The UN Human Rights Council season is upon us. This was heralded by the release of photos of Prabhakaran’s younger son Balachandran who is alleged to have been shot dead by the army.
The photos certainly look authentic, since the boy is shown wearing what appears to be the same pair of shorts that he was shown wearing when he was shot, but what strikes a discordant note is the pristine condition of the bunker that he is shown sitting in with its clean new green sand bags.
During the last few days of the war, when there was face to face fighting between the army and the LTTE, there could not possibly be a bunker in such a state of preservation in the battle zone. While it is certainly true that no heavy weapons were used for shelling during the last days, still every bunker would have been hit at least with grenades or heavy machine gun fire, whereas the bunker shown in the photographs does not appear to have been touched. Everything that has been shown of the last battle field in photos and video footage, shows tatty, ad hoc constructions – nothing coming even close to this well preserved bunker.
Having written the story of the war and seen a lot of photos of the final battle scene, this writer can say that the greater likelihood is that these could be photos taken of Balachandran before the army got to that place. The fact that he seems to be wearing the same pair of shorts can be explained by the fact that obviously nobody was carrying changes of clothing with them during the last few days. I met Rajiva Wijesinha at a seminar last week and he brought another oddity to my notice. In the photograph showing Balachandran lying dead with what appear to be bullet wounds, somebody’s foot is clearly shown in a rubber slipper. Rajiva had this photo on his mobile phone and he showed it to me saying that the army does not fight in rubber slippers. True. No soldier will be allowed to enter a battle field with no protection for the feet. For a soldier, boots are not fashion accessories – they are an essential part of the kit and equipment because everything is done on foot.
Caught in the crossfire
There is another reason why no soldier would have been wearing slippers on the battlefield. To the very last day, there were Sinhala –speaking LTTE infiltrators among the soldiers. One divisional commander who nearly got killed by such infiltrators was Nandana Udawatte of the 59th Division. LTTE infiltrators came within ten meters of him and he got caught in the crossfire between his own soldiers and the infiltrators. The infiltrators were in army uniform and the only way they could be told apart from a real soldier was by the subtle differences in their kit and equipment or the way they carried themselves and only the most experienced soldiers could tell an infiltrator by sight. In Udawatte’s case, he escaped death because the infiltrators panicked when spoken to and tried to flee. So this is another reason why no soldier could have been wearing rubber slippers on the battle field. His uniform, kit and equipment were the only things that could identify him as a soldier in a situation where dozens of units unknown to one another were milling around in the same area.
Be that as it may, the government has a challenge ahead of it in Geneva. The Western powers will be out in force canvassing against Sri Lanka and twisting the arms of the vulnerable countries. The question now is how Sri Lanka is going to meet this challenge. It is a relief to know that the government will in fact be sending a high powered team to Geneva to canvass and explain Sri Lanka’s position among the member states. Sri Lanka’s side of the story should be told as loudly as possible for the benefit of the member states if not the UN-HRC itself. It is also essential for the general public of this country to understand what the UN-HRC is, and how we can meet this challenge.
Perhaps the first thing that we have to realise is that this is not the first time that Sri Lanka is being hounded in this manner before the Human Rights Council. It was not just last year’s and this year’s resolution that we have faced in the UN-HRC. The UN-HRC is a new body formed only in 2006 – ie; after the Rajapaksa government came into power. Its predecessor was the UN-Commission on Human Rights which functioned as a part of the Economic and Social Council of the UN. It was formed in 1946 and functioned till 2006 when it was replaced by the present UN-Human Rights Council. Resolutions have been passed against Sri Lanka even at the very inception of the war, during the J.R.Jayewardene era. The first resolution was in August 1983 in the wake of the July 1983 riots. This was a resolution passed not in the Commission on Human Rights proper, but in one of its subsidiary bodies – the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
Sub-Commission Resolution No: 1983/16 of the above mentioned body expressed deep concern about the communal violence in Sri Lanka, which caused severe loss of lives and property, and while recognising that the Government of Sri Lanka has sought to reduce ethnic tension and to foster national harmony, it noted with concern that despite these efforts the relationship between the ethnic communities seems to have deteriorated. They invited the Government of Sri Lanka to submit information on the recent communal violence in Sri Lanka, including its efforts to investigate the incidents and to promote national harmony. They also recommended that their parent body, the Commission on Human Rights, should examine the situation in Sri Lanka in the light of all available information.
For its part, the Commission on Human Rights proper, passed a resolution on the March 14, 1984 (Commission Resolution 1984/111) which stated that the Commission, taking note of the information voluntarily submitted by the Government of Sri Lanka, appealed to the parties to maintain peace and restore harmony among the people of Sri Lanka, and welcomed all measures for rehabilitation and reconciliation, including the All Party Conference, expressed the hope that they would succeed in achieving a lasting solution, and decided that further consideration of this matter was not necessary.
