Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: human rights

More on Torture

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 3 2015.

Colman's Column3

President George W. Bush : Look, I’m going to say it one more time…. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws, and that might provide comfort for you.  —Sea Island, Georgia, June 10, 2004

There have been a number of reports on the use of torture by the USA. There was a heavily redacted 2004 report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice. In 2007, the ICRC (Red Cross) published its Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody. The ICRC said in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided.” There was a Senate Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about how the military used torture. There was a recent Senate report, or rather an executive summary, on CIA torture. There have been a dozen reports on torture practised at Abu Ghraib.

There is still no comprehensive public report on how the executive branch made decisions about torture.  Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney described the recent Senate report as “full of crap”. Cheney will have none of the argument that GW Bush was ignorant of the methods used by the CIA. “He was in fact an integral part of the program. He had to approve it before we went forward with it. I think he knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program.” At one meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, demanded of his colleagues, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

These days we hear mealy-mouthed euphemisms, such as “alternative set of procedures”. The CIA, even after the damning Senate report, maintains that its “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not constitute torture. In the early days after 9/11, words went unminced. The CIA was already talking about torture before they even had a suspect on whom to practise.

The CIA did very little if any research about what kind of torture would work. There is no discussion springing from the need to torture particular people such as prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself started very soon after 9/11, when “high-value” detainees were not available.

When they did have someone to practise on, they went at it with a will. Abu Zubaydah, a thirty-one-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. Initially, he did provide some useful information  – that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, and that José Padilla was plotting to become a  dirty bomber. However, that was down to the FBI not the CIA (although they claimed credit) and the information did not come from torture. Two experienced FBI interrogators who had fluent Arabic and deep knowledge about al-Qaeda used traditional “rapport-building” techniques.

The CIA had Abu Zubaydah in their clutches first but were too dumb to realise how important he was. Afterwards, they attributed too much importance to him, convincing themselves he was the third or fourth man in al-Qaeda. In reality, he was not even a member of al-Qaeda, merely  a travel agent for al-Qaeda.

FBI expert Ali Soufan objected strenuously to rank amateurs like former military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen taking over the interrogation.  FBI people who knew what they were doing without torture pulled out of the questioning leaving it to amateurs using a “black site” in Thailand. The CIA were diverted by their misguided conviction that Abu Zubaydah was withholding information about attacks that would have killed thousands of people. They believed they had to torture him so that he would reveal information to justify their use of torture. Their use of torture was because he had not revealed any such information.

They deprived Abu Zubaydah  of sleep for 180 hours and waterboarded him eighty-three times, the last two sessions against the strenuous objections of the on-site interrogators, who judged correctly that he was completely compliant: he just had nothing more to reveal. He was mostly naked and cold, “sometimes with the air conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, he seemed to turn blue.” Zubaydah told the story himself. When loud music no longer played, “there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day”. “I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face….”. They put him in a black box. “As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds.” Eventually, a doctor stopped the torture. “I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.”

Testimony from others who were tortured supports this. A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings.

CIA Director George Tenet regularly told the highest government officials specific procedures to be used on specific detainees. Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers “briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council’s Principals Committee,” including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan.”

The CIA justified the torture of Abu Zubaydah as a success because their brutal techniques allowed them to alleviate their anxiety about how much he really knew. They did not get any more information through torture but eventually convinced themselves that he had no more information.

Articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times revealed a secret world of black sites, prisons on military bases around the world, into which kidnapped people disappeared. “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them”. Extraordinary rendition meant the detainee shackled at hands and feet was transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. The journey times ranged from one hour to over thirty hours. The detainee  and had to urinate and defecate into a diaper.

The US corrupted the world with this programme. A report by the Open Society Justice Initiative  shows that 54 countries, including Ireland, helped to facilitate the CIA’s secret detention, rendition and interrogation programme. They participated in by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees or permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees.

The CIA’s former acting general counsel, John Rizzo, was involved in the programme from the start until 2009. He had a career at the CIA since the 1970s and was a main author of the 2001 Memorandum of Notification to the president that gave the CIA broad power to torture. Bush (pace Cheney’s recent comments), according to the intelligence committee report, was not briefed in detail on the actual techniques until 2006. The original authorization for the torture programme seems to have come from the Memorandum of Notification, a presidential document drafted by the CIA itself and signed by Bush on September 17, 2001.

An internal CIA draft letter to the attorney general sought a formal declaration that there would be no prosecutions of torturers.  When the Justice Department’s Criminal Division refused to provide immunity, the CIA lied to the Justice Department and found lawyers who would do their bidding. John Yoo, the author of the original torture memo, told the Office of Professional Responsibility that he would not have judged waterboarding legal if he had known the truth about how brutal it was.

In 1994, the US signed the Convention against Torture. This not only prohibits torture but also requires that it be investigated and punished. On his second day in office, Obama announced plans to close the Guantánamo detention facility within a year and to end immediately George W. Bush’s authorization of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  Although Obama once famously commented that “we tortured some folks” and that “I believe waterboarding was torture”, he has taken no action against the torturers. There are obvious avenues for investigation and possible prosecution, though the Obama administration shows no interest taking them.

This avoidance means that, practically speaking, torture remains an option for policymakers rather than a criminal offense. CIA director John Brennan has explicitly refused to rule out the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques under a future administration. The message to future presidents facing a serious security threat is that the prohibition of torture can be ignored without consequence. Abusive security forces from around the world are likely to take heart from that precedent as well.

Michael White was lambasted when he wrote in the Guardian: “it is also a day of redemption for the American system of imperfectly accountable government and that country’s many enemies should remember that as they hurl bricks and demand the prosecution of offenders”.

In his recent book Pay Any Price, investigative journalist James Risen described two of the most consequential aspects of American national security policy after September 11: the organized torture of al-Qaeda suspects in secret CIA prisons and the mass surveillance of communications by Americans carried out by the National Security Agency. There is a third consequence- attempts to muzzle the media. The Department of Justice prosecuted and imprisoned about half a dozen press sources for disclosing classified information  about mass surveillance and torture.

At his first inauguration, Barack Obama rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Fine words. Risen writes:  “The rush to transform the United States from an open society to a walled fortress, prompted by the 9/11 attacks and propelled by billions of dollars spent on homeland security”, has left little room for serious public debate about “how best to balance security, civil liberties and freedom of movement. It is no longer much of a debate—security always wins.”

The EU as Moral Tutor

On May 9 there was a court hearing concerning a domestic-violence case in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, one of Armenia’s most socially conservative areas. Activist Robert Aharonian condemned two women’s rights advocates operating under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, part of the Soros network, for promoting “European values”. A man in Armenia “has a right to slap his wife,” he claimed. He opposes all those diaspora Armenians who use NGO grants to operate in Armenia, and “advocate European perversion.” Allowing wives to report their husbands to the police, he asserted, ultimately breaks families apart. Armenia wants to join the EU so has to pay lip service to “European values”.

The EU presents itself as a moral model to the world. The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

One wonders how this will play given the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament (EP), where a number of far right parties scored big successes on low turnouts. Some wag answered the question:”What are European values?” thus. “Appeasement, bureaucracy, group-think, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and not having babies.”

The values that the EU claims for itself are set out in Article I-2 of the Constitution and are supposed to be common to all member states. These values are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. Any European state wishing to become a member of the EU must respect these. Any member state not meeting these criteria can, in theory, be kicked out.

Free Movement

The Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous “four freedoms”) and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Nationalism raised its ugly head in the EP elections and many who do not believe in the “free movement of persons” won seats. Last week, I wrote about the problems many states will have because of declining fertility rates. If Europeans are not having enough babies, they will have to import workers to do the dirty jobs and to pay into their pension fund. Even when they admit this, right-wingers, like the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, do not like it: “Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It’s impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in…that would be an economic solution, but it’s not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization.”

If one looks at the treatment of Roma in Belfast as well as Bucharest, one can see that even the free movement of EU citizens within the EU is not universally welcomed. Many people in Western Europe feel little kinship with Bulgaria and Romania, which is why most west European governments limited the right to work of Bulgarians and Romanians.

One Spaniard was not too happy about the freedom of Britons to move around Europe: “I used to live on a beautiful section of coast. Now I live next to a nasty urbanization, full of English people who buy from themselves, drink English beer in English bars, visit English doctors and eat an abomination called Pukka Pies. Their refusing to learn even the most basic of Spanish is famous here, and even if I wanted to go to ‘The Queen Vic’, I won’t because they only have menus in English and German.”

Extraordinary Rendition

Many EU states helped with the movement of people when GW Bush wanted to torture them. A report published in 2013 by the Open Society entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition revealed that, of pre-2004 EU states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands –did not cooperate with the rendition programme, in which suspects were picked off the streets and secretly flown from country to country to be tortured. Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to transfer terror suspects secretly at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Mubarak’s soundproof cells in Egypt. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.

