Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Suffering at Wars’ Ends

This article was published in The Nation on December 11 2011.

 
War is hell and the suffering goes on after wars end.

Over the past few years, there have been many books describing what happened at the end of the Second World War. The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard was published in April 2010. After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation by Giles McDonogh was published in July 2007. The Struggle for Europe by William Hitchcock was published in January 2003. Walter Laqueur’s books on post-war Europe came out in 1992. John Roberts, Norman Davies, Mark Mazower and Richard Vinen, David Calleo, and last but not least, the late, great Tony Judt, have produced strong analytical work examining Europe’s future in the light of what its 20th-century past reveals.

Scholars have had 67 years to assess the six years of World War Second. Sri Lanka has only had just over two years to come to terms with nearly 30 years of internal war.

 
In 1945, the Allies had to deal with 10 to 15 million DPs (displaced persons) – concentration camp victims, foreign workers and slave labourers and destitute Germans. The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was set up to deal with DPs. Shephard is sympathetic but also describes incompetence and political manipulation. Some UNRRA functionaries made mistresses of Polish DPs. Others engaged in crime.

Lasting havoc

 
One thing for DPs to do after years of deprivation was to get blind drunk. Two thousand people died from alcohol poisoning in two months after war’s end. Many DPs reacted to freedom with sexual abandon. At Wildflecken DP Camp in Bavaria, the Virgin Mary in the “Holy Manger” Christmas show had gonorrhoea. The birth rate in DP camps rocketed.

Not everyone was ready to debauch. Richard Wollheim, later a distinguished philosopher, was tasked with organising a dance party for British soldiers and female survivors in Bergen-Belsen. The party ended in mayhem, with panicking women expecting nothing but more torment from uniformed men

“Resettlement” was not an easy task. Shephard describes American soldiers dragging terrified Russians and Ukrainians to assembly points. They were often being sent in open cattle trucks to their deaths in Russia or Yugoslavia. British soldiers, sometimes with tears in their eyes, had to force about 70,000 people who had, in many cases already suffered terribly under the Germans, to go back to a more horrendous fate.

 
World War II aftermath

McDonogh describes the rape and pillage that went with Red Army “liberation” of Eastern Europe. Native populations turned on ethnic Germans with frightening ferocity. Whole communities of Germans, up to 16 million, who had lived outside the Reich for generations, were violently uprooted. Old men, women, and children were forced to march westward, or crammed into cattle cars in which they sometimes froze to death. The most conservative estimate that 600,000 German civilians were killed at this time is still high. The savagery was comparable to what the Nazis had inflicted. Schools and public buildings became torture centres. Up to 15,000 Germans were held at Strahov soccer stadium in Prague, where the guards amused themselves by forcing thousands to run for their lives and then machine-gunning them.

The Americans set up PWTEs (Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures) which make Menik Farm seem like Club Med. In the spring of 1945, some 40,000 prisoners died of hunger and exposure in the 12 open camps containing a million men. The Americans had burned their kit, so they had nothing to protect them from the elements.

The British and Americans also set up Direct Interrogation Centres to find major war criminals or subversive activity. Their function soon changed to gathering intelligence against the Russians. Prisoners were tortured by guards with scores to settle. Methods are familiar today from their use in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and CIA centres all over the world: savage beatings, starvation, deprivation of sleep, and removal of clothing. Men were kept standing for hours. Many never came out alive.

 
Despicable punishments

 

At Schwäbisch Hall, near Stuttgart, Americans used methods similar to those employed by the SS in Dachau. Prisoners endured long periods in solitary confinement. Men were led off in hoods and lifted off the ground to convince them they were about to hang. When the Americans set up a commission of inquiry, they found that, of the 139 cases they examined, 137 had “had their testicles permanently destroyed by kicks received from the American War Crimes Investigation team.”

