While the UN Security Council is the most decisive political organ, why did the US chose to move the UN Human Rights Commission and that too avoiding any reference to UN’s own Expert Panel report, questions Dr. Jude Lal Fernando, one of the organizers of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka held in Dublin in 2010, explaining the ‘tension’ found within the UN human rights and humanitarian system. Observing two reactions by the UN system, he also details how the casualty figures were intentionally withheld by major powers during war to let the SL State to complete its genocidal onslaught. Even now, the powers sitting on the issue at the UN are exerting political pressure on the system to control and to ‘interpret’ the vast pool of evidence that is against the SL State as well as themselves, Dr Fernando said in a video interview to TamilNet on Saturday.
The powers exerting political pressure on the UN system water-down the mass atrocity committed against the Tamils and reduce it to mere ‘possible’ individual violations of human rights abuse when there is a vast pool of evidence regarding genocide available, even through the UN channels, Dr Jude Lal said adding: “Now, it is the time for the UN human rights and humanitarian community to match their words with deeds at least by resigning, or at least by publicly making statements that they were under political pressure.”
The Tamil national question is not a humanitarian issue. It is not an administrative issue. Nor it is even an issue of development. It is a major structural issue about the domination of the Sri Lankan State where Tamil Nation is oppressed and is led into a process of annihilation, the post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at Irish College of Ecumenics, said.
“Unless – and until – this oppressive State structure is fundamentally changed, no humanitarian concern, no administrative proposal and no development-discourse would work. This has to be stated very clearly,” he told TamilNet.
* * *
Full transcript of the video interview follows:
TamilNet: As one of the organizers of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, held in Dublin, what is your assessment on the current visit by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Ms Navanetham Pillay?
Dr Jude Lal Fernando: From the time of the last phase of the war, up until the recent visit of Navanetham Pillay to Sri Lanka, we can very clearly see a tension within the UN system. Two reactions towards the mass atrocities committed against the Tamil people.
If you could recall it to your mind how some UN officials were saddened to leave Ki’linochchi, when Sri Lankan government ordered them to leave in 2008, and also the interactions that Navanethem Pillay had with men and women who had lost their dear ones recently when she met them in Jaffna, we can see one side of the UN. That is the human rights and humanitarian community within the UN.
We can also see in the last phase of the war there were leaked documents in the UN, which really had estimated the casualty figures and how they were increasing in thousands.
But these casualty figures were withheld. How?
After the last phase of the war, we held Dublin Tribunal in 2010 January.
At that time the available figures were 20,000 and this figure was also a UN figure, which appeared in French and British media.
It was only after then, Gordon Weiss , who was the former UN spokesperson of the UN to Sri Lanka, acknowledged – of course when he acknowledged he was not the official spokesperson he had resigned — at least 40,000 were killed.
It is very clear that the truth was known to the UN humanitarian and human rights community [during the war].
But, it was not allowed to be publicised till the job was done by the Sri Lankan State.
Who withheld them? That is the biggest question.
The UN Expert Panel report officially acknowledged these casualty figures and the mass atrocities committed against the Tamil people.
According to the recommendation by the UN Expert Panel report, the Patrie report went even further and acknowledged that the major States in the UN did not act.
In fact, what we have to say is that it is not that they did not act, but they did not want to act until the war should be completed by the Sri Lankan State.
This is the two reactions within the UN structure.
On the one hand, the truth is available to them.
On the other hand, due to geopolitical reasons, some powerful States which control that UN structure, withhold and withheld the information that was coming out.
And, we see Navanethem Pillay, calling the Sri Lankan regime authoritarian.
Would the major powers, which withheld information and gave an upper hand to the Sri Lankan State and supported it militarily, also call the Sri Lankan State authoritarian? I wouldn’t say so.
Now, it is the time for the UN human rights and humanitarian community to match their words with deeds at least by resigning, or at least by publicly making statements that they were under political pressure.
This has to be done for the sake of thousands of people who were massacred and for the sake of thousands of children whose graveyards are unknown. That is a moral issue when it comes to the UN human rights and humanitarian community.
TamilNet: Do you think the UN Human Rights Commission as a proper mechanism to address the genocide committed on Eezham Tamils as well as the ongoing structural genocide?
Jude Lal: We have to raise two questions in this regard. The first one is, who referred Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Commission. The second question is, on what basis the UN resolution was passed.