At the time the report was written, legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations were pending against Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania before the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The Open Society report concludes: “by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture.” How does that fit with European values?

 

Corruption

Many Sri Lankans take a masochistic pride in the corruption of their politicians. Sorry chaps, but Sri Lankans are mere minnows compared to the Grand Panjandrums of Europe. The human rights of Europeans are seriously undermined by the endemic graft and thievery within the EU.

Some people blame this on enlargement – things got worse when we let those dodgy eastern Europeans in. Optimists hope that the magic wand of western European values will reduce the corruption of these shady newcomers and one day do the same for the Western Balkans and Turkey, and perhaps even Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.

Unfortunately, the really big corruption is in the older member states and the culprits are senior statesmen.

Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor for sixteen years. He took two million in illegal donations. When he was exposed, he refused to reveal donors’ names for fear of revealing the favours they had bought. Gerhard Schröder guaranteed a billion-euro loan to Gazprom for the building of a Baltic pipeline. A few weeks after leaving government, he was working for Gazprom at a salary larger than the one he received as Chancellor. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen two presidents of the Republic in succession forced to resign under a cloud of corruption.

 

Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic for twelve years, was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of office and conflicts of interest. Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly took some $20 million from Gaddafi for the electoral campaign that won him the presidency. Christine Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, is under interrogation for her role in the award of €420 million in “compensation” to a friend of Sarkozy, Bernard Tapie, a well-known crook with a prison record. The socialist minister for the budget, Jérôme Cahuzac, whose brief was to uphold fiscal probity and equity, had €15 million in hidden deposits in Switzerland and Singapore.

In Britain, Blair lied to Parliament about £1 million paid into party coffers by racing car magnate Bernie Ecclestone, currently under indictment in Bavaria for bribes of €33 million. Currently, Blair takes cash from a South Korean oil company run by a convicted felon with interests in Iraq and the feudal dynasty of Kuwait. He also does PR for the Nazarbaev dictatorship in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record would not meet EU standards.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, as well as allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for its torture programme, channelled into his bank account more than €400,000 in unexplained payments before becoming Taoiseach. He then voted himself the highest salary of any premier in Europe – €310,000, more even than the US president – a year before having to resign. Even after his disgrace, he wangled himself a handsome pension and generous expenses. In 2011, €8.8 million of taxpayers’ money was paid out in pensions for 109 former ministers, Ahern topping the list with €152,331.

On a public appearance at a ploughing contest, Bertie was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators saw the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation of corruption at the top. Daniel Finn in the New Left Review, described Bertie Ahern as “A shrewd political operator with a gift for speaking at length without supplying his audience with any information”. At a corruption tribunal, Ahern’s testimony was described as “rambling and incoherent” and he changed his story so many times some of it had to be lies. Polls showed that less than one-third of voters believed him. Last November, a drunken man attacked Ahern with a crutch inside the Sean O’Casey bar just off O’Connell Street. Ahern declined to talk about the attack, which came three years after number of customers in another Dublin pub verbally abused him.

The European Value of Impunity

Bankers and leading politicians do not usually go to prison. Elites can enrich themselves without fear of retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes the only real value in political life. When it all goes wrong, the public has to pay by bailing out the banks and the state and by enduring austerity measures. Austerity is not thrift, which is generally seen as a morally virtuous. Austerity benefits the already very wealthy, who can profit from cheaper asset prices by picking them up now and selling them later. That is European value.

 

“Generating Calamity” by Michael Roberts

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 23 2014

 

Colman's Column3

Michael Roberts posted an article on Groundviews entitled: Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels.
http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
I am dealing with the matter here because I have been banned from commenting on Groundviews. Sanjana Hattotuwa told me on a previous occasion: “The web’s an open place – and you can follow the example of so many others over 7 years and choose to raise your concerns in other web fora and channels. Good night and good luck”.

 
The main thrust of Professor Roberts’s piece is that, in the final days of Eelam War IV, the LTTE used some 320,000 of their own people to manufacture a picture of an “impending humanitarian disaster” so that concerned international forces would intervene and impose a ceasefire or effect a rescue operation.

 
I am not saying that Professor Roberts is correct. It would be quite legitimate to argue against this thesis. Unfortunately, reasoned argument is not guaranteed on fora such as Groundviews. In this case, at an early stage in the discussion, a moderator steps in and says: “Rather than attack the author, can you please provide counter factual analysis and/or a detailed breakdown of how and where you differ with the author’s submission? Please help to further the debate by focussing on the content, not the person.” That sounds encouraging but the moderator is soon convinced by the commenter and says “Point taken” and steps back from the fray.

 
A later ad hominem attack is allowed by the moderator: “Look closely at the writings of the author and you will find, sinhala supremacist agenda peeping through”. A bizarre comment considering that Roberts is not Sinhalese. Another commenter calling himself Sri Lanka Campaign (SLC) is allowed to attack the author without addressing the substance of the author’s arguments.

 
Roberts divides his article up into sections labelled A to M. SLC writes something about each of these sections. I will not bore Ceylon Today readers by dealing with every section myself but I will try to give a flavour.

 
SLC tries to convict Roberts of taking the humanitarian crisis lightly: “Regardless of how the LTTE chose to portray the situation it is undeniable that the situation in Vanni in 2009 was a humanitarian catastrophe… The idea that the catastrophe was overstated does not sit at all well with what most of us remember of that time.”

 

 

Surely, the point is not that the LTTE “portrayed” the situation or “overstated” it but that they created it?

 
SLC concedes this much: “The LTTE certainly share the blame for the ‘situation of entrapment’ but the idea that they were solely to blame does not stand up to any scrutiny”. He continues: “Regardless it is a complete non sequitur, and callous reasoning, that moral concerns around a humanitarian catastrophe should be put to one side because one of the parties involved shares responsibility for the situation.”

 

 

That is slippery in the extreme.

 
It is an LTTE leader whom Roberts quotes. KP said: “[we] had to magnify the humanitarian crisis.” Roberts himself is not saying the humanitarian crisis was imaginary or of no account. SLC says :“The LTTE certainly share the blame for the ‘situation of entrapment’”. Of course, moral concerns should not be put to one side by GOSL simply because the LTTE had no moral concerns about shooting their own people and using them as human shields. The GOSL continued to supply medicines and food to the north and rescued a great number of those held hostage by the LTTE.

 
Colombo Telegraph published a leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. Jacques de Maio, ICRC Head of Operations for South Asia, said the LTTE had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian population as a “protective asset” and kept its fighters embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders’ objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred. He also said, “the Army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.” Robert O Blake, noted in a confidential embassy cable: “The Army has a generally good track record of taking care to minimize civilian casualties during its advances…”.

 
Even Gordon Weiss, in his book The Cage, praised the conduct of the Sri Lanka Army: “Dozens of Tamils described the Sinhalese as inherently kind and gentle people. The front-line soldiers who received the first civilians as they escaped to government lines, those who guarded them in the camps and the civilian and military doctors who provided vital treatment distinguished themselves most commonly through their mercy and care.”

 

 

Did the government not provide Prabhakaran’s parents with pensions and medical care? Did the government not airlift Daya Master to hospital for heart surgery and then give him transport back to the war?

 
At many points, SLC seems content to go along with a particular brand of received wisdom in a manner that is far too trusting. For example at one point, he says: “Every serious history of the conflict…suggests … that civilian casualty figures were significantly under-estimated…”

 

 

He does not provide any citations to support this assertion. SLC sneers about “All those inconvenient verified facts in multiple independent and UN reports.” He does not acknowledge that those reports have been challenged. “I would not consider it wise to go toe-to-toe with a UN panel containing three of the world’s pre-eminent specialists on questions of credibility. Actually subsequent work on the area from the Petrie report, World Bank figures etc… suggests 40,000 is on the lower end of the probable figures.”

 
Oh no, it doesn’t. You are too trusting, SLC. Is it because you used to work for the UN? Roberts deals with this point but SLC ignores his argument: “The slipshod methodology of the UNSG Panel (also known as the Darusman Panel) consolidated this process. Worse still, the Panel’s concluding statement that ‘a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths’ has been widely turned into a definitive figure by leading Western politicians as well as leading media personnel”.

 
Roberts backs up his own argument with references to a number of studies which cast doubt on casualty figures which have gathered “credibility” from constant repetition. All of those studies explain how they arrived at their estimates of civilian casualty figures. After careful consideration, the IDAG-S concluded that the civilian death toll was probably between 15,000 and 18,000. This itself has been challenged by Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, who points out that “only 6000 injured were taken off by the ICRC ships over four months, along with bystanders, suggesting that the figure of the dead would have been less.” The 18,000 figure includes civilians killed by the LTTE, the IDAG-S says, although “it is probable that more were hit by government fire than by the LTTE, the latter’s ‘work’ in this sphere was not small”.

