Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: United Nations

Padma Rao’s Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday February 29 2016.

 

 

Colman's Column3

 

Rao cover

 

 

One particular passage in Padma Rao’s excellent book, Sri Lanka-The New Country, brought tears to these rheumy old eyes. It concerns her Sinhalese driver Udayanga and a Tamil waiter whom she calls Murugan. She first recounts Udayanga’s story. “Throughout the trip, he had displayed none of the rough chauvinism that many commentators outside Sri Lanka insist that the Sinhalese wear on their sleeve vis-à-vis their fellow Tamil citizens”. He was a Buddhist from Balangoda. From an early age he had wanted to join the army and he tried to enlist after the LTTE assassinated President Premadasa. Despite his parents’ best efforts to obstruct him, he was eventually accepted and after some hard training joined the Special Force. During the war he met many LTTE child soldiers. He said that Prabhakaran had no humanity. “Instead of giving them a pencil he would give them a gun”.

 

Murugan was a tall, lanky young man working at a hotel in Mannar. He shyly asked this Indian author “Is Prabhakaran in India?” Murugan had been an LTTE cadre, forced by guns held to his parents’ heads to enlist and he was afraid that the LTTE leader would return. She told him to get on with his life now that there was peace.

 

 

She saw Udayanga and Murugan playing carom in the courtyard with “a lot of boyish guffawing”. When the time came to leave the hotel, Udayanga walked towards Murugan and they engaged in stiff handshake, then some backslaps, finally a quick rough hug. “This is the future, these children of Sri Lanka. These boys, this embrace. This is Sri Lanka, the new country.”

 

At the beginning of the book she gives a brief run-through on Sri Lankan history and mentions the island’s geo-strategic relevance at the crossroad of shipping lanes and writes that it “expectedly remains a focal point not only for the United Nations, international NGOs and aid agencies but also the international media. She notes that members of the Tamil diaspora are still trying to fund Tamil separatism “despite the fact that millions of fatigued Sri Lankan Tamils who did not flee, like the diaspora itself, but stayed back and bore the brunt of the terrible war, want no more talk of separatism”. She notes that foreign media may not always help these fatigued people to achieve their modest desires. “What news reporters see and experience on the ground often differs from what editors at the headquarters of their publications expect or want them to produce”.

 

She contrasts the bleakness of the north when she visited during the cease fire of 2002 with the north as it is today. “From Vavuniya onwards we had not seen a single bus, truck or even a cycle anywhere. We saw no children playing, no women hanging out washing, no men smoking under a tree. Up to here we had seen and heard nothing, except cicadas and the sound of our own car”. At Killinochchi “there was no electricity. There were a few people selling a few utility items like candles, matchboxes and solitary, stray vegetables on small plastic sheets on what must have once been a pavement”.

 

On a previous visit she had encountered a group of two dozen people squatting in a circle, tears streaming down their faces. Each person was holding a picture of a boy or a girl. They had heard that foreigners were in the Wanni and wanted to tell about their missing children. When warned that the LTTE might punish them for what they were doing, one man replied “what have we got to live for anyway?” That man later contacted the author to say the LTTE had told him that his son had been killed in fighting near Elephant Pass. He was the proud owner of a certificate of martyrdom signed by Prabhakaran.

 

When she visits Jaffna just before the Northern Provincial Council elections, the author wants to go to villages to talk to “ordinary” people. She is able to do this as the aide accompanying her makes himself scarce. Everyone she talks to praises the Army. One man said: “The LTTE was only involved in violence, absolutely nothing else. Our life in the Wanni was miserable. They kept taking our children away. There was no food, no power, absolutely nothing in our lives except blood. Blood, blood…”

 

Ms Rao notices vast improvement in the Eastern province as well as in the north. “Critics often say that building roads and setting up shops is not development. Try looking at it from the point of view of those who have lived in a place like Batticaloa for thirty years”. She saw many groves of coconut trees. Gone were the charred and barren fields of decades and most of the tents housing fleeing populations. The last of the landmines were being cleared. Mangroves are being restored to help local fishermen.

 

Former Tiger propaganda chief Daya Master told the author, “How many countries in the world would have emerged from such a long war and rebuilt within four years even half of what has been achieved here?” The author reminded him of the strictures from the international community. “Who is this international community, madam? … What is their purpose and role in a small country so far away? They are going over the top and making far too much noise. Why don’t they restrict themselves to doing some developmental work here… and leave our political future to us and our elected governments?”

 

“Why is it that you people focus only and entirely on the Sri Lankan army, and not on the brutality of the LTTE? I know it intimately. I have witnessed it for decades and indeed was forced to be part of it. Please tell them in your reports to forget the past and concentrate on the future. For us in this country that is the bottom line!”

