BY MANJULA FERNANDO
“Member States of the UN must recognise and appreciate the legitimate right we hold to defend ourselves as a sovereign and independent state,” Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne said in an interview with the Sunday Observer, emphasising that Sri Lanka must not let the LTTE’s widely known barbaric behaviour for 30 long years become a lost narrative in the eyes of the international community.
Q: The TNA is in the forefront of the call to set up an international mechanism to investigate war crime allegations against the Government. How ethical is this call, when considering the group’s deafening silence when the LTTE recruited child soldiers for decades and used a human shield to protect its leaders during the final battle?
A: For a greater understanding of the personality of the TNA, one needs to study its evolution as a collective pre-2001. Its leadership, psyche and metamorphosis evolved from pre-TNA days especially, with the rise of the LTTE. The leadership had a bizarre survival strategy.
They were hunted down by the LTTE at one point in time and went underground to be protected by the Sri Lanka Government and finally survived as the proxy agents of the LTTE. During the LTTE hegemony, there was a deafening silence from the elite Tamil-speaking leadership when the Tamil-speaking people were brutalised by the LTTE; when other Tamil political parties were physically liquidated; when children were forcibly kidnapped to join the suicide child brigade; when the Muslims of Jaffna were forcibly evicted; when people fleeing were massacred at the Mulaithivu coast; the assassinations of Tamil-speaking intellectuals, poets, and other politicians, such as Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam, and Rajini Tiranagma.
These are only a few among other ‘achievements’ notched on their track record. The socially marginalised Tamil speaking people in the North, who yet remain voiceless in the mainstream society, was and is never a concern of the elite upper caste-based TNA.
Looking at the bloody record of the LTTE, the TNA has no moral and ethical right to speak of an international mechanism investigating war crimes. In fact, such an investigation is needed to expose the pro LTTE diaspora front and their servile mouthpiece represented by the Tamil leadership, recently joined by C. V. Wigneshwaran’s TMTK as well.
The pre TNA leadership was essentially silent collaborators by default to the disenfranchisement of Tamil and Muslim civilians in the North and East under a fascist rule. The UNHRC needs to question the TNA on such counts. The fragmentation of the Tamil parties is essentially a reflection of challenges posed against the imagined hegemony of the TNA.
Q: The TNA MPs joined a walk from the East to the North to protest against abuses on Tamils. Such politically motivated actions are organised every year on the eve of Human Rights Council sessions, by groups either backed by the LTTE or driven by ulterior motives. Can Sri Lanka ever shake off these allegations and if so how?
A: The publicity stunts by the TNA in Sri Lanka and in the global circuit were and are an attempt to legitimise and sustain their existence and survival.
Actions organised by the TNA and other dissenting Tamil-speaking groups in Sri Lanka do not function in a vacuum. Sumanthiran’s words (reported in the Island 13/2) “India should surely support the resolution sponsored by several Western nations at the 46th sessions of the UNHRC”, indicates where their support base is and where the buck stops! India I am sure with its wisdom will recognise subterranean politics of the TNA.
It is a concerted action orchestrated by several interested groups. Their controllers in the postwar period largely rest with Western and regional powers that use the TNA as a leverage attempting to pressure the GOSL. Hence, the TNA is a dependent political entity thriving on handouts from the West, the regional powers, and diaspora feeders.
The multiple arms of several puppeteers represent: the trans world Tamil diaspora which is the primary organ as the pro LTTE front; deferent states that have varying economic and geo-political needs from Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean; certain opposition political parties who have an ax to grind with the Government; INGOs funded by agencies supported by different governments for political and economic expediency maintaining pressure tactics to wrest concessions from Sri Lanka; global media organisations that ideologically stand in line mainly with Western governments represent this conglomeration.
Q: How can we face this challenge effectively?
A: Sri Lanka should have its own counter-strategy to offset any negative impacts nurturing an anti-Sri Lankan mindset. A well planned and consistent media dissemination; concerted strategic diplomatic engagements; action plans via Sri Lanka-friendly overseas sympathisers with respective governments and at the public domain; support mobilised by overseas Sri Lanka organisations; publicity drives through audio-visual coverage are some of the pro-active engagements we need to initiate as a cross border exercise.
Our media blitz also needs to be a well-orchestrated, articulated, and a skillfully presented exercise. In doing so, the lost narratives of the 30-year battle on the barbaric behaviour of the LTTE (attacks on World Heritage sites, massacre of village folk, carnage through bomb attacks in metropolitan centres and other areas, butchering Bhikkhus, pilgrims’ massacre at Anuradhapura, case studies of LTTE abductions of children and cyanide-vial carrying LTTE cadre trumped up false cases of individuals who allegedly disappeared or tortured and miraculously reappearing in Western countries et al) need to be presented through graphic images and well-worded commentaries via different international languages.
These need to be targeted and articulated at forums, especially, at Human Rights Councils. Unless this is constantly and consistently done, the prevalence of false information at such Councils gradually surface as facts and as an anti-mindset against Sri Lanka.
