President Rajapaksa is an authoritarian leader but not a dictatorial ruler
by Victor Ivan
The dispute that has arisen between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the UNO over the alleged human rights violations presumed to have been committed during the military operations launched by the GoSL against the LTTE appears to be growing out of proportion. Even personal factors seem to have influenced to an extent which is highly unnecessary in exacerbating the problem. As a member country, the manner in which the Government of Sri Lanka responded to the UN when it sought clarifications on alleged violations cannot be deemed correct or reasonable.
In clarifying its position, the Government of Sri Lanka should have adopted a more restrained approach without giving way to feelings of hatred and emotion. Similarly, the policy adopted by the UN on this issue cannot be considered fair and reasonable. The rigid stand taken by the UN with the intent of strangulating a member country of the organisation over an alleged offence is not the kind of treatment expected of an organisation of the caliber of the United Nations.
There are three main factors which the General Secretary of the UN and the Advisory Committee that he appointed to investigate into the alleged offences should have taken into consideration but not taken note of.
1. Terrorism, all major powers of the world and the UN have unequivocally recognised as a serious menace that the modern world has encountered today. It has become a vicious plague fast spreading all over the world. The LTTE had earned a unique place in the global terrorist networks. It was considered the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world. In the circumstances, had the LTTE been successful in preserving its existence in the wake of the battle against the Government of Sri Lanka, it would not only have created a veritable source of great delight for the international terrorist organisations but also offered a strong impetus, a moral boost in energising global terrorism, its growth and expansion.
Yet, the defeat that the LTTE suffered dealt a heavy blow on global terrorism.
Undoubtedly, it led to deplete the enchantment of terrorist organisations and weaken their growth and expansion. The defeat of the LTTE became a hot topic and a subject of serious discussion in global terrorist circles. In that sense, we can safely claim that little Sri Lanka has made an outstanding contribution to the global effort of eradicating the menace of terrorism from the face of the world. In the circumstances, it is rather unfortunate and pathetic that the UN and some great powers have not been magnanimous enough to grant due credit to Sri Lanka which it rightly deserves.
The stand taken by the UN in the aftermath of the eradication of the LTTE would no doubt deter other countries afflicted with the menace of terrorism taking any aggressive action and stringent measures as they might fear that military confrontation between legitimate governments and terrorist outfits could entail the horrifying risk of being answerable to the UN with the eventual threat of being punished for violation of human rights. On the other hand, this will be an added impetus for terrorist organisations which are rendered weak to resuscitate and re-emerge with renewed vigour.
The main strength of terrorist outfits lies in the fact that they do not pursue military operations in accordance with rule book theories and principles. It is therefore, not easy for a conventional army which acts on conventional warfare to defeat a terrorist outfit. The rules applied for a war between two conventional armies cannot be applied in an identical manner when it is engaged in a war against terrorism. The UN has defined policies to be adopted in the sphere of conventional warfare. But the policies to be adopted when countering terrorism have not been defined yet.
In the war against terrorism a civilian may suddenly storm in the form of a lethal human bomb. Conventional rule books or art of war have not defined how to deal with a suicide bomber. The LTTE often employed their cadres in civilian clothes in launching suicide attacks outside the areas of their control. Dhanu, the suicide bomber who killed Rajiv Gandhi came in civilian clothing and not in her uniform. Yet, it is customary that all those who die while in civilian clothes are counted as civilians.
This, however, must not be misconstrued that the legal armies should be vested with powers to destroy any person whom they suspect to be a terrorist when engaged in a war against terrorism. But they should have power to go beyond the rules which are usually applicable in conventional warfare. The law should be enforced against military only if this power is abused consciously and deliberately. It is my view that Sri Lanka was successful in defeating the LTTE because the army moved away from conventional tactics themselves forming into small guerilla type groups and launched surprise attacks on selected terrorist targets. That I believe is the main secret behind the success of the war against the LTTE.
This in fact bewildered Prabhakaran, consequently depleting his confidence and courage.
Sri Lankan security forces have successfully suppressed two terrorist uprisings on two occasions. One was in the Sinhalese South. The other in the Tamil North. Both these uprisings were defeated at a time they had emerged victorious to a great extent. The policy adopted in the suppression of the Sinhalese JVP insurrection and the Tamil LTTE uprising was the same. There was no discrimination in this policy just because the JVP was an insurrection of Sinhalese youth and the LTTE was that of Tamil youth. This shows that the security forces have not adopted different policies based on ethnicity. It was a common policy that was adopted in suppressing both uprisings irrespective of who has initiated them.
The JVP did not have artillery guns. They did not have ships and aircraft. They had only light weapons. Despite the drastic difference between the two uprisings, the country had to pay a bigger price when the JVP uprising was suppressed. The loss incurred in terms of human lives in the suppression of the JVP insurrection which lasted for about three years was relatively higher than that of the suppression of the LTTE which lasted 25 years. Had the security forces adhered strictly to the rule book in suppressing these uprisings, the length of both uprisings would have been much longer with a corresponding increase in the loss of lives and destruction caused to property.
Perhaps, the quantum of loss would have gone up by two to three times more. Assuming that the alleged human rights violations had in fact taken place which to a certain extent is unavoidable in any kind of warfare pursued against terrorist uprisings anywhere in the world, it is important to note that in Sri Lanka, there were no post war sprees of repression in both these uprisings. The security forces were restrained enough not to take revenge against the families of the rebels. This is a unique quality inherent in the security forces of Sri Lanka.
2. The LTTE was a divisive terrorist outfit that posed a critical challenge to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It was not a terrorist movement that took arms for their security only. They killed not only the members of the security forces who fought against them. They killed thousands of innocent civilians mercilessly who were in no way connected to the war. They destroyed public property worth billions of rupees. They assassinated not only Sinhalese; there were thousands of Tamil civilians among those whom they killed.
They killed the bulk of the celebrated Tamil politicians who were acknowledged to be their leaders by the Tamil community. The LTTE did not stop at killing Tamil political leaders only; its deadly hand fell on the undisputed front line leader Rajiv Gandhi of neighbouring India. The LTTE was not prepared for a negotiated settlement. They fought for a separate state. They were not ready to accept anything short of a separate state. They assassinated Rajiv Gandhi because he forced the LTTE to accept a solution which fell far short of a separate state.
The armed struggle launched by the LTTE critically challenged the very existence of Sri Lanka. So, eradication of the LTTE was an essