Amnesty International’s Allegations against Sri Lanka Anything more ridiculous?

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By 2017-04-17

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

At the media conference held on 5 April, Amnesty International struggled to answer Shamindra Ferdinando's questions. A subject specialist on the Geneva Resolution, Ferdinando highlighted the vast discrepancy in numbers of alleged deaths and enforced disappearances by the many factions. They all want Sri Lanka before a Hybrid War Crimes Court, but have failed so far to reach a consensus on the allegations. Failing to answer, AI called for a credible investigaation to examine the unsubstantiated allegations levelled at Sri Lanka.

The AI panellists, Secretary General Salil Shetty, Regional Director, South Asia Biraj Patnaik, campaigner Yolanda Foster, Chief of Staff Office of the Secretary General David Griffiths, researcher Jeannine Guthrie, Section Director, AI New Zealand Grant Bayldon and Media Manager, South Asia and South East Asia Omar Waraich.

Despite the high profile panel, Ferdinando writes in his weekly column, "Shetty and Guthrie struggled to justify their call for a War Crimes Court inclusive of foreign judges after having admitted that the basis of the Geneva Resolution had to be examined."

As both Ferdinando and Mahinda Gunasekera (Western Powers and the UNHRC keep hounding Sri Lanka based on unsubstantiated allegations) note, none of those accusers have been able to agree on the numbers. Gunasekera does not mince words that our many accusers themselves 'have a long history of violating human rights'. These West-led accusers even tried to save the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, so that "they may continue to keep stoking the fires and keep the armed separatist flames burning in Sri Lanka."

LTTE Vs Civilians

Interestingly, as Gunasekera writes, our many accusers are yet to distinguish between the terrorists and civilians who perished at the final phase. According to the UN Resident Representative's Office in Colombo, the total number of killed is 7,721 between end August 2008 and 13 May 2009. UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes however rejected this figure, stating only the lower rung Tamil employees of the UN forcibly held by the LTTE were present on the ground to make such a pronouncement.

AI in their report," When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission", claimed 10,000 have been killed. A figure AI apparently arrived based on eyewitness testimonies and information from their aid workers.

The confidentiality of these sources, AI has guarantees to protect.

It is this figure of 10,000 they were unable to reconfirm to Ferdinando. He writes, despite Shetty being responsible for releasing this report, "Obviously, he is not sure of his own report, though AI repeatedly made representations at UNHRC as well as at various other international forums over the years demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka." When questioned for the reasons of the vast discrepancies in the numbers between the AI Report and that of the UNSG's Panel of Experts, "Guthrie emphasized that as the AI had asserted that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed the actual figure could be higher and it was followed by the UN Report". This was refuted by Ferdinando who pointed out the PoE Report came six months before the AI Report.

Gunasekera writes, "...the UK Sunday Times reporter, who only overflew the last battle ground, when he accompanied Ban Ki-moon on his inspection tour on 25 May, 2009 reported that 20,000 had been killed in the last stages ( between 1 January, to 19 May, 2009)".

PoE on Sri Lanka, 'sitting in New York', basing their conclusions from one-sided information provided by pro-LTTE elements, "which material they recommended be locked away for a period of 20 years until 2031...claimed tens of thousands of persons been killed estimated at 40,000," though "a large number of terrorists died in civilian attire thereby blurring the distinction."

The Int'l Crisis Group also repeats this number. Yet, Yasmin Sooka, one on the three-member PoE, had claimed over 110,000 were killed. "She certainly benefitted by her openly partisan stand, receiving a grant of 25 million Euros from the EU for a South African NGO headed by her," claims Gunasekera.

Incidentally, she was not the only one to thus benefit. Ferdinando notes that Shetty's predecessor, Irene Khan and Khan's deputy, Kate Gilmore had been paid over £500,000 and £300,000 by the AI; these "massive secret AI pay-offs shocked the entire NGO community."

Though UN Spokesperson in Colombo, Gordon Weiss also wrote in his book, The Cage that 40,000 were killed, to a Sri Lankan audience in Australia he claimed that only 10,000 were killed, notes Gunasekera. According to pro-LTTE reporter Frances Harrison 70,000 to 140,000 may have been killed.

The only person who had differentiated between the terrorists and the civilians was the British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh, notes Ferdinando. He informed the House of Commons: 60,000 terrorists and 40,000 civilians perished during January and May, 2009. However, states Ferdinando, the MP to date had ignored his emails seeking a clarification regarding her sources. Even the British High Commission had refused to comment on her claim, he notes.

MP Sampanthan too had made a claim, that he had not verified, despite Ferdinando's requests. Sampanthan had claimed in New Delhi at an anti-terrorism conference organized by the Indian Government that during the 30 years of war against terrorism, over 150,000 Tamil speaking people and over 50 per cent of the total Tamil population had fled the country.

A census carried out in 2012 in the North to determine the number killed, using Tamil teachers and public servants showed 7,432 had been killed, other than those who died of natural causes. Surprisingly, the Tamilnet's figure of total killed between 1 January and 19 May 19, 2009 was 7,398 - less than the government figure.