NGOs such as Human Rights Watch were strongly critical of GOSL’s decision to keep civilians in IDP camps. More extreme sections of the Tamil Diaspora accused the government of having a genocidal agenda and referred to extermination camps. David Begg, leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, took time off from watching his members lose jobs and welfare benefits as the Irish economy went rapidly downhill, to take an interest in far-away Sri Lanka. He claimed that 1,000 people were dying every week in concentration camps.

The UN Refugee Agency reported that there were around 16 million refugees and 26 million IDPs in the world at the end of 2008. In recent years it has been increasingly tasked under the UN’s humanitarian reform process with assisting IDPs.

War is hell and the suffering goes on after war’s end. Some wars just do not end.

 
Today, 63 years after the foundation of the state of Israel, five million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) services.

 

Liberation of Libya

This article appeared in The Nation newspaper on December 4 2011.

 

How is that liberation of Libya thing working out?

Now, I am well aware that Muammar Qaddafi may have had a few little faults. I have no wish to downplay his darker side. I have written about this in some detail at:

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/the-milo-minderbinder-school-of-foreign-polict/

He armed many terrorist groups and bankrolled the genocidal leader of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, trained Charles Taylor of Liberia and gave sanctuary to Idi Amin.

The plus side was that Libya’s oil revenues were distributed very widely, creating a welfare state from which virtually all Libyans benefited with high standards of healthcare, high rates of schooling for girls as well as boys, a literacy rate of 88% per cent, more opportunities for women than in other Arab countries and the highest per capita income in Africa.

How does Colonel Gadfly compare to other monsters around the world? Saddam Hussein was hanged; Osama Bin Laden was shot; many other bad people have been assassinated. What was his kill rate compared to GW Bush, Tony Blair and Barack Obama?

 
Would he have fallen if he had not given up his nuclear weapons?

 

Hugh Roberts, writing in the London Review of Books, said:

“Numerous states in Africa and Asia and no doubt Latin America as well (Cuba and Venezuela spring to mind) may wish to consider why the Jamahiriyya, despite mending its fences with Washington and London in 2003-4 and dealing reasonably with Paris and Rome, should have proved so vulnerable to their sudden hostility. And the Libyan war should also prompt us to examine what the actions of the Western powers in relation to Africa and Asia, and the Arab world in particular are doing to democratic principles and the idea of the rule of law.”

 
Histrionic rubbish

Western intervention was justified by the news that, on 21 February, the regime was using its air force to slaughter peaceful demonstrators in Tripoli and other cities. The main purveyor of this story was al-Jazeera, but the story was quickly taken up by Sky, CNN, the BBC, and ITN. At this point, according to Human Rights Watch, the total death toll since 15 February was 233. The total death toll in Tunisia was 300 and in Egypt at least 846. According to Roberts, the ‘genocide’ claim was “histrionic rubbish which none of the organisations with an interest in the use of the term was moved to challenge”.

 
Sound familiar?

 

Roberts again: “The slanted coverage in the British media in particular, notably the insistence that the regime was faced only by peaceful demonstrators when, in addition to ordinary Libyans trying to make their voices heard non-violently, it was facing politically motivated as well as random violence (e.g. the lynching of 50 alleged mercenaries in al-Baida on 19 February), was consistent with the destabilisation theory. And on the evidence I have since been able to collect, I am inclined to think that destabilisation is exactly what was happening.”

“It is tendentious and dishonest to say simply that Qaddafi was ‘killing his own people’; he was killing those of his people who were rebelling. He was doing in this respect what every government in history has done when faced with a rebellion. We are all free to prefer the rebels to the government in any given case. But the relative merits of the two sides aren’t the issue in such situations: the issue is the right of a state to defend itself against violent subversion. That right, once taken for granted as the corollary of sovereignty, is now compromised”.

NATO freedom fighters!

A report has been prepared for the attention of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Yes, another one. This one apparently says there have been war crimes in Libya. Yes – Libya. Not Sri Lanka.
Who has been committing the crimes? The freedom fighters supported by NATO seem to have been doing their share.