 

The author comments: “The condemnation of violations by the LTTE is there – in the fine print – in all recent UN resolutions against Colombo. But it is never the same fanfare of publicity and vigour as is the key demand for condemning Rajapaksa and insisting on an international inquiry.”

 

Although Ms Rao is a foreigner, there is nothing of the dilettante parachute journalist about her. She has been visiting and writing about Sri Lanka for two and half decades. For fourteen years, she was the South Asia bureau chief of the Hamburg-based Der Spiegel. She has interviewed everybody who is anybody – Mahinda Rajapaksa (she was the first foreign journalist interview him when he was first sworn in as president and the first print reporter to interview him after the end of the war), Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga (who typically kept her waiting for 14 hours), Prabhakaran (who also kept her waiting), Karuna, Douglas Devananda, CV Wigneswaran, MA Sumanthiran, R Sampanthan, GL Peiris, Erik Solheim, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, General Sarath Fonseka, Major General Udaya Perera (“write what you like. But have a dosa.”), Major General Hathurasinghe,Lakshman Kadirgamar (“an inspiration and one of the few people who left me tongue-tied as a reporter”), Daya Master, Jehan Perera, KP, Dilhan Fernando, Hiran Cooray, junior members of all branches of the state’s armed forces, former male and female LTTE cadres, as well as numerous ordinary citizens of all ethnicities. She travelled far and wide island-wide and visited peripheral islands.

 

 

Throughout the book she reminds us that she is paying for travel and accommodation herself. She also stresses that she encountered no interference from the government or the army.

Despite her broad and deep knowledge of Sri Lanka, Padma Rao approaches her task with humility. “This book is neither meant as unsolicited advice, nor as admonishment, nor critique of either Tamil or Sinhalese Sri Lankans”. She humbly apologises in advance for any errors.

 

Sri Lanka: The New Country by Padma Rao Sundarji was first published on February 15 2015 by Harper-Collins, India. It is now available on Kindle.

The Numbers Game and Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking and Ethics

I have long gained deep intellectual satisfaction from the application of critical thinking. Critical thinking has been defined as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”[i]

A number of writers have analysed the obstacles to successful critical thinking. I have been assisted by reading the works of philosophers such as Nigel Warburton, Stephen Law, Jamie Whyte, AC Grayling, Raymond Williams, Alec Fisher and Anthony Weston. These writers describe the strategies often used to undermine critical thinking. I have also taken an interest in writings on ethics and have been guided by Bernard Williams, Peter Singer, Henry Sidgwick, Simon Blackburn, Sissela Bok and the Lord Buddha. I try to lead an ethical life.

Enemies of Reason

With this background, I would have expected to be able to engage in calm and rational discussion on most topics. Sadly, this has not always happened. I try to avoid any discussion of the policies and actions of the Israeli government because I know that my Zionist friends will eventually call me an anti-Semite. Similarly, it seems to be impossible to discuss Sri Lankan politics without encountering bizarrely false assumptions about my character, beliefs, allegiances and associations. I have been called a government stooge, a Sinhala-Buddhist Chauvinist (despite my Irish Catholic upbringing) and a Tiger sympathiser sent by sinister foreign agencies to undermine the state. Discussions about animal welfare can also be very fraught as there are many warring factions among animal lovers.

Kenan Malik

My taste for critical thinking with an ethical and humanist background led me to the writings of Kenan Malik, an Indian-born writer, lecturer and broadcaster who was brought up in Manchester. He studied neurobiology (at the University of Sussex) and history and philosophy of science (at Imperial College, London). He has lectured at a number of universities in Britain, Europe, Australia and the USA. He writes: “My main areas of academic interest are the history of ideas, the history and philosophy of science, the history and philosophy of religion, the philosophy of mind, theories of human nature, moral and political philosophy,  and the history and sociology of race and immigration. “

Malik has long campaigned for equal rights, freedom of expression, and a secular society. He has defended rationalism and humanism in the face of what he has called “a growing culture of irrationalism, mysticism and misanthropy”. Like me he campaigned for the Anti-Nazi League. He is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a trustee of the free-speech magazine Index on Censorship.