The celebrated publication on Corrupted Journalism Channel 4 and Sri Lanka, systematically listed concocted false news by the international media, is a case in point. We also need to take a stand on such corrupted journalism done recently by Bangladesh which is taking Al Jazeera to task for publishing malicious news on its respected Prime Minister Sheik Hasina.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen accused Al Jazeera of broadcasting false and fabricated report against Bangladesh. He also said many cannot accept the rapid development of Bangladesh and previously a smear campaign originated from London. Stories between our two countries run in close parallel.
If the TNA honestly wishes to reach out to the people and other communities, it is recommended that they at least join in the Pada-yatra pilgrimage carried out by all religious groups in the north and south commencing from Jaffna and converging at Kataragama in the far south.
Q: It is common knowledge that certain powerful countries are vilifying Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, due to pressure from the political leaders who depend on Tamil votebanks in their countries. Although it is a fact it seems to have been overlooked at the HRC. How could Sri Lanka address this issue?
A: Sri Lanka needs to counter this situation with an information system and fine-tune factual presentations. Mere highlighting of the LTTE carnage is insufficient to reach the mindset of the Western countries.
A factual narrative of positives should be presented. Internally, the rehabilitation of the former LTTE cadre with education facilities and employment opportunities; the pro-active services by the government in the North and the East (housing projects, support for irrigation, agriculture, fishing, education, craft, and professional training); prevention of drug addiction and PR acts of the forces among Tamil speaking and Muslim communities; the broad-based inclusive multi-cultural/religious initiatives carried out at heritage sites (good examples are found at the Kataragama multi-religious museum, Galle heritage site, Polonnaruwa museum etc.) are among a long list of activities the government had initiated as out-reach programs and initiatives.
These have not been properly documented, illustrated, and presented to the Western media or their decision-making people. Parallel to this, negatives of the LTTE and TNA need to be highlighted to undermine their information hegemony, for which we need to have precise target groups, organisations and individuals to focus such information and engagements.
Secondly, the international dimension of LTTE terrorism and its continuation, especially, in the West should be continuously highlighted.
There is only a sparse highlighting the world web of terrorism sustained by the LTTE which operates now at a more sophisticated level within political organisations, academia and corporate sector run by a second and third generation of Tamil speaking expatriates in the West and Australasia, their adopted countries.
Thirdly, it is necessary to look at the histories of countries that nurture the LTTE support base and anti-Sri Lankan fronts where regimes are mobilising the support of diaspora minorities as their vote banks.
It is not a negative to highlight the history of colonialism, imperialism, and neo-colonial strategies of hegemonising Latin American, African, and select Asian regions.
It is imperative to identify how many of such countries and their transnational conglomerations and military-industrial complex contravene UN prescribed environmental strictures, unpunished war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by such regimes; dislodging democratically elected governments leading to regime change and anarchy (most recently Libya and Iraq), subversion of rights of indigenous people while screaming from rooftops on the discrimination and violation of human rights of Tamil-speaking people. None of these regimes, especially in the West have been questioned or brought to book. We need to consistently undermine the legitimacy of such countries by revisiting their own past and contemporary hypocrisy shedding crocodile tears.
Selective amnesia of almost all diaspora connected Sri Lankan and overseas clientele including the international media is so banal. The TNA supported General Fonseka during his run for the Presidential election; forgave and supported the UNP – the same party that unleashed a reign of terror in 1981 that has created this ugly mess.
The Welikada prison massacre and the burning down of the Jaffna Public library – the heart of Jaffna culture; the banishing or killing of some of the Jaffna based intellectuals by the LTTE are only a small but impressive track record of terror.
World organisations and international bodies only need to read past international news characterising Velupillai Prabhakaran and the LTTE, so lionised subsequently by the same media and regimes. May 28, 1995 The New York Times identified Prabhakaran as Asia’s master of terror – a Sri Lankan evoked Pol Pot. The silence along corridors of international organisations is indeed deafening or they must have some other agenda.
A whole decade of media listed under The Washington Post, London Times, and The Wall Street Journal in the 1990s decade ran back to back articles on LTTE sponsored terror in Sri Lanka, India, and on a global scale. The Mackenzie Briefing Notes (Toronto. December 1995) had a whole research on “Funding Terror: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and their Criminal activities in Canada and the Western World”. Such activities on a global scale are very much alive and kicking but transformed into more respectable and acceptable identity embraced by western regimes as props to their own domestic political agenda.
We are not uncertain whether all submissions made by the GOSL are falling on deaf ears due to preconceived notions. It is indeed a pity that the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) March 2021 may not have seriously studied the lengthy 10 page response to the communication received from that Office presented by the GOSL.
It has recapped issues relating to LTTE terrorism, diaspora activities and all engagements of the GOSL reaching out to the communities in the North and East.
Q: It has been 12 years since Sri Lanka eliminated the separatist LTTE that terrorised a nation, including Tamil civilians who were the most affected due to their suppression in the north and the east (and also targeted elimination of Tamil intellectuals). Why do you think the Tamil diaspora is still supporting the LTTE activities overseas, come UNHRC sessions and other such events around the year there are protests in western cities with seemingly whole families participating in these events?
