The Darusman Panel is grossly misleading about the way in which surrendees were handled. It sneers at Government figures for those in detention as former combatants, by claiming that ‘The tally includes people who did not take part in fighting or who were only recruited in the final weeks or days’. Since the Government has made it clear that it included all those who admitted to having been recruited, this is hardly surprising. It may also astonish the Panel to know that questioning these victims is also useful in recording the techniques used by the LTTE – a process totally ignored by UNICEF when it was in charge, and failed not only to stop child recruitment, but even sent children back to areas where they were promptly re-recruited.
The Panel claims that there has been no external scrutiny of what is going on. If it means supervision, it is absolutely correct, since we do not need those whose stupidity or worse encouraged terrorism to tell us how to treat our citizens. If it means no one has visited the site, this is complete nonsense, because on several occasions I have been there, representatives of the UN and of Civil Society have been present, usually to work on assistance for these youngsters. Unfortunately the Panel thinks assistance must be synonymous with the protection racket some of their informants had been running.V Anandasangaree – had asked Erik Solheim whether on his many visits to Kilinochchi he had been able to go beyond the `iron curtain` and see the torture camps and detention centres.
The bitterness this has resulted in has led to highly tendentious statements such as claiming that the absence of ‘any external scrutiny for almost two years, rendered alleged LTTE cadre highly vulnerable to violations such as rape, torture or disappearance, which could be committed with impunity’.
This is both vicious as well as stupid. Occasional visits by agencies such as the ICRC do not prevent such occurrences, as we know full well from the torture chambers the LTTE maintained in the Vanni, which the ICRC seemed to have no notion of in spite of regular visits. On the contrary, the detailed figures we maintain makes it clear that Government knows it is accountable – but accountable to its own citizens, not those who ignored or were ignorant of violations against Tamils and Sinhalese and Muslims alike for years.
The Panel mocks the psycho-social work of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, with paragraphs replete with inverted commas on the lines of a schoolboy essay seeking to be sardonic. In this regard I can testify to the commitment of the Commissioner, who used part of my decentralized budget for training of counselors including former cadres, in a highly professional manner. I had dedicated half my budget to these cadres, but thought of training young ladies to be primary English teachers. The CGR instead proposed this training programme, while also helping me implement high level entrepreneurship training, details of which are available on the Reconciliation Website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org
Incidentally, the Panel does not seem to have consulted those at the International Organization for Migration, which has been working together with government in this area. Though initially IOM too used to do its own thing, it began under its former Head, Mohamed Abdiker, to work more responsibly with government – something for which I too can take some credit, after IOM initially complained about me to the Foreign Ministry. The claim was that I wanted them to report to me, but I pointed out that my letter indicated that they should report to the relevant Line Ministry. The Foreign Ministry said this was them, but admitted that they had not received a single copy of project documents for the work IOM was doing, as was required. They promised that they would do better about this in the future, and Mohamed sensibly conformed, and became the favoured agent of government for many projects. It should be noted that, as the Foreign Ministry pointed out to me, IOM’s overheads are much lower than those of most agencies.
IOM is now working very well with government on Rehabilitation, and indeed is the recipient of much assistance which elements in the international community prefer to give to their own, rather than to the recipient government. This should not be a problem, so long as funds are not squandered, and that there is conformity with government programmes and full accountability. Unfortunately this is what many of the protection racketeers resist.
The Panel Report also propagates allegations about torture in Menik Farm itself. It asserts that amongst individuals interrogated were ‘the doctors, the AGA and two United Nations staff members’, as though it has to be assumed that such Staff members should not be suspected of terrorist links. Obviously they did not ask the former UN Resident Coordinator about the weapon found on a staff member, which had quite properly led to investigation previously too.
Ignoring the fact that Sri Lanka had suffered from an insidious terrorist organization for years, the Panel goes on to declare of those interrogated that ‘Some of them were tortured as well. The sounds of beating and screams could be heard from the interrogation tents. The UNHCR recorded at least nine cases of torture in detention. Some detainees were taken away and not returned.’
It is very strange that UNHCR should have recorded such cases since none of these were shared with the Ministry to whom it was meant to be report. If the main intention of the network of informers the Panel has alluded to was to chargeSri Lankawith war crimes, it is obvious why they kept silent, but one would have assumed that the rationale of such monitoring was to nip any abuses in the bud.
Again, it is strange that, while none of this was discussed at the time, the Panel should take it as confirmed that the military using violence to interrogate people in the camps. There were enough Sri Lankan officials around who would have prevented this, in addition to the plethora of potential witnesses – or at least gossips – in the persons of aid workers as well as the displaced.
But the Panel necessarily assumes that we are both stupid and wicked. We must also be responsible collectively for everything that is amiss. I am happy though that the Panel has at least realized that some of those who disappeared from the camps were not boiled alive or otherwise disposed of, but simply made their way out surreptitiously. The claim is that they bribed ‘the military’, whereas the military as a body were worried about such disappearances, though individuals may have been complaisant – I should note that the military were convinced the bribes were being taken by NGOs and Civil officials, which is why they called a halt to the large numbers of vehicles going in and out.
I have no doubt that individuals from many different institutions were involved, perhaps not least the UN Security branch which had later to be investigated. But I certainly know that in one case the military, as represented by the official with whom I dealt, were guilty only of inefficiency, and were as upset as I was about the disappearance.
I refer to the case of a Mrs Malathy Naguleswaran, an elderly citizen of New Zealand, who had come to assist people in the Vanni, and then stayed on even when hostilities resumed. The New Zealand High Commissioner inDelhi got in touch with me about this, and I was able to trace her with the help of UNHCR. I wrote then to a senior officer to say that a TPN has been sent asking for her repatriation and asking him to ‘look into the matter and do whatever is feasible to expedite this’.
I also suggested that he ‘to talk to her to find out about conditions in the area controlled by the LTTE, and in particular their approach to the Safe Zone. She would be articulate in English, and is obviously committed to humanitarian work, so may be able to provide useful insights into current LTTE practices relating to this field’. Unfortunately none of this was done, though I should not be too irritated given the levels of work that were required, and the state of exhaustion in which I used to find my contacts each time I visited.
On one of these visits I said that I would like to see Mrs Naguleswaran myself, but then I was told that she had disappeared. I was worried initially, but was told that she had probably managed to get away. I told the High Commissioner that the chances were she was back inNew Zealand, but asked him to check. He said he would get back to me, but did not do so, so when I was inDelhinext I asked for a meeting. The splendidly named Rupert Holborrow was away, but his Deputy came to my hotel and essentially reassured me that no further action was required.
In one sense this was our fault, for we should have cleared the lady and sent her back toNew Zealandstraight away. But in terms of the larger picture, the care extended under difficult circumstances towards so many thousands, the rapid reintegration of youngsters trained to hate and kill us, the positive commitment of so many Sri Lankan officials, and in particular the military, I find there is much to be proud of. Sadly, the Darusman Panel is unaware of all of this in its determination to crucify us, if not quite boil us alive.