A valid observation Gunasekera makes is that the total injured among the displaced Tamils, according to the "ICRC responsible for ferrying them, by land and sea for medical attention was 18,439". Normally, the injured is two or three times more than the killed. Thus, if 40,000 perished, then the wounded should be in the range 80,000-120,000.

Those who are accusing Sri Lanka insist that true reconciliation will not materialize unless justice is served. However, the whole focus of the Geneva Resolution is on the Sri Lankan forces' role, from 1 January to 19 May 2009, which saw the elimination of the LTTE leadership and the total annihilation of their terrorist arm. Claiming that the LTTE hierarchy is no more and thus cannot be brought to justice, the call is to prosecute the military and political leadership that saw to the end of terrorism.

Prabakaran and others might be dead. However, those who funded and propagated terrorism in Sri Lanka like Father Emanuel and Suren Surendiran, and those who intimidated the Tamil expatriate community to give money so that no harm comes to relatives are still living in Sri Lanka; those who carried out illegal activities such as smuggling and those like Adele Balasingham who played a major role in forming the LTTE and especially the suicide bombers are still living. Not only are they living, but living well in the West. How they escaped culpability is indeed very strange.

India's role

Another most important fact overlooked by these accusers is the role India played in creating terrorism in Sri Lanka. They did it, with the sole intention of pushing a domestic headache offshore. Thereby, India totally destabilized a neighbour that posed absolutely no threat to them and is thus responsible for every act of terrorism in Sri Lanka. As a direct result of India's deadly strategy, our economy almost collapsed and we got into a severe debt trap. For all this India is responsible and must be held accountable.

India not only created terrorism in Sri Lanka, but in 1987, violated all international norms and invaded our airspace and saved Prabakaran, who was cornered by the Vadamarachchi Operation. By flexing their muscles, India forcefully amended our Constitution to accommodate the 13th Amendment. Though they promised to disarm the terrorists, they found the baby they had created had grown into a brat who flatly refused to see reason. Despite their failure, the call to implement the 13th Amendment remains.

Two years later, the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force went back to India as a defeated, dejected lot. When they arrived, they were welcomed by the northern Tamil community. When they left, that same community stood scarred by the many atrocities they had to endure by the IPKF.

Yet, "while repeating a plethora of accusations against successive Sri Lankan Governments in respect of a range of crimes and atrocities committed since early '80s," observes Ferdinando, "the AI conveniently let India off the hook." When asked if "AI would take up the contentious issue of accountability with the Government of India in respect of allegations made by the Tamil community here against the Indian Army," Shetty had said that it would depend on the available evidence.

Though Shetty had been head of AI for seven years, he feigned ignorance on both the Indian and the American efforts to destabilize our country. Obviously due to his persistence, Ferdinando was provided with a report titled Sri Lanka: the Indian Peace Keeping Force and 'Disappearances'.

That report listed 43 cases of disappearances for which the IPKF is responsible. Alleging that the IPKF had been accused of "human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial executions and 'disappearances', the report released in September 1990 underscored the Indian Army held thousands of prisoners without reference to the provisions of either Sri Lankan of Indian law.

However, the report dealt with reports of 'disappearances' only.

It is not only the disappearances enforced by the IPKF that is been blithely overlooked. Today, no one talks of the LTTE abductions. Less than 10 years ago, children in the North were not free to attend school as they were likely to be forcefully conscripted by the LTTE. Once conscripted, these children were forbidden to have any contact with their families. Children as young as eight were taken to be used as cannon fodder.

Would any parent be able to accept the reality that their young child was used to literally clear a minefield, for the seasoned cadres to enter the battlefield; or was used as a stepping stone to overcome two-edged steel-picketed concertina wires that forms the coils around military bases? At one point, the LTTE was said to be holding around 5,000 such young children. In the parents' mind, those children are 'missing', but where is the voice for them?

While the Foreign Ministry estimates that around 65,000 as disappeared, disputing the Paranagama Commissions findings that the number missing is around 19,000, AI claims that the actual figure might be close to 100,000. However, Western governments whilst calling for accountability had refused to corporate with the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to establish Lankans living in the West, most under assumed or new identities. Kumar Gunaratnam, as pointed by Ferdinando, is a case in point, where he not only got a new name, but also a different ethnicity as he became Noel Mudalige. Likewise, there are many cases where the allegedly disappeared or tortured and killed had surfaced on shores elsewhere.

Shetty seemed similarly ignorant of the growing US influence in Sri Lanka, observes Ferdinando. "Shetty couldn't be unaware how US directed Sri Lanka to accept the Geneva Resolution moved on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations in spite of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government expressing serious concern over the draft resolution. Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Ariyasinha at the first informal session called by the US on the draft resolution on 21 September, 2015 rejected it. At the behest of the US the GOSL instructed Sri Lanka's Geneva mission to accept the draft resolution based on unproven allegations."

The likes of Shetty, either ignorant or callus, make their living by destabilizing other countries. Rattled by Ferdinando's expert questioning, AI now calls for a credible investigation to examine the unsubstantiated allegations against us - two years after adapting the Geneva Resolution based on these very unproven claims. As Ferdinando asks, can there be anything more ridiculous?

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