According to the UN report, thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias, the victors supported by NATO in Libya. The Independent reports that many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the country’s new government. A UN resolution was secured in to protect civilians from merciless suppression by the Qaddafi regime. Political prisoners held by the Qaddafi regime have been released, but their places have been taken by up to 7,000 “enemies of the new state” under the control of revolutionary brigades, “with no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary”.

The report states that both sides committed war crimes in the bitter battle for Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, Sirte. Armed militias continue to control many towns settling internecine feuds through gun battles.
Mayhem unabated

The city of Tawerga, whose residents were mainly black, was largely destroyed by rebel fighters from neighbouring Misrata. A number of black Africans were lynched following claims, often false, that they were hired guns for the Qaddafi regime. “Cases have been reported of individuals being targeted because of their skin colour.” Blacks have been targeted for torture and “revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals, and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention”.

The report acknowledges the brutality of the outgoing regime. Ban Ki-moon said: “I was deeply shocked by my visit to an agricultural warehouse in the Khallital-Ferjan neighbourhood of Tripoli where elements of the Qaddafi regime had detained civilians in inhuman conditions, had subjected some to torture and had massacred as many as they could and burned their bodies.
Quadaffi strongly opposed the installation of the US military’s Africom on the soil of any African country. He funded a wide range of development projects in sub-Saharan countries. Libya is rich not only in oil. Quadaffi planned to exploit the immense water reserves under Libya’s Sahara and to transform the economic prospects of the Sahel countries. Western, particularly French, water companies are now salivating at the prospects of profit.

 

Is South Africa’s TRC an example to follow?

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 9 2011.

Colman's Column3

I was interested to read in the March 30 2014 issue of Ceylon Today that “senior lawyer, Gomin Dayasri is to head TRC”.

President Rajapaksa had told the South African High Commissioner in Colombo that he was planning to set up a Sri Lanka Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of the South African TRC. South African High Commissioner, Geoffrey Quinton Michael Doidge, promised President Rajapaksa South African expertise and technical assistance. The President invited suggestions for a head of the TRC and eventually plumped for Gomin.

At the CHOGM in November last year South African President Jacob Zuma offered his country’s support if the Sri Lankan Government decided to appoint a TRC. A Sri Lankan delegation led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva visited South Africa to discuss the proposed Commission with the South African authorities.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) captured public attention, provided a model for other countries and generated a vast bulk of scholarly literature. TRC hearings started in Cape Town in 1996. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as to promote reparation and rehabilitation. South Africa’s TRC seemed to break new ground in that it went beyond truth finding to promote national unity and reconciliation.

To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. Apartheid’s servants still dominated the state, so Nuremberg-style trials were not an option if the country was to achieve democracy without a coup. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the ruling African National Congress. Perpetrators had to face the individuals they tortured or the families of those they killed. There had to be some acceptance of the ostrich tendencies of the white middle class who did not want to admit complicity in systemic torture. Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked, “It’s very difficult to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.”

 
Did the South African process live up to its reputation? Hugo van der Merwe, project manager with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was not enthusiastic. “Despite all of its flowery language around reconciliation, it really had very limited impact in terms of providing healing and justice for survivors and providing reintegration into communities for perpetrators. Those dynamics are ones which stay with society and that require further engagement by government and civil society.”

 
Together with Audrey R. Chapman, van der Merwe edited a study of the TRC entitled, Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Did the TRC Deliver? Chapman and van der Merwe spent eight years compiling this and had access to a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data. Most of the contributors concluded that the TRC did not deliver. Chapman contends that truth commissions are best suited for establishing “macrotruth,” which involves assessing contexts, and patterns of human rights abuses with a view to identifying structural causes and intellectual authors of political violence. Nearly all truth commissions take this as a central goal. Many also seek “micro-truth.” – to gather evidence on individual cases. A number of commentators have observed that the TRC’s final report down-plays and even obfuscates the question of how apartheid operated as a system, focusing instead on extreme acts of violence committed by individual actors.

