UN Dove and the Sri Lankan Devils - By: Dr CP Thiagarajah
The minister of human rights and disaster management, Mahinda Samarasinghe, was co-ordinating Arbour’s visit that started on Tuesday 9 October. As an African proverb goes “The day the monkey is destined to die, all the trees get slippery” so was Louis Arbour’s official observation visit doomed to fail. Wherever she went the path were slippery. The first restriction on her investigative mission was that she would not be allowed to visit areas in the Jaffna peninsula controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The Sinhala minister also put the same restraint on UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak who visited Sri-Lanka before Ms L Arbour. He was on an eight day official visit beginning on Monday 1 October to probe the Human Rights situation in the country and is expected to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The reason for putting limitations on their scrutiny visits was that the visits could result in adverse propaganda and also for security concerns. These were devilish reasons that smack of lack of credibility. In this juncture, another Spanish proverb comes to my mind. “When the devil says his prayers he wants to cheat you”. The Sinhalese government minister was cheating the whole world by this strange reasons for banning the UN chiefs from visiting the dejure Tamil state of Wanni to see for themselves the human rights situation there.
This nearly amounted to obstruction of duty. If the Sri-Lankan government was open in its governance there was no need to hide anything. There should be no issue with adverse propaganda. As for security concerns the government was shamming. It was taking all diplomats who negotiated the peace talks with the LTTE to LTTE headquarters in Kilinochchi with full security and without any incidents. Therefore flying these two doves on a peace mission won’t be that difficult.
The main reason for their tongue in the cheek talk was that the Sinhala government was afraid that Sinhala state terrorism would be internationalised if free access was give to these dignitaries to the Internally displaced people and to those whose human rights were seriously violated by executions and disappearances. Once bitten twice shy. UN’s Allan Rock’s report on his visit to Kilinochchi on 10 November 2006 and later to Eastern part of Sri-Lanka was a sting in the tail for the Sinhala lion.
Alan’s report took the UN too by surprise for its thoroughness and straightforwardness. It tore away the Sri-lankan diplomatic falsehood of projecting Sinhala government as a democratic government when in fact they were in toe with terrorist para military Karuna group and the EPDP. The leader of EPDP Douglas Devananda is a minister in MR’s government. Keeping Devananda in the Cabinet is a necessary evil for MR, for he can trumpet to the world that he has given ministerial post to a Tamil from the North; a travesty ofdemocracy. In fact he is a political pariah in the Tamil electorate. He got the least vote, of course through coercion in the parliamentary election. Now he is only a lackey under MR like the other SWRD Bandaranayake’s colombo chetty Fernandopulle.
Other itinerary item of LA was to meet relatives of abducted civilians in Colombo on October 11 and in Jaffna on October 12. Anyone would have expected this peace messenger to meet these traumatised people in person in an open informal way so as to elicit their worries and how harrowing their experiences were during the human rights violators’ abductions executions and ransom demands.
Instead this angel of peace was allowed to meet only 4 or five selected victims of crime and terror in a regimented army controlled atmosphere. There was no way Louise Arbour could convey her sympathies to the psychologically disturbed relatives of the dead and the disappeared. Anyhow we could see from media pictures how she had a view through the government smoke screen at the sea of human beings, relatives of those killed and missing that surrounded the fences around UN headquarters at Temple Road Jaffna. As reported in the Colombo presses 2000 of them.
These undesired petty transgressions of protocols were aimed at disrespecting and humiliating a person who is universally regarded as a personification of peace-the Dove. Ms Arbour was appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights by the UN Secretary General and approved by the UN General Assembly on July 4,2004 for the immeasurable work and study she had put in towards preservation of Human rights worldwide.
Before this in 1996, she was nominated by the Security Council of the UN as Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda in recognition of her legal talent and experience in this field. Her credential was no match to any of Sri-Lankans.
Ms Arbour, a Canadian national began her distinguished academic career graduating from College Regina Assumpta, Montreal in 1967 and completing an LL.L (with distinction) from the Faculty of Law, University of Montreal in 1970. In 1970 she adorned the positions of Associate Professor and Associate Dean at the Osgood Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, Canada in 1987. Ms Arbour followed the Quebec Bar Admission Course and was called to the Quebec Bar in 1971 and the Ontario Bar in1977.
