carried out instead”.
These fine words must be backed by action. Trade between the UK and Sri Lanka is not insignificant. All that Prime Minister Cameron has to do is the state clearly that if the human rights outrage does not stop, the victims not compensated and rehabilitated – which must be checked by international observers, there will be trade sanctions.
I am not suggesting something outrageous since this is exactly what was done to another Commonwealth country, South Africa, by Britain and Commonwealth countries, which compelled South Africa to dismantle its apartheid policy.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
The idea of R2P is relatively new in formal terms, bringing a sense of an international duty of care to the conduct of world affairs. In a less formal sense, R2P or the duty of care towards others, is as old as humanity.
The new formal term is a United Nations initiative established in 2005. It is based on the (correct) belief thatsovereignty is not a right, but entails responsibilities for states to provide protection and security for their populations.R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of mass atrocity crimes. The R2P has three foundation “pillars”:
A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.
In the international community R2P is a norm, not a law. However it is grounded in international law. R2P provides a framework for using tools that already exist, i.e. mediation, early warning mechanisms, economic sanctioning, to prevent mass atrocities. If these fail, there is the provision to militarily intervene. Civil society organizations, States, regional organizations, and international institutions all have a role to play in the R2P process.
Professor Damien Kingsbury, at the School of International and Political Science, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, has written an entire book in 2012 on “Sri Lanka and the Responsibility to Protect. Politics, ethnicity and Genocide” The case to apply R2P to Sri Lanka is very strong.
Genocide in Sri Lanka – Conference in London, September 2013
There was an important Conference in London, September 28th and 29th 2013, on:
“Accountability for Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka. Its significance for the world”
Two world famous lawyers (among others) spoke. Of particular importance were the two addresses, one by Geoffrey Robertson QC, a British barrister and a leading authority on Crimes against Humanity, and the other by Professor Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, Urbana–Champaign, Illinois, USA. Their addresses (on the net) are crucially important. I will publish both of them.
They set out clearly and unequivocally, the legal options available to take the criminals in Sri Lanka, to the UN Human Rights Committee, an organ of the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court. The action is not only to bring those who are responsible for Crimes against Humanity and even Genocide, before the Bar of International Justice, but to enable compensation and restitution for the thousands of innocent people who have suffered.
I have been in communication with both of them. The financial cost of doing this is negligible, given the level of expertise.
This is a critically important issue. Independence for ethnic minorities – whether indigenous or not – is promised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has been signed and ratified by Sri Lanka (and almost all the countries in the world). Article 1 states that “All peoples have the right of self-determination”.
While international lawyers can argue that the collective noun “peoples” refers to all the inhabitants of eachexisting State, this merely gives power to the majorities and not the minorities.
Since the UN Charter (Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948 – the year that Sri Lanka got Independence from colonial Britain), the right of self-determination has implied the right of a territory to decide the status of their homeland (by a free and genuine vote) for independent Statehood, integration with another State, or through some form of political association (such as autonomy within it).
The irrational qualification to self-determination has been the ‘uti possidentis’ rule that its exercise must not involve changes to existing frontiers (or borders) other than by agreement between the States concerned. Since States rarely concede territory, ‘uti possidentis’ has prevented the early resolution of disputes before they erupt into ethnic violence. This is precisely what has happened in Sri Lanka, and why it might well erupt in the future unless this absurd refusal to agree to self-determination is removed, and people are given a free choice.
What do International Human Rights groups think?
There has been a deluge of reports expressing serious concern at what is going on in Sri Lanka. Here are just a few.
1 Amnesty International on the LLRC
In September 2011, AI published a 67 page Report which states that Sri Lanka’s LLRC is not a credible accountability mechanism. Its mandate is seriously flawed highlighting falls far short of international standards on national commissions of inquiry. It points to the systematic failures of domestic mechanisms to bring about justice, truth and reparations for victims.