 
The IDAG-S estimate is somewhat higher than some other calculations made by Tamils, who are by no means supporters of the government. Dr Rajasingham Narendran talked to IDPs who had fled the last No-Fire Zone in April 2009 and later with IDPs at Menik Farm and elsewhere. His estimate of deaths – “including LTTE cadres, forced labour and civilians — were very likely around 10,000 and did not exceed 15,000 at most”. Dr Muttukrishna Sarvananthan of the Point Pedro Institute said “[approximately] 12,000 [without counting armed Tiger personnel] “. Dr. Noel Nadesan: ““roughly 16,000 including LTTE, natural, and civilians”. Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, data primarily based on figures released by the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net, put the casualty figure for civilians inside Mullaithivu at 2,972 until 5 April 2009.13 March 2009, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay issued a press release saying “as many as 2,800 civilians may have been killed”.

 
SLC’s treatment of Section E is bizarre. He snarks: “I scarcely know where to begin with this train wreck of a paragraph.” I myself am not a great fan of counter-factual history and do not see much point in discussing what might have been. I would not have written the paragraph myself, but SLC’s response is over-the-top. Likening what Roberts says to “something from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is infantile as well as being an unpleasant smear. SLC asks: “Does anyone really believe Prabhakaran could care less?”
That is why the war had to be fought to the bitter end.

 
SLC excuses himself: “This was written in haste and apologies if my irritation sometimes shone through. No doubt others could do a better and more comprehensive job of debunking, but the material scarcely merits it”. Certainly the following sneer strikes this reader as mean spirited: “This is essentially a lengthy moan at IGEP for not taking his work, or that of various shadowy and anonymous groups, seriously”. That is going for the man rather than the ball. SLC sneers at the anonymity of the IDAG_S report.

 

SLC, you should use your own name when dishing out stuff like that. You seem “shadowy and anonymous” yourself.

 

Rwanda- Twenty Years after Genocide

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 16 2016

Colman's Column3

Twenty years have passed since the genocide in Rwanda. The true numbers of dead will never be known – some estimates go as high as five million but the figure generally used is 800,000. In 1994, during 100 days, vast numbers of Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks ordered by the interim government that took power when President Habyarimana was assassinated on 6 April.

 
Divide and Rule
One cannot help but note that in the colonial project it was not uncommon for the imperial power to take advantage of, or even create, ethnic conflicts in pursuit of a divide and rule strategy. Britain did this with Jews and Arabs in Iraq, Tamils and Sinhalese in Ceylon, and in Kenya, Kikuyu and Luo.

 
Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy in Rwanda, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races. In 1933, the Belgians made the fateful decision to issue identity cards classifying every Rwandan as Tutsi or Hutu. In 1994, these cards helped Hutu to identify hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and kill them.

 
One can view the subsequent ethnic cleansing and genocide as horrendous extensions of the trend that began in the 1950s. As the decolonization of Africa was approaching, the Belgians changed their Rwanda policy. They had favoured the Tutsi but they reversed themselves and made the Hutu masters of Rwanda just before granting the country independence in 1962. Hutu activists began killing Tutsi, forcing more than 100,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, including Uganda. In 1962, the now pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum and elections in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi.

 
After independence, government-sponsored Hutu gangs carried out periodic massacres of Tutsi. Many Tutsi fled the country. Those who remained became second-class citizens and were denied full rights to education, employment, and travel. Whenever extremist or corrupt Hutu politicians needed a scapegoat, or wished to divert attention away from their own misdeeds, they attacked the Tutsi minority.
In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, but there was greater economic prosperity and violence against Tutsi diminished.

 
Aftermath of Genocide
When Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front took over the country, the new government had the daunting logistical problem of dealing with the vast number of people accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government carried out more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand arrests by 1997. By 2001, Rwanda’s prisons and communal jails were bursting at the seams with 120,000 alleged genocidaires. Rwanda’s courts were shut down for more than two years after the genocide. Amnesty International estimated that after the genocide there were only ten lawyers left in the country. The government calculated that it would take another 110 years to prosecute all the prisoners.

 

Philip Gourevitch wrote: “Nobody ever talked seriously about conducting tens of thousands of murder trials in Rwanda. Western legal experts liked to say that even the lawyer-crowded United States could not have handled Rwanda’s caseload fairly and expeditiously”.

 

Gacaca court system
To speed things up, Rwanda implemented the Gacaca court system, often translated as “justice on the grass”. This is a method of transitional justice designed to promote healing and a new start, with justice to some extent being placed in the hands of the victims.

 
International justice
Gacaca was Rwanda’s own approach to the aftermath of genocide. There was also international intervention. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set up in November 1994 by the UN Security Council in order to judge people responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international law in Rwanda or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between 1 January and 31 December 1994. The new Rwandan government came to view the tribunal as an assault on both its legitimacy and sovereignty.

 
There has been much animosity within Rwanda against the ICTR for its slowness, incompetence and alleged rampant corruption. The UN has a bad name in Rwanda because of its failure to intervene during the genocide.

 
What is Rwanda Like Today?
Rwanda is a small country with 8.8 million people packed into a land area about the size of Maryland. The population is young and predominantly rural, with a density among the highest in Africa. The climate is moderate, there are few jungles, and slave traders never penetrated into Rwandan territory. Rwanda is landlocked, and for much of its history it was isolated from the world; the first European did not arrive until 1892. It has neither great mineral wealth nor space for large-scale agriculture.

 
Many observers consider the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, to be the safest city in Africa today, and Rwanda one of the safest countries in the world. An international school opened for the children of foreign investors and entrepreneurs flocking to the country. Rwanda has low corruption compared with neighbouring countries. Many outsiders believe that no other poor country is embarked on such a promising campaign to improve itself, and are thrilled with what President Kagame is doing.

 
During the 2000s,  Rwanda’s economy, tourist numbers and Human Development Index improved rapidly. Between 2006 and 2011, the poverty rate reduced from 57% to 45%, and child mortality rates dropped from 180 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 111 per 1000 in 2009.

 
Human Rights
Not everyone sees Paul Kagame as a knight in shining armour. Not everyone buys the story of genocide. Barrie Collins, author of Obedience in Rwanda: A Critical Question, argues that Kagame rose to power because NGOs and the UN convinced the world that what was, in reality, a brutal civil conflict in the early 1990s, was a genocidal act on the part of the Rwandan Hutus, led by then president Juvénal Habyarimana, against Rwandan Tutsis. US Ambassador at Large for War Crime Issues, Stephen Rapp, declared that Rwanda’s leaders could be tried by the International Criminal Court for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring countries such as , the Congo and Central African Republic. Journalists criticising the government can be prosecuted for defamation. Political parties are prohibited from appealing to group identity, and public statements promoting “divisionism” are forbidden. The authorities have used these limitations to imprison critics.

 
Kagame argued that some Westerners define “human rights” too narrowly, defending rights of personal expression but underestimating the importance of stability and economic progress. Kagame’s defenders argue that too much democracy too soon will split Rwanda apart again. Texan agronomist Tim Schilling said: “It’s necessary to have a little repression here to keep the lid on” while Kagame’s economic development programme takes hold. Many have argued that poverty fed the violence. Kagame is addressing the problem of poverty.

 
Reconciliation
Whatever the concerns about human rights, there is no denying that Rwanda has transformed from a country devastated by genocide, to a peaceful nation striving for peace and prosperity. An important part of Rwanda’s ongoing recovery process has been the promotion of cultural industries that have clear social benefits. Rwanda’s government worked closely with international partners to establish a platform for promoting the creative industries. Rwanda is focusing on restoring relationships between people through mandatory community service, called umuganda, which means, “coming together in common purpose”. Umuganda contributes greatly to the process of developing a conciliatory accommodation between former antagonists. NAR (Never Again Rwanda) focuses on the role of young people in learning and reflecting on the genocide.

 
Kubwimana Venuste, Secretary General of the International Foundation for Transformation, wrote, “One needs to remember that there is something in the past to be forgiven. It is probably not possible to attain complete justice or reconciliation, but Rwandans created conditions that favour accountability so that they could move from reconciliation to conciliation.

 

Instead of moving back to a previous relationship, we built on the possibilities and forged new bonds. Each one of us, Hutu and Tutsi, has the moral duty and responsibility to ensure that never again shall there be the senseless shedding of blood in our country. Remembering can also act as deterrence.”

Human Rights Hypocrisy

This article was published in the Sunday Island on March 3, 2012

My friends in the UK are asking me what is happening to Sri Lanka as they read about the Commons debate and the shenanigans in Geneva. This is what I told them.

 

 
On February 22 2012, the House of Commons witnessed one of its periodic orgies of self-righteousness. The Pecksniffery was ecumenical – opposition MPs eagerly lined up to offer their unsolicited support for the UK government line. The issue that united so many diverse humbugs was the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government. The debate was about whether an independent, international commission of inquiry should be established to investigate allegations of war crimes perpetrated at the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in 2009.

