I read a bit of the UN Panel’s leaked report on Sri Lanka. It’s a bit of an un-report in that it tells you nothing that a scan of TamilNet or even Groundviews wouldn’t tell you, but it’s good that it’s written down. TamilNet is an LTTE organ, by the way, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. There were civilian casualties, the government killed its way to victory, IDPs were treated badly and media was repressed. The Sri Lankan LLRC commission is also a farce. This stuff is all true and I guess that it’s good that it’s out there.
The issue within Sri Lanka is that most people are in denial or are actually OK with all of the above. The denial I have no quarter for, it’s just dumb. Mahinda saying no civilian blood was shed is just an insult. The government did, however, end the war and many people (just not the people in the North I guess) are OK with that deal.
To be fair, the government killed probably more people crushing the Southern rebellion in the ‘80s and there was no investigation into that, presumably because there wasn’t a huge diaspora and because, mass slaughter wise, Sri Lanka at that time would have had to get in line.
What About Them?
One argument worth acknowledging is that simply making this report is not exactly fair. The US killed more and messed up more in Afghanistan and Iraq but no one’s recommending retribution against Dick Cheney. China, India and Russia all do dodgy things. Every war of the past involved ‘war crimes’ as presumably will future wars, the primary crime being war.
This argument is worth acknowledging, but it’s not very strong on its own. Other people are messing up, OK, but we’re still responsible for our own behaviour.
But We Won
Another argument is that there was no other way to do this. The LTTE surrounded themselves with civilians. If the government hadn’t killed civilians, there would be no way to get to the LTTE, they would just continue like the bloody cancer they were. When they made the ‘Safe Zone’ the LTTE just moved into it. No choice but to attack there. Even hospitals were used as shields by the nihilistic group, which was acknowledged to have shot people trying to escape.
It may have been a war crime, but by ending the war it was worth the cost. If the army hadn’t gone in and cut the LTTE out once and for all, it would have kept metastasising indefinitely, under the watchful and useless eyes of the international community. The UN sees fit to endorse military action against Gaddafi but not Prabhakaran. Why not?
The army actually ended the war and prevented more suffering, oppression and terrorism in the long run. This is the argument applied by the West for most modern conflicts, even as they practice war crimes in the course of generally failing. Sri Lanka followed the basic war model and actually won.
This is a cynical argument, but I think it has some merit. Not in an ethical sense, but in a realistic one. But reality doesn’t get better unless begin being ethical. I don’t know.
The Report Is Biased And Bad
This is true. The excerpt I read is short and basically investigates nothing while seeming to favour racial separatism. It just cites credible allegations, not actual facts. None of this is really news. Everybody in Sri Lanka knows it on some level, much of the hand-wringing international community takes these items as matters of faith, and the information is neither new nor newly presented.
The Panel didn’t investigate in Sri Lanka and it really seems that their report is based on news reports, a few phone calls with the usual suspects and heavy Tamil diaspora lobbying. They’re also approaching it from the perspective that Tamils seemed to deserve a separate state which is I think both wrong and unnecessary. But, again, I don’t know. A lot of stuff in the report is still true.
I dunno. That’s my overwhelming feeling on reading this report. I’m glad that some of the truth is written down (people died in the war. The government was ruthless) but it’s annoying that it’s doled out in the familiar us/them manner that makes it easy for the government to ignore reality some more. Personally, my gut reaction is against the UN Panel as a foreign thing (who am I to talk, really), but beyond that somewhat ignoble emotion I’m able to look at the information and say, yeah, a lot of that is true. I don’t agree with its prescription for retribution against the people that conducted the war because it’s both not realistic and not especially helpful when those people are basically Mahavamsa heroes.
Do I think that the truth should come out? Yes. Do I think actionable truth can come from the UN? No. Do I think this will do anything? Not really, besides perhaps drive many Sri Lankans a bit deeper into denial.
All I see is that the usual LTTE suspects are crowing about the report, the usual NGO/liberal crowd in Sri Lanka is citing it, and the people that need to change rejecting it out of hand. So it’s not exactly helping towards reconciliation.
I guess read the excerpt for yourself, and think for yourself if at all possible.