HUMAN RIGHTS AND SOVEREIGNTY
The Sri Lankan army's momentous set back at Pooneryn on 11th November is likely to be analysed and commented upon for several weeks. Early estimates of causalities placed the dead at about 400 on each side. A revealing aspect of the incident will be largely glossed over. The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent quoting `Senior officials' gave it passing mention in his report of 14th November 1993: "Among those who were caught up in the attack at Pooneryn were a large group of soldiers who were in training. Instead of being sent to camps which were specifically designed for training purposes, the new recruits had been sent to Pooneryn to prevent any possible dissertations. Escape from there would have been only into enemy hands." Captain Priyal De Soysa, a survivor, told the `Island' (19th November) that most of those killed were new recruits. They had arrived in Pooneryn shortly before the eve of the attack.
With desertion having become endemic, talk of such extreme measures with new recruits had been in the grape vine for sometime. We put them down to after-liquor droppings. Other suggestions were even wilder. But now the incredible has taken place. Such cruel and irresponsible decisions, which in a crisis would adversely affect experienced soldiers, are no doubt being ultimately justified in the name of national sovereignty. In the name of saving the Sinhalese nation, the weaker sections of Sinhalese society are being ripped apart. [See Special Report No.5 and 1.5 & 3.3 of this report]. These inflictions on the Sinhalese themselves result from a refusal by the leadership to face upto the pertinent questions concerning its responsibilities, particularly to admit its errors and look carefully at the political options. On the one hand are young men and women on both sides who are giving their lives willingly and unwillingly for ill-defined causes. On the other is the rank opportunism of leaders whose decisions on key issues are based on utterly contemptible considerations. [See the `Counterpoint' of September 1993 on the Impeachment Crisis].
Six months ago when two key political leaders Lalith Athulathmudali and President Premadasa were assassinated, such was the moral turpitude with which people credited their leaders that no possibility was ruled out in after-dinner discussions. If the leaders said one thing, the opposite was deemed more probable. In scouring the state media for information, people were being trained in the application of logical negation. Upon the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, so many questions about the conduct of the police were raised that President Premadasa felt impelled to call in Scotland Yard to restore a measure of calm. Following the murder of President Premadasa, for which an LTTE bomber is suspected, the press which once, if not lately, poured adulation upon him, became relatively unrestrained about his misuse of power. There was the glimmer of a hint, that the so called separatist and terrorist LTTE had helped to usher in some overdue reforms, which both President Premadasa's party, the UNP, and the opposition had been incapable of securing. That the abuses of the Premadasa government were none other than a continuation of the pernicious legacy of his predecessor J.R.Jayawardene,now widely acclaimed a statesman, was being too easily forgotten.
Among the most graphic parodies of sovereignty are the tens of thousands of houses of Tamils and Muslims in the Trincomalee District wantonly destroyed with explosives or bull-dozed by the Sri Lankan army, in support of a political ideology. Now foreign donors are being asked to contribute towards rehabilitation of the victims and the rebuilding of their houses. A sovereign nation is like an adult. What does one make of a person who burns his roof and sits in the rain asking his neighbours to repair it?
Neither the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into General Kobbekaduwa's death nor the New Scotland Yard Inquiry into Lalith Athulathmudali's death helped to deflect suspicions the people had about the government. It was rather the inquirers who came in for suspicion. A group of eminent lawyers in this country published an inquiry into the Scotland Yard report questioning many of its presumptions about the local scene,selectivity regarding available evidence and its forensic conclusions(Sunday Island 22nd Aug.1993).
Nor were matters helped by the government's outrageous action of buying, as it were, the silence of Udugampola, former DIG, Police, who had previously made allegations about officially inspired killings.
Against this background of the country being on the
threshold of disintegration some urgent statesmanship was called for. President
Premadasa's successor chose instead to queer the pitch further with a declaration
that there was no ethnic problem, but only at terrorist problem. Sentiments
with a similar belligerent drift were echoed by Mrs. Bandaranaike, leader
of the opposition. To the minorities, no doubt, this would once more drive home
the message that the leaders of the Sinhalese polity, despite much that has
happened, have refused to grow up since the 50s. While the reality has changed,
these leaders thrive on the chauvinistic sentiment that emerged in the wake
of the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 and the UNP's infamous Kandy March to scuttle
the Banda - Chelva Pact. These leaders are not thinking of the effect
of such belligerence on war - weary Tamil youth, who already feel up against
a wall. Nor do they think how it would lend further legitimacy to a force, that
could give new meaning to helpless and marginalised Tamil youth, by motivating
them to turn themselves into human bombs, while fully exploiting the corruption
and incoherence within the Sinhalese polity. Nor are these leaders thinking
of the Sinhalese counterparts of these Tamil youth serving on the frontlines,
for whom life is bound to become increasingly frustrating and hazardous because
of their utterances. [Top]
We are nevertheless assured by political analysts that the government and the opposition are committed to a federal solution to the ethnic crisis and may even be talking to the LTTE. The belligerence they say is a cosmetic exercise, the sugar coating, as it were,on the pill to be swallowed by the Sinhalese masses. This is believable. An insolvent government, critically dependent on foreign donors cannot ward off repeated, well placed international pressure calling for a federal solution, without some cosmetic compliance. We have repeatedly held that such exercises in fooling the Sinhalese people and the Tamil people at the same time have never worked from the 50s and never will in the future. All the signs are that the Sinhalese people having themselves experienced the tragic consequences of state ideology, are far more mature and receptive than their intelligentsia. They also have a shrewd understanding about the real position of this country.
But even after all this tragedy when the government and opposition refuse to take responsibility and confront the Sinhalese-supremacist ideology that is at the root of the problem, but rather feed it, the mischief continues. As long as the Sinhalese polity continues to be so destructively predictable, the LTTE whether militarily beaten or not , will not be the last word on minority insurrection.
No less disturbing are groups like the Jathika Chintanaya with a pan-Sinhalese appeal. These thrive on the destructive nationalism legitimised by the government, while exploiting the necessarily widening gap between its rhetoric and the prevailing reality. These groups with intellectual pretensions identify the terror of the state only as relating to Sinhalese youth. When it comes to helpless Tamil civilians confronted with the wrath of the same state, they would wantonly turn a blind eye. Indeed, in relation to the Tamils they willingly consume entire lies propagated by the same state they claim to be at odds with. They even go further and often feel angry that the state is too soft in handling the insubordinate Tamils.
At the same time they attack the state using the deep sense of economic frustration and cultural dislocation experienced by the ordinary Sinhalese masses. These come from the government's policies which have led to Western dominance over the economy. Groups like Jathika Chintanaya therefore accuse the government of being an agent of Western Imperialism- notwithstanding the fact that the war which they advocate, and now costing in effect more than 25% of the budget, is the single largest factor shackling the country. While accusing the British of having divided and ruled in pursuit of imperial aims, their pedantry thrives on perpetuating the same divisions that shakle the country to foreign interests. The anti - imperialist utterances of these Jathika Chintanaya - type intellectuals, amount to therefore mere trivial rhetoric, and rhetoric alone.
The question is not whether our country has a terrorist
problem or an ethnic problem. The whole problem cannot be looked at in this
simplified manner. We, in our reports, have continually brought out the terrorist
nature of both the state and the LTTE. There is indeed a terrorist problem.
But it does not exist for its own sake. Unless we can dynamically grasp all
the aspects which lead to the present crisis and of the forces which are determining
the evolution of this crisis in a particular manner, we too will remain impotent.