 

 
The debate was initiated by Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, who claimed the Sri Lankan military had killed 40,000 civilians. James Wharton, Conservative member for Stockton South and Stephen Hammond, Conservative member for Wimbledon questioned Sharma’s figures. Sharma promised to answer their points later but failed to do so. Nick de Bois, Conservative member for Enfield north said: “given the recent publication of this report (of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) and, notwithstanding the understandable scepticism…should not more time be given to see whether those involved can genuinely and accountably deliver? If they do not, then we hold them to account.”

 

 
The Sri Lankan government made a decision in 2006 to push for a military victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) who had been fighting for nearly 30 years for a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The CFA (Cease Fire Agreement) brokered in 2002 by Norway never really held. When the Tigers assassinated the highly respected foreign minister Lakshman Kadigarmar, a Tamil, The government finally accepted that the LTTE were not sincere about peace.

 

 
In May 2009, the Tamil Tigers were comprehensively defeated. There have been no acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka since then, which is a great relief after the horrors suffered over decades. Leaving aside the behaviour of Sri Lankan bus drivers, Sri Lanka today is safer than the UK according to the MTRI (Maplecroft Terrorism Risk Index). All of the Tamil political parties who had fought for a separate state have now agreed to enter the democratic political process and many of them have joined the government in the reconciliation and reconstruction programme. Several prominent former Tigers now hold government office.

 

The charges laid against the Sri Lankan government by international human rights organisations, Ban-Ki Moon’s panel of advisors and Channel 4 News can be summarised as follows:

 

  • The Sri Lanka army and air force targeted hospitals and civilians in the NFZs (no-fire zones) leading to 40,000 civilian deaths.
  • Withholding of food and medical supplies from the north
  • Summary execution of prisoners
  • Rape of female combatants and civilians
  • Imprisoning of Tamil civilians in concentration camps.

 

Post war Tamil grievances are:

  • The government has failed to account for thousands of Tamils alleged to have disappeared or to have been abducted
  • The government was criticised for keeping refugees in camps. It is now being criticised for releasing them.
  • There is allegedly a deliberate policy to militarise the north and east
  • There is allegedly a plan to alter the demographics of the north by bringing in Sinhalese settlers
  • The government is reluctant to devolve power to the north and east.

 

One of the leading voices in the campaign against Sri Lanka is Siobhan McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden. She made a speech in Parliament saying she makes “no apology for concentrating on local issues”. The term “local issues” includes Sri Lanka because of the large number of Tamils in her constituency. On 16 June 2011, she made representations against “the deportation by the UK Border Agency of my constituent Mr. Jenach Gopinath back to Sri Lanka, whose Government are suspected of war crimes against Tamils, including the killing of 40,000 Tamil citizens. Later today, a plane chartered by the UKBA will deport 40 asylum-seeking Commonwealth citizens of Tamil ethnicity back to Sri Lanka”.

 

 
Siobhain McDonagh’s libertarianism and concern for human rights seem very selective. In spite of her campaign to stop her Tamil constituents from being deported, she had voted very strongly for a stricter asylum system i.e. more deportations. In spite of her campaign against Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism, she voted very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and very strongly for introducing ID cards.

 

 
McDonagh says: “Anyone who has committed a crime must pay the price; they need to be tried. Then and only then can reconciliation go forward.” This does not appear to apply to Britain and Blair and Brown. In spite of her accusations against the Sri Lankan government about war crimes, she voted very strongly for the Iraq invasion, very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

 

 
During a Commons debate on 21 October 2005, she said: “Yes, some of us feel bad about Iraq; some were even in the Government when that decision was made. I think that deposing a murderous tyrant such as Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy to that part of the world was the right thing to do. I know that some people disagree. However, we cannot start changing the law for every future conflict because we feel guilty about how we behaved in the last one. We cannot constrain our troops by telling them, ‘You fight now—we’ll decide whether you were right to fight later.’ We cannot tie their hands behind their backs. We have to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about the brave men and women in Mitcham and Morden and elsewhere”.

 

 
It depends who your murderous tyrant is and who is deposing him. It depends what you mean by democracy.

 

 
Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, said: “Any sensible person will realise the advantage our people got. Today there is no more killing, fighting. It is peaceful, people are free. Nobody can categorise [the crushing of the separatist rebel army which itself had committed atrocities] as a genocide.”

 

 
I would not celebrate the methods used by the UK to combat the IRA. There could be no rejoicing that Jean Charles Menezes died in the war against Islamic terrorism. Watching the President of the USA gloating over the shooting of the unarmed Osama bin Laden was not an elevating experience. One cannot be happy that Corporal Donald Payne served only a year’s imprisonment for beating to death an Iraqi hotel receptionist. I personally felt more relief than triumphalism at the death of LTTE leader Prabhakaran. I would have preferred to see him on trial.

 

 
The crimes alleged against Sri Lanka do not compare in magnitude to the war crimes perpetrated by the USA and UK over the decades and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA blatantly ignored the Geneva Conventions and abducted innocents to torture them in foreign countries. Rather than being punished, those responsible are still free to sign lucrative book deals for advocating and practising torture.

 

 
A strong critic of the Sri Lankan government, journalist Namini Wijedasa, wrote thus: “The call for a credible investigation would be infinitely more effective if the global human rights industry were to show some fairness in its campaign – something it consistently fails to do. If the argument is that the vanquished are dead, leaving only the victors to be hounded, this is not so. Representatives of the LTTE are still active abroad and could be prosecuted.”

 

 
The Banyan column in the Economist: “It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national-liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated.”

 
The government’s position on “zero civilian casualties” has modified over time to a claim that everything possible was done to avoid civilian casualties. However, by failing to come up with its own numbers the government has allowed western critics to take sole possession of the numbers game. The Census Department has just released, with very little publicity, statistics suggesting the death toll was less than 9,000.
Some commentators actually living in Sri Lanka are worried that international investigations could reignite the fires of violence in a population whose majority is already feeling insecure and under attack. Read any blog to which members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, Tamil or Sinhalese, contribute and it is depressing to see how these keyboard warriors get off on the auto-eroticism of violent fantasies.

 

 
Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, has written: “The truth about the deaths of civilians is vital to the process of reconciliation regardless of all other issues of accountability”. As in Northern Ireland, those left behind need the comfort of knowing what happened to their loved ones. Unfortunately, such a process can be hi-jacked by the conflict junkies who want to continue the hatred and violence.
Bad things happen in wars. Bad things have been happening for a long time in Sri Lanka. Terrible things were done by the LTTE. These things are hard to forget and forgive. The danger is that picking at the scabs would achieve exactly the opposite of reconciliation with dreadful consequences for the people of Sri Lanka.

 

David Miliband – War Criminal

This article was published in the Sunday Island on September 17, 2011

Edward Pearce wrote thus of David Miliband on his London Review of Books blog: “Miliband, as foreign secretary (not the job it was, but the sort of empty chair that still rates gilt legs), responded to the killing in Gaza a year ago, largely by artillery, of 1200 men, women and children, with another silence…In truth, the man is a beautifully modulated void. Moderately young, pleasant spoken, nicely null, he has worked in politics, from outer office to the FO, all his graceful, inconsiderable life.”

 

 
David Miliband is clearly one of yesterday’s men but does not appear to realise it. After peevishly slinking away following his defeat by his baby brother, he has taken to advising the USA, in the New York Times and at MIT (one of his alma maters).
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian mocked his interference in Sri Lanka at the end of the war against the LTTE: “a rudimentary study of the past three months of fighting would have told Miliband that a ceasefire would be pro-Tamil [Tiger], not just ‘pro-humanitarian’. He compounded his demand by damning the ‘indiscriminate’ shelling of Tamil civilians. How he could do this while supporting the bombing of Pashtun civilians along the Afghan border is a mystery….The conflict was not ended by this rhetorical intervention. No lives were saved, no British interest served.”

 

 
I first became aware of the Miliband band sitting under the imposing dome of Manchester Central Reference library, ploughing through Parliamentary Socialism, a seminal work by the dad of the Miliband boys, Ralph Miliband. In 1967, Ralph wrote in the Socialist Register that “the US has, over a period of years been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, the maiming of many more” and that the United States’s “catalogue of horrors” against the Vietnamese people was being done “in the name of an enormous lie”. He went on to say that the US Government “made no secret of the political and diplomatic importance it attached to the unwavering support of a British Labour Government”.

 

 
What would Miliband pére have made of Tony Blair’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan? What would he have made of little David condoning torture? Andy McSmith of The Independent noted that the elder figure had a “nobility and a drama” that was lacking in David and Ed’s “steady, pragmatic political careers”.

 

 
Gareth Pierce is a distinguished human rights lawyer who helped free Irish people wrongly convicted by the British government. She wrote: “Torture is the deliberate infliction of pain by a state on captive persons. It is prohibited and so is the use of its product. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment emphasises that there are no exceptional circumstances at all justifying its use” According to Pierce, the British, during the Mandate period in Palestine, in Kenya and Northern Ireland mastered the art of the “lesser” tradition of stress torture, forced standing, forced sitting and choking with water, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and suspension. “These tortures were clean and allowed for plausible denial not because they are less painful, but because they leave less of a visible mark.” Nonetheless, these tortures produce agonising muscle pain. The kidneys eventually shut down.

