The US-tabled resolution, which has more to do with geopolitics than human rights, “effectively offers Rajapaksa a way of ending international criticism and the danger of government leaders and its Armed Forces facing war crimes charges,” says Brian Senewiratne, a renowned physician and an Australia based Sinhala expatriate in a 41-page long document released on Thursday. “Concerned people, in particular the expatriate Tamil community, waiting for the UN ‘to do something’, are living in a dream world. The UN and its bodies do not act this way. They never have – an abysmal record of failure, which is not about to change.” However, the latest follow-up documentary by the Channel-4 could be even more damaging for the GoSL than the previous one, according to Dr. Brian Senewiratne.
Extracts from the document by 80-year-old Dr. Brian Senewiratne, a Sinhala member of the Bandaranaike family and a long-time defender of the Eezham Tamil cause, follows:
The bombshell has just been dropped, the (UK) Channel 4 News documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished”, a follow-up to the shocking video “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” aired in June 2011.
The Channel 4 “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished” was shown to a packed audience on 11 March 2012, during the International Human Rights Film Festival in Geneva. It ends with, “Can the cries of thousands of Tamils continue to fall upon deaf ears?”
This latest video could be even more damaging for the GoSL, not only because it shows the cold-blooded execution of the 12 year old son of the Tamil Tiger Leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, executed point-blank, with a gun held not more than a few feet from his bare chest, but also involves the UN itself.
One of the features of the UN has been its abysmal failure to develop any effective systems for the protection of human rights following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. What has been striking is the sheer hypocrisy that has attended diplomatic conferences and covenants on the subject.
The UN Human Rights Council is not an exception. A Council to ‘Restore Hope’ has become a Council to ‘Abandon Hope’. That is realpolitik where geopolitics is far more powerful than the need to address the violation of human rights. Those who believe otherwise are not in the real world.
If the UN Secretary General cannot act, then some other body will have to act. A comprehensive and serious Report by people of international standing cannot be shelved (which is what Ban ki-Moon has done for the past year). He cannot get away with it, nor can the UN and its various bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council.
Having been to these UNHRC meetings, I know exactly what goes on and what will happen– in a word “nothing”. Will a Resolution be passed demanding an independent International Investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity be passed? I would say an emphatic ‘No’. Despite the demands by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel of Experts to look into accountability for the crimes that occurred, will any effective action be taken? Answer: “No”. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt that I will be.
Let me set out what happens at the UNHRC meeting. There is the main Auditorium where whoever is picked to present a problem, or has a case to answer in human rights, speaks. The allocated time is about 10 minutes, 30 minutes at the very most. (Amazingly, the Sri Lankan Representative, Mahinda Samarasinghe spoke for nearly an hour on 27 February 2012 – and got away with it! No one, not even “Madam President’ (presumably Navanethem Pillay), thought it necessary to tell the Sri Lankan representative that his time had run out and that he must stop).
In addition to the day’s Program in the Auditorium, there are a number of ‘side-shows’. These are actually more important and certainly more productive than what goes on in the Auditorium. You can take your pick as to which ‘side-show’ you decide to listen to (and ask questions). I will later set out my experience in one of these ‘side-shows’ at the Council meeting I attended in 2007, because it is very relevant to what is going on today.
Then there is the canteen and the corridors where most of the lobbying and ‘friendly chats’ occur. It might be a diplomat from one of the countries, a clerk pretending to be a VIP, or some pompous ass strutting around as if he is the most powerful person on earth. I have seen many of them, almost all from Sri Lanka.
You find a table, try and find one of the VIPs, or someone pretending to be one, get him/her to your table, buy him/her a cup of coffee, and tell your story (the version that he/she will not hear from the Government).
In the evening there is much more lavish ‘entertainment’ arranged by the Government at some of the most expensive hotels in Geneva. The food is the best, the wine is the best, and cost is not a problem. It is all met by the struggling taxpayers back home.
