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Genocide recognition of Mullivaaykkaal 2009 gains ground

[TamilNet, Monday, 30 May 2011 09:10 No Comment]

Genocide recognition is a long and politicised process. While the international media has a pivotal role, historically it has failed to publicise genocides as they occur and has delayed in recognition afterwards. Governments on the other hand have been reluctant to recognise genocide as this would impose obligations on them under international law to act to ‘prevent and to punish’ and these obligations would consume resources and damage diplomatic relations with countries that may be their allies in military and security endeavours.

The Rwandan genocide is a case in point and historians such as Linda Melvern (author of “Conspiracy to Murder”) have documented the media failures. In the Rwandan case, Melvern cites that several British reporters were unable to get their story printed even after Oxfam had made a determination that genocide was occurring.

Alternatively, in Rwanda, the media failed to distinguish between civil war and massacres or portrayed the story as one of general lawlessness rather than a systematic attack on civilians of a particular ethnicity. There was little or no analysis of the race-based pattern and motivation until after the genocide. Thus the New York Times contemporaneously described the Rwandan genocide as a ‘spasm of lawlessness and terror’, failing to identify the systematic, organised, ethnically motivated nature – i.e. genocide – of the violence.

A number of academics, notably Michael Barnet, have extensively document UN decision-making paralysis in the case of Rwanda. Again a significant failure was to identify the context as being one of genocide rather than the ordinary course of civil war.

In the case of Sri Lanka’s attack on the Vanni in 2009 there is little excuse for the media or for politicians, because the Tamil Diaspora identified the ethnic nature of the violence very early on. But in an extended form of racism, no one listened precisely because those who spoke up were also Tamil.

For example former U.S Ambassador Lunstead admitted in the US Congress Foreign Relations Sub Committee Hearings in February 2009(@ 23.07min) that he was enundated with emails many of which warned him that the Sri Lankan government was committing genocide. But he dismissed this as a simplistic interpretation and the Foreign Relations Committee subsequently failed to investigate the warning.

Similarly, in the popular media, British Tamil rapper M.I.A was censored by CNN’s Tavis Smiley when she warned in January 2009 that a ‘systematic genocide’ was taking place (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgLpT2s64cI&feature=related).

M.I.As argument was not very different from that made by the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo against President Al Bashir of Sudan when he said (of Al Bashir) ‘his alibi was counter-terrorism, his intent was genocide.’ But M.I.A , in contrast to Ocampo, has been attacked relentlessly for ‘not knowing what she was talking about’.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Palitha Kohona condescendingly remarked that M.I.A should ‘stick with music’. He came on the Tavis Smiley show to repeat Sri Lanka’s story that it was acting to ‘rescue’ the civilians. Kohona defended the Sri Lanka government’s ban on media from the so called ‘safe zones’ ‘because, he said, it is not safe’ for journalists. He said he did not think ‘Anybody who is familiar with the concept of genocide believes that genocide is going on.’

But things have changed. Kohona, an Australian citizen, is now himself accused of complicity in war crimes by the Australian press.

Wiki-leaked memos show that former British Foreign Secretary David Milliband told his colleagues that the Sri Lankan government were ‘liars’. They also show that the U.S government had in its posessions satellite imagery of the use of heavy weaponry against civilians in the so-called safe zone well before the end of the conflict. The U.S, while not publishing the satellite images, brought them up in private conversations with Sri Lankan officials.

Following the publication in April 2011 report of the UN Panel of Experts on the final months of the Sri Lanka, and the preceding International Crisis Group Report on War Crimes in Sri Lanka, media and political understanding of genocide is both growing and becoming increasingly transparent. The suppression of evidence is increasingly difficult.

Comparisons to other genocides – notably Srebrenica – have appeared in Britain’s Channel 4 news (quoting Gordon Weiss the former UN Spokesperson in Sri Lanka), The Australian and others.

Elected and aspiring British Members of Parliament have made clear statements recognising genocide. Jewish British Members of Parliament have publicly remarked on parallels with events that took place during the Holocaust.

This new understanding of genocide is also seen in May 2011 in the press. The headline by the Boston based GlobalPost ‘What if you discovered evidence of genocide and nobody cared?’ or by the examiner.com ‘Liberal, New Democrat Officials Commemorate May Genocide Remembrance.’

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