 

 
When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture by other countries’ intelligence services. Ironically, the UK’s involvement in the revolution in Libya has brought to light evidence of its dirty dealings with Quadaffi. Libyan Islamist Sami al-Saadi, also known as Abu Munthir, claims that in 2004 he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain and identified at least one organisation using UK telephone numbers.

 
Current foreign secretary William Hague’s response is that this happened under a Labour government and will be investigated by the Gibson Inquiry. According to the Guardian: “torture victims will have no right to put questions to those allegedly complicit in their abuse, even through lawyers. They will not be allowed to know what evidence is given by the security services on their torture and illegal rendition, while the final word on whether any of this will be made public rests not with the judge but the cabinet secretary. In a proper judicial inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson, a former intelligence services commissioner who had the task of monitoring MI5 and MI6, would be appearing not as a judge but as a potential witness.”

 

 
Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans to be tortured. Gareth Pierce wrote about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK, in the London Review of Books:

 

 
“British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.”
Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest.
As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.

 

 
As Philippe Sands writes, he cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary: “he could have announced that he wanted to establish a proper inquiry. He didn’t do that – and was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. That is not to say he was idle throughout this period; he seems to have put considerable energy into defending a number of claims in the English courts relating to torture against his department.”

 

 
A special investigation, published in the 29 August issue of the New Statesman, showed how British troops regularly hand over suspected insurgents to the Afghan authorities with little guarantee that they will not be tortured.

 

 
Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who has twice been cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.

 

 
Philippe Sands was Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer. He discussed a letter sent to him by Miliband: “Was it wise to defend cases in circumstances where he had seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA? Miliband fought and lost a series of cases that can and should have been resolved by other means. That raises a question of judgment. The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11. Responsibility for such complicity could lie at the feet of rogue intelligence officers, who may have been off on a frolic. Or it could lie with those ministers who signed off on the relevant guidance, assuming they did…Many would not be surprised if all roads led to Tony Blair (who described Guantánamo as ‘understandable’ in his memoir)…It is not unusual to hear the suggestion that Miliband’s actions may have been motivated in part by a desire to protect the reputation of his colleagues… His attitude to the Iraq war is equally unhappy, invoking the refrain that ‘if I knew then what I know now I would have voted against’. This recognises that the war was the wrong decision but falls well short of an expression of regret”.

 

 
Ralph Miliband died in 1994, before New Labour came to power. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery close to Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer (Marx and Spencer!) and is probably rotating in his grave. Hilary Wainwright wrote in Red Pepper that Ralph Miliband displayed: “a notable modesty, refusal of sectarianism and a combination of deep socialist conviction with constant interrogation of established views, including his own. Such characteristics meant, incidentally, that the only kind of leadership in which he was ever interested was teaching and encouraging others, in every possible form.”

 

 
She continued: “An ironic side effect of the distinctly tarnished campaign for the Labour throne (tarnished by the toxic record of New Labour – a group of privatisers, torturers and warmongers as far removed from the founders of the Labour Party as fire from water) is that Ralph’s thinking has once again been able to shine.”
Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”

 

 
The UN Convention requires that wherever the torture occurred and whatever the nationality of the torturer or victim, parties must prosecute or extradite perpetrators to a country that is willing to prosecute them.

 

 
Could a Sri Lankan lawyer build a case to prosecute David Miliband for condoning torture?

South Africa after Mandela

This article was published in The Sunday Island on July 7 2013 but did not appear on the paper’s website.

It is sad to see Nelson Mandela’s family squabbling in an unseemly fashion around his death bed and shuffling around the bodies of his offspring. Is this a symbol of today’s South Africa?

Rainbow Nation

It would take a heart of stone not to feel  emotional about Nelson Mandela. In my more sprightly days, I took part in anti-apartheid marches, singing along to Jerry Dammers’s song “Free Nelson Mandela”. Walking along the South Bank past the Festival Hall, I would nod reverently to the sculpture by Ian Walters which was commissioned by Ken Livingstone when he was leader of the Greater London Council. It was unveiled in 1985 by ANC president Oliver Tambo. Livingstone said: “The commissioning of this statue was symbolic of the wide support that existed amongst Londoners for the struggle against apartheid at a time when many in the media and the British government regarded Nelson Mandela as a terrorist”.

Like many, I experienced tears of joy when a beatifically smiling Mandela embraced Francois Pienaar, the Springbok rugby captain, with both men wearing a number six captain’s jersey. Whoever could have thought that the evil fascist apartheid regime could fade away without bloodshed and that Mandela and de Klerk could work together?

Mandela’s Legacy

Bob Dylan sang: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”. It is dangerous to venerate any human being. Less than perfect civilians  like to see in leaders, or even mere celebrities,  qualities they would like have themselves. Mandela and  Aung San Suu Kyi are mere humans who have to operate in the real world of politics. The Economist feels it can write about her, “the halo slips” among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority.

Mandela has himself tried to discourage people viewing him as a saint or a hero. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”FW de Klerk last year described Mandela as “brutal and unfair” as a political opponent: “I do not subscribe to the general hagiography surrounding Mandela.  He was by no means the avuncular and saint-like figure so widely depicted today”.

Ethics of Violence

Mandela was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – Spear of the Nation – the ANC’s armed wing,  which launched guerrilla attacks on the racist government, only disbanding in 1990. In his statement at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Those sound like noble words but Mandela did not die then and neither did the vile racists governing the country. MK’s main aim initially  was sabotage rather than murder. Mandela did not object to later attacks on burger bars and amusement arcades and refused to repudiate the armed struggle in 1985 when he was offered his freedom. As with  Provisional IRA, Hezbollah  and LTTE attacks, most victims were not politicians or military but  women and children. MK’s violence did not speed the dismantling of apartheid.

Mandela got a difficult job done with the tools at his disposal. His great achievement was that power was handed from the minority to the majority without a bloodbath. What kind of nation will he leave behind?

Truth and Reconciliation

Although apartheid had been defeated, its minions still dominated the police, army, and civil service. Transition had to be handled cautiously if civil war was to be avoided. The majority of whites refused to acknowledge the systemic nature of government brutality. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “It’s very difficult to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.”

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) captured public attention and provided a model for other countries. The  TRC mandate was to go beyond truth-finding to promote national unity and reconciliation, to facilitate the granting of amnesty to those who made full factual disclosure, to restore the human and civil dignity of victims by providing them an opportunity to tell their own stories.

Steve Biko’s family described the TRC as a “vehicle for political expediency”, which “robbed” them of their right to justice. John Pilger criticised the TRC for allowing the easy transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism, and for avoiding trying criminals, including murderers.

Inequality

The transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism means that today  there are eight million black South Africans with an adequate income, and at least 20 million poor: one in four does not get enough to eat. An (OECD)   report says: “Despite considerable success on many economic and social policy fronts over the past 19 years, 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). The first census done in a decade indicates that white South Africans still take home six times more pay than blacks. The country’s black middle class is now the same size as the white South African middle class, helped by the country’s employment laws which were drawn up to redress decades of inequality and unfairness by previous white regimes.

Crime

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.

A study commissioned by the government attributed this to a number of factors:

•    Normalisation of violence allows it  to be seen as a justifiable means of resolving conflict;
•    The criminal justice system  is seen as  inefficient and corrupt;
•    There is a thriving subculture of violence and criminality;
•    Poverty, unstable living arrangements, inconsistent and uncaring parenting, enhance the chances that children will become involved in criminality and violence;
•    High levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation.

Corruption

South Africa’s national budget is USD 167 billion. USD 103 million was lost to financial misconduct by workers in national and provincial governments in the fiscal year 2011-2012, up from USD 38.5 million in 2009-2010. 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.
Financial forensics expert Peter Allwright,  author of a report called The Real State of the Nation, said: “Corruption is rampant. And the dedicated units that have been created to fight financial misconduct are in essence fighting a losing battle”.  An insufficient investigative capacity in the public service means nearly two-thirds of cases take more than 90 days to investigate. “You can give 30 days’ notice and leave, and the public service office then often abandons the investigation,” Allwright said.

President Zuma himself 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. On 6 April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority decided to drop the charges against Zuma, citing political interference. Zuma still has allegations that he received 783 corrupt payments totalling Rand 4.1 million (nearly £300,000) hanging over his head and no-one has been prosecuted for that “political interference”. Mr Zuma’s popularity rating,  according to a recent poll , has dropped to an all-time low.