Deals are done, if they have not been done already (in the weeks and months leading up to the meeting). Needless to say, only the select few (or many) are invited. On one occasion when I was there, the Sri Lankan delegation invited some 50 delegates and VIPs (real or imaginary) from other countries. Disappointingly, only three turned up! This is, of course, not a problem because the Government brings its own ‘cheer squad’ (I gather that for the current meeting the Sri Lanka contingent was about 90).
They are not only wined and dined in style, but promised various perks, a free holiday, trade concessions, a vote in their favour if any adverse motion is brought against their country (on a ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ basis) etc. All concerned have a good time. It is all good fun and paid for by the taxpayers back home who are told that this is what their Government is doing for them, and if they grumble about, or even question, the extravagance and cost, they must, by definition, be Tamil Tiger Terrorists or traitors to the Sinhala Nation). This is what patriotism is all about, say the President and his stooges).
They all go home to return in three months, for more of the same.
Concerned people, in particular the expatriate Tamil community, waiting for the UN ‘to do something’, are living in a dream world. The UN and its bodies do not act this way. They never have – an abysmal record of failure, which is not about to change.
The Tamil ‘troublemakers’ – the Global Tamil Forum, British Tamil Forum, the UK Tamil Coordinating Committee, Canadian Tamil Congress, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam , the Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR) were there in full force. (Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka were ‘missing in action’!)
Samarasinghe gave his usual sermon for15 minutes explaining the so-called “Action Plan”. This was followed by more time-wasting with another sermon from Samarasinghe. He then reluctantly allowed questions. Up went the hands of the Tamils and others. The first to be allowed to speak was a Western person from Paris – a clear plant of the GoSL. That pleased Samarasinghe and his colleagues on the podium.
The hands of the Tamils remained up. Samarasinghe carefully avoided seeing them – especially that of S.V. Kirubahran (TCHR). He held up his hand for so long that it was beginning to sag. Then a retired Swiss lady told Kirubahran “We are watching how you are being prevented from talking”. An embarrassed Samarasinghe gave him the floor with an apology. That resulted in a verbal dual between Kirubharan and ‘patriotic Sinhalese’ and even Tamils, specially sent there from as far away as Australia, to defend Sri Lanka’s indefensible position. There were other clowns from the UK, people I have met, who have disrupted meetings I have addressed, one even in the EU Parliamentary complex (to which he was not invited – but came, nonetheless). The heated ‘debate’ got going. Personal abuse replaced meaningful discussion. The meeting ended in chaos. That is ‘discussion’ Sri Lanka style, much the same as goes on in the Sri Lankan parliament regularly.
It was unfortunate that I was not there – not that I would have been allowed to speak. Had I been, I would have asked one single question. “If your Government is doing the wonderful things you say it is, why do you not allow Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group to visit the North and East and talk to the people?” I have no doubt that it would have been ruled “An irrelevant question which we, on the Panel, do not need to answer”, or, as happened to me in the 1980s when I asked this from the then President J.R.Jayawardene in a BBC Foreign Service program, a down right lie. When I asked him why AI was not allowed into his country, he shocked even Nick Worrell, the BBC man in London, by saying, “Amnesty International can go anywhere in Sri Lanka except to the gallows”. In reality, AI could not get anywhere near the place. The GoSL has never had any hesitation in uttering the most blatant lies.
In January 2012, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to her Sri Lankan counterpart that the LLRC recommendations were not being implemented. In February, 2012, US Undersecretary of State, Maria Otero and Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake visited Colombo. Otero announced that President Rajapaksa had been informed that Washington planned to bring a Resolution to the UNHRC session. (I will deal with the geopolitics of this later).
The US was looking for a country in Europe, Latin America or Africa, to sponsor and co-sponsor the Resolution. I gathered that the Cameroons was likely to sponsor it.
Removing the introductory clap-trap, what it essentially says is that Sri Lanka should implement the LLRC report. That was it!
US Ambassador Donahoe said that an earlier version of the resolution had sought an action plan from Sri Lanka by June (2012), but as tabled now, the resolution calls for the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner to report to the council a year from now (!) on the steps Sri Lanka has taken.
