“What hurts me is that the panel has failed to recognize the immense steps the government has taken to bring peace and reconciliation, matched with development, to the north and north-east of the country that not too long ago was controlled with an armed fist by the LTTE states Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Within the first 12 months of the war ending we even re-settled over 350,00 displaced Tamils, an achievement that was applauded by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself and several international humanitarian organizations. But instead of acknowledging any of this the panel has painted a wrong picture that there is an enduring legacy of bitterness still prevailing in these areas”, the Defence Secretary in an interview with the Manila Times of ....
Here is the text of the Manila Times report:
AS the man universally credited with having played a key role in marshalling the Sri Lankan military into a disciplined, focussed and well-equipped fighting force to deliver the final crushing blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—the world’s most brutal and feared terrorist outfit—and end three decades of bloody conflict, Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had more interest than most in the report submitted early last week to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by his ad hoc (considering it had no mandate from the Security Council or any other UN body for that matter) panel made up of a Canadian, a South African and an Indonesian tasked with examining and advising him on any alleged violations of human rights during the final stages of battle.
So as he sits at his desk thumbing through the weighty tome, pausing every now and then to study some particular paragraph, Rajapaksa’s tone shifts from exasperation to hurt to controlled fury. He throws his head back in utter bewilderment when noting that in the opening pages of the report the panel refers to the murderous Tamil Tigers (who, lest we forget, invented and perfected the genre of the suicide bomber and thought nothing of butchering innocent school children, young Buddhist monks and even members of the Tamil community who refused to give up their children to serve as child soldiers in its killing machine) as a “disciplined organization”—that very description giving one an early hint as to where the sentiments of the panel are heading.
Reading aloud another section where the panel spends several sentences agonizing over “wide spread shelling” Rajapaksa explodes: “Of course, there was shelling. Didn’t the panel realise that there was a fierce war going on?”
After scanning a few more pages he closes the document and calmly says: “What hurts me is that the panel has failed to recognize the immense steps the government has taken to bring peace and reconciliation, matched with development, to the north and north-east of the country that not too long ago was controlled with an armed fist by the LTTE. Within the first 12 months of the war ending we even re-settled over 350,00 displaced Tamils, an achievement that was applauded by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself and several international humanitarian organizations. But instead of acknowledging any of this the panel has painted a wrong picture that there is an enduring legacy of bitterness still prevailing in these areas”.
He goes on: “Sri Lanka has always been a responsible and accommodating member of the United Nations. We have never failed to respond to UN requests for Sri Lankan troops to participate in peace keeping missions or humanitarian missions such as in Haiti. On some occasions we agreed to the request even when we were stretched to the limit during the various stages of our own conflict. So for the Secretary General to pick on Sri Lanka for this sort of arbitrary treatment is very unfair. In fact appointing the panel, which in turn comes out with a report that goes far beyond its original mandate, is a brazen violation of our country’s sovereignty. The Secretary General is needlessly pushing us against the wall and forcing us to seek the help of our friends in the UN Security Council like Russia and China”.
Indeed, Russia—a veto-weilding permanent member of the Security Council—was not waiting for any formal request for help from the Sri Lankan government. Within two days of the report coming out, Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Vladmir Mikhaylov pointed out in Colombo that “ Sri Lanka had every right and obligation to do everything within its means to protect its people from terrorism. Unfortunately it seems the panel of experts went beyond its task as had been made known to our representative in New York.”
Ambassador Mikhaylov added: “The Secretary General should have asked the opinion of the Security Council or the General Assembly on this matter. However, rather than doing so, a panel was appointed.
This makes us cautious since the decision to appoint this panel was a personal initiative of the Secretary General and taken without regarding the position of Sri Lanka as a sovereign state and a member of the UN.”
The Manila Times had the opportunity to review excerpts from the report and by our reckoning it seems that rather than contributing to the on-going climate of peace and reconciliation the panel has opened up old wounds. And instead of offering sound advice it has put forward band aid remedies. For sure this report will give sustenance to the dwindling, but vocal, elements of the Tamil diaspora still reeling from the realization that with the LTTE defeated their hopes for Eelam (a separate state) have been shattered beyond recall.
In. perhaps, the most glaring indictment of its submissions, the panel appears to have opted for selective amnesia when it came to discussing the actrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers, while going into lengthy anguish mode over the perceived sins of the Sri Lankan military. In effect, rather than acting as a trio of advisers offering sound counsel to Ban Ki-moon, the panel comes across like three stooges offering succor to remnants of the LTTE scattered across western capitals.
The panel has steered so recklessly from its original brief that one can’t help thinking somewhat cynically that had the feared leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed while fleeing the battlefield in the closing stages of the war, lived on in defeat to fight another day some of the contents of this report might well have provided the sort of deluded scenario he would have come up with for a post-war Sri Lanka.
In the past week we have had the opportunity to travel to the former strife-ridden areas in the north of Sri Lanka, and the clear impression in inter-acting with the citizenry there is that the people have moved on. One is greeted with smiling happy faces and, unlike before, there is no indication of tension in the air. Small and medium enterprises can be seen springing up everywhere as the resourceful Tamil community strives to catch up on the lost and wasted years. In an interesting fact of how fast things have changed, much of the fish, fruit and vegeatbles to sustain the whole country now come from the north—a clear indication that peace and securityhave returned to Sri Lanka.
That salient point has even been picked up on the global front. Just as the panel’s report was making its awkward journey fron New York to Colombo, Sri Lanka Tourism welcomed a Dutch citizen and his family as the 250,000 tourist arrival in just over the first three months of 2011—a record that many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region would envy.
There is, of course, a significant piece to the advisory panel jigsaw.
Going against better judgement, Ban Ki-moon went ahead and
appointed this panel to appease (as is suspected in some corridors of the UN headquarters) certain western countries whose help and undoubted clout he would need in the coming months to secure a second five year term as Secretary General.
But in playing his cards every which way in order to be all things to some people, Ban Ki- moon may have seriously miscalculated on this one.