Unlike me, (although I was a subscriber to the paper Socialist Worker and accompanied them on many a protest march) in the 1980s, he was associated with a number of Marxist organisations, including the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).  Nick Cohen, the Observer columnist and author of What’s Left: How the Left Lost Its Way (2007), has called RCP “a vicious movement” and “the smallest and nastiest of the Trotskyist sects”. Malik stood for Birmingham Selly Oak in the 1992 general election, coming last out of six candidates with 84 votes. Malik wrote for the RCP’s magazine Living Marxism, later LM. Although the RCP has since disbanded, Malik has written for later incarnations of LM, and for its on-line successor, the British web magazine Spiked. Jenny Turner wrote in the London Review of Books about “the LM network’s habit of supporting freedom of expression for all sorts of horrible people: BNPers and child pornographers and atrocity deniers. Of course it’s only the right to speak that is supported, not what is said: members of the LM network are always careful to stress that they’re no less opposed to racism, sexual exploitation and mass murder than everybody else, it’s just that they think unpleasant opinions should be not banned but ‘battled’ with, in open debate.”[ii]

Opinion without Knowledge

The Cambridge philosopher, Jamie Whyte wrote: “You are entitled to an opinion in the epistemic sense only when you have good reason for holding it: evidence, sound arguments and so on. Far from being universal, this epistemic entitlement is one you earn. It is like being entitled to boast, which depends on having something worth boasting about.” Voltaire wrote, “prejudice is opinion without judgement”. Opinion without knowledge, truth or logic can also foster prejudice.

Kenan Malik Comes to Sri Lanka

Mr Malik took the opportunity of his visit to the Galle Literary Festival in January 2016  to recycle the fictional figure of 40,000 plus civilian casualties at the end of the war against the LTTE.[iii] I have given this matter of “the numbers game” a great deal of thought. I have attended think tanks and seminars, had a long conversation with the author of the IADG report[iv], reviewed Gordon Weiss’s book on the subject,[v] had a dialogue with Callum McCrae and published several articles. I do not think that Mr Malik has studied the matter in so much depth.

I have no desire to whitewash the Rajapaksa government or the Sri Lankan military. I have looked at this matter in a perfectly calm and logical manner which is what I would have expected of a public intellectual with Mr Malik’s reputation. My conclusion is that the figure 40,000 cannot be correct and it is not helpful to any reconciliation process to continue to bandy it about.

Darusman Report

Mr Malik responds to criticism by Professor Michael Roberts by citing what he calls “The 2011 UN report on the final stages of the war.”[vi] In reality, this was not an official UN report but a report by a “panel of experts” called by the UN General Secretary as a preliminary to further investigation and action. The panel did not carry out any investigations of its own (and recognized that it had no mandate to do so) but had to rely on second-hand “evidence” that was not evidence in the normal sense of the word. The Marga Institute evaluation of the report said that this forced the panel “into an adversarial stance with the Government” in which it assumed the role of prosecutor. “The Panel’s dismissal of the Government’s position prevents it from making a more searching assessment of the military necessity claimed by the Government. It prevents the Panel from analyzing the crucial elements of intentionality and proportionality as should have been done in any investigation of war crimes in the Sri Lankan situation.”[vii] The Darusman report was also challenged in the report of the Paranagama Commission.[viii]

This is not the place to go into a further detailed analysis of the shortcomings of the Darusman Report. Mr Malik claims to have “done his homework” before coming to Sri Lanka but seemed to be unaware of the vast amount of research that has been done. Professor Michael Roberts has given an extensive list of citations on Mr Malik’s blog. Suffice it to say that the Darusman report is dishonest in the way it pumps up a previous UN figure of 7,221 civilian deaths and in the way it elides “credible allegations’” into self-evident proven war crimes.

In one of my articles I say: ‘Like an urban myth or an internet hoax, a story gets passed around and is treated as legal currency. The neologism “churnalism” has been credited to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir who coined the term in 2008. “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote.” Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” – “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist”.’ The Darusman report arrives at its figures by a process of recycling hearsay.

Moving the Goalposts

My sole point in my original critical comment on Mr Malik’s blog was that it was not helpful to cite the figure of 40,000 deaths upwards as if it was incontrovertible fact. I believed that he should have mentioned that there were many closely argued interpretations that set the figure much lower. In his response he shifted his ground and brought in the idea of “apologists for the Sri Lankan Army.”

“The question of numbers dead in the final phase is not central to the argument I was making. The figures I have come across vary from around 9,000 to around 100,000. I rejected the figures that came from either side in the war and took instead figures from independent third parties, such as the UN and ICEP. It may be that, as you say, these figures, too, are myths, and I have no reason to dispute your research (though I have not seen it in full). However, where the figures are disputed, it makes sense to settle for the more those provided by more objective collectors of those figures, which is what I did.”