We will continue to sacrifice the flower of our youth from both the Sinhalese
and Tamil communities for many more generations. We do not simplify the issue
and say that the LTTE is a mere outcome of state oppression alone and
if we remove the latter, it will go away. As the state has its own fully fledged
ideology and a history which it is unable to break with, the Tamil militant
struggle, although it emerges as a response to state oppression, has its own
ideology and history. The evolution of the Tamil struggle in this particular
context had taken a direction in which terror become a major component of
its articulation. The LTTE which now dominates the Tamil political
scene derives its legitimacy in part by exposing the bankruptcy of the Sri
Lankan state and its associated Southern polity. In the process of its evolution
it gained momentum by establishing its links with overt and covert international
agencies. Internally it has created an environment which enables it to keep
the people as hostages to its ideology and control. Not to understand this reality
and ignore the whole problem of the ordinary people and their fears is foolishness
in the extreme. [Top]
We have drawn attention to the need for convincing protective structures since the issue of Report No. 4 in August 1990. Although deaths are fewer now, the reality now as transpires in this and the previous report, is that people have no appeal against actions of the armed forces, the civil authorities and even against the well known routine corruption the refugees have to bear with.
The political implications of this state of affairs are extremely grave. In village after village in the East we have talked to literally hundreds of persons, most of them one time refugees. If there was jungle close to their village, thither they fled as the Sri Lankan forces advanced,as is still done in the Batticaloa District. There they remained for weeks and months with wild beasts, snakes, illness and hunger as their companions. Looking back over their experience they feel right to have done so. Not only did the Sri Lankan forces kill upon entry, people were even taken from refugee camps, many of whom then disappeared.
This resulted from the government fraternising with the LTTE and then being embroiled in a war where both sides had ensured that there was no independent structure to look after the interests of the people. Nor was the government seriously interested in one as many local citizens' groups would testify. Where a structure was established through independent initiative, such as the Eastern University refugee camp, people flocked to it. [Chapter 4, Report No 7]. The LTTE lost little time in expressing its displeasure. Between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE, they destroyed this promising structure. Life for it became impossible after the detention by the army and disappearance of more than 150 refugees in September 1990. Thousands of refugees, given no other choice by the LTTE, fled the Eastern University into the jungles, where the forces bombed them but could not touch them otherwise.
Every time they fled into the jungle from the mid -
80s, one message stayed with them. That is, their lives were spared because
the armed militants prevented, or rather made it too costly, for the Sri Lankan
army to come into the jungles. Everything else the army did only strengthened
this impression. Any reader could work out the political consequences of this. [Top]
The mainline press must assume a significant share of the responsibility for blocking a rational appraisal of the ethinic crisis as well as for the State's military debacles. Having backed to the hilt President Wijetunge's position that the war is about what is exclusively a terrorist problem, the editorials of some of these papers have sounded a note of impatience about the lack of military progress. The consequences of acts of terror by the government are not even acknowledged. Some editorials, which list out only the crimes of the other side in support of a mooted course of action, are as though pulled out of the LTTE press with the villains and heroes transposed. Such have compounded official bombast.
Even conceptual problems intimately impinging on the welfare of Sinhalese society are not addressed. By pushing the army towards untenable goals, raw recruits have been sent to frontline positions. The press and elite sentiment have thus conspired to send these youths from essentially disillusioned sections of Sinhalese society into a death trap, without assuming any responsibility on their part.
During many army massacres of Tamils during the course of the war, people were indiscriminately killed just because they were Tamils. In village after village those killed included women and children, like what the LTTE did in several Muslim and Sinhalese villages. An essential part of combatting the LTTE is to counter the Tamil peoples'experience that they were often targetted collectively as an ethnic group.To describe the task purely as fighting terrorism is thus a dangerous misconception perpetuated by the press.
