Outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanetham Pillay known as Navi Pillay has presented a “fait accompli” as her parting gift to an unreceptive Sri Lanka!
After weeks of speculation and expectation the UN Human rights chief has formally announced the setting up of an investigative panel to conduct a comprehensive probe of alleged human rights violations committed by both sides during the war between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).The investigation that is mandated by a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva during March 2014 will delve into related and relevant incidents that occurred between the years 2002 and 2009.
As is well known, in March 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 25/1 entitled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ which requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which examined the last years of the armed conflict.
The Council requested the UN Human Rights Office “to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations, and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability,” with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders. The resolution requests the Office to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session in September 2014, and a comprehensive report at its twenty-eighth session in March 2015.
A team has now been set up and funds allocated by Ms. Pillay for the purpose of an investigation by the UN Human rights commissioner’s office. It appears that the UN Human Rights Commissioner who was vehemently criticised by Sri Lanka in the past has now struck back vigorously within the purview of the mandate provided by the USA sponsored resolution at the UNHRC. Even though Ms. Pillay bids farewell to Geneva in August ,she has set in motion an effective mechanism that will continue working for a minimum of ten months at least. This is the legacy bestowed by Ms. Pillay upon her successor Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan.
The Investigation Team set up will consist of 12 staff, including investigators, forensics experts, a gender specialist, a legal analyst and various other staff with specialized skills and will be operational for a period of 10 months (up to mid-April 2015).It will be administered and coordinated by a senior UN Official Ms. Sandra Beidas who is a British national.Three distinguished international experts will support, advise and guide the UN investigative team.
Ms. Navi Pillay has been successful in embedding her crowning triumph with three sparkling jewels in the form of the three experts, two of whom are women. The experts are Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who has also served as a UN diplomat and mediator and is renowned for his international peace work, Ms Silvia Cartwright, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and judge of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia, as well as former member of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Ms Asma Jahangir, former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, previous holder of several Human Rights Council mandates and member of a recent fact-finding body into Israeli settlements.
“I am proud that three such distinguished experts have agreed to assist this important and challenging investigation,” Ms.Pillay has said in her announcing statement. “Each of them brings not only great experience and expertise, but the highest standards of integrity, independence, impartiality and objectivity to this task.”she observed.The experts will play a supportive and advisory role, providing advice and guidance as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.
What this means in practice is that the trio will be jointly leading the UN Probe and providing overall direction. The final report will be compiled by the UN team but will be signed and stamped by Ahtisaari, Cartwright and Jahangir.An upbeat Navi Pillay appeals thus –“ Once again, I encourage the Government and people of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with this investigation which can help shed light on the truth, and advance accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,”. She warns that the “investigation would still go ahead undeterred if such cooperation was not forthcoming”.
TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE
The official stance of Sri Lanka towards the UN probe is well-known. It has been articulated at different levels by different persons ranging from our External Affairs minister Prof. Gamini Lakshman Peiris to our envoy to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinha. Moreover a resolution opposing the investigation to be conducted against Sri Lanka by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was passed in Parliament with a majority of 134.While the UNP abstained and the JVP kept away only the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) voted against the resolution. The vote count was 144 for and 10 against.What this meant was that of all the political parties represented in Parliament it was only the TNA that supported the UN probe on Sri Lanka!
The TNA which is a configuration of five different Tamil parties is currently the accredited premier representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The large amount of votes received in the Tamil regions of the Northern and Eastern provinces by the chief opposition candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 Presidential hustings was mainly due to support extended by the TNA. In the Parliamentary polls of 2010 the TNA obtained 14 MP seats. The TNA won the majority of Tamil dominated local authority elections in the north and east. Barring one, the TNA got the bulk of Tamil councillorships in the Eastern Provincial council polls and formed the chief opposition. Last but not least the TNA swept the polls in the historic first ever election to the Northern Provincial council grabbing 30 of 38 seats. The TNA candidate CV Wigneswaran is the northern chief minister.
Though there is sizeable opposition amidst Sinhala sections towards the Politics of the TNA and despite the hostility shown against the TNA by some extremist sections of the global Tamil Diaspora, the prevailing political reality is that of the North-eastern Tamil people continuing to repose their trust and confidence in the TNA. This is the harsh truth notwithstanding the inept and irresponsible nature of politics displayed by the TNA in a broader context. This has afforded the TNA recognition as the foremost representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil people.This fact is effectively illustrated by the many discussions that visiting international dignitaries and diplomats hold regularly with TNA leaders in Sri Lanka.
