Why did the the Rajapaksas lie to the people of Sri Lanka?
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
The state has a right under international law to ensure its national security and to defend itself against armed attacks…. Those ends do not however justify all means to achieve them; all actions for those legitimate purposes must comply with the requirements of international law…”— The Darusman Report
Ne plus ultra (Not further beyond): the inscription believed to have been carved on the Pillars of Heracles (Straits of Gibraltar), warning seafarers against venturing any further. In politics there is a ‘Ne plus ultra’ line which cannot be crossed with impunity.
The LTTE, by attacking civilians, conscripting children and murdering political-opponents, ventured far beyond this line, time and again. The revulsion caused by these excesses caused an international backlash; according to the Darusman Report, “By 2006, 32 countries had listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation…. LTTE fundraising and arms procurement abilities were severely constrained thereafter.”
Remarkably, of these 32 countries, many were Western nations home to large Lankan-Tamil communities. Though sympathetic to the Tamil cause, most either helped Colombo or remained neutral, as the Tiger sank under the deadweight of its colossal crimes and errors. As the Report points out, “Many Sri Lankans and others round the world were relieved that the….LTTE renowned for its brutality was defeated……. However many people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere were deeply disturbed about the means used to achieve the victory…”
That is the crux of the matter: the Lankan regime is being faulted in the Darusman Report not for battling and defeating the LTTE, but for being blasé about the safety and wellbeing of civilian Tamils during and after the war. Contrary to the regime’s assertions, the Report accepts Sri Lanka’s right to defend herself militarily: “International law….respects the legitimate interests of a state like Sri Lanka facing a threat like the LTTE.” Thus the Report is not anti-war. It critiques the regime for causing avoidable civilian casualties; for example, it alleges that the UN hub in the No-Fire-Zone was shelled on January 24, 2009: “The United Nations security officer, a highly experienced military officer….discerned that the shelling was coming from the south, from SLA positions…. When United Nations staff emerged from the bunker…. mangled bodies and body parts were strewn all around them, including those of women and children. Remains of babies had been blasted upwards into the trees…. Although LTTE cadres were present in the NFZ, there was no LTTE presence inside the United Nations hub….”
The Report also alleges that the Army shelled civilian groupings even where UAV identification was possible: “On 8th April 2009, a large group of women and children, who were queued up at a milk powder distribution line…..were shelled…… Some of the dead mothers still clutched cards which entitled them to milk powder for their children.”
The Report severely critiques the regime for treating civilian Tamils with brutal insensitivity, post-war. For instance, it argues that “by keeping Menik Farm and other farms closed, and failing to release the IDPs, it did not allow the IDPs to seek shelter with relatives.” Since the camps lacked even basic facilities, this closed-door policy caused avoidable sufferings and preventable deaths. The Report also faults the Lankan regime for its failure to offer Tamils a New Deal: “Nearly two years after the end of fighting the root causes of the ethno-nationalist conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations of Sri Lanka remain largely unaddressed and human rights violations continue”. (In fact, the regime is planning to turn the 13th Amendment into a dead-letter by transferring the powers of elected provincial councils into non-elected Jana Sabhas controlled by Presidential-sibling Basil Rajapaksa).
The regime accuses the Darusman Report of creating national-disunity. Sadly it is the Rajapaksas who wantonly wasted an ideal opportunity to create a genuine Sri Lankan identity, post-war. In its death throes, the Tiger abandoned all pretexts, and demonstrated that it did not care an iota for Tamils. For instance, according to the Darusman Report, “…in mid-April, LTTE cadres….forcibly recruited hundreds of young people from Valayanmadam Church….. Parents begged and cried for them not to be taken away to fight and to an almost certain death, but to no avail.”
The psychological conditions for weaning Tamils away from the LTTE/Eelam and winning them for a Lankan future were thus very much present, post-war. This potential could have been realised had the Rajapaksas not depicted and treated all civilian Tamils as actual/potential Tigers, had they appealed to impulses of kindness and generosity in the South rather than encouraging triumphalism and cultivating a fear-psychosis. Post-war, the Rajapaksas opted not for mercy and reconciliation, but for collective punishments and revengeful justice. This choice, rather than the Darusman Report, is responsible for Sri Lanka’s current condition as a psychologically-divided country.
When the UN Secretary General appointed his Advisory Panel, the regime enacted a tragicomedy and declared that it will neither recognise the Panel nor deal with it. And yet, as the Darusman Report reveals, the regime, while thundering insults at the Panel publicly, did engage with it secretly, behind the back of the nation: “The Government of Sri Lanka provided an explanation of the philosophy that frames its approach to accountability both in written responses to questions from the Panel and in a meeting on 22 February 2011 in New York….”
Why did the Rajapaksas lie to the people? Was it because they wanted to persuade the Panel not to come up with an adversarial report while using the Panel’s existence to ignite patriotic-hysteria locally? Mahinda Rajapaksa’s outburst of juvenile-euphoria about being voted No. 4 on the Time magazine’s list of influential persons demonstrates, yet again, that underneath his anti-Western bluster our President yearns to shine, not in Beijing and Tehran, but in Washington and London. Was this why the regime secretly cultivated a moderate image in New York while maintaining an anti-UN and anti-West façade in Colombo?
Having painted itself into a corner, Colombo is hoping that Delhi will come to its rescue. To achieve this purpose the Rajapaksas will make economic concessions to India and promise political concessions to Tamils. Will Delhi fall for it, again, ignoring the welter of emotions in Chennai on this issue? Can Delhi afford international intervention on its doorstep, given the Kashmiri factor?
On May 1st, the Rajapaksas are expected to launch their anti-UN Pada/Rath Yathra. According to the regime, it is the patriotic duty of all Lankans to dismiss the Report in toto. Anyone who thinks the Report should be read and analysed, let alone investigated by an independent body, is thus deemed an anti-patriot.
The Tiger creed demanded that Tamils cultivate an unconditional and unquestioning faith in the Leader, if they did not want to be castigated as traitors. As the Darusman Report pointed out “Vellupillai Pirapaharan demanded absolute loyalty and sacrifice and cultivated a cult-like following. Internal dissent was not tolerated….” This meant maintaining a ‘patriotic’ silence, as the Tiger went from excess to execrable excess. That path of total-submission to the Leader’ ended not in Eelam but in utter and total defeat. If we give the Rajapaksas a carte blanche in the name of patriotism, an equally unpalatable end will await us, someday.