2. Human Rights Watch on sexual violence
On 26 February 2013, Human Rights Watch released a 140 page report, “We Will Teach You A Lesson” Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces
The 140-page report provide detailed accounts of 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse that occurred from 2006-2012 in both official and secret detention centres throughout Sri Lanka. The cases were very well documented, medically and legally. It reported women and men being raped on multiple days, often by several people, with the army, police, and pro-government paramilitary groups frequently participating.
As the Report states, this is just a tiny fraction of the actual number of rape cases because many cases were not reported to the Police (or anyone else) because of shame or fear of reprisals. Even the people who did report the incident could not be investigated because Sri Lanka refused entry visa to HRW.
In April 2013, AI published a 74 page devastating Report:
“Sri Lanka’s Assault on Dissent”.
The opening sentence says it all: “Dissent is a dangerous undertaking in Sri Lanka”.
It goes on:
“ One of the holdovers from Sri Lanka’s armed conflict is a security regime that criminalizes freedom of expression, and an official attitude that equates dissent with treason. Sri Lankan officials and state-owned media employ the term “traitor” with alarming frequency against detractors, often threatening death or injury to the person accused.”
4. The International Crisis Group on Authoritarianism in Sri Lanka
On 20 February 2013, in a 42-page Report, ICG stated “The Government attack on the Judiciary and political dissent have escalated Sri Lanka’s authoritarian turn and threaten long-term stability and peace”?
CHOGM (November 2013) goes on
Despite the overwhelming case that can be made (and has been made), CHOGM November 2013, will be held in Sri Lanka in two days.
There have been some ‘interesting’ incidents and decisions.
The Indian Prime Minister will not attend
After vacillating for months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will not attend. This was undoubtedly because of pressure exerted on him by Tamil Nadu, especially by Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa.
Welcome though this is, disappointingly he will send the Indian Foreign Secretary. It would have enhanced India’s credibility if he had sent some insignificant person, like what the Canadian Prime Minister did.
Nonetheless, a boycott by the Prime Minister of the most important country in the area, India, is clearly very significant.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius will not attend
Mauritius Prime Minister Dr Navin Chandra Ramgoolam has just decided to boycott CHOGM. He told Parliament that his decision was taken in the face of absence of progress in Sri Lanka in respect of human rights, adding that he was a man of principle. Mauritius will host the next CHOGM in 2015.
Australian and New Zealand parliamentarians harassed
Last week, Australian Green Senator, Lee Rhiannon and New Zealand Green MP, Jan Logie, who went to Sri Lanka to look into the human rights situation, and visited the Tamil North, had their passports confiscated when they tried to give a press conference in Colombo before they left. Senator Rhiannon wrote of her experience in TheGuardian.
My detention highlights why Australia should boycott CHOGM”
What I saw in Sri Lanka has convinced me that Australia needs to show courage and boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), as the prime ministers of Canada and India are doing”.
It is important to quote what she found since it is so recent (November 2013).
“We then had a series of meetings with elected representatives……. We also visited a newspaper office, where we learnt of shootings and intimidation of local journalists reporting on human rights issues. On several occasions, the extent of the sexual abuse of Tamil women by Sri Lankan soldiers was brought to our attention. We met a lawyer who described to us the evidence collected about these horrendous crimes.
Large areas of Tamil land are now occupied by the military. The level of hardship for women and their dependents is shocking. More than 40,000 households in the north and east of the country are now female -headed, and few of them receive any government assistance if they cannot find work.”
Just before they left Sri Lanka, in a press release stating that they will have a press-conference, they were more specific about sexual harassment.
“Large numbers of women regularly suffer sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces. One lawyer described to us the evidence collected about these crimes. In one case they have text messages from Major General Mahinda Hathurusingha to the ‘comfort women’ he frequently abuses”.