Recent developments in that context have clearly shown that the TNA is pursuing a different political course to that of other Sri Lankan political parties on the question of an international investigation into the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka.Several TNA leaders have openly stated that they are supportive of an international probe in their public speeches, media interviews and discussions with foreign representatives. Observers have noted that the TNA has in recent times devoted its energies towards this objective as if it is the most important or crucial issue concerning the Tamil people living in the Island.
When the resolution draft was circulated the TNA leader R.Sampanthan and Northern Chief minister CV Wigneswaran issued a joint statement welcoming it and urging that it be strengthened further. The TNA dominated Northern Provincial council passed a resolution demanding an international investigation. Several TNA Parliamentarians and Provincial Councillors made many trips to Geneva for the avowed purpose of canvassing support for the UN resolution urging an investigation on Sri Lanka. Some TNA stalwarts were seen in the company of LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in Geneva harmoniously working together for a common objective.
It is unclear as to whether the physical presence of the TNA on the sidelines in Geneva had an impact on the actual voting pattern. However the TNA made it a point to emphasise or exaggerate the importance of their role in the entire exercise after the resolution was passed.An amusing outcome to the success in Geneva was the direct and indirect charges and counter charges levelled against each other by the TNA “Geneva returnees”. The quibbling was over who in the TNA deserved or did not deserve credit for the victory in Geneva.
It became obvious after the resolution was passed in Geneva that the Rajapaksa regime would firmly oppose it and seek to undermine it in whichever way possible. It was also clear that the issue was quite explosive and possessed the capacity to create an emotional upheaval affecting ethnic relations in the country if certain acts of omission and commission occurred.The chief political party of the Sri Lankan Tamils however opted to hitch its wagon of political fortunes to the UN investigation probe star.This to many, seemed a dangerous course of brinkmanship politics but the TNA seemed determined to throw in its lot with the forces supportive of a probe.
Not merely content to claim credit for the UN resolution the TNA now embarked on a course of identifying itself with the UN probe openly. When the Government announced it would not cooperate with the probe ,some TNA leaders responded by stating the opposite publicly. TNA leaders competed with each other for kudos. It was said that the TNA would collect witnesses to testify about their adverse experiences before the UN investigators. When it was announced that the UN probe team would be denied entry into Sri Lanka, TNA leaders said they would escort potential witnesses to foreign locations where the UN team would hold sittings.The TNA also asked the UN to ensure protection and guarantee safety of people who wanted to testify at the UN probe.
What is interesting about the TNA antics in particular and the enthusiasm of extremist Diaspora elements in general is the fact that the UN probe was being viewed from one perspective only.It was as if the UN probe was going to be against one party namely the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces only.Though the resolution as well as statements by UN officials refer to “both sides” or “both parties”the TNA and extremist Diaspora expectation seems to be that only Colombo was going to be targeted.
This expectation was based on the fact that the LTTE hierarchy was no more and the tigers had been totally annihilated on Sri Lankan soil.As such there were no visible leaders of the LTTE to be held accountable.Thus it was felt that though lip service would be paid to the concept of both sides being scrutinised it was impossible in a practical sense to inquire into the LTTE, let alone hold it accountable. This viewpoint was further strengthened by the hostility adopted in Colombo towards the probe which indicated that the effective target was going to be the Rajapaksa regime and not the LTTE or its remnants.This explained the TNA support for a probe against both sides which included the LTTE.
This column pinpointed the TNA hypocrisy on this issue on an earlier occasion. Referring to the TNA call for a Probe into “both sides” based on the premise that the truth must be told this column then observed thus- “While this overwhelming enthusiasm for the truth displayed by the TNA in particular and the Tamil Diaspora in general is certainly commendable at face value there is a need to regard it with more than a pinch of the proverbial salt when it comes to the conduct of the LTTE”.
“Given the fact that the TNA never appealed to the LTTE to release the Tamil civilians under its control even during the height of the war it is hard to believe that the party is now calling for a probe into both sides inclusive of the LTTE. Given the fact that the TNA is yet to condemn the conscription of children by the LTTE or even celebrate the lives of political colleagues brutally murdered by the Tigers it is even harder to believe that the TNA is now supporting an international inquiry into both sides including the LTTE”.
“Moreover it is highly improbable that volatile elements supportive of the Tigers would not have taken umbrage at the TNA for demanding an inquiry into LTTE conduct if not for the fact that the TNA posture is not taken seriously by them. The lunatic fringe that protests outside Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in India because the US draft resolution is not strong enough would have burnt effigies of TNA leaders but for the fact that even they can see through the duplicitous posturing. Is it believable that the morons who flaunt Tiger flags in Geneva are actually supporting an international probe into both sides namely the Armed forces and LTTE”?