In his book, Zuma Exposed, investigative journalist Adriaan Basson forensically unpacks the charges against Zuma and “reveals a president whose first priority is to serve and protect his own, rather than the 50 million people he was elected to lead”.  Jackie Dugard, head of the Johannesburg-based Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, which lobbies for access to social and economic rights in SA, claims that Zuma’s salary itself places him ahead of most world leaders: “It reflects a huge divide between himself, workers and poor unemployed people”. Jacob Zuma is a polygamist who has been married six times and has (at least) 20 children. Activists complained about the amount the state paid to support Zuma’s wives, especially in the context of the country’s widespread poverty. In 2009/10 Zuma received a budget of £1.2m for “spousal support”. Politicians’ families are a rich source of embarrassment. With such a large family the risk is exponentially exaggerated. One son in particular seems a liability. Nkwazi Mhango commented: “Like any prince in a corrupt Africa, Duduzane is a source of wealth for any con man that’s able to fix and use him.”

Human Rights

The number of police-related deaths last year 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.

On 16 August 2012, at  Marikana platinum mine, owned by the British-based company Lonmin, police opened fire on striking miners killing 44 and wounding 78. This was the worst of a series of violent incidents in the mining industry. The massacre represented “probably the lowest moment in the short history of a democratic South Africa”, wrote Cyril Ramaphosa, a senior figure in the African National Congress and a former mining union leader. Most of the victims were shot in the back,  many victims were shot far from police lines, suggesting summary execution.

In April 2013, MPs passed widely condemned protection of state information bill, dubbed the “secrecy bill” by its opponents. Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance, argued that the proposed laws had been “tabled within the context of a revived securocrat state”, citing the secrecy surrounding the Marikana massacre and use of public funds on President Zuma’s homestead.

 

Long War, Long Book

 

Reflections on Long War, Cold Peace by Dayan Jayatilleka.

This review appeared in the Sunday Island on June 30 2013.

As the paper’s website does not allow comments, I am posting it again here.

Varied Career

As well as being a diplomat, Dr Jayatilleka has been an urban guerrilla, political activist, active politician and academic political scientist. His book on the political thought of Fidel Castro was published by Pluto Press in London. His latest book  brings much inside knowledge to  a detailed narrative of Sri Lanka’s war and links it to issues of global significance.

Realism – Justification of War

Other reviewers  have drawn out a particular emphasis on the ethics of violence and the concept of a just war. Jayatilleka  argues that violence is common in the real world and it is  often necessary for the state to sanction  violence to protect itself and its people. This does not justify ‘‘terrorism targeting unarmed, non-combatant civilians; torture and arbitrary execution of prisoners; executions within the organization; and lethal violence against political prisoners’’.

When he was Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva he was able to fend off international criticism of the way Sri Lanka had won its war. In the book he rehearses the argument he made in Geneva.

“Sri Lanka was fighting a war within its internationally recognised and uncontested borders. Sri Lanka was not founded on occupation, dispossession and disenfranchisement of the indigenous. Both major Sri Lankan communities had been present on the soil for millennia. Sri Lanka had not economically embargoed the Tamil people and had not merely sent food but run schools, hospitals and paid the salaries of public servants in separatist terrorist occupied areas.”

Hearts and Minds- Myths about Insurgency.

Many repeated the old mantra that a guerrilla insurgency arising out of genuine grievances and nationalist aspirations could not be defeated by military action. This view was reinforced by vague memories of Michael Collins in Ireland and Collins’s ‘pupil’ General Giap in Vietnam.

General Westmoreland did not share this view – “Grab ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow”. His notable lack of success has somewhat discredited the military option.  The Vietnam War was not ended by negotiation. It was ended by the USA being defeated militarily by the Viet Cong. The LTTE had gone beyond guerrilla warfare and possessed an effective navy and a rudimentary air force. It was no longer relying on small-scale attacks and suicide bombers but (and this is one of the factors contributing to its defeat) was fighting large-scale conventional battles.

Why Not Negotiate a Peaceful Settlement?

Jayatilleka supports my own Irishman’s view that, despite well-intentioned visits to Sri Lanka by John Hume and Martin McGuinness, there was no useful parallel to be drawn between Northern Ireland and the fight for Tamil Eelam.  The Provisional IRA had Sinn Fein as a parliamentary proxy but successful candidates did not take up their seats at Westminster.  TNA MPs did take their seats and served as a parliamentary proxy for the LTTE. They  did not  emulate Sinn Fein and negotiate with the Sri Lankan government. Dr Jayatilleka notes that in the 2004 election, EU observers were highly critical that  TNA members had  the protection of the LTTE under the slogan that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people

The LTTE left no room for negotiation. “Tamil Eelam was an axiom, thus non-negotiable. His [Prabhakaran’s] commitment was absolute, fundamental. No alternatives were admitted as possibilities. Philosophical and psychological closure had been effected from the outset. The mindset was hermetically sealed…Only the modalities of secession were up for genuine discussion. The talks , the negotiations, the third party mediation, the path of peace that Prabhakaran mentioned … was just the small change- to buy time, to neutralise opinion, to divide and deceive the enemy, to secure the withdrawal of troops…”

Consequences of concessions

When the CFA was signed on February 22 2002, there were no pictures of a shared signing ceremony. “Mr Prabhakaran treated himself to a separate table, a separate office, a separate signing ceremony, and as conspicuous wall decor, a separate map showing his projected separate state on it in a shade of colour separate from that of the shrunken Sri Lanka depicted there…”

The CFA was lopsided because it disarmed those Tamil groups that accepted the unitary state but did not even entertain the issue of phased, internationally supervised demilitarisation of the Tigers. Unlike Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka was not to have its General de Chastelaine.

Under the CFA, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe conferred legitimacy on the LTTE, as did President Kumaratunga, and allowed them to operate a de facto state in the aftermath of the tsunami. The Tigers continued to kill SLA soldiers after an accord was signed but were allowed a preponderance in the regional committee set up to deal with the tsunami. “No state could afford not to monopolise the means of significant armed violence, and therefore the Tigers had to be disarmed as well as rendered bereft of the capacity to re-arm.”

Why Not Allow Secession?

Jayatilleka argues that allowing the LTTE a separate state was never an option. “Colombo could not trade Tamil Eelam, i.e. the North and East, for peace, because, even if such a Faustian bargain were struck, peace would not be the result. The Sri Lankan state would not have been able to withdraw into its southern cocoon and lived in tranquil prosperity.”

He continues: “An independent state of Tamil Eelam could legitimately secure any kind of weaponry it wished to and build up one of the strongest fighting forces in the region, thus upsetting the entire power balance and strategic environment. The geo-strategic salience of Trincomalee, which would have fallen within Eelam, would have endowed a Tamil Sparta with a military and economic value of extra-regional significance, again a seriously destabilising prospect”.

Sri Lanka’s Strengths

Dr Jayatilleka writes that Sri Lanka was not powerful or influential, but it had strengths: “One of these was the resiliency of its multiparty democracy under conditions of extreme duress, its eschewal of military rule and totalitarianism of the Right or Left. Another was the maintenance of comparatively decent labour standards and social indicators. Yet another was the synergy of civil society and state that made its recovery from the tsunami more impressive than those in Indonesia (Aceh) or post-Katrina Louisiana (according to Joel Schumacher of Refugee International).”

Devolution

The story goes that, although Jayatilleka was a success in Geneva, he was rewarded with removal because he was too vocal in his support for the 13th amendment and devolution. He still maintains that it is necessary to have a Sri Lanka “which remains unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East”.  This continues to draw fire from some critics who choose to regard him as a puppet of India. In this book, he does not hide India’s complicity in the growth of the LTTE but recognises India’s difficulty in coping with Tamil Nadu.

Human Rights

Jayatilleka argues: “Human rights are not a Western invention or booby-trap, to be decried and shunned like the devil. Though there is a constant attempt to use human rights as an instrument to undermine national sovereignty, the answer is not to shun human rights or to pretend that these are intrinsically inscribed in our culture and therefore automatically observed, but to protect them ourselves and to maintain verifiably high standards of human rights observance nationally”.

The Future

Towards the end of the book, Jayatilleka declares that Sri Lanka’s future is “best defended by a Sri Lankan state which represents all its peoples, acts as neutral umpire guaranteeing adequate space for all ethnicities on the island. Sovereignty is secured by a Sri Lankan identity which accommodates all the country’s communities, paving the way for a broadly shared sense of a multiethnic yet single Sri Lankan nationhood.”

Conclusion

Other reviewers have taken issue with the author’s gratuitous tagging on of profundities from Marxist writers. I did not find the Marxism too much of a distraction. Indeed, the author comes across as protean and pragmatic. His brand of realism stresses the world as it is rather than the world as it ought to be.

In this book Jayatilleka claims that his position has been consistent, even though to an outsider it looks as though he has  changed direction a number of times. After being associated with revolutionary politics, the SLMP, the NEPC, the Premadasa government, he served with distinction as ambassador for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is now writing articles critical of aspects of the Rajapaksa government and seeing virtues in Premadasa’s son. It will be interesting to see where the author goes from here. Quo Vadis, Dr Jayatilleka?

