The Tragedy In Sri Lanka

One of the most tragic happenings of the decade is the breakdown of Sri Lanka Ceasefire in 2006 and its aftermath, resulting in the horrors of war crimes and the slaughter of innocent Tamil population of Sri Lanka.  Why did it happen and could it have been avoided, were some of the questions posed before the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, (successor to Bertrand Russel Tribunal) which had been requested by the Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka, and which held its sittings from January 14 to 16 at Dublin.

The Tribunal was presided over by Mr. Francois Houtrt, Chairperson of the U.N. Committee on Economic Recession.  The writer was one of the ten members of this panel.

As is well known, there have been, since over a decade, warlike encounters between  Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); the latter were virtually running their own administration with unbearable losses to both sides.  At last, due to intervention by the USA and European Union, ceasefire agreement was signed between GOSL and LTTE in 2002, which was being overseen by Norwegians.

I can personally vouch for the comparatively relaxed and hopeful atmosphere that prevailed when our delegation of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, on invitation from a human rights group in Sri Lanka, visited it in 2003.  The confidence was such that Balsingham, the spokesman for Prabhakaran, LTTE Chief, on one of his visits, because of time factor constraint, had no hesitation in using Government helicopter to meet Prabhakaran before the start of one of the rounds of peace talks. However, on 2nd January, 2008, the GOSL officially declared its withdrawal from CFA, of course, both parties blaming each other for this eventuality.

Various reasons were advanced for failure of Cease fire agreement, like the delayed response of the GOSL to begin reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the war-ravaged areas, as also, the failure to ensure the social and economic well being of the people, thus eroding the mutual confidence.

Especially after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Tamils were led to feel neglected, marginalized and discriminated against thus increasing their distrust.  The European Union’s decision to ban the LTTE in 2006 even before the war started has also been seen as a grave error that destroyed the parity of status conducive for the contribution of the peace process. In addition, the USA has been accused of being instrumental in undermining the post-Tsunami Operational Management structure which was put in place as a unified mechanism to carry out joint rehabilitation and relief work in the Tsunami affected areas by insisting that it would not direct money to any joint fund other than the Government Treasury.

But the most crucial reason for breakdown of ceasefire was the attitude of US Government which insisted on excluding LTTE from advanced talks in Washington.  The conduct of European Union, in withdrawing this early from talks, was explained by impartial witnesses as being due to strong pressure put by USA, which, because of its own war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted the logistic support of GOSL, and which it obviously could not hope to get if LTTE continued to be  associated with ceasefire talks.

The Tribunal found that the Lankan Army dropped cluster ammunition by war planes.  There was frequent use of heavy military against LTTE forces in civilian areas on public buildings and schools, which constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions. British and French media indicated that during the third week of fighting, some 20,000 Tamils had been killed.

Sexual abuse and the rape of women was yet another atrocity clearly proven against Government military and which would amount to crime against humanity, and  against the Geneva Convention.

The Tribunal rejected the claim that all these war crimes should be allowed as the best means to defeat the most dangerous enemy.  This kind of new security paradigm is totally unacceptable.

The State cannot be allowed to transgress international norms of Geneva Convention and Rome Statute, whatever the provocation and challenge to the authorities by its own citizens – such is the mandate of human rights law, which is universally accepted.

The Tribunal regretted that after repeated pleas, and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate those responsible for the atrocities committed.

The Tribunal has emphasized that if normal conditions are to be restored in Sri Lanka, the Government must establish as a matter of urgency an independent and authoritative Truth and Justice Commission, to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by parties in conflict.

The Sri Lankan Government must also implement a political power-sharing solution that gives the Tamil people a proactive and legitimate role in the administration and management of the Northeast, while upholding their rights to equal citizenship, participation and representation at all levels, and ensuring a free, fair and peaceful electoral process in regard to parliamentary elections scheduled for May, 2010 and allow free and unlimited access to humanitarian organizations, such as the international Committee of the Red Cross, human rights defenders and media in refugee camps.

The Tribunal also urged the international community and the United Nations to appoint a UN Special Rapporteur for Sri Lanka to investigate and identify responsibilities for human rights violations and for war crimes committed by all parties in conflict.

I feel that in the matter of restoration of peace in Sri Lanka, Tamil Diaspora can play an important role.  It is well known that Tamil Diaspora in Europe and America was greatly sympathetic to LTTE demand for Eelam – its active help was stupendous.

It has, during the present tragedy, tried to do its best for rehabilitating the victims, but lack of support by the GOSL has greatly hindered its activities.  It is rightly not only deeply hurt but also furious at the indignities and brutalities suffered by their brethren / sisters – the same sentiments that every Indian in the country shares.

But in the anger, nothing should be done to bring Tamils in Sri Lanka again on the path of violent confrontation – of course, much will depend on how GOSL treats Lankan Tamils and whether it genuinely tries to give a humane, understanding touch to the strong sentiments of Tamils in Sri Lanka and gives them an equitable, honourable position in power sharing so that both of them can jointly make Sri Lanka, a beautiful country with bountiful nature, free of conflict and move on to a joint quest for a happy, united living without any discrimination of religion or language, each being considered on the same level.



(Pubished in part in: The Tribune, dt. 30.01.2010 :

and the complete version of the article appears in the Radical Humanist (March 2010):