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Some day the shameful truth will out

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 22 November 2009 07:38 No Comment]

The gathering storm clouds

For some reason the true picture of conditions in the IDP camps is not being reported. The conditions are not a secret, NGOs and INGOs with access to the camp know the truth, and resident and visiting medical personnel are well aware of the appalling conditions. The military, the health ministry and officials are in the know. However, only a few people like Nimalka Fernando have had the courage to speak out on the public platform; the press prefers self-censorship, is shit scared of the authorities, or perhaps plain callous. I have had the opportunity to chat with NGO people and medical personnel from time to time and have asked “why not go public”; they demure for honourable reasons. If their names are exposed, further access will be forbidden, and the little good they now do will be lost.

The shame of it

Not being a doctor or a trained social worker, I am not the best person to catalogue or analyse the deplorable conditions in the camps, but a brief statement in layman’s language will serve public transparency. Storm clouds are gathering not only on the

18-2 political horizon but also the blast of monsoon rains will soon be upon the camps – officially called temporary settlement and rehabilitation villages. Several of the camps, in Manik Farm for example, will become uninhabitable, shelters will flood and latrines overflow. Of the twenty or so people who die each day in the Vavuniya camps the majority are from diarrhoea; one can infer that when the monsoon causes havoc, deaths from diarrhoea will rise.

One latrine (cesspit) for every 40 to 50 people is woefully inadequate, monsoon or no monsoon. Medical facilities (public health centres) are overcrowded and medical personnel inadequate; paediatric, psychiatric and counselling services are inadequate. There is tight control on visitors – why, what does the government want to hide? There are makeshift schools in some locations, but facilities are unsatisfactory. Thanks to the presence of the WFP, UNICEF, Caritas and local NGOs (and no thanks to the government) dry rations seem to be adequate. The presence of WHO, FORNUT and ICRC is also a comfort.

Between 15% and 25% of the detainees are children under twelve years, of whom 20 to 30% are undernourished by WHO standards. In god’s name Rajapaksa, why don’t you let the children go! The lie to the de-mining story is made explicit for several reasons. (a) If IDPs have relatives in other parts of the country, just throw open the gates and let them leave; what mines under relative’s beds? (b) Children can be allowed to leave if parents can find them outside accommodation – why is it the Defence Ministry and not parents who control the destiny of children, like animals in a farm? (c) There are parts of the Vanni clear of mines but there is no evidence to show that people from these areas are free to leave – in fact I have not heard of any such fine-screening methodology. And (d) why not voluntary camps for those who need to stay, why mass detention centres for Vanni Tamils, hence in principle, racial concentration camps?

This administration, and the state and government officials who are complicit in this evil deed, will one day pay a heavy price for their villainy. “Not if their subdued eyes drop tears as fast as Arabian trees their medicinal gum” can they wash away this black deed. Sarath Fonseka too shed crocodile tears for the IDPs in the first draft of the Addendum to his letter of resignation, but soon he got into a funk and altered it. The first version said the IDPs with relatives should be allowed to leave; it blamed the government for not reaching out to the Tamils and developing a political solution.

The final version watered it all down into militaristic and security related formulae. Gone was the political dimension, gone the demand to allow the IDPs to go free. Fonseka too is still fighting the war, not waging peace; the cap he places on Rajapaksa’s head fits him nicely too.

Human rights are global

International justice and human rights pressures are now mobilising globally as never before. Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died during the trial and the now ongoing trial of Serbian army chief, Radovan Karadzic, both faced the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague. Sierra Leone’s former president Charles Tailor is also now on trial before another Hague tribunal. The serving President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court and he is unable to leave his country; he is the first sitting head of state to be charged and an international arrest warrant has been issued.

We can anticipate that leaders accused of crimes against humanity will, in the coming years, find it impossible to travel outside their own countries; and even within country they will face the music when governments change.

It is no longer third world dictators and monsters who will be so arraigned. The Big Powers (America, China, Russia, even India and Europe) could do as they liked and nobody questioned them; but this has changed.

One reason why George W Bush fell was that his record in Iraq and Afghanistan was hated by the whole world. Obama has been forced to promise that he will close down Guantanamo and is lambasted when American drones cause civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

American and British soldiers have been put on trial in their own countries for crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few weeks ago an Italian court convicted 22 American CIA officers and a colonel in absentia for abducting an al Qaeda suspect in Italy for rendition to Egypt for torture.

Obama is having a hard time with Americans demanding transparency in information, elimination of torture, and exposure of CIA and FBI crimes.

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