I would contend that the figures I cited were even more objective as many of them were calculated by Tamils, including Navi Pillay of the UNHRC and the Tigers own website. To argue that, “The question of numbers dead in the final phase is not central to the argument I was making” is disingenuous. His argument now seems to be that the SLA deliberately targeted Tamil civilians. The true number of civilians killed is crucial to that very argument. If one takes a spectrum from the zero casualties ludicrously asserted by the government at one time, to the 147,000 claimed by Frances Harrison, zero casualties would demolish the contention that the SLA was targeting civilians (unless their aim was very poor). If it is true that 147,000 were killed the case for deliberate targeting becomes very strong. The numbers do matter.

Hypotheticals and Counterfactual History

I have never been a fan of counterfactual history or hypotheticals so I was not keen to take up the thought experiment posited here by Mr Malik:  “Suppose that I had written something critical of the actions of the Syrian government in the current civil war, and particularly of its mass killings of civilians. And suppose a respondent had suggested that the real problems lay not with the actions of the government forces but those of the al-Nusra Front and of the Islamic State, and that it is rebel activities that drives the Syrian government to take the actions that it does, an argument that can be heard quite loudly in certain parts of the media today. Would a robust response not be justified? And if it is justified in that case, why not in this case? (Before anyone jumps on me, the analogy I am making is not between the conflicts in Syria and Sri Lanka, but between the attempts to use insurgent actions as a means of justifying unjustifiable government actions).”

That seems to me to be rather feeble and unnecessary. He is assuming before he enters the discussion that the government actions are “unjustifiable”. He is explicitly comparing the situation in Syria with the situation in Sri Lanka at the same time as saying that he is not comparing. Why bring Syria up at all? I have coined an aphorism which I repeat in a most tiresome fashion at every opportunity: “The road to hell is paved with false analogies”. I most often use it when people try to compare the Irish peace process with what was happening in Sri Lanka. Martin McGuinness came here to tell us that a military solution to the Tiger problem was not feasible and that we must achieve a political solution through negotiation. I used to think that myself. I made the decision to come and live in Sri Lanka when Ranil Wickramesinhe, in his previous stint as prime minister, was maintaining a cease fire with the LTTE. I was very dismayed when Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated him in the 2005 presidential election. I was severely dismayed when the Rajapaksa government decided to try to defeat the Tigers militarily. I realize now that I was seriously mistaken.

Never mind about hypotheticals; why not keep it simple and concentrate on what actually happened in Sri Lanka? The LTTE used cease fires to regroup and re-arm. Peace talks had failed over many decades because Prabhakaran had no intention of compromising. Eventually, the legitimately constituted armed forces of a democratically elected government of a sovereign unitary state decided to make a determined effort to defeat a group that was systematically slaughtering civilians in order to set up a separate state.

War Crimes Apologist?

Mr Malik is putting words in Professor Robert’s mouth when he says he was arguing that “that the actions of the LTTE somehow justified the actions of the Sri Lankan Army”. I have read and re-read Professor Roberts’s words and he is saying nothing remotely like what Mr Malik attributes to him. This was not about revenge or what-aboutery. The actions of the SLA may legitimately be discussed and if necessary condemned but they did not behave badly because the LTTE behaved badly and Roberts is not arguing any such thing. Malik claims “You do not, as far as I can see, contest the empirical claim that the Sri Lankan Army fired into what it had declared to be No Fire Zones or on hospitals or civilian areas.” Michael Roberts[ix] and many others have indeed contested that claim.[x]

Universal Expertise

In his helpful book Thinking from A to Z, philosopher Nigel Warburton lists alphabetically the many tropes used to manipulate argument. One trope is “truth by authority”. Warburton writes: “Unwary members of the public may make the unreliable assumption that because someone is a recognised authority…in a particular area he or she must be capable of speaking with authority on any other subject”.

The problem is that when one covers a vast array of subjects, one exposes oneself to the danger of being downgraded from polymath to dilettante or to jack-of-all trades. There is no doubt that Noam Chomsky has a huge brain but his speciality is linguistics. Because he speaks with the authority of a specialist on that subject (although many other linguists disagree with him even about linguistics) that does not mean he speaks with equal authority on the many other issues on which he chooses to intervene.

I could never hope to have such a huge brain as Kenan Malik but there are some subjects on which, in all humility, I think I can speak with more authority than him because I have studied them in more detail than him.(Isiah Berlin’s essay about the hedgehog and the fox springs to mind.) I have assembled a good deal of evidence and opinion that convinces me that the oft-cited mantra that over 40,000 civilians were killed in the last days of the defeat of the LTTE is factually incorrect. Disagree with me if you wish but do so from a position of knowledge and do so with specifics and civility.