A: It is about sustaining a power strategy shared by the pro LTTE groups and Western and regional powers using this as a cat’s paw for their own hegemonic interest to control Sri Lanka and our oceanic-scape. Having listed all the negatives perpetrated by the LTTE, the diaspora dogmatically accepts only the ideology that nurtures its identity. From a liberation ethos, it had transformed into an incorporated conglomeration of the business outfit.
Selling the misery of the Sri Lankan Tamils is the ‘beggar’s wound’ that is exploited without any moral scruples. While the LTTE was in operation the Tamil-speaking people were used as cannon fodder and they continue to be so even in the post-war period.
The ‘victimised Tamil-speaking people’ need to be displayed and paraded in the eyes of the international community and Western regimes. It is therefore, not surprising that blind faith or buying of people or even intimidation successfully mobilises a vociferous overseas Tamil-speaking community on the streets in Western capitals. Conversely, it is useful to quantify how many diaspora investments are pumped into the metropolitan South, especially the coastline of Colombo as against the number of investments that move to the North and East.
Also one wishes to know what proportion of diaspora capital has been invested on education, medical facilities (especially improving hospitals), vocation centres for professional training, and any other people-centric investments on their suffering brothers and sisters in the North and the East? Arun Siddharthan, a civil activist in Jaffna, claims that the Tamil parties have not even constructed a bus stand for the common people of Jaffna. The TNA and diaspora myth is so transparent.
Q: Do you think the international community understands the ground realities in Sri Lanka?
I am not quite sure whether the international community really understands the ground realities. Often there is bizarre goodness of the bleeding heart that conditions a bias towards communities recognised popularly as underdogs.Firstly, misinformation and partisan international media (the watershed was the Iraq war that brought out the worst in the Western media) and also propaganda news disseminated by the pro-LTTE agencies has shrouded the ground reality in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, there is an inherent negative mindscape that had been cultivated by the pro-LTTE information machinery, research institutes and individuals who are funded by external agencies either contracted to produce negative research on Sri Lanka or those who produce substandard research often read in the West and are prescribed readings for academic courses.
Research is very prejudiced against Sri Lanka and such sources are often consulted and quoted by policy planners and politicians in the West as gospel truth without testing the validity or authenticity of their sources. One only needs to read the illuminating account of Lord Michael Naseby to unveil the myth and fabrications he exposed in his magnum opus Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost Paradise Regained (London. Unicorn 2020). I personally think the UNHRC needs to read this book to educate themselves and look beyond the prism of fabricated lies.
The West should understand the imperatives of Sri Lanka: rising from a 30-year battle against terrorism and tsunami destruction, the island society withstood and literally rose out of the ashes after 2009. By 2014 the emerald isle was named as one of the ten best tourist destinations to be visited (Lonely Planet; National Geography). Struggling to rise from the ashes, we hardly had any sympathy or assistance to stand on our own feet.
The pro-LTTE was doing its number and the West decides to punish us for drawing on Chinese capital when no one else extended us a hand. The island had to rebuild infrastructure, education, soothe deranged minds from the ravages of the battle against terrorism and rehabilitate displaced communities and almost every public and private sector who had to rise again.
Urban Revitalisation unfolded under former Defence Secretary and incumbent President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and showcased the resilience of this island to rise above the carnage and defeatist mindset.
Many from the diaspora and the West enjoy the revitalised Sri Lanka as a must-visit vacation destination but are quick to denounce the island and its people with hidden venom. To say that the West does not understand the ground realities is an understatement.
They do understand Sri Lanka, its ground realities, enjoy the hospitality it offers and continues to keep Sri Lanka down for different reasons – out of their bleeding heart delusions, for hegemonic reasons, and/or keeping us as a dependent nation! No global organisation or country has the moral right to categorise another country as a ‘failed democracy’ or ‘flawed democracy’ and inject dubious identities as hybrid democracy’ without first looking at themselves in the mirror.
Q: How much can we rely on our friends at the UNHRC to support Sri Lanka’s case at the upcoming sessions?
A: We need to go in with an open and positive mind having done our homework. We have friends (‘natural allies’ as Prof Tissa Vitharana recently said) who suffered the same fate as we under Colonialism and Neo Imperialism even now experiencing disadvantages under re-casted global power along a new realignment and neo liberalism. The previous global map cannot be revisited.
Yet, old friendships, shared aspirations, common fates are strong bindings. Yet we have dependable friends in the SAARC, IORA, NAM and others who respect and trust us. Even under duress and pressure, we have stood by our traditional friends. Even now it is important to tackle the ground situation to cultivate and convincingly bring up solid facts to the Council members. As such, our friends need to be properly informed and share strategising with them.
We are a nation that stood for over 3,000 years unfolding a story of an island that came to evolve its unique personality due to the convergence of multiple streams of people, cultures, languages, religions, ethnicities and present itself as one people with a Sri Lankan identity under a single banner. We take pride of a people that strives “to create a progressive national economy and a pluralistic society, a secure prosperous and beautiful Sri Lanka” (Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour).
Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne is Emeritus Prof, University of Peradeniya, Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India, Present High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and Former Director General UNESCO-Sri Lanka Central Cultural Fund