After three years as Prosecutor in Hague she resigned to take up an appointment at the Supreme Court of Canada. In December 1987 she was appointed as a Supreme Court Judge of Ontario (High Court of Justice) and in 1990 she was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In 1995, Ms Arbour was appointed by Order-in-Council as single Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into certain events at Prisons for Women in Kingston, Ontario.
Ms Louise Arbour has honorary Doctorates from 27 universities and numerous medals and awards. She is a member of many distinguished professional societies and organizations and has served on the boards of many others. She has published extensively on criminal law and given innumerable addresses on both national and international criminal law.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. The Sinhalese politicians out of foolishness (modakama) fathomed this lady erroneously and treated her like Devils in hell treat the sinners as depicted in many murals painted in Buddhist vihares (temples).
The proverbial sinhalese modakama has prevented them from listening to saner counsel from world leaders like George Bush and other 50 Senators, Norway’s Nick Soheim and India’s intellectuals not to go for war that will violate human rights. Their belligerency had led them to violate all international rules and codes. They had severely contravened the UN declarations on Human rights. The GSL also contravened UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious and Linguistic Minorities that was adopted by General Assembly resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992. GSL does all these tyranny in order to usurp the Tamil’s traditional homeland of the North and East.
One of the basic aims of the United Nations, as proclaimed in the Charter, was to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. It also reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,
Unfortunately the iron curtain of the Sinhalese around the Tamils of the Jaffna peninsular worked very well for the Government of Sri-Lanka (GSL).
The gracious Louise Arbour could not see the social and economic conditions of the Tamils of Jaffna which is virtually a hell on earth due to state terrorism. She was barred from glancing even at the Sri-Lankan horrid scenery described by Freedom House in its report on ‘Freedom in the World’ by countries for 2007.
Conditions in the north and east dramatically deteriorated during the year, with the rising hostilities creating a humanitarian crisis and leading to a variety of human rights abuses. Largely indiscriminate aerial shelling by the Sri Lankan military in Tiger-controlled territory, including attacks on a school and a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), led to the death of dozens of people and the displacement of tens of thousands. People’s mobility as well as their commercial and social activities were curtailed by curfews, road closures, and security checkpoints. All parties to the conflict—the security forces, paramilitary groups, the LTTE, the Karuna faction, and other armed groups—engaged in a pattern of human rights violations, including civilian killings; abductions and disappearances; arrests and detentions; political assassinations; child conscription; and extortion. Young Tamil males were most at risk of harassment by all sides”.
Any conscientious person would be shocked to read that the situation was more or less the same as what was there 20 years back. The exception being that Sinhalese government now commissioned more sophisticated lethal weaponry such as kifir war planes to bomb civilian areas and cause genocide as happened in Sencholai in Mullaitivu where 60 school children were scorched to death last year.
Here are the findings of a Working Group chaired by Goran Backstrand, of the Swedish Red Cross at the Second Consultation on Ethnic Violence, Development and Human Rights, Netherlands, in February 1985:
"There was a general consensus that within Sri Lanka today, the Tamils do not have the protection of the rule of law, that the Sri Lankan government presents itself as a democracy in crisis, and that neither the government, nor its friends abroad, appreciate the serious inroads on democracy which have been made by the legislative, administrative, and military measures which are being taken. The extreme measures which are currently being adopted by the government inevitably provoke extreme reactions from the other side... The normal life of the (Tamil) population of the North has been seriously affected. People either have great difficulty or find it completely impossible to continue with their employment and there is a severe shortage of food and basic necessities Many Tamils are daily fleeing across the Palk Straits to Southern India. The continuing colonisation of Tamil areas with Sinhalese settlers is exacerbating the situation... and the country is on the brink of civil war."
Another well known NGO, USAID after scrutinising the ground situation in Sri-Lanka concluded in December 2006 that:
1. The last two years have seen an increase in human rights violations and a continuation of Sri Lanka 's long-standing culture of impunity. 2. Shrinking space for political dissent in general and pro-peace, non-nationalist discourse in particular 3. Governance is poor and remains heavily centralised. There are signs of increasing fragmentation of authority and public sector corruption.
Having seen the impasse in the political situation and lack of positive action by the International community (IC) Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group warned recently that “the situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating to that extent where large-scale atrocities – Cambodia-style, Rwanda-style, Srebrenica–style, Kosovo-style-- have occurred. Mr. Evans said "… Sri Lanka is anything but a Responsibility to Protect (R2P). So it is an R2P situation which demands preventive action by the wider international community to ensure that further deterioration does not occur."
