The Sri Lankan defense minister has threatened to hang a parliament member, recently resigned from the S.L.A.F., if he exposes the country’s war crimes against the Tamils. The suppression of the war crimes during the country’s quarter-century civil war and the government’s forging alliances have dangerous potential.
Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s defence minister, had a moment of honest belligerence with BBC’s “HardTalk”—expressing that former Army chief and current member of parliament, Sarath Fonseka, will be “would be executed as a traitor if he tried to expose alleged war crimes”, as the AFP reported today.
Mr. Fonseka is “currently being court-martialled on separate charges”, the report added, and “fell out with President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother Gotabhaya after the Tamil Tiger guerrillas were defeated in May last year”. The report continued:
The newspaper report, co-authored by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, who conducted the interview, said Rajapakse responded angrily to the prospect of Fonseka giving evidence at any international war crimes probe.
“He can’t do that. He was the commander,” Rajapakse said. “That’s a treason. We will hang him if he does that. I’m telling you. How can he betray the country? He is a liar.”
Fonseka quit the army in November and unsuccessfully ran for the presidency and was then arrested on charges of dabbling in politics and corrupt deals while in uniform.
Rajapakse repeated a promise by the president that the authorities would not allow any international investigation into the conduct of the armed forces.
The U.N. has conservatively estimated 80- to 100,000 people were killed in the government’s 25-year war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.)—that officially ended last year. That U.N. estimate excludes the 7,000, the international body estimates, that were killed in its final months.
Pres. Rajapakse, for the first time, met with Rajavarothayam Sambanthan, leader of Tamil National Alliance, today. The Sri Lankan government’s effort is focused on “political solution” to the “protracted ethnic conflict”, the AP reported today. The interpretation of “political” is clearly to convince the Tamil leadership to collaborate with the government to suppress information flow and negotiate conditions upon which such collaboration will occur. “Sri Lanka watchers say that there hasn’t been much progress in solving the core issue behind the bloody conflict: regional autonomy,” Sutirtho Patranobis reports today at the Hindustan Times.
Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.) and Amnesty International have condemned the government’s “witch hunt” journalists and non-government organizations.
H.R.W. has specifically called for the government to “end its indefinite arbitrary detention of more than 11,000 people [including an estimated 550 children] held in so-called rehabilitation centers and release those not being prosecuted” and for war criminals of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (S.L.A.F.) and the L.T.T.E. to be held accountable.
Anna Neistat wrote of Sri Lanka’s “legacy of abuse” at Foreign Policy in Focus, last October, citing H.R.W.’s research:
On May 19, 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the L.T.T.E. This marked an end to a 26-year-long civil war that killed tens of thousands of people. Human Rights Watch’s continuous research in the country established that during the final phase of the conflict, both the [S.L.A.F.] and the L.T.T.E. repeatedly violated the laws of war, causing numerous civilian casualties.
Forced to retreat by [S.L.A.F.] offensive operations, the L.T.T.E. drove civilians into a narrow strip of land on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. They effectively used several hundred thousand people as human shields. On at least several occasions, the Tamil Tigers shot at those trying to flee to government-held territory. L.T.T.E. forces also deployed near densely populated areas, placing civilians in greater danger from government attacks. As the fighting intensified, the L.T.T.E. stepped up its practice of forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, into its ranks and into hazardous forced labor on the battlefield.
The government, in turn, used the L.T.T.E.’s grim practices to justify its own atrocities. Sri Lankan forces repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas densely populated with civilians, sometimes using area weapons incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. As the L.T.T.E.-controlled area shrank, the government unilaterally declared “no-fire zones” or “safe zones” on three different occasions, telling civilians to seek shelter there. Nevertheless, government forces continued attacking these areas. In blatant disregard of the laws of war, government forces also fired artillery that directly struck or landed near hospitals on at least 30 occasions.
Sri Lanka claimed that in the last days of the war, it carried out “the largest hostage-rescue operation” that liberated thousands of Tamils from the oppressive rule of the L.T.T.E. Yet in reality, to this day the “rescued” Tamil population has seen neither freedom nor relief. From March 2008 until the present, the government has confined virtually all civilians displaced by the war in military-controlled detention camps, euphemistically called “welfare centers.” In violation of international law, the government denied the displaced their rights to liberty and freedom of movement. The camp residents are kept in the dark regarding their own future and the fate of their missing relatives. More than four months after the end of hostilities, the government continues to hold more than 250,000 civilians in illegal detention.