What was done was that an already weak Resolution was being watered down further. The time frame of “a comprehensive action plan before the 20th session of the Human Rights Council” was altered to “an year from now”
It calls on the Sri Lankan government to “accept advise and technical assistance” in implementing these steps and present a “concrete and comprehensive action plan” before the next UNHCR sessions in June 2012 (now extended to a year from now i.e. March 2013). This despite the US Ambassador’s own words that “time is slipping by for the people of Sri Lanka”.
Any fool will know that the GoSL is not short of “advise” or “technical assistance”. To call on the GoSL to “accept” these is just nonsense.
It effectively offers Rajapaksa a way of ending international criticism and the danger of government leaders and its Armed Forces facing war crimes charges.
Donahoe said Colombo was keeping open its channels of communication with Washington, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Sri Lanka Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris for talks in Washington in April (2012). This is clearly for more backroom deals, if necessary.
The US Resolution is just nonsense. It has more to do with geopolitics than human rights.
All I would say is that the TNA seems to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If there is no international investigation passed by the UNHRC, the TNA will have a case to answer, not least to their people, the victims of these atrocities.
The TNA urges the international community to institute an international investigation, but is unwilling to go to Geneva and lobby the delegates! To repeat myself again, I find this astounding. To use a military term, the TNA was “missing in action”.
Although it may appear to be so, there does not seem to be any truth in the story that the TNA is now part of Rajapaksa’s Government. God only knows, stranger things have happened in Sri Lankan politics.
If, for whatever reason, the TNA decided not to go to Geneva, the very least they could have done was to circulate their crucial “Situation Report. North and East” which they tabled in the Sri Lankan Parliament on 21 October 2011. It was a factually correct Report of the dreadful plight of the Tamil people in the North and East.
I guess that would have really put Sri Lanka on the mat, which was clearly not the intention of the TNA.
I thought twice about putting these highly critical comments on paper, but what has to be said has to be said. Having been involved in the struggle of the Tamil people for six decades (the Plantation Tamils since 1948, the Ethnic Tamils since 1956), I am not prepared to duck out now when the defenceless and now, voiceless, people in the Tamil North and East are being subjected to a ‘slow genocide’. If I have trodden on some toes, they are toes that need to be trod on.
In striking contrast to the position of the TNA and the Resolution backed by the US, is an important Memorandum of the “Global Peace Support Group. Self-determination is the key to the World Peace”.
A Memorandum carried by Tamils (youths, I suspect) they literally walked from London to Geneva – a 1000 km walk for the ‘Plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka’.
Leaving London (on foot) on 28th January 2012, braving subzero temperatures, they arrived at the UNHCR in Geneva on 27th February, completing the 1000 km walk in 30 days. (The TNA could have got there in hours, business class or even first class).
The outcome of the US Submission on Sri Lanka
How will they vote? I do not know. What is worrying is the list of countries that have a vote (Appendix 4). Many of them are so obscure that I doubt if they know where Sri Lanka is, let alone what is going on there. The GoSL has probably contacted every one of them (personally – i.e. sending a Government Minister) to paint a totally false picture of what is going on. There are others who can be bought – readily.
My gut feeling is that the US Submission will succeed. Will it matter? Probably not. As the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister told reporters in Geneva, the US government has assured him that it is a ‘mild motion’, and that that there is nothing to worry about.
I was scheduled to go to this meeting in Geneva, but was unable to afford the cost of finding someone to look after my patients in Brisbane while I was out of the country. There is no doubt that a Sinhalese campaigning for the right of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and now, to live at all, would have been powerful, but it was not to be.
All that the Tamils can do is to rely on the outstanding work of Amnesty International and others, who have an Information booth in the building to tell those who really want to know, the dreadful things that are going on in the Tamil North and East. If all is as rosy as the Government says it is, and the Tamil people are happy and smiling, why prevent Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group free and unrestricted access to the North and East? I am sure the Rajapaksa junta has an answer for this. They always have.
So we wait for the next carnival in the UNHRC Geneva from May 30 – June 17, while the Tamils in the North and East slowly perish and the murderous Rajapaksa regime gets away with it – yet again.