It was the last UN secretary General Kofi Annan who first applied the term R2P to Sri-Lanka in the UN General Assembly in 2000. He said that Sri Lanka was in R2P situation. However it was after Ban Ki Mun assumption of duties as the UN secretary General that action was taken by the international body to put the situation under their microscope.
Initially, Prof. Philip Alston, United Nation's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, after a visit to Sri Lanka in Nov 2005 contended (Ref- E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5)
“The failure to effectively prosecute government violence is a deeply-felt problem in Sri Lanka......the bottom line remains that this is a deeply unsatisfactory outcome and one which is all too consistent with fears of impunity for those who kill Tamils.
Concerned Member States, particularly the Donor Co-Chairs and contributing countries to SLMM, should provide political, human and financial resources for expanded human rights monitoring by SLMM or another international mechanism”.
Again in the UN General Assembly, Philip Alston, on 5 September 2006 declared “My findings suggest, however, that many of the killings taking place in Sri Lanka are best characterized as human rights violations and best addressed through human rights implementation and monitoring. The Government should not, however, interpret the widespread proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization as an endorsement of its own record. Indeed, it is an enduring scandal that convictions of government officials for killing Tamils are virtually non-existent, and many Tamils doubt that the rule of law will protect their lives”
Further, Prof. Philip Alston, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee, on 20 October 2006 added, "Sri Lanka is not so much on the brink of a new crisis but, instead, only in the midst of an interminable and intractable crisis that has already exhausted its fair share of international attention," and called upon the United Nations Secretariat to "establish a full-fledged international human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka."
The Everest of the Himalayan diplomats Mr Alan Rock was sent to find the real situation of child recruitment by the pro government para-military Karuna group. The tremor following his report that shook the GSL had been already mentioned in paragraph 5. Then followed Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordination who announced after a visit to the island that Sri Lanka had become the most dangerous place on earth for humanitarian workers. He had called on the government to probe civil war abuses and consider international rights monitoring mission.
He was castigated by the Sinhala cum Tamil cabinet minister Mr Jeyaraj Fernandopillai as a terrorist and a bribe taker. The same conceit that prevailed among the Sinhala cabinet had gone mad in him.
The sinhala cabinet had indeed made the Sinhala masses believe that no one could interfere into Sri-Lankan affairs, even to correct injustices heaped on its minorities, as Sri-Lanka belonged only to the Sinhalese. If one looked at US Congress Committee on International Relations, Hearing on Sri Lanka - November 14,1995 they could notice a statement by Prof Marshall R Singer. It would be clear from this that the Sinhalese do not want to share power with minorities. “One of the tragedies of Sri Lanka is that the Sinhalese have never understood the meaning of federalism.'' Please note that the 1958 Sinhala anti-Tamil pogrom was unleashed on Tamils for asking for a federal form of government to govern themselves as successive Sinhalese governments from the day of independence from British colonial power in 1948 neglected Tamil aspirations. It is useful to remember that it was the majaor attack on the Tamils after independence when the Oxford educated SWRD Bandaranayake was Prime Minister.
As a Portuguese adage established “The dead open the eyes of the living”, the UN opened its eyes now only, after MR government committed grave HR violations and unprecedented large number of deaths of the Tamil innocents. “The wheels of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine” is an old English saying. Probably all modern religions have the same philosophy. Louise Arbour had stood firm on her convictions that a democratic state should abide by democratic principle and that Sri-Lanka should not fight fire with fire and should not stoop low to adopt tyrannical strategies like Hitler. We also should take heed of Mahatma Gandhi’s advice ‘an eye for an eye stance will leave the world blind’.
When the UN dove Louie Arbour gave a press conference, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Human Rights sat with her. The minister wanted to show to the Sinhalese and in fact to the Tamils as well that Sri-Lankan Sinhala government was not going to allow an international body like UN to dictate terms to it. That was why he bluntly and promptly refused the request of LA to set up a UN monitoring mission in Sri-Lanka to stem the rising tide of unlawful murders. He had the answer already ready. He never cared to consult the president or the opposition parties on this vital common issue. A Dutch aphorism reminds me of the minister’s behaviour “When the devil gets into the church he seats himself on the altar”. The video photo showed a diminutive LA seated by the side of the huge figure of Samarasinghe as though the latter was conducting the Q&A press briefing himself.