Tropes Employed by Online Commenters

My main interest here is, rather than going over the casualty figures yet again, is to discuss the manner in which my argument has been dealt with by Mr Malik and others. Some interesting tactics were employed. I found it impossible to get anyone to actually deal specifically with the different estimates of numbers killed.

One Facebook commenter chose to place his trust in the UN. He wrote: “I doubt if the UN plucked this figure out of thin air”. He ignored the many analyses which showed in detail why it seemed that the UN figure was plucked out of thin air. He then brought in some assumptions based on anecdotal ‘evidence’. “I personally had contact with several intelligence agencies from Canada, US, UK as well as Sri Lanka and Amnesty International”. At no point does he look at the various calculations of casualty figures and explain why he thinks they are incorrect. He does not explain why he does not accept criticisms of the Darusman Report but relies on faith: “The UN report was done by eminent legal personalities and it is doubtful if they would quote numbers which they cannot defend in a court of law. If not their reputation would be in tatters.”

Immunising Strategies

In his book Believing Bullshit philosopher Stephen Law uses the term “immunising strategies”. He shows how Young Earth Creationists counter the arguments of evolutionists by claiming that, however much evidence is presented, they will still claim it is provisional and incomplete. Those who claim high figures of civilian casualties dismiss contesting calculations with responses like: “It was a war without witnesses” or: “No-one can know without forensic evidence”. Well-argued estimates have been made which could be refuted or accepted. “Comparing high-resolution satellite images of the second No-Fire-Zone between February and April 19, indicates that the No-Fire-Zone as a whole did not witness anything like the scale of sustained bombardment required for there to have been more than 40,300 fatalities”. [xi]There were witnesses.[xii] Murali Reddy wrote in the Tamil Nadu magazine Frontline: “It must be said that the ‘journalistic team’ associated with TamilNet did a marvelous job of relaying the scenes of the last hours of Eelam War IV as they unfolded. Obviously, they were in regular touch with LTTE leaders in the war theatre. The news, nuggets and nuances that reflected in the TamilNet reportage, minus the blatant propaganda that both sides excelled in, gave a fairly good idea of the last hours and minutes as experienced and relayed by the last batch of Tiger cadre and the LTTE top brass.”

Guilt by Association

I asked one Facebook commenter to give his opinion on the many calculations which gave a lower figure of civilian casualties. I pointed out that many people had demolished the Darusman Report. He responded: “Those demolitions are in my humble opinion by personalities who are no match to the legal personalities who authored the report. All reports could be demolished, but on legal scrutiny I would suggest that the demolishers will get demolished”.

When I pressed on this point, he brought in Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin and said the calculations of one or two of the people estimating were “buddies of Gota”, the defence secretary and brother of the president. I responded : “I am not talking about Hitler, Mussolini etc. I am talking about different people’s views of how many civilian deaths there were in the final days of the defeat of the LTTE. I am merely asking you to specifically address those views. It is a common trope on comment threads to avoid discussion by saying ‘He’s not worth considering because he has an agenda or he is close to so and so or his father did blah’. You are not even being specific about which person is close to Gota. You cannot dismiss all the arguments because, according to you, some unnamed person is a buddy of Gota.”

 

He wanted to avoid dealing with the specific points that I was making by citing his superior inside knowledge. However, the very fact of his inside knowledge prevents him from naming names.  “I don’t want to be specific because both are known to me, one being a close friend for several decades. I repeatedly warned him to stay away from Gota. I accept that different views must be considered, but surely you should also be able to assess if certain views are even worth considering. I would seek enlightened views and discount pedestrian views “

I asked  why would Sir John Holmes (of the UN) , Navi Pillai (of the UNHRC), Tamil Net (website of the LTTE), Rohan Guneratna (of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research), the Voice of the Tigers (the LTTE media organisation) , the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Rajasingham Narendran , Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (of the Point Pedro Institute of Development), Dr Noel Nadesan, the Independent Diaspora Analysis Group – Sri Lanka, all come up with lower figures? Are they all buddies of Gota? Have you read any of their arguments?”

Do Numbers Matter?

The aim of the SLA was to defeat the enemy (at that point the most vicious terrorist group ever known) with as little harm to civilians as possible. It was not to punish Tamil civilians for the crimes of the LTTE. I do not believe that the aim was genocide of the Tamil people. I do not believe that civilians were targeted as a matter of policy. I do believe that the aim was to limit the number of civilian casualties as far as possible in a situation where the enemy was using its own people as human shields. Mr Malik has  every right to disagree with me about this, even though he is less well-informed than I or Professor Roberts. To state these beliefs does not make myself or Michael Roberts an ‘apologist’ for any atrocities that might have been committed by the Sri Lankan army. To use that loaded word is rather manipulative and dishonest.