A study by Jay and Erika Vora indicated that the TRC proceedings reminded people of the horrors that had taken place in the past when they preferred to forget such things. Some viewed the proceedings as flawed because many people lied to get an amnesty. There was a feeling that the process discriminated in favour of high profile victims. A 1998 study by South Africa’s Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation & the Khulumani Support Group found that most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.

William Kentridge, a South African lawyer and director of Ubu and the Truth Commission, said, “As people give more and more evidence of the things they have done they get closer and closer to amnesty and it gets more and more intolerable that these people should be given amnesty.” Steve Biko’s family described the TRC as a “vehicle for political expediency”, which “robbed” them of their right to justice.

The story we believe today is that South Africa became a democracy in a peaceful transition. The violence on both sides has been airbrushed out of the picture. This was part of the deal agreed. There would be no punitive justice.

John Pilger criticised the TRC for allowing the easy transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism, and for failing to cause the trial of criminals, particularly murderers. In 1994, South Africa chose a neoliberal path. There was no redistribution of resources. The white minority still controls 80 percent of the best agricultural land and owns the country’s mines. Racial inequality has grown since 1994. An OECD report says: “South Africa faces a number of long-standing economic problems that still reflect at least in part the long-lasting and harmful legacy of apartheid”. A report by Statistics South Africa shows two-thirds of young people live in households with a per capita income of less than 650 rand a month (around £47). White South Africans still take home six times more pay than blacks do.

A survey covering 1998–2000 compiled by the UN, ranked South Africa second for assault and murder per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries. South Africa was tenth out of the 60 countries in the dataset for total crime per capita.

South Africa’s national budget is USD 167 billion. In the fiscal year 2011-2012, USD 103 million was lost to financial misconduct. Only 13 per cent of the money lost to corruption is recovered. While 88 per cent of people tried for financial misconduct are found guilty, only 19 per cent are dismissed. Forty-three per cent get final written warnings. Many escape by resigning and getting another government job offering the opportunity to carry on stealing.

Jacob Zuma made a State of the Nation address on February 12 2014, stressing the high points of his time in office ahead of elections on May 7. An Ipsos poll published on February 12 found his approval rating has fallen from 77 per cent in 2009 to just 46 per cent today. In 2009, 54 per cent of South Africans felt the country was moving in the “right direction” – today just 34 per cent feel the same.

President Zuma was charged with rape in 2005, but was acquitted. He fought a long legal battle over allegations resulting from his financial advisor Schabir Shaik’s conviction for corruption and fraud. Zuma still has allegations hanging over his head that he received 783 corrupt payments totalling Rand 4.1 million (nearly £300,000). Two wealthy Indian brothers known to have close ties to Mr Zuma borrowed the country’s biggest military airport to fly in guests for a family wedding. A report by the public watchdog criticised Zuma for spending £12.9 million of public money on “security” upgrades to his private estate.

This year’s parliamentary elections in South Africa will be the first in which children born after the 1994 transition to democracy become eligible to vote. How has that reconciliation thing worked for them? Children born 20 years after the end of apartheid will be faced with a two-tiered education system — a functional one for the wealthy and a dysfunctional public system for poor blacks. In Limpopo province 1.7m children in were deprived of textbooks for almost a year because of local government corruption.

Emulating the apartheid regime, police killed 34 striking miners and then charged the miners themselves with murdering their colleagues. There is an average of 32 protests each day, mainly over a lack of basic services. The number of police-related deaths in 2012 totalled 797, more than double levels ten years ago, according to figures from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Deaths of police personnel on active service totalled 92.

How do you like that for truth and reconciliation? Can Sri Lanka learn from the South African experience? How does the South African experience compare with the Sri Lankan experience? The most obvious fact is that in the old South Africa, the majority was oppressed by the minority. That is not the case in Sri Lanka. Whatever injustices there may be, there is less apartheid in Sri Lanka than there is in Louisiana. Ask yourself, Dear Reader, where you would rather live today – Sri Lanka or South Africa?

 

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