It has not been stated what was in the text-message. Perhaps it was “Can you come quickly?” or “Can I come right now? It is urgent.” I do not really know. What I do know is what a Major General in Rajapaksa’s military does. There is ample evidence that he is not an exception.
The Green Parliamentarians concluded:
“Clearly this is an unsafe country for journalists to work as those who commit these crimes have not been investigated or charged. We were left with the impression that the government is becoming increasingly repressive towards those committed to a critical independent examination of events in Sri Lanka”.
The Australian Prime Minister will go
Unsurprisingly, Tony Abbott will go. For once he was honest enough to admit why he was going. In a comment in ‘The Guardian’ he said what we all knew! He said that Sri Lanka had been cooperative in taking back people arriving by boat and Australia needed to maintain the “ best possible relations” with the country – to hell with Commonwealth ‘core values’.
What was important to him was to take desperate asylum seekers who had fled a barbaric regime, and return them to Sri Lanka. What would happen to them there was not his concern. The Human Rights Watch has clearly documented what happens to them – torture, rape, and ‘disappearances’.
The Journalists will be there.
All arriving journalists will be given a 222-page book entitled “Corrupted Journalism. Channel 4 and Sri Lanka”
Channel 4 News will be there
I was surprised to hear that (UK) Channel 4, which produced the award-winning “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, and “No Fire Zone” will be there.
Channel 4 News Editor Ben de Pear explained how they had been granted access to Sri Lanka for the first time in four years. It was because the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary refused to attend CHOGM without the full complement of British press.
I have no doubt that the Rajapaksa junta will arrange a ‘special welcome’ for Channel 4 News – perhaps hoodlums carrying placards accusing them of being “Tamil Tigers” which is now a generic term applied to all who question what the Sri Lankan government is doing (or has done).
I wrote this some days ago. Last night it turned out to be true. On arrival in Colombo, the Channel 4 News team, were met with ‘welcome’ placards carried by Sinhalese ‘patriots’, accusing Channel 4 of being in the pay of the Tamil Tigers!
When the reporters (who included Ben de Pear, Director Channel 4 News Editor, Callum Macrae, Director ofNo Fire Zone, Jonathan Miller) tried to get to Jaffna, they were blocked. I gather that they tried to get a flight. Unsurprisingly, the flight was cancelled.
They then decided to go by train to Vavuniya in the North. In the train were supporters of the Rajapaksa regime and probably the military and police tailing them. Some 5 hours into the trip, hooligans (‘patriots’) blocked the train, with scores standing on the rail track. They were told that there were protestors blocking all the railway stations to Vavuniya.
Channel 4 contacted President Rajapaksa and asked him whether this was in keeping with his promise to allow them ‘to go anywhere and see the progress that Sri Lanka had made’. Orders were issued that the journalists be allowed to travel.
I have no idea what happened later. I have no doubt that we will hear more from Channel 4 News about Media freedom, the ‘disappeared’ and much more.
An “Alternative Human Rights Festival”
In a commendable act of bravery, Brito Fernando’s “Right to Human Rights Centre, Families of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka”, has launched a parallel event, ‘Alternative Human Rights Festival 13-14 November in Colombo.
Three busloads of relatives of the ‘disappeared’ on their way from Jaffna to attend the ‘Festival’, were stopped by hooligans and thugs, clearly with the backing of the Army and Police. I gather that the families of the ‘disappeared’ also ‘disappeared’!! With massive protests, they miraculously ‘reappeared’ but were forced to return to Jaffna.
I am not sure whether the ‘Festival’ will continue, or be allowed to do so. It probably will, whatever the risks – and these are significant in the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” as it is inappropriately called.
How come Sri Lanka is hosting CHOGM?
With widespread knowledge of extensive human rights violations, how is it that Sri Lanka was picked to host CHOGM? Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, has a case to answer. There is now evidence that he has withheld crucial legal advice that could have prevented Sri Lanka from hosting CHOGM.