In this context, the number of dead being cited is of crucial importance if one is making the assumption that the government deliberately engaged in the punitive “mass killing of civilians”. Mr Malik, having raised the issue brushes it aside when challenged as “not central to his argument”.

 

[i] Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987.

[ii] http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n13/jenny-turner/who-are-they

 

[iii] https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/in-the-haunting-light-of-jaffna/

[iv] http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf

[v] http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=78825

 

[vi] http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf

[vii] http://margasrilanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Truth-Accountability.pdf

[viii] file:///C:/Users/HP/Downloads/Maxwell_Paranagama_Final_Report.pdf

[ix] https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/

[x] http://www.peaceinsrilanka.lk/for-the-record/the-brutal-misuse-of-hospitals-by-the-ltte-and-the-darusman-panel

 

[xi] http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf

 

[xii] http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2612/stories/20090619261200900.htm

 

Reconciliation in Bosnia

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 29 July 2012

Tensions between the Yugoslav republics soon emerged after Tito’s death and in 1991, the federation collapsed into mayhem. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly complex and horrific because there were so many parties involved. It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between Serb forces and the national army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which was mainly composed of Muslim Bosniaks) and Croatian forces. The population of the multi-ethnic, multi-faith Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 31% Orthodox Serbs, 17% Catholic Croats. Serbs set up their own enclave within Bosnia, Republika Srpska, whose army had some 80,000 personnel during the war and committed war crimes and genocide against Bosnia Muslims and Croats.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo and Srebrenica can stand as specimens for the many horrors of the Bosnian war. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad. There was an average of 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on July 22, 1993. It is estimated that nearly 12,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. Snipers killed civilians queuing for water or trying to buy food in the market. Bosniak homes were ransacked, males taken to concentration camps, women repeatedly raped. UNICEF reported that, at least 40% children in the city had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. The Bosnian Government reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50% drop in births since the siege began.

Srebrenica UN failings

In July 1995, at Srebrenica, a “safe area” under UN protection, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces under Ratko Mladić and massacred. The victims included boys aged under 15, men over the age of 65, women, and reportedly even several babies. Dutch UN soldiers were criticised for failing to protect the Bosniak refugees in the “safe area”. Lieutenant-Colonel Thom Karremans was filmed drinking a toast with  Mladić .
In 2005, in a message on the tenth anniversary commemoration of the genocide, Kofi Annan noted that great nations had failed to respond adequately and that Srebrenica would haunt the UN forever. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled that the massacre constituted genocide, a crime under international law.
Addressing the Bosnian parliament in July 2012 Ban Ki-moon said: “In a tragedy of such epic proportions, there was so much blood and so much blame. The United Nations did not live up to its responsibility. The international community failed in preventing the genocide that unfolded”.

Jasmin Mujanović argues that persistent fallacies have informed the international community’s attempts to “deal” with Bosnia since (at least) 1991-92. He writes that the war was not “the result of the unbridled and millennial ethnic hatreds of its peoples, but rather the engineered and orchestrated machinations of an unaccountable political elite seeking to secure its political and economic survival in a period of immense social crisis…” Significant elements of the international community advocated a foreign policy based on preserving a vacuous conception of ‘stability’ and ‘unity’ rather than a principled insistence on democratization and human rights. …the international community had sent strong signals to the country’s leadership that an increased role by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) would be a welcome step towards checking some of their growing concerns about the stability of political authority in the country in the post-Tito period.”

Death toll

There are large discrepancies between estimates of the total number of casualties in the Bosnian war, with estimates ranging from 25,000 to 329,000. According to Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup, “The figure of 200,000 (or more) dead, injured, and missing was frequently cited in media reports on the war in Bosnia as late as 1994. The October 1995 bulletin of the Bosnian Institute for Public Health of the Republic Committee for Health and Social Welfare gave the numbers as 146,340 killed and 174,914 wounded on the territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Mustafa Imamovic gave a figure of 144,248 perished (including those who died from hunger or exposure), mainly Muslims. “

Peace?

There were several major massacres during 1995 and NATO made widespread air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks. On 14 September 1995, the NATO air strikes were suspended to allow the implementation of an agreement with Bosnian Serbs for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. A 60-day ceasefire came into effect on October 12, and on November 1 peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio. The war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on November21, 1995.

 
The Dayton Accord was described as a “construction of necessity” the immediate purpose of which was to freeze the military confrontation, and prevent it from resuming. There is no space here to go into the intricate juggling to swap territories from one group to another in order to establish the new nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Many scholars have deemed Dayton an impressive example of conflict resolution which has turned Bosnia from a basket-case to a potential EU member.