 

Reconciliation in Canada

And yet where in your history books is the tale

Of the genocide basic to this country’s birth?
–Buffy St. Marie

Readers of this series may be surprised to learn that Canada has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canada has the image of a civilised beacon for human rights. In Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index Canada comes in at a saintly number nine compared to UK’s 17, USA’s 19 and Sri Lanka’s 79. Canada is never shy of berating Sri Lanka on human rights.

Why does Canada need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Actually, the TRC is focused on a specific issue rather than on human rights in general. In June 2008, the Canadian government undertook an effort to understand the history, abuses and intergenerational impact of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system that operated in Canada for over 100 years.

The IRS system consisted of a nation-wide network of church- and state-run schools focused on separating  indigenous (First Nation, Inuit, and Métis)  children from their cultural heritage. From 1920 into the 1960s, attendance was mandatory for aboriginal children aged 7 to 15. Priests and Indian Agents forcibly removed many children from their families and sent them to the schools. It is estimated that more than 150,000 children went through these schools.

Children were severely punished if they used their native language. Food and medical services were inadequate. Overcrowding contributed to the spread of disease. The mortality rate for residential school students was 40%. Children were often subjected to severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

One theory suggested that the name of Canada came from the Spanish cá nada,  meaning there is nothing there. There may have been no gold or silver but there were people. Scientists believe  that bones and artefacts prove  First Nations people have lived in what is now Canada for more than  12,000 years.

Canadian prosperity has long been tied to the existence of an “extractive frontier” where population densities were very low, and natural resources were abundant, untapped and essentially free. Inexpensive access to new lands depended upon a policy of keeping Aboriginal peoples separate and unequal, with neither the rights nor the power to demand full value for their labour and materials – or the land which was stolen from them.

 

According to Reverend Kevin Daniel Annett, there was a “Canadian Holocaust” and mainstream Christian churches were and are complicit in it. Annett claims  that the total number of aboriginals killed in the Canadian genocide by the British Crown is approximately 25 million people. Annett claims that over 50,000 aboriginal children are still missing and unaccounted for from the residential schools operated by the Catholic and other churches on behalf of the British Crown. Many believe that Annett is a charlatan or a madman. (He does bear a remarkable resemblance to mad poet Robert Lowell!).

How do the descendents of those people who occupied Canada 12,000 years ago fare today? The effects of the forced introduction of European culture and values, the dispossession of Aboriginal lands, and the imposition of alien modes of governance are still felt today. Underlying the problems of poverty, poor health and substance abuse is a loss of identity and helplessness from having their values oppressed and their rights ignored.

As of the 2006 census, there were 1,172,790 Aboriginal people in Canada, or 3.8% of the national population. In 1995, 55.6% of Aboriginal people living in Canadian cities were poor. 52.1% of all Aboriginal children were poor in 2003. First Nations people experienced a disproportionate burden of many infectious diseases. Similarly, the tuberculosis rate among First Nations people remained eight to ten times that seen in the Canadian population as a whole. Only 56.9% of homes were considered adequate in 1999­.

In 2012 three UN expert committees rated Canada’s  performance on meeting rights commitments — and found it wanting. An Amnesty International report found “a range” of “ongoing and serious human rights challenges,” especially for indigenous peoples. There was a disproportionate number of missing or murdered indigenous women on Vancouver’s downtown East Side from 1997-2002, and their cases did not receive equal treatment by police. AI says that UN recommendations have too often been ignored, and the implementation process is so “cloaked in secrecy” that most Canadians have no idea whether the government plans to act on them. Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch said that “the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada is a national problem and it demands a national enquiry.”

An interviewer who met Annett described his “unexpected demeanour and the intelligent clarity of his words”.  She  asked him what he wanted. “A war crimes trial. Returning the children’s remains, first of all, for a proper burial”.

Rather similar to what Canada wants from Sri Lanka. Canada has had longer to think about it.

Reconciliation in Burma

What’s in a name?

 
I generally like to call this South East Asian nation “Burma” rather than “Myanmar”. In doing so, I am in line with the US State Department: “Although the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) changed the name of the country to ‘Myanmar,’ the democratically elected but not convened Parliament of 1990 does not recognize the name change, and the democratic opposition maintains use of the name ‘Burma.’ Due to consistent, unyielding support for the democratically elected leaders, the U.S. Government likewise uses ‘Burma’.”

 
Burmese lessons for Sri Lanka?

 
That “State Peace and Development Council “ is the name the dictatorship gives itself. They have been giving a show recently of relaxing their grip somewhat. On July 30,  US Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats told the Washington International Trade Association: “My baseline scenario is they will continue to move in the direction of reform”.

 

 

President Thein Sein

The “new” government, led by President Thein Sein, a former military general, has started overhauling the country’s economy, easing media censorship, legalizing trade unions and protests and freeing political prisoners. The most prominent of those, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, has been allowed to travel outside the country.

I have seen a  few bizarre  comments in the Sri Lankan media suggesting that the Sri Lankan should look to Burma for lessons on how to conduct itself. These commentators seem determined  to think the worst of Sri Lanka if they think the nation consistently  placed at number 190 in the human rights league of shame could be an exemplar to anyone.

 
“There has been one admirable quality among many Burmese leaders in the past and present, unlike in Sri Lanka. They were modest enough to admit failures. Ne Win himself declared that ‘Burmese socialism’ was a failure and stepped down in 1988. That led to continuous social upheavals asking for democracy.”

 

 

General Ne Win

So says Laksiri Fernando,  author of Human Rights, Politics and States: Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka writing in the Asian Tribune. Fernando can even see the bright side of  the ethnic conflicts in Burma: “There are thousands and thousands of internally displaced people in the country due to the ethnic conflict. No one calls the ethnic conflict a myth like in Sri Lanka!” Another great thing was, according to Fernando, that “no insurgency evolved into ruthless terrorism like in Sri Lanka”.

 

 

Colonial background

 
British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese Wars through the creation of Burma as a province of  British India. The First Anglo-Burmese War arose from friction between Arakan in western Burma and British-held Chittagong to the north. The British navy took Rangoon without a fight in 1824 but the war itself had cost 15,000 European and Indian troops and cost the equivalent of 48 billion US dollars of today. This caused a severe economic crisis for British India. In 1852, the Second Anglo-Burmese War was provoked by the British who wanted the teak forests in Lower Burma as well as a port between Calcutta and Singapore.

 

The Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 was because of the British desire to get their hands on the resources of the north. The British government justified their actions by claiming that the last independent king of Myanmar, Thibaw, was a tyrant and that he was conspiring to give France more influence in the country. After 25 years of peace fighting started again and lasted until the British occupied the whole of Lower Burma.

 

 

King Thibaw

The Third Anglo-Burmese War lasted less than two weeks during November 1885. British troops entered Mandalay on 28 November 1885 and Burma was incorporated into the British empire on 1 January 1886. The new colony of Upper Burma was attached to the Burma Province on 26 February 1886. Rangoon, having been the capital of British Lower Burma, became the capital of the province.

 
The British tied  Burmese economy to  global market forces and forced Burma to  become a part of the colonial export economy. Suddenly a large amount of Burmese resources were being exported for Britain’s benefit, thereby extracring the resources needed by the Burmese to continue living their lives as they had before colonisation. Vast tracts of land were converted  for cultivation of rice for export. Burmese farmers were forced to borrow money from Indian moneylenders at high interest rates prepare the new land for cultivation. This often led to the eviction of indigenous farmers and most jobs went to indentured Indian labourers.

 
An account by a British official describing the conditions of the Burmese people’s livelihoods in 1941 describes the Burmese hardships as they must quickly adapt to foreign trade:

 
“The peasant had grown factually poorer and unemployment had increased…. The collapse of the Burmese social system led to a decay of the social conscience which, in the circumstances of poverty and unemployment caused a great increase in crime.”

 
Burmese were excluded from the civil service and the military which were staffed by Indians, Anglo-Burmese and minority groups such as the Karens. The Burmese resented both the British and the Indian migrants, and staged guerrilla warfare, often led by former Burmese army officers, against the British army of occupation.

 
The British rulers imposed a separation of church and state and exiled King Thibaw. This was a way of imposing direct control. The monarchy had supported the sangha and the Buddhist monks were dependent on the monarchy and explained the monarchy to the public. The imperial power introduced a secular education system and encouraged Christian missionaries to found schools Buddhism and traditional Burmese culture were discouraged as part of a plan to deprive the  Burmese people of a cultural unity separate from the British.

 

 

Resistance continued in northern Burma until 1890, with the British systematically destroying villages. Grass-roots control was exercised by burning villages and uprooting established families regarded as disloyal. Dissent was suppressed by  mass executions.

 
Independence

 
An independence movement emerged in the early 20th century, initially led by monks and students. A nationalist movement began to take shape in the form of Young Men’s Buddhist Associations (YMBA). Between 1900 and 1911 the “Irish Buddhist” U Dhammaloka  (a hobo variously known as Laurence Carroll, Laurence O’Rourke and William Colvin or “Captain Daylight”, who was probably born in Dublin in 1850) publicly challenged Christianity and imperial power, leading to two trials for sedition.