Later that year, in August 1984, there was yet another resolution passed against Sri Lanka in the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Sub-Commission No: 1984/32 expressed deep concern about the recurrence of violence in Sri Lanka which resulted in severe loss of life and property. (This now refers to the fighting between the terrorists and the army and not communal violence.) They stressed that the ultimate responsibility of the government was to protect all sections of the community. The Sub-Commission also expressed hope that the All-Party Conference will reduce the ethnic tension in the country. They also requested the government to continue to submit information on the progress made in the investigation of the incidents, and efforts to promote communal harmony.
Later in March 1987 came the most significant resolution (Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1987/61) of that ear era – a resolution which was fully backed by India. The main sponsors of this resolution were Canada, Norway and Argentina. This resolution called upon all parties and groups to respect the rules of humanitarian law, and to renounce the use of force and acts of violence and to pursue a negotiated political solution. Now the question is what happened after these early resolutions against Sri Lanka in the UN Commission on Human Rights? Well, nothing happened and nothing could have happened. At that time nobody had any choice. Just weeks after the above resolution, Sri Lanka launched the Vadamarachchi Operation to take back Jaffna from the terrorists. And several months after this resolution which was fully backed by India, India herself was at war with the LTTE.
Biased against Israel
Nobody was happy with the old UN Commission on Human Rights. The Western nations criticized the Commission for being biased against Israel and spending an inordinate amount of its time hounding that single state. Another criticism by the West was that nations that were persistent violators of human rights were sitting on the Commission on Human Rights and sabotaging its work. On the other hand, the Third World nations were not happy with the Commission because the western nations were using it to further their foreign policy objectives by selectively targeting countries that it wanted to bring into line. Because of these shortcomings, the UN- Commission on Human Rights was abolished in 2006 and the Human Rights Council instituted in its place. Now several years after it was founded, the UN-HRC is also basically going the same way as the old Commission.
Once again we hear strident criticisms from the West that the UN-HRC is biased against Israel and that violators of human rights are sitting on the HRC. Once again we hear complaints from third world countries that the Western nations are using the UN-HRC as an extension of their foreign policy, by targeting selected countries. Sri Lanka too is now a complainant in the second group. With regard to the UN Commission on Human Rights or its successor the UN-HRC, Sri Lanka has never had any choice. In the 1980s, J.R.Jayewardene had little choice but to summarily ignore the Commission on Human Rights resolutions against Sri Lanka and later India, which was a backer of that very resolution, had no choice but to violate the very resolution it had backed in the same year that it was passed. Likewise President Mahinda Rajapaksa has little choice before him but to resist in every way possible these resolutions that are now being passed against Sri Lanka.
The very reason why the old Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the UN-HRC was for the Western nations to be able to have more effective control over that body. There is little doubt that this is an organ of domination which provides for a cheap, cost effective (a couple of hundred million dollars a year) way of keeping Third World nations under Western tutelage and therefore the UN-HRC should be undermined at every turn. As we saw last week, one of the main criticisms against both the present UN-HRC and its predecessor organization, is that it focuses too much on Israel. Our argument was that Israel is the one factor the Western nations do not have any control over in the UN-HRC because of the countervailing power of the Arab countries, and that if the Western world empowers the UN-HRC too much, they will thereby be undermining their own interests vis-a-vis Israel. Here lies Sri Lanka’s salvation – the West is caught in a Catch-22 situation and dares not create precedents by going too far against Sri Lanka.
Worse off than before
As far as Israel is concerned, the West is now worse off than before. When the old UN Commission on Human Rights was in existence, according to a New York Times study, only one third of country-specific resolutions were on Israel. But after the UN-HRC was formed in 2006, nearly half of all resolutions passed (and not just the country-specific ones) has been on Israel. So the situation on this front has got worse, not better. One of the ways in which the West maintains a moral upper ground with regard to Israel despite this avalanche of resolutions, is by alleging bias of the UN-HRC and indeed bias seems apparent because there are so many resolutions against Israel at every session. If the USA balances this out by bringing resolution after resolution against Sri Lanka, so that Israel appears just another one of the nations against which resolutions have been brought, they will lose the ability to allege bias. To be able to allege bias, Israel should stand out in the UN-HRC like a sore thumb, surrounded and alone. That’s what gives the West the justification for their pro-Israel policy.
The need of the West to shield Israel far outweighs its need to persecute Sri Lanka. So the West has to be careful about two things – one is empowering the UN-HRC which would enable them to act against Israel. The second is not diluting the UN-HRC’s appearance of bias against Israel – which is the only factor that enables them to continue to support Israel despite overwhelming world opinion against it. The fact that West is in a bind with regard to Israel is advantageous to Sri Lanka. In 1983-87, J.R.Jayewardene didn’t give a rat’s rear end about UN-Commission on Human Rights resolutions against Sri Lanka because he was fighting with his back to the wall and anything that was not a bullet or a bomb was ignored. (At that time, even bullets and bombs were ignored if they did not score a direct hit.) But today there are no bullets or bombs so a UN-HRC resolution looks like a missile. The important thing here is to get our bearings as to the terrain we are now fighting on. It’s not as if the Western nations hold all the trump cards and we have none. The West’s leeway with regard to Sri Lanka in the UN-HRC is circumscribed by their own interests relating to Israel.