Critics have, however, had problems with the fact international actors, unaccountable to BiH’s citizens, were allowed to shape the agenda of post-war transition, and decide punishment for local political actors. Another perceived flaw is that each ethnic group was discontented with the results.

Truth and reconciliation

Retributive justice is impossible to apply in a context like Bosnia where so many were involved in the conflict. There are not enough resources to capture and try everyone who committed war crimes. Widespread arrests would reignite conflict. In January 2005, Hajra Catic of the Mothers of Srebrenica organization, “lost faith” in ICTY’s ability to dispense justice after they sentenced Dragan Jokic, a man she believed was responsible for 3,000 deaths, to only nine years in prison.

Eileen Babbitt wrote about UN efforts to reintegrate refugees: “they were coming back to communities where they were really, really unwanted. Most of them were coming back to places where they were a majority population and now post-war they are the minority, so another group has literally taken over and moved into their homes, and many of those people are also displaced, traumatized, etc. and they’re not about to simply give up everything and welcome the returning refugees with open arms.”

 
Reconciliation is hampered by a refusal to face up to the truth because each group has its own narrative. Schools are strictly segregated and children learn three different versions of the war. After many failed attempts, there has still not been a successful truth commission.

On 6 December 2004, Serbian president Boris Tadić made an apology to all those who suffered crimes committed in the name of the Serb people. Croatia’s president Ivo Josipović apologized in April 2010 for his country’s role in the Bosnian War. On 31 March 2010, the Serbian parliament adopted a declaration “condemning in strongest terms the crime committed in July 1995 against Bosniak population of Srebrenica” and apologizing to the families of the victims.

Europe

In Bosnia, 88% support the country’s bid for EU membership. Identification with Europe as a supranational community can in Bosnia and Herzegovina become a way to overcome ethnic differences. Poll results show that support for EU membership is strongest in the Muslim community, with 97% in favour, while 85% of Bosnian Croats support it and 78% of Bosnian Serbs. The EU-initiated processes of institutional engineering and systemic inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists into policy-making processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina signals an important and historic shift from an ethnocentric citizenship model towards a democratic and inclusive citizenship regime.

Bosnia today

On July 25, 2012, Ban Ki-moon addressed the BiH parliament and noted the progress achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last two decades, including its transformation from a country which hosted UN peacekeepers to a troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, and from occupying the agenda of the Security Council to successfully serving on the Council. “Led by your priorities and direction, we are working together to create jobs especially for young people, extend social protection for the most vulnerable groups, end the suffering of those enduring protracted displacement, safeguard the environment, tackle discrimination and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlighted the continued marginalization of minority groups, particularly Roma. In a joint opinion issued in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague expressed disappointment at the protracted institutional gridlock in Bosnia that was preventing needed reforms, including ending ethnic discrimination in politics.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/8742-reconciliation-in-bosnia.html#sthash.Ih6Zh13M.dpuf

 

“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.

 

The Death of Dag

dag

 

This article was published in the Sunday Island on September 3, 2011 

 

We saw and felt the bare fangs of commercial interests cornered on a patch of gold.

 
The UN seems to have a lot of enemies in Sri Lanka. I find this sad because I have felt a sort of affinity for the organisation because we share the same birthday, although the UN is a year older than I. Also, Ireland has, over the years, lent its troops to many UN peace-keeping operations.

 
In the early sixties, I was staying at the Grand Union Hotel in Cobh, County Cork. The hotel was run and owned by the Allen family. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo. He did not go into the atrocities that occurred during that time of the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and the secession of Katanga province under Moise Tshombe.

 
The Grand Union Hotel long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. It was located in Casement Square. The square was named after Sir Roger Casement who exposed Belgian atrocities in the Congo and was executed for his part in the Irish rebellion of 1916. (See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/sir-roger-casement/)

 
In the pages of the Island itself some criticism of the UN has centred on the incumbent Secretary General. K Godage on August 21 declared “Moon has prostituted himself and brought this great office, graced by the likes of Trygve Lee, Dag Hammarskjold, U Thant, Peres De Cuellar, Kurt Waldheim, Butros Ghali and Kofi Annan into disgrace and disgraced his country in the process”.

 
Ghali’s reputation became entangled in Yugoslavian horrors and larger controversies over the effectiveness of the UN and the role of the US; Waldheim concealed his complicity in Nazi war crimes at Banja Luka in Yugoslavia. Hammarskjöld had a good reputation. In these pages, Jayantha Dhanapala, a past potential Secretary General wrote: “By common consent no one has enlarged the scope and stature of the job as much as Dag Hammarskjold (1953-61) did. Was his exemplary character pre-judged?”
Only last week The Guardian claimed that “new evidence” had come to light that Hammarskjold’s plane had been shot down over Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and that British colonial authorities had arranged a cover-up of the assassination. Residents of Ndola said Hammarskjöld’s DC6 was shot down by a smaller aircraft and the crash site was sealed off by Northern Rhodesian security forces.