The full extent of the crimes committed by both sides to the conflict is still unknown. The Sri Lankan government spared no effort to prevent independent coverage of its military operations and the plight of displaced civilians. It has kept out both international and local media as well as human rights organizations, has made sure that witnesses to its abuses are securely locked up in camps, and has harassed and persecuted those who dared to speak out—doctors, activists and journalists. It has even deported outspoken U.N. officials.
She, later, went on to the international benefactors of the war crimes of the civil war:
Sri Lanka’s confidence in the face of criticism was also boosted by a gradual re-orientation of its foreign policy toward the East. According to some defense experts, Chinese military ordnance was decisive in the final stages of the war against the L.T.T.E. Pakistan has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million. Iran granted $450 million for a hydropower project and provided a seven-month credit facility so that Sri Lanka’s entire crude oil requirement could be sourced from there; it also reportedly provided low-interest credit so that Sri Lanka could purchase military equipment from Pakistan and China. Libya pledged $500 million as a financial co-operation package for development projects. Even Burma donated $50,000 to the Sri Lankan government.
In addition to substantial financial support, Sri Lanka’s new friends also stood up to defend Sri Lanka against accountability at the U.N. Security Council. In the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka received wholehearted support from countries like Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Iran, and others who ensured the adoption of a deeply flawed resolution that largely commended the Sri Lankan government for its current policies. In June, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization—an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—granted Sri Lanka the status of Dialogue Partner.
This is significant because:
While the support for Sri Lanka was largely driven by each country’s political and economic motives, some common factors were also clearly in play—an effort to counterbalance India’s influence in the region (in the case of China and Pakistan), similar problems with separatist groups and abusive counterinsurgency campaigns, and an overall tendency to jointly oppose Western criticism and challenge Western domination in the international arena.
The Sri Lankan president is due to visit India, Tuesday—where 60 million Tamils live in the southern state of Tamil Nadu—and will “meet President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi” during is three-day visit, Mr. Patranobis reports.
It was a little over 19 years ago that then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber, affiliated with the L.T.T.E. because of the government’s support, at the time, for the Sri Lankan government. There is, Mr. Patranobis reports, “increasing protest against the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between Sri Lanka and India”—that the “Indian service sector would swamp Sri Lanka”. Since it was ready to be signed in 2008, it has been consistently “shelved”.
The heroic activist-author Arundhati Roy spoke in India, last Friday, The Times of India reported. She said that—during the “corporate war” in Sri Lanka—“political parties of Tamil Nadu were the only ones who could have stopped the genocide in Sri Lanka, but they chose to stand by silently” and “the large Indian companies are now heading to Sri Lanka to make more money”.
She wrote at The Boston Globe in March 2009:
There are unconfirmed reports that the Indian government is lending material and logistical support to the Sri Lankan government. If this is true, it is outrageous. What about the governments of other countries? Pakistan? China? What are they doing to help or harm the situation?
In Tamil Nadu, India, the war in Sri Lanka has fueled passions that have led to more than 10 people immolating themselves. The public anger and anguish—much of it genuine, but some of it obviously cynical political manipulation—has become an election issue.
Don’t underestimate the blowback-potential with such an agreement as the kidnapping of Tamils is extended and evidence of war crimes continue to surface. The L.T.T.E. has a brutal history of genocide against Muslims and has no friends among States. There’s no significant global networking of sorts, but international solidarity with the Tamil people has long been accepted as a worthy cause. The L.T.T.E. has very effective propaganda methods and has moved very far from violence—using the internet to further political efforts toward autonomy. Collaborating with the Sri Lankan government to cover up war crimes will turn into what Fatah has become for the Palestinians. China and India becoming for the government what the U.S. and Britain have historically been for Israel could become a catastrophe, in itself, but also coerce L.T.T.E. collaboration. And no one wants a Tamil Hamas networking against India and its global allies.