In answer to the first question, it is the United States, which referred Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Could you tell me any other case, the US government has referred to the Human Rights council?
Look at Libya, look at Syria.
They always go through the Security Council.
Security Council is the most decisive political organ of the UN structure. But, here, it is to the UN Human Rights council that they refer Sri Lanka.
The question is why?
The main question is to control, to interpret the vast pool of evidence that was against the Sri Lankan State as well as the major powers, who were complicit against genocide of the Tamil people. And, take it to their hands, the whole process of interpreting how it happened and why it happened.
On what basis did they pass the resolution?
The US government did not really take on board the UN Expert Panel report, which was painstakingly documented and accepted that 40,000 people were massacred in the last phase of the war and that there were war crimes and possible crimes against humanity that were committed against the Tamil people.
Bypassing UN’s own panel report, the US superimposes on the UN Human Rights Council, LLRC report, which was commissioned by the Sri Lankan regime.
Paradoxically, the Sri Lanka regime never commissioned LLRC commission to probe into violations of human rights in the last phase of the war.
Instead, the LLRC was mandated by the Sri Lankan regime to probe into how the 2002 ceasefire agreement and the peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam violated sovereignty of the Sri Lankan State.
It never wanted to probe into human rights violations by the Sri Lankan State against the Tamil people, leave aside genocide or crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
It is this [LLRC] report that was adopted as the basis to pass the UN resolution.
By adopting this, the agenda of the British and the American – and it is supported by the Indian government – is to water-down the mass atrocity committed against the Tamils and reduce it to mere ‘possible’ individual violations of human rights abuse when there is vast pool of evidence regarding genocide, available even through the UN channels.
So, in that sense, I don’t think this mechanism would help.
But, on the other hand, we have to bear in our mind that the process of coming forward vast pool of evidence is unstoppable. It will amount more and more.
TamilNet: What is your response to the Northern Provincial Council election and promotion of so-called development agenda as the means to resolve the Tamil National question?
Jude Lal: It is very clear that the provincial council system was the part of the Sri Lankan Constitution since 1987 under the Indo-Lanka peace accord.
First of all, this system of provincial council was imposed by the Indo-Lanka peace accord without recognising the Tamil liberation movement as an equal partner in negotiations.
Secondly, the Sri Lankan regime was reluctant even to implement the provincial council system in the North and East.
Ironically, it was implemented in the South and the Sinhala chief ministers, in Sabaragamuwa, in the Central Province in the Southern Province and Western Province, continuously complain that they do not have any power to develop their own regions and the power is with the Central Government.
So, how could such a system resolve the Tamil national question within an asymmetrical system of Sri Lankan State oppressing the Tamil nation over 60 years?
The Provincial Council system, in that sense is not at all a starter.
On the other hand, political parties, out of desperation sometimes, by boycotting the elections and contesting the elections – like the ordinary people who try to meet Navanetham Pillay – try to express their anguish, their desperation, their frustration, and that should not be interpreted as acceptance of the provincial council elections.
We also see how the liberal western governments stating that the Sri Lankan regime could have done better after the war during the last 4 years.
What could the Sri Lankan regime have done for the Tamil people after massacring nearly 100,000 Tamils in the last phase of the war, except doing the worse?
What is the moral, legal, political international pressure on the Sri Lankan regime to do better after massacring 100,000 people, when there isn’t an iota of recognising that mass atrocities were committed by the Sri Lankan State?
What is happening is just the opposite that the entire North and East is heavily militarised in an unprecedented manner, key commercial and economic areas have been acquired by both military and Sinhala businessmen and politicians. And the Tamil homeland has been changed structurally and there is a structural genocide that is being reinforced with changing of Tamil names, building of Buddhist shrines and statues all over the Tamil area and thereby severing and separating the Tamils from their land.
This is what is in fact happening in the name of ‘development’.
‘Development’ here is not neutral. ‘Development’ is here controlled by the Sinhala Buddhist State, the unitary state.
On the other hand, the Tamil national question is not a humanitarian issue. It is not an administrative issue. Nor is it even an issue of development.
It is a major structural issue about the domination of the Sri Lankan State where Tamil Nation is oppressed and is led into a process of annihilation.
Unless – and until – this oppressive State structure is fundamentally changed, no humanitarian concern, no administrative proposal and no development-discourse would work. This has to be stated very clearly.