BY T.R. KELLY
Hot on the heels of the Genocide Resolution against Sri Lanka passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Congresswoman Deborah Ross (Democratic North Carolina) on May 18, 2021 presented Resolution No. H RM 413 to the US Congress. The Resolution calls for an international mechanism for accountability of war crimes.
The Resolution states, recognising 12 years since the end of the terrorism war in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2009, honouring the lives lost and expressing support for justice, accountability, reconciliation, reconstruction, reparation and reform in Sri Lanka to ensure a lasting peaceful political solution and a prosperous future for all people of Sri Lanka.
Most Sri Lankans would be dismayed by Congresswoman Deborah Ross’s decision to submit such a Resolution to US Congress.
The US and Sri Lanka have extremely good bilateral relations and appreciates the assistance the US has provided to Sri Lanka in times of disasters such as the tsunami in 2004.
The US has assisted Sri Lanka in numerous ways and I am sure all Sri Lankans would express their gratitude to the US.
Unfortunately, during recent times there has been a change of heart by some US lawmakers particularly with the advent of the Rajapaksa Government who have been establishing close ties with China.
This has caused consternation among some lawmakers in the US. There is no doubt that the US sees Sri Lanka’s ties with China as detrimental to their interest in South East Asia.
The US is labelled as the champion in democracy and has in the past been involved in several wars in their efforts to instill democracy in some countries, the Vietnam War is the best example of US policy of trying to establish democracy even by military means.
The Vietnam war
The Resolution H RM 413, states that the Resolution honours the lives lost, expressing support for justice, accountability, reconstruction, reparation and reform to ensure a lasting peaceful political solution and a prosperous future.
Did the US honour the lost lives in Vietnam, did the US support justice, was there any accountability for human rights violations carried out by the US against the civilians in Vietnam and was the US able to achieve reforms in the form of democracy?
The Resolution H RM 413 calls for an international mechanism on accountability of war crimes. Did the US initiate an international mechanism for accountability of the My Lai Massacre of hundreds of men women and children which is set out separately in this article?
The answer to the atrocities committed by US force in Vietnam is described below.
Between 1965 and 1975, the United States and its allies dropped more than 7.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The bombardment of North Vietnam and its neighbors began shortly after the Gulf in Tonkin incident in August 1964 and continued until the last American was airlifted out of Saigon over a decade later.
The bombardment was intended to put military pressure on North Vietnam’s communist leaders and reduce their capacity to wage war against the US supported Government of South Vietnam.
Grand total of war deaths Vietnam/Cambodia and Laos: Two million four hundred and fifty thousand (2,450,000).
President John. F. Kennedy chose to expand the military aid program to South Vietnam by providing funds and arms. Kennedy’s expansion stemmed in part from cold war era fears about the doctrine of “dominos theory” – if communist took hold in Vietnam, it could topple democracy throughout whole of South Asia it was thought.
Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. But, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson continued to stay put in Vietnam.
The My Lai Massacre
The My Lai massacre was the mass murder of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by US troops in Son Tin district on 16th March 1968 during the Vietnam War.
Between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by US Army soldiers from different battalions of the US Army. Victims included men, women, children and infants. Some of the women were gang raped and their body’s mutilated. Twenty six soldiers were charged with criminal offences but only Lieutenant William CalleyJr, a platoon leader in Company C was convicted and found guilty of killing 22 villagers. He was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and half years under house arrest before he was set free on parole. This war crime was later called “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War”. My Lai was one of the largest publicised massacres of civilians by US forces in the 20th century.
William Thomas Allison, a professor of military history at Georgia Southern University wrote: By midmorning members of Charlie Company had killed hundreds of civilians and raped or assaulted countless women and young girls. They encountered no enemy fire and found no weapons in My Lai itself.
Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot said that the American infantry were no different from the Nazis in their slaughter of innocent civilians- its mass murder out there. They are rounding them up and herding them in ditches and then just shooting them.
For instance, dropping of 7.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam. Did these bombs fall only on the heads of the Viet Cong? Remember the little girl who ran naked on the street subsequent to a napalm bombing by the US.
These 7.5 million tons of bombs killed a large number of civilians, the price the Vietnamese civilians had to pay to avoid South Vietnam falling into communist hands in the quest of the US to establish democracy in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was an utterly failure to the US which lost hundreds of its soldiers. What the mighty US Army could not do with its mighty military arsenal, the South and North are today one state living in peace and harmony with each other.
I decided to highlight the My Lai Massacre to remind Deborach Ross the presenter of resolution H RM 413 that the USA has on its CV many human rights violations, the My Lai massacre being labelled as the gravest violation of human rights of the 20th Century.