The legal opinion was that the firing of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice by President Rajapaksa was a contravention of the Commonwealth Charter, which sets out the supposed shared values of the member states: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It should have been made available to a group of eight Commonwealth ministers who verify if countries are obeying the Commonwealth Charter. It was not. Questioned by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, Sharma said that the advice had been obtained “in confidence”.
There is no question that Kamalesh Sharma has to be sacked. Will he be? No, he will not, because any demand for him to be shown the door, will upset his friend and, (after the end of CHOGM), the ‘Chairperson-in-Office’, President Rajapaksa.
James Packer’s Casino
In my earlier article, “Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM 2013. A serious problem”, I said that:
“What goes on in the main meeting(s) might well be a farce, but the forums that accompany CHOGM, CBF (Commonwealth Business Forum) in particular, is anything but a farce.CBF is a gathering of businessmen from developed and emerging markets that aim to promote trade and investment. It is a business meeting, which has nothing to do with “Commonwealth core values”. It presents a tremendous opportunity for the ‘host nation’ to look at new partnerships and business opportunities – to hell with human rights, democracy or the rule of law.
I was therefore not in the least surprised to hear that James Packer (from Australia) will be there to launch a Casino. I gather he will be the key-note speaker at the CBF. A Casino is clearly needed, absolutely needed, to gamble away ill-gotten riches. I cannot confirm the rumour that the foundation stone for the Casino will be laid by none other than the Australian Prime Minister – Tony Abbott, one reason why he simply must go, human rights abuse or no abuse.
I gather that the site of the proposed Casino is in Slave Island, in the heart of Colombo. It is of interest that the hundreds of people (Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims) who have lived in this area for years, were thrown out by the Rajapaksa regime – the area literally demolished, with negligible compensation. A casino was far more important to the Rajapaksa junta.
What can (and must) be done?
Irrespective of what goes on (or does not go on) in CHOGM, there is an absolute need for international action. The purpose of this publication is to draw attention to the fact that it what Colonial Britain did to set the stage for the chaos that followed. If that is correct (which it is) then it is mandatory that Britain (and the Commonwealth) play a lead role in sorting out the problem.
The immediate action
The most urgent actions are:
To get international Human Rights Organisations (AI, HRW and ICG) into the Tamil areas NOW. Can it be done? Yes. Britain has enough international clout and economic clout with the Sri Lankan government to do so. The recent comments by the current British Prime Minister makes this clear.
To get the UN to admit a UN-Force (as was done with East Timor) to replace the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.
To apply the UN “R2P (Responsibilty to Protect) – since the Tamil civilians in the North and East are certainly in need of protection. It must be stressed that R2P obliges the international community to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions, with Military intervention as the last resort.
Set up an international independent inquiry into war crimes, which the British Prime Minister said the world should.
To mobilise international action to help the Tamil people. This should be channelled through the UN, not the Sri Lankan government.
The longer term
Conduct a Referendum in the North and East under UN Security, as was done in East Timor, to see what the people in the area want. Self-determination is a right, not a favour. The Tamil nation has that right.
To implement the result of the Referendum. If the people in the area want to remain under the Government in Colombo, so be it. If they want a Separate Tamil State, then to see that this is delivered. This is precisely what happened in East Timor.
To charge the criminals responsible – be they the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, or those in charge, be they military or civilian (the Yamashita Principle), the Tamil Tigers, including those currently working with the Sri Lankan government, and get them to the UN Human Rights Committee, the International Court of Justice (‘The World Court’) or the International Criminal Court. All of these are possible.
To get justice for the innocent civilians who have lost everything – including compensation and restoration of their lands, homes and businesses.
The British owe a lot to the Tamil people, not to mention my people, the Sinhalese, all of whom are under a Totalitarian regime, and, in the case of the Tamil people in the North and East, a tyrannical Sinhalese Armed Force and Police, as well. It is time that the British delivered. It is the least that they can do.