An attempt to deny the LTTE movement across the Jaffna Lagoon through a policy of effectively shooting at civilian traffic, was seen as conceptually flawed by concerned Southerners. [See the Civil Rights Movement's statement on the subject]. But the press either actively or by default supported the government's position which ultimately brought about the Pooneryn disaster. Some lucid thinking on the subject came from former Air Force chief, Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathileka in an interview with the `Counterpoint'(October 1993): "The UNHCR saw the claims of the Tamil people as a legitimate claim to move up and down... I think that this is wrong to prevent movement of civilian traffic, human bodies, from the mainland to the Jaffna peninsula and vice versa. Of course you can have searches and that kind of thing. But to totally stop it is wrong, that is why the battle for Kilali...why the hell did you go on an operation to Kilali in the first place if you can't hold it or if you are going to withdraw?" Such opinions are usually to be found only in the alternative media.
Correspondents who write on defence-related matters often get into a relationship of mutal dependence with sections of the forces that leak information to them. Maintaininng objectivity then becomes a difficult task. When countervailing opinion is kept out as a matter of policy, it is very easy for such correspondents to slip and become apologists for the methods of a section of the state.
Writing in the second part of a series on the `Black Tigers' in the `Sunday Island' of 14th November 1993, `Ravana' says: "Many weakly motivated LTTE cadre who had been dispatched on suicide missions have been arrested and executed by law enforcement officers even without the knowledge of their superiors. This has been to prevent those arrested from being sent to an ordinary prison where a person can communicate to others and also expect freedom either by escaping or through a loophole in the law. This strategy has been adopted by young officers because the Sri Lankan legal system is still archaic and does not support the type of war the State is fighting. This is a serious matter for debate and study...."
The writer makes his context clear later in the piece: "The intelligence operative who was to be killed (by an apprehended Black Tiger) had distinguished himself for training and leading small teams in the East where the LTTE was strong. The success of this intelligence officer operating under the name of Moonas in apprehending or killing several key LTTE leaders with the support of LTTE deserters is what had hurt the LTTE most.....".
The claim that certain LTTE suspects are eliminated because of the inadequacies of the law in supporting security needs is truly astounding. Over the last 15 years a number of provisions have been introduced under the PTA and ER to virtually legitimise murder. Is it the writer's complaint that the laws allow for execution but not for indefnite detention? Even senior public servants have been arbitrarily detained for 4 years and released, but not under legal compulsion. Curiously, Ravana claims that the LTTE dispatched an assasin to Colombo to eliminate Munas who is said to be based in Jaffna and Batticaloa, and whose movements are naturally undisclosed.
As for Munas, the HRTF report of 29th September 1993 names 4 officers as being identified among those responsible for the disappearance of 158 persons taken from the Eastern University refugee camp on 5th September 1990.They are: 1.Captain Kaluaratchi, Chenkalady Army Camp, 2.Captain Mohamed Munas (Real name Dias Richard), NIB, Batticaloa, 3.Major Majeed, CO, Vallaichenai AC, 4.Major Mohan Silva, Batticaloa.
The HRTF report says in connection with the Eastern University disappearances, "...Masquerading as Captain Munas he was the bane and terror of the defenceless inhabitants of Batticaloa during the period." The report records a series of admissions and denials of custody by state bodies. An SLBC broadcast on 7-9-1990 admitted the custody of 148 persons. The report adds: "This incident is a dastardly crime which cries aloud for a proper investigation."
During a presentation of the report to President Wijetunge by Justice JFA Soza, the former congratulated the latter on the work of the HRTF. Thereafter the government and the press have been quick to forget the recommendations of the report.
Could, as Ravana seems to suggest, the `execution' of thousands of Tamils as `suspected Tigers' be simply trivialised in terms of the `archaic' nature of the law? It is a vastly greater issue and demands open discussion as a matter of public interest. Apart from being a moral issue, it should also be a military concern. How else could one account for the massive recruitment by the LTTE after June 1990 and the ensuing humiliation of the Sri Lankan forces? The matter is too important to be left to the peculiar expertise of defence analysts in the mainline press. [Top]
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