Monday, December 6, 2021

Truths, untruths and Sri Lankan commitment

BY FRANCES BULATHSINGHALA

The international community, through its peculiar insistence on harping on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka has done the exact opposite of promoting national reconciliation.

While wars, atrocities and human rights violations in many guises continue in the rest of the world where the perpetrators are often powerful nations, millions of dollars have been raised the world over for lobbying and justifying the UN Resolution on Sri Lanka.

Now, the UNHRC is seeking $ 2.8 million to set up an office to put together information about the so-called war crimes committed here. All this is money that could have benefited the Tamil people in Sri Lanka towards re-shaping their lives.

For the country to move ahead, there is a need for the Tamil diaspora, now foreign citizens who hardly visit this country but who were the lobbyists for the Resolution, to understand the ground realities. Unbiased assistance by the international community would have gone a long way for Sri Lanka to develop genuine reconciliation and peace-building.

All that the UN Resolution on Sri Lanka may do is further divide the people of the country, increase feelings of suspicion and hate while taking the country away from economic, political and social stability providing an ample opportunity for diverse local and international segments to exploit the country’s quest for national unity, towards diaspora members’ diabolical interest.

UN and its effectiveness

With regard to the UN and its effectiveness, there seems to be scant introspection as it enters its 76th year of existence. Some describe the UN as a failed entity, conceptualised and created for the purpose of strategically and subtlety controlling the non Western world for resources and knowledge while others still insist it is a world body committed to equality.

The formation of the UN was first declared in 1942 and further discussed in 1943 where ‘a general international organisation based on the sovereign equality of all nations’ was agreed upon. In 1944, the post war Charter for ‘collective security’ mooted. By June 1945, the deliberations for a Charter of the United Nations were completed and on July 28, the US which played a major role in the creation of this organisation, approved the UN Charter.

Days later, on August 6 and 9, the United States dropped the Atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 200,000 persons and maiming thousands of others (and future generations) for life. Conveniently for those who devastated lives beyond repair in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the UN and its aims for a world that valued human rights came into formal ratified existence two monthslater, on October 24, 1945.

The international community, however, seems to think, selectively, that certain wars are tea parties; sans the death, the misery and the carnage.

UN stance

Will this Resolution be a magic wand that will enable a kind of justice that the Tamil people could have expected from the LTTE which tortured and killed off anyone who opposed them, insisted on taxes by the Tamil people, recruited children, coerced youth to become human bombs and butchered Sinhala civilians and shot at Tamil civilians who were fleeing for their lives in the last stage of the fighting?

Will this Resolution promote any progressive step, for example-commemorating the month of May dedicated to unity, understanding and peace – the kind of decision Lanka so desperately needs to bring about an honest locally driven discourse between different stakeholders, such as Tamil civilians, Sinhala and Muslim civilians and different political and civilian players.

How will the average life of the Tamil people in the North and the East of Lanka; those without wealthy diaspora relatives and those who are marginalised such as former rehabilitated LTTE cadres improve as a result of theUN Resolution?

Do these foreign based persons who created the stage for the Resolution to be passed, care about the ensuing danger of the Sri Lankan economy through possible sanctions which would finally be borne by the most vulnerable of its populations, such as Tamil civilians of the North-East?

Much effort has been taken by the Board of Investment (BOI) through the Jaffna office and Tamil officials there to usher in industry projects during the past 12 years in Jaffna, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu providing jobs for Lankan Tamils of the North East.

The international community had 12 years in which they could have encouraged the Tamil Diaspora to invest in these projects that will benefit the Lankan Tamil people, instead of veering off in the opposite direction. During one of the floods that struck the North a few years ago, a Sinhala philanthropist who runs a charity organisation was distributing dry rations as well as other goods to the area and quipped that he could not get the Tamil Diaspora to contribute ‘even a single mosquito net.’

Local mechanisms

Sri Lanka needs trust building between communities. Every ounce of strength, will-power and above all, an honest effort has to be mustered by Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim intellectuals, politicians and all others in society at large, including the police and the Security Forces, to represent the wellbeing of the people and country, giving national harmony utmost priority. Each human being should be an ambassador of peace.

The country should seek peace, fairness and unity because these are assets for stability of a nation and not seek them because the UN or the West wants us to. Sri Lanka should implement local mechanisms locally proposed for justice and upholding of the law for supporting national unity.

Sri Lanka has done the groundwork and produced objective reports, such as the Maxwell Paranagama Commission report on Inquiry Into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka which held regular hearings in Colombo and the North and the East. These Commissions of Inquiries were the result of an independent initiative of the then Lankan government. It is imperative that all of its recommendations are carried through for the good of the citizens of the country.

These recommendations covered a vast realm from media freedom, societal freedom and the practical implementation of justice within the context of battling terrorism, including steps to be taken on matters relating to missing persons (Tamils – mostly LTTE cadres and the Sinhalese military personnel).

International community

Most of these recommendations by the LLRC and Paranagama commissions have been hailed by many Lankan intellectuals irrespective of political affiliations, as just and progressive.

If there have been aberrations of the law taken into the hands by any person, justice should prevail as recommended. We should never give any Sri Lankan citizen, ever, whether it be Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim any need whatsoever, to complain to foreign nations about issues faced by them. Any citizen should feel safe complaining to their government, whether that citizen voted for it or not.

With regard to foreign countries telling Sri Lanka what should be done within the country, maybe Sri Lanka too can encourage nations such as for example, America, to look into the human rights of its people, beginning with the original people of that land – the Native Americans as well as the Black Americans, so that people do not get killed in broad daylight, such as George Floyd. This will need some serious researching so that any advice to another country on human rights should be aimed at unifying diverse people of that country and not the reverse which will only encourage destabilisation of a nation.

If the international community had been serious about unifying the people of Sri Lanka during the past 12 years, one of the first things it could have done is to encourage the Tamil Diaspora to see the importance of this unity and extolled the moving forward through peace, inter-ethnic discussions, empathy and development. This may have changed the status quo how the Government took their decisions.

For example, can calls by Lankan Tamil politicians for the release of former LTTE cadres as a policy pertaining to peace time reconciliation be realistically considered if the Tamil Diaspora is seen as a constant potential threat of influencing these people back to terror? The use of LTTE flags by the Tamil Diaspora abroad during their protests against the Lankan Government show that they are not neutral but supporting a terrorist group that many of the Western countries had proscribed.

Many Tamils may have forgotten the life as lived under the LTTE. The documentary film Demons in Paradise by Lankan Tamil Jude Rutnam speaks of certain aspects of these realities, beginning with the darkest scar on Lanka, the 1983 riots which should never have occurred and allowed the rise of a master of terror, such as Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Any Tamil citizen who lived under the LTTE or any unbiased human rights activist would be able to come up with countless stories of how lands of Tamil citizens were confiscated by the LTTE, often for not paying up what was euphemistically called ‘taxes’ but was in reality any amount of money that was demanded.

Everyday issues

No Tamil businessman, either in the North or the East or in Colombo or abroad were free of the long arm of the LTTE money collectors. The response to not contributing as demanded could be lethal. The killings of hundreds of other Tamils – Tamil intellectuals, such as Rajani Thiranagama and Neelan Thiruchelvam – the killing of Tamil politicians, such as Joseph Pararajasingham, scores of members of rival militant groups, the forced recruitment of children for terrorism, the butchering of Sinhala villagers in the night are some acts of the LTTE.

It is possible for a Diaspora member to dismiss these writings as those of a biased Sinhalese. However, what I am writing is not theoretics. I could write tomes on what the Tamil people went through under the LTTE because I have visited these areas independently countless of times from the time of the peace process to date where my work in the media, research and capacity building. My interest in comparative spirituality and national heritage have involved countless visits to the North and the East and have ranged from the remotest of agrarian and fishing villages to Hindu and Sufi ashrams.

Because I am familiar with the everyday issues of the North, I am aware of the kind of exploitation that goes on those such as Lankan Tamil war widows where sections of the Tamil Diaspora – wealthy Tamil men of Lankan origin who are now holding foreign passports visit the country for short time spans and lure these women with false promises of marriage. Do human rights activists and the Tamil Diaspora know the number of children born to young North East mothers through these liaisons – mothers who are now helpless, abandoned and culturally ostracised?