 
Unpublished telegrams show US and British anger at an abortive UN military operation that the secretary general ordered on behalf of the Congolese government against a rebellion in mineral-rich Katanga . Katanga’s secession, which had followed the Congo’s independence from Belgium in June 1960, was engineered by Belgium-based mining interests keen to continue mineral extraction in the province. Tshombe was, as Conor Cruise O’Brien said, their “black stooge”. Belgian settlers, white mercenaries and former Belgian Army officers provided military support. Hammarskjöld suspected British diplomats secretly supported the Katanga rebellion and had obstructed a bid to arrange a truce.

 
Hammarskjöld upset the major powers on the UN security council with his support for decolonisation, but his re-election was virtually guaranteed by support from developing nations. Days before his death, Hammarskjöld authorised a UN offensive on Katanga – codenamed Operation Morthor – despite reservations of the UN legal adviser (British) , and the fury of the US and Britain.

 
In 1992, George Ivan Smith and Conor Cruise O’Brien, who in 1961 were UN representatives in Katanga, wrote to The Guardian: “Vividly we were made aware of the brutal work of mercenaries, hired guns employed by European industrialists to prevent the UN from resolving a crisis at the heart of Africa …We saw and felt the bare fangs of commercial interests cornered on a patch of gold”. George Ivan Smith was himself beaten in a failed attempt to kidnap him. O’Brien was convinced that the industrialists sent two planes to intercept Hammarskjöld before he met Tshombe. O’Brien does not believe they meant to kill. Ivan Smith claimed to have evidence that the industrialist gave their agents permission to fire across the bows.

 
Matthew Hughes has examined Smith’s papers, including accounts of meetings with former mercenaries in the Congo, in the Bodleian and written about it in the London Review of Books (August 2001):

 
“According to Smith…‘The fear was that Tshombe, left free to negotiate with the United Nations, would understand the principles on which it was operating, i.e. non-interference in the domestic affairs of the Congo, but under obligation to encourage actions to integrate the country by the Congolese at the behest of the Security Council . . . The decision was taken by the control group at Kolwezi (the European industrialists) to attempt to reach Hammarskjöld before he could get to talk with Tshombe at Ndola.’ If Tshombe came to terms with the UN, he goes on, ‘it would put in jeopardy the position of Europeans not only in the Congo, but also in the Rhodesias and in all parts of Africa . . . where white minorities still held immense power.’ The objective thus was to kidnap Hammarskjöld.”

 
Harry Truman is reported to have said that “Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said, ‘when they killed him’.”

 
Desmond Tutu wrote that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission “discovered, during the course of other investigations, documents purporting to be from an institution called the SA Institute of Maritime Research discussing the sabotage of the aircraft in which the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, died on the night of September 17/18, 1961.” One TRC letter said that a bomb in the aircraft’s wheel bay was set to detonate when the wheels came down for a landing.

 
A counter-view is that Hammarskjöld travelled from Léopoldville to Ndola in the middle of the night in order to prevent a full-scale war caused by the UN in the Congo, defying the Security Council and instigating a botched military coup in Katanga. Hammarskjöld was on his way to Ndola to apologize personally to Moise Tshombe at the insistence of the British government. Pilot error involved flying to Ndolo instead Ndola and misjudging the altitude. In this view, it was more convenient for the UN to have Hammarskjöld portrayed as a saint and instigate rumors about an assassination than to have the world know that he was to apologize for a military coup where 155 civilians, UN “peace-keepers” and Belgian soldiers were killed.

 
A book by Susan Williams is soon to be published, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa. Williams recounts that: “British High Commissioner Lord Alport was waiting at the airport when the aircraft crashed nearby. He bizarrely insisted to the airport management that Hammarskjöld had flown elsewhere – even though his aircraft was reported overhead. This postponed a search for so long that the wreckage of the plane was not found for fifteen hours. White mercenaries were at the airport that night too, including the South African pilot Jerry Puren, whose bombing of Congolese villages led, in his own words, to ‘flaming huts …destruction and death’. These soldiers of fortune were backed by Sir Roy Welensky, Prime Minister of the Rhodesian Federation, who was ready to stop at nothing to maintain white rule and thought the United Nations was synonymous with the Nazis.”

 

 

 

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