 

 

U Dhammaloka

By the 1930s a new radical movement known as the Thakin was formed. Its leading figures included Aung San, U Nu and Ne Win. They began to look to neighbouring powers to help break the yoke of British rule. One student, Ko Aung Kyaw, was beaten to death by British colonial police in the third Rangoon University student boycott in December 1938. Students had been supporting striking oil workers. In Mandalay,  police shot into a crowd of protesters led by Buddhist monks, killing 17 people.

 

 

Aung San

Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, sought support for the Burmese independence struggle from Japan. Japan invaded Burma in 1942 but never succeeded in fully conquering the whole country. On 1 August 1943, the Japanese declared Burma to be an independent nation. Aung San was appointed War Minister. He became disillusioned with the Japanese. One of his followers told General Slim:  ‘If the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones!’ When the British defeated the Japanese Aung San was offered the rank of Deputy Inspector General of the Burma Army, but he declined and became the civilian political leader and the military leader of the People’s Volunteer Organisation (PVO).

 

He was assassinated on 19 July 1947 Former prime minister U Saw was tried and hanged. A number of middle-ranking British army officers were also were tried and imprisoned. There were rumours of higher-level British involvement, and/or involvement by Ne Win Aung San’s long-term rival.

 

U Saw with Lord Halifax

Dictatorship

For most of its existence as an independent nation, Burma has been a military dictatorship. There were sporadic protests against military rule during the Ne Win years and these were almost always violently suppressed. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant, Burmese UN General Secretary. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.

 

 

General   Saw Maung

In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression led to  pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators.  General   Saw Maung staged a coup and established SLORC – the State Law and Order Restoration council. In May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years and the NLD – National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 80% of the seats. SLORC  continued to rule until 1997, and then ruled as the SPDC until March 2011.

 
Ethnic conflict

 
Pace Mr Fernando,  analyst Martin Smith believes “Burma has been the scene of some of the most-sustained and diverse ethnic insurgencies in the contemporary world… conflict resolution––with integrated support from the international community––remains a primary need if Burma and its peoples are to achieve peace, democracy, and a stable nation-state.” There are 135 officially recognised ethnic groups in Burma. Martin Smith writes: “In the deep mountains and forests of the borderland periphery, over 20 armed opposition groups controlled, under their own administrations, vast swathes of territory and continued to reflect an often changing alignment of different political or nationality causes.”

 
The Thailand Burma Border Consortium’s (TBBC) annual report on conditions in South East  Burma “found that more people had been forcibly displaced from their homes during the past year than any other since data was first collected in 2002.” Jack Dunford, the TBBC’s Executive Director, said: “A determined and sustained effort to resolve ethnic conflict in Burma is essential to avoid another generation of violence and abuse.” In recent years the TBBC’s and its partner agencies have documented “the destruction, forced relocation or abandonment of more than 3,700 civilian settlements in South East Burma since 1996.” The TBBC statement estimated that during the past year at least 112,000 people were forced to abandon their homes. “While some fled into Thailand as part of an ongoing flow of new refugee arrivals and others returned to former villages or resettled elsewhere in Burma, over 450,000 people currently remain internally displaced in the south eastern region.”

 

Mr Dunford said that while democratic reforms by the “new” government are both vital and welcomed but conflict has increased in ethnic areas.

 
Muslims

 
Even though some wish to be optimistic about Burma, oppression of minorities hits the headlines even today. Burma has a  substantial Muslim population, known as  Rohingyas, of 800,000. Rohingyas have been subjected to persecution for decades. According to Amnesty International, 200,000 of them fled to Bangladesh in 1978 to escape a brutal military operation. Another  250,000 went into exile in 1991-92. The refugees complained of rape, persecution and forced labour by the military. Another 100,000 fled to Thailand, but were forced to leave for camps along the border. Although the Rohingyas have lived in Burma since the eight century they are regarded as illegal immigrants with no rights. A 56-page report released Wednesday by Human rights Watch  group called for strong international reaction to “atrocities” committed during last month’s bloody unrest between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas, which left 78 people dead and about 100,000 homeless.

 
Recently a foreign journalist asked Aung Sang Suu Kyi whether she regarded Rohingyas as citizens of Burma. “I do not know. We have to be very clear about what the laws of citizenship are and who are entitled to them.” This can be translated as “I won’t get any votes by defending a minority group”.

 
US involvement

 

The US had  accepted Burma as one of the original beneficiaries of its Generalized System of Preference (GSP) program in 1976. It also granted Burma Most Favored Nation (MFN, now referred to as Normal Trade Relations, or NTR) status, and supported the provision of developmental assistance by international financial institutions.

 

There were also close military to military relations (including a major International Military Education and Training [IMET] programme) until 1988. The implementing of sanctions on Burma did not begin until after the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) brutally suppressed a peaceful, popular protest that has become known as the 8888 Uprising. Starting in the fall of 1987, popular protests against the military government sprang up throughout Burma, reaching a peak in August 1988.

 

Washington recently lifted some  financial and investment sanctions in response to nascent democratic reforms but has retained the ban on imports — a restriction that a US Senate committee this month said should be extended by three years.

 

Garment industry

 
Prior to the passage of Customs and Trade Act of 1990, the Bush pére Administration had suspended Burma’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program on April 13, 1989. President Bush also designated Burma as a drug-producing and/or drug-trafficking country under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 on February 28, 1990, which required the United States to oppose loans to Burma by international financial institutions.

 

Today, optimists on Burma have criticised sanctions as stifling key job-creating areas of the economy such as the garment industry rather than hurting the interests of the corrupt elite it targets. The
International Crisis Group(ICG)  think-tank is well-known to Sri Lankans. Although it has called for sanctions on Sri Lanka it opposes them on the far worse regime in Burma. It says Myanmar’s reform process had challenged “the dominance” of crony businessmen, who flourished under the disbanded junta, and nudged the economy towards greater openness at the expense of some key hardliners.

 

ICG warned that renewing the US import embargo, due to lapse this year, “could have a serious impact on Myanmar’s economic recovery”. ICG believes the  ban is skewing the nation’s economy towards “potentially problematic” extractive industries at the expense of sectors that employ large numbers of ordinary people.

 

Resources

 
Burma is cursed by being a resource-rich country. Burma’s GDP stands at $42.953 billion and grows at an average rate of  only 2.9% ICG believes that current sanctions will skew the economy towards extractive industries such as oil, gas and gem mining which have long been linked with corruption and also raise fears over environmental damage.

 

Human rights

 
The UN and several other organizations have reported consistent and systematic  human rights violations in Burma including child labour and human trafficking. After Hurricane Nargis devastated the country international NGOs feared that the reconstruction effort would depend on forced labour – be it from children or migrant adult workers. The Tatmadaw  routinely forces civilians to work on state infrastructure projects, such as the building of roads, bridges, military bases or even towns.

 

When friends have enthused about the joys of Burma as a tourist destination I have responded that I could  not be comfortable in a hotel that had been built by slaves. A Boycott Burma campaign stated : “As a tourist to Burma you will travel on roads and railroads, see temples and palaces and stay in hotels built or rebuilt since 1988, which will definitely contain the dead bodies of the slave labourers who made them for you… I never met anyone going to Burma since 1988 to help the people there. Only selfish, ignorant people on holiday who want to see for themselves. See what? Burmese used as human landmine detectors? Burmese slave labour camps? Burmese people dead in piles in the no man’s land? If you go to Burma, you pay to murder the people you visit.”
The army has  used  villagers as human minesweepers to clear the way for the safe passage of soldiers. Convicts are used as forced labour. It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of prisoners sentenced to “prison with hard labour” die as a consequence of the conditions of their detention. It has been reported that at least 91 labour camps operate in areas across the country .

 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that there may be more than 70,000 child soldiers in the SPDC Army. The children are often kidnapped without their parents’ knowledge while on their way home from school. They are then brutalised and physically abused during their induction and basic training before being shipped off to fight in the country’s ethnic states. “Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labour,” said HRW. “Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited or imprisoned.”

 


Back in 2009, The Independent reported that Burmese soldiers, who provide security for the Yadana oil pipeline on behalf of the French company, Total, are forcing thousands of people to work portering, carrying wood and repairing roads in the pipeline area. They have also been forced to build police stations and barracks.
Reconciliation

 

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? With poverty, inequality and racism,  there will always be conflict.
In a media statement the TBBC said: “While government figures estimate that a quarter of the nation live in poverty, the survey found that almost two thirds of households in rural areas of the South East are unable to meet their basic needs.” The TBBC statement said poverty severe in the “conflict-affected areas of northern Kayin State and eastern Bago Region.”

 

Jack Dunford said: “As prospects for the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons are directly linked to national reconciliation, the urgency of finding a solution to conflict in Burma has never been greater.”

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