“Logically it does not seem believable! Yet the pro-Tiger and Tiger elements in the Diaspora as well as their fellow travellers in Sri Lanka persist with their efforts. The TNA voices this demand in low tones by referring to “both sides”. It is therefore possible to arrive at the conjecture that the TNA being seasoned practitioners of political intrigue and deception is calling for a probe into both sides now because it feels the exercise is impossible because the LTTE is non-existent in the Island. Also the TNA may be hoping that their democratic credentials could help to distance themselves from the LTTE if and when the “pappadam” does crumble and a probe does occur”.
The call for an international probe has now materialised as the UN investigation.It is also noteworthy in this respect that the pronouncements of the TNA Parliamentarian “legal eagle” duo of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran relating to an international probe have striven to project an impression that the party is adopting a principled approach. They have emphasised that the whole truth must be revealed and accountability ensured to promote genuine justice and lasting reconciliation.The TNA takes the moral high ground by this posture and even tries to lecture to the Government on this question.
A case in point is the eloquent address to Parliament on June 17th 2014 by TNA leader and veteran Trincomalee district MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan on this issue. Sampanthan criticised the Rajapaksa Govt for its opposition to the UN investigation and urged it to cooperate with it, citing several reasons in support. The tone and tenor of the speech was basically directed at the government side though there were a few references to both sides. There was no explicit reference to any specific charge levelled against the LTTE.However there was a positive departure of sorts, at the conclusion.This is what Sampanthan said –
“The forthcoming investigation by the United Nations is not “against” Sri Lanka. It is against perpetrators of gross violations of humanitarian and human rights law. It is against the culture of impunity that has victimised the whole country. It is against the disappearances of youth in the North as much as it is against past disappearances of youth in the South; it is against the crimes of Weliveriya, Mullivaikkal, and most recently Dharga Town. It is against the crimes of the LTTE and it is against the crimes of the regime. For these reasons, the TNA unequivocally welcomes this investigation into both sides. Just as we look forward to the investigation as an opportunity for the Tamil people to introspect on the crimes committed in our own name, we call on the government to use the investigation as an opportunity to dramatically break with the past and usher in a new era of justice, reconciliation and harmony amongst all Sri Lanka’s peoples”.
What is striking about this passage from a Tamil perspective are the lines a)“It is against the crimes of the LTTE and it is against the crimes of the regime”; b) “For these reasons, the TNA unequivocally welcomes this investigation into both sides”; And c) “Just as we look forward to the investigation as an opportunity for the Tamil people to introspect on the crimes committed in our own name”.One does not know the underlying motives beneath these assertions by Sampanthan.There is no denying however that at face value they are refreshingly welcome.
After decades of following the politics of confrontation at both non –violent and violent levels the time is indeed ripe for the Tamil people to evaluate their current predicament and see where the community went wrong. The military debacle of Mullivaaikkaal was the culmination of a political path that effectively isolated and enfeebled a once proud and defiant people. Veluppillai Prabhakaran the symbol of Tamil political resistance lying lifeless in a semi-naked state on the shores of Nanthikkadal lagoon personified tragically the failure of Tamil political struggle.
It is time therefore for the Sri Lankan Tamil people to reflect upon the past and re-configure their political position in a realistic and pragmatic manner. It is imperative that the Tamil people re-examine their relationship with the LTTE and critically analyse the extent of the irredeemable harm caused by the tigers.To do this the bull has to be taken by its horns or the tiger by its jaws.In the words of Rajavarothayam Sampanthan the “Crimes of the tigers”must be probed and such an investigation must be perceived “ as an opportunity for the Tamil people to introspect on the crimes committed in our own name”.
The crimes allegedly committed by the LTTE are numerous.Among these are the many perpetrated against the Tamil people themselves in the name of an armed struggle being waged on their behalf. The Darusman panel report commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon refers to some of these acts committed by the LTTE during the final phase of the conflict. Here are relevant excerpts about the LTTE from the Executive summary of the Darusman report-
“Despite grave danger in the conflict zone, the LTTE refused civilians permission to leave, using them as hostages, at times even using their presence as a strategic human buffer between themselves and the advancing Sri Lanka Army. It implemented a policy of forced recruitment throughout the war,but in the final stages greatly intensified its recruitment of people of all ages, including children as young as fourteen. The LTTE forced civilians to dig trenches and other emplacements for its own defences, thereby contributing to blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians and exposing civilians to additional harm. All of this was done in a quest to pursue a war that was clearly lost; many civilians were sacrificed on the altar of the LTTE cause and its efforts to preserve its senior leadership”.
“From February 2009 onwards, the LTTE started point-blank shooting of civilians who attempted to escape the conflict zone, significantly adding to the death toll in the final stages of the war. It also fired artillery in proximity to large groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and fired from, or stored military equipment near, IDPs or civilian installations such as hospitals. Throughout the final stages of the war, the LTTE continued its policy of suicide attacks outside the conflict zone. Even though its ability to perpetrate such attacks was diminished compared to previous phases of the conflict, it perpetrated a number of attacks against civilians outside the conflict zone”.