In its pursuit of establishing democracy in countries where democracy does not exist, the US has assassinated and eliminated countless numbers of tyrants and those who the US feels would be a threat to its system. The following high profile assassinations were carried out in recent times by the US.
1.Osama Bin Laden- for his involvement in the 9/11 bombing and killing of scores of Americans at the World Trade Center. The US sent an elite force as far as Pakistan to eliminate Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden’s assassination could be justified given Osama Bin Laden’s philosophy of an Islamic culture which definitely would have eroded all forms of democracy. So the US was quite right in its action in eliminating Osama Bin Laden.
- Assassination of ISIS Leader Sheikh Al Baghdadi. He caused severe hardships and sorrows to many around the world by his doctrine of Islamic Jihad which we in Sri Lanka too had to endure on Easter Sunday of 2019 with the loss of over 300 lives and many more maimed and injured for life. So civilised society would have no qualms regarding the heroic action of the US in eliminating who would have been a scourge on earth.
3.Assassination of General Suleiman of Iran- Head of the Elite Iran National Guard. He was a threat to the US and Israel. Given Iran’s determination to destroy Israel, the US being the strongest ally of Israel would not lie down doing nothing to protect its ally in the Middle East. Tyrants such as General Suleiman’s elimination by the US allows the world to spend more peaceful days.
4.US bombings in Afghanistan – particularly the bombings of the Toro Bora Mountains using bunker busting bombs. Assassination of countless number of Taliban combatants. But not all who were in the Toro Bora Mountains were combatants –surely there were civilians just as the many civilians’ deaths in Afghanistan as a result of American bombings and operations.
- Human Rights back in the US. The world has seen how black Americans were shot and killed by white Policeman. The ugly killing of a black man by a white Policeman pressing his knee down the neck of that black man until he died.
- Israel has killed a countless number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah operatives as they were a threat to Israel. In doing so a large number of innocent Palestinian men women and children have been killed. The recent uprising in Gaza in no exception. Israel has the right to defend its citizens so has Sri Lanka to its citizens and uphold the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka to all its citizens.
The main objective of the US is to ensure that the whole world follows democratic principles which would give every citizen the freedom he or she needs which is what every citizen expects from its rulers.
To ensure that the US philosophy of democracy is prevalent in all parts of the world, it would go to the extent of being involved in wars with countries whose leaders or tyrants who try to introduce various cults and undemocratic forms in their countries.
In their pursuit the US has committed countless human rights violations by killing of large number of civilians which is unavoidable during a war. Sri Lanka is in total agreement with the US as far as democracy is concerned as Sri Lanka has been a democratic country since Independence.
The following is the response to the issues raised by Deborah Ross in Resolution no: H RRM 413.
Support for justice
Academic Scholars had this to say on support for justice:
An important challenge to the justice element of transitional justice is the perception that it can be an obstacle to peace, truth and/or reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict or repression.
Those who support this view often claim that in such periods of change the international law paradigm is not applicable given the exceptional circumstances faced by the State, or that international law does not fully rule amnesties for past crimes, as is often believed. For them, peace has to be sought first, even at the expense of justice.
Most post conflict states, while grappling with the restraints of limited resources and capacity to hold legitimate trials, have to take into account additional considerations when determining whether to prosecute offenders. Specifically criminal trials can actually harm recovery from a conflict more than they might help, prosecution can thwart or stall reconciliation attempts within a fractured nation that is working towards peace.
Absolute formulations here are dangerous. Both peace and justice are to be sought. But sometimes, peace will only be attainable if justice is sacrificed. Moreover, too much justice may imperil peace.
Rigid, inflexible approaches, characterised by the exaggerated claim that amnesty is prohibited by international law, or that impunity inexorably leads to further conflict, are counter productive. The assertions that prosecutions are required and “arrest warrants cannot be dropped as a matter of principle” means that there will be in some cases a resumption of hostilities, with all of the terrible human suffering that this may involve. There are cases where peace is established sustainably without prosecuting those who committed violence in the lead up to that peace. It is also a fact that the insistence of criminal justice can derail peace processes.
The blanket claim of no peace without justice can be dangerous for peace because it categorically refuses and closes off the kind of often distasteful political compromises that may be necessary to establish peace.
The Resolution of Deborah Ross for a mechanism for accountability on war crimes. Deborah Ross, you should note that soon after the battle against terrorism ended on May 19, 2009, there was a call by the international community and civil society organisations to permit an international investigation into war crimes particularly during the last phase of the battle against terrorism.
In answering the call of conducting an investigation President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) of eminent highly respected individuals whose integrity, honesty was never an issue. President Rajapaksa was of the view that there was no need for an international investigation for a battle that was between the Sri Lankan Army and a group of terrorists from the North and East.
