Resolution against Sri Lanka at UNHRC: did the US go
too far? - Part II:
Critical info going unexamined by world community
One of its outrageous claims was when it produced a photo of its
leader Prabhakaran reading a copy of the newspaper which carried the
news of his demise, two days after his death, claiming he was alive and
Critics also have questioned how the armed forces could have got rid
of 40,000 bodies in such a short time in a five kilometers sliver of
land without leaving a trace and without being seen via satellites.
It is somewhat surprising that no foreign government, media
organization or human rights group, or indeed the United Nations, heeded
Sri Lanka's protests and re-examined the veracity of the information
published. In the rare instances it was done, such as when the video was
referred to an expert, it was to the same person who had provided the
testing gear. Instead, the focus of all subsequent action was to exclude
government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) representatives from their promotional
meetings to avoid them questioning the information and produce even more
The reluctance to re-examine the basis of their claim can be
explained, in part, by the fast moving world we live in where people
have no time to dwell on issues, or critically examine them, before
moving on to something else. So they assume the published information is
correct. Some indeed take advantage of this haste to 'create news'.
Martin Fletcher, Associate editor of The Times, who spent six hours in
detention in Homs, Syria wrote "The protesters have an agenda of their
own - a vested interest in portraying the government in the blackest
possible light. One 'witness' cited as a source for reports this week
claimed that the regime had shut off supplies of water and electricity
to parts of the city, and was refusing to let residents enter or leave -
but I saw no evidence of that".
There is another, more fundamental reason. Imagine a situation where
the media, the NGOs and other interlocutors agree with GOSL. That would
then end the relentless push to vindicate the terrorist group, and along
with that, the case for violation of human rights. What would this do to
their own survival? NGOs are funded to promote the protection of human
rights. It is not their responsibility to investigate the authenticity
of claims. This applies equally to the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights. NGO heavy weights such as the Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group and most others depend
heavily on donor funding to pursue their objectives. It is the extent to
which they have vindicated the underdog that help attract resources.
Rewards for help to protect the minority player whether the premises
are accurate or not apply equally to media and governments. The US, UK
and the other promoters of the UNHCR resolution against Sri Lanka all
followed the same route.
It is then not surprising that the three major human rights groups
and media players such as the London Times, invited to make
representations to the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)
which was tasked to determine the facts and circumstances of the war,
refused to do so.
One major drawback the GOSL had was its inability to produce
convincing data to back its position since there had been no census of
population taken in the Northern Province since 1981 when the LTTE took
control. The first census in the Northern Province since hostilities
ended was undertaken last year and this information is now available in
the public domain. It provides interesting data, among other things, on
population and the number of deaths during the period of the war.
According to the census, in accounting for the population that
resided, the total number of deaths in the province during the five
years to 2009 was 22,329. As expected half of this, 11,172, had occurred
in 2009. Thirty percent of this had been recorded in Mullaithivu where
the last stage of fighting took place.
The census also has collected data on cause of death. Of the 2009
figure, 71 percent (7,934) was deaths under extraordinary circumstances
such as accidents, homicides, suicides and acts of terrorism. LTTE
cadres and child soldiers conscripted by the group who died in the war
could comprise a high proportion of it. According to the LLRC report
22,000 LTTE cadres had died in the war through the period since 1976. If
the death toll of the last phase was anywhere near the census numbers it
has to be considerably lower than the claimed 40,000.
In spite of the serious doubts cast by GOSL on the two key strands of
evidence - the documentary video and the casualty figures, the US
persisted with presenting the resolution. This was while recognizing
that it was probably the least justified country to question the human
rights record of another with its own history of possibly much larger
scale violations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There should have
been good reason for this.
One abiding reason is the strength of the Tamil political lobby.
During the last Presidential election 'Tamils for Obama' and 'Tamils for
Clinton' provided significant campaign funding and support to the two
candidates. Being one of the world's richest terrorist organizations,
with an annual income of $300 million as estimated by the FBI, the LTTE
was in a position to play such a powerful role. A good proportion of
these funds were ill gotten through drug trade, credit card fraud and
Obama accepted the Tamil overtures despite the fact that the LTTE was
a listed terrorist organization in the United States. His justification
was the delineation of Tamil terrorists as freedom fighters. The
distinction was spurious since Al-qaeda also claims to be freedom
That support paid handsome dividends for the LTTE. The US dispatched
a planeload of logisticians towards the last stages of the war to work
out modalities for deploying US assets to rescue the terrorist leader
Prabhakaran, his high level cadres and their families to be flown out to
a third country. To implement the plan US ambassador Robert Blake asked
the government to call a ceasefire, ostensibly to rescue the hostages
held by the LTTE. The plan came unstuck when President Rajapaksa
rejected the proposal since the LTTE did not release any hostages and
used the opportunity to regroup and rearm, during the suspension of
hostilities weeks earlier. Prabhakaran himself was not cooperating with
Western moves. Living in isolation in a bunker, he assumed things would
turn out in his favour eventually, and balked at deputies who suggested
surrender to anyone.
The Tamil lobby was equally strong in the UK where at the time Prime
Minister Gordon Brown was fighting for his political life. As part of
wooing Tamil voters in marginal seats he sent his Foreign Secretary
David Milliband to pressure Rajapaksa. Milliband admitted that his focus
on Sri Lanka, spending 60 per cent of his time, was driven by the
looming election in the UK and the importance of British Tamils in
marginal constituencies. Once again Rajapaksa remained adamant.
To be continued