It is a senior Tamil government official who gave me the information in numeric details. This person; a Tamil who has held high ranking government positions based in the North during the last phase of the battle against terrorism, had been frank in descriptions soon after the hostilities had ceased. These comments were thought of as being ‘traitorous’ to the LTTE to the extent that the social media used by the Tamil Diaspora had denounced this Lankan Tamil using the worst possible foul language, resulting in the traumatising of children and other family members who were studying abroad and some of them threatening to commit suicide.

On the question of the numbers of missing Tamil persons (those also referred to as disappeared), this Tamil official explained how many parents did not know at the last phase of the fighting in 2009, whether their children who had joined the LTTE were living or dead- they did not know the whereabouts of LTTE camps which kept shifting in location and that in the last stage of the battle, every parent thought their child escaped alive.

Also described was how large graves were dug daily for hundreds of bodies to be buried during the last laps of fighting. ‘Naturally, the parents were unaware of these developments as they were not eye witnesses and to date, think that their children were alive by May 18 when the hostilities ceased.

With regard to the last phase of the battle, what is to be understood is that the kind of setting we are talking about – one which was a nightmare of confusion – of bloodshed and gore, people running for their lives – no one knowing who was who, or who was running in which direction.

‘Disappeared’

A young girl, an LTTE child recruit who was about 22 years I interviewed her about five years ago who was at the frontlines at 17 during the very last stage of the fighting shuddered when she explained that she too could have been classified as one of the ‘disappeared’ if the LTTE cadre who was carrying her to safety listened to her and left her to die in the jungles and only looked after his own safety. She could have died and animals would have eaten her and there would not be definite proof she was dead and thus would be categorised as‘missing’ by her relatives.

Justice and compassion when it is selective can be sour. Last week, this writer highlighted how Thamilini, the head of the LTTE’s women political wing division who surrendered to the military along with many others faced difficulty in getting international agencies to give her the same amount of importance as they did to other LTTE members caught in the last phase of the battle.

A Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer at the highest level of local and international purported representation of Tamil rights had retorted to Thamilini’s appeal for legal assistance by saying he would be only able to represent her case if she pays him the usual feels charged! Thamilini was finally assisted free of charge by a Sinhala Marxist oriented lawyer, with another Tamil lawyer later supporting them.

There are hundreds of rehabilitated LTTE cadres who cannot get jobs in the North, obstructed by issues such as caste. The LTTE saga can be analysed in the context of caste, money and class. The Lankan Tamils who had the benefit of so-called high caste, money, class and international connections went abroad and supported the battle in the North. The Sri Lankan Tamils who had none of it stayed here and fought. One Tamil commentator once described the Tamil Diaspora role as being one akin to a spectator ‘paying the ticket’ to watch a war movie. Interestingly, the most vociferous defenders of the LTTE I have heard were those who never lived under them.

What the UN Resolution supporters and the Tamil Diaspora claim they want is justice and accountability in ending one of the bloodiest chapter’s in South Asia’s history associated with a terrorist group led by Prabhakaran – a man who lived a luxurious life even at the height of his terrorism and sending young children (with the exception of his own) to their deaths.

Epitome of evil

If the aim of the UN Resolution is justice, this cannot be sought by abnormally sainting one side who spearhead the violence and arbitrarily, making the other which countered it as the epitome of evil.

One cannot talk of alleged civilian deaths by the Security Forces when combatting the Tamil Tigers and be silent on the constant strategy adopted by the LTTE in positioning themselves within large groups of civilians, especially children – a strategy that was increased towards the last days where they dragged children and orphans wherever they set up fighting positions so that they could claim that the air-force was bombing schools and orphanages.

It is time we began creating an active and honest mechanism of dealing with internal issues pertaining to the concerns of our people – we can no longer leave the rights of our people to the impaired judgment of the international community – it is time we realised that every single citizen and their grievance – whatever it is – should be looked into – with honest determination – within this nation – which is a sovereign nation that needs no foreign entity telling us what to do.

Honest determination in doing this will be the defining factor for us. Every human life lost in the past 30 years and before as part of violence was a valuable human resource that could have been used for the betterment of the country if the circumstances were different.

We can take a cue from the man who transformed the fishing village in Singapore and made it one of the richest places in the world. Lee Kuan Yew’s miracle was achieved by carefully strategising a national framework where no civilian gets trapped in the purported need for glorified violence and thus has maintained its national sovereignty, economic independence and the wellbeing and dignity of all of its people.

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