President Rajapaksa stated that he had full confidence in the Commissioners, he appointed to the LLRC and instructed the Commissioners by giving them a mandate to inquire and report on the matters set out in the mandate and that Sri Lanka had credible persons who would present a credible report acting in complete transparency and that is exactly what the LLRC did.
In its report the LLRC made specific recommendations that “priority” should be given to the investigation, prosecution and disposal of cases and that all allegations should be investigated and wrongdoers prosecuted and punished irrespective of their political links, so as to inspire confidence among the people in the administration of justice and the criminal justice system.
The LLRC asked that the “office of the Commissioner” should be provided with experienced investigators to collect and process information necessary for investigations and prosecutions and made clear that due account must be taken of the violation of core human rights and international humanitarian law principals so that appropriate punishment commensurate with the grave nature of such crimes could be meted out. Based on the recommendation of the LLRC, as a consequence President Rajapaksa sought the assistance of international experts as an Advisory Council to the Paranagama Commission.
The Advisory Council comprised Sir Desmond de Silva QC (UK) who was the Chairman, Professor David. M. Crane (USA), and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC (UK).
The Advisory Council was assisted by Rodney Dixon QC (UK/South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (US) of the Vanderbilt University who formerly served as the Senior Advisor to the United States Ambassador at Large for war crimes, Commander William Fenwick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen of Hayward and the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Major General John Holmes, DSP, OBE, MC (UK) former Commanding Officer of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Paul Mylvaganam (UK) for implementation of the second mandate.
The Advisory Council stated that these are all far reaching developments. The course that has been embarked upon by the GOSL, has placed proper emphasis on the need for investigation and the establishment of the truth, as well as accountability for those responsible for the commission of any serious violations of international law.
This is entirely in accordance with international standards, as explored above for transitional justice.
On May 2 and 3, US Secretary of State John Kerry undertook an official visit to Sri Lanka. Considering that the US had been in the forefront of the UNHCR Resolution of March 27th 2014, he made a speech indicating that the change in Government had been brought about by a majority that was committed to the difficult task of healing the wounds caused by terrorism.
The Secretary of State went on to deal with the necessity to discover the truth “wherever the truth may lead” and he saw this as an essential part of the healing and reconciliation process. It is notable that he made no reference to war crimes prosecution.
Since the battle against terrorism in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, successive Governments have taken a variety of measures to advance the process of reconciliation.
In 2011, the LLRC drafted initial recommendations on how to tackle the fundamental causes of the long running battle against terrorism and come to terms with the past. The policy of reconciliation received a boost when the Government in January 2015 supported a Resolution at the Human Rights Council.
In 2016, the government convened a Consultation Task Force on reconciliation (CTF) and tasked with the undertaking of a nationwide consultation to identify the views of the Lankan population on a range of reconciliation mechanisms and processes.
The final report of the CTF and the approval of a Nation al Policy for Reconciliation and co-existence in 2018 led to the establishment by the government of an office of missing persons and preparation for a new office on reparation a key measure paving the way for these initiative was the creation of the National Unity Council and Reconciliation (ONUR) in 2015 chaired by the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
A new government was elected in November 2019 headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.
The new government announced a critical review of the existing reconciliation policy. The new government withdrew from the joint resolution which was agreed by the foreign Minister of the previous government stating that the resolution was not presented to Parliament and did not have the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.
In November 2019, the government opened the Jaffna International Airport located in the Northern part of the country which was severely affected by three decades of terrorism. Northern Provincial elections were held in 2014 for the first time in Sri Lanka in two decades.
In terms of economic development and reconstruction there were a number of efforts to develop infrastructure in terrorism-affectedareas. The Northern Province infrastructure during 2009-2013 cost the government Rs. 220 billion. Recovery from three decades of terrorism is not easy. Rapid infrastructure development doesn’t quickly boost growth.
Today the Northern Province has a well-connected road network, in addition to the renovated rail track Kandy/Jaffna. Since the conclusion of battle against terrorism, the government decided that social and economic infrastructure should be developed in the affected areas. Therefore, the Government has paid great attention to fulfil this task in the Northern and Eastern Provinces with the help of foreign governments and institutions.
After the LTTE was eliminated from the North and East, the Government faced some immediate challenges such as follows:
i) Re-settlement of more than 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs);
ii) Removal of landmines and the clearing of a large extent of mines planted by the LTTE;
iii) Restoration of livelihood of people who had been re-settled in the former zone;
iv) Renovation of damaged schools, hospitals and other public amenities;
v) The cleaning of agricultural lands and water resources that was suspicious to be contaminated.
To be continued…