The Darusman panel report exective summary also lists six core categories of alleged LTTE violations. Here is the excerpt –“The Panel’s determination of credible allegations against the LTTE associated with the final stages of the war reveal six core categories of potential serious violations:
1) using civilians as a human buffer;
2) killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control;
3) using military equipment in the proximity of civilians;
4) forced recruitment of children;
5) forced labour; and…..
6) killing of civilians through suicide attacks.
“THE EVIL WITHIN”
It is blatantly clear from these extracts that there is much room for inquiry into the acts committed by the LTTE against the Tamil civilians during the final phase.The Tamil people whose political leaders and opinion makers have for long harped on the evil done by external forces must now turn to the “the evil within”.As TNA leader Sampanthan has stated unambiguously in Parliament the “Tamil People must introspect on the crimes committed in our own name”.
How does one go about this?How can the opportunity made available by the UN investigation be utilised to turn the searchlight inwards and introspect? It is indeed an unenviable task but again it is the Tamil National Alliance as the accredited political representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil People who must shoulder the burden and take the lead in this.
Instead of cackling like fowls or gobbling like turkeys about making arrangements to transport potential witnesses to testify before the UN investigation team about alleged Govt violations , the TNA must give priority to introspection about the LTTE role and conduct. The TNA must realise that if it wants to retain credibility it must be prepared to focus on the LTTE also.If the UN probe is to appear non-partisan and fair then the conduct of the LTTE cannot be ignored, overlooked or glossed over.The TNA therefore must use its extensive influence among the Tamil people to mobilise potential witnesses to testify about their bitter experiences at the hands of the LTTE who claimed to be fighting for Tamil political liberation.
The TNA must also publicly call upon the Tamil people living inside and outside Sri Lanka to fearlessly expose LTTE violations. The TNA can also urge the Tamil Diaspora activists who are now re-born as shining Avatars championing human rights to go before the UN probe and tell the truth about the LTTE.The UN probe could be converted into a Truth commission.The so called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and Global Tamil Forum (GTF) would be shamed.
If the TNA would do this ,it would be truly setting a worthwhile example for other parties, organizations, governments and states to follow. More importantly the TNA would be able to face the world fearlessly and say proudly”Look at what we are doing”. The TNA could even tell its critics among the majority community in Sri Lanka “Emulate our example if you can”!
In another sense it is also the way to redemption for the TNA. The subservient role played by the TNA with regard to the LTTE was deplorable. When the conduct of the LTTE is probed the conduct of the TNA will also be under the spotlight.The TNA is likely to be faulted for toeing the LTTE line without voicing for the basic rights of the Tamil people held as virtual hostages.Yet the TNA should undergo this “Agnipareeksha” or trial by fire.One way of making amends is to take the lead in presenting evidence before the UN investigation about LTTE violations.The TNA would earn the respect of the international community by this belated transformation.
Of course the TNA would face “Tamil”flak from within and without for this commendable stance. The Tigerish and pro-tiger elements inside the TNA and within the Diaspora would raise hell. Sampanthan and other advocates of introspection would be severely attacked.However if the TNA can withstand these slings and arrows and stay the course the final outcome would benefit the Tamil people immensely. There is a silent segment within the community that has suffered much under the LTTE.It is hesitant to speak out for fear of being labelled as “traitors”.The Tamil people are a traumatised lot confined to a caged state of mind. It would help the Tamil people who are prisoners of the past to break free of this debilitating tiger legacy and fly as free birds tasting true liberation.For this to happen the tragic and bitter LTTE past must be confronted openly without any inhibition.
This can only happen if correct,enlightened leadership is provided. The TNA must initiate necessary steps to make this happen. It is to be hoped that the octogenarian Rajavarothayam Sampanthan gives the lead by translating his thoughtful words in Parliament to meaningful action in deed. Sampanthan must replicate his powerful performances of the past when he denied nomination to tigerish candidates at the 2010 elections or when he single-handedly pushed through the nomination of CV Wigneswaran as chief ministerial candidate against the wishes of a majority of the TNA. The Tamil people overwhelmingly endorsed Sampanthan’s stance on both occasions by their voting.
May Sampanthan’s family deity the Bhadhrakaali Amman of “Thirukkoanamalai” bestow upon him the necessary courage, strength and wisdom to perform this noble task!(ENDS)
Related: Evolution and Growth of the Nexus Between the LTTE and TNA | (by D.B.S. Jeyaraj)
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of June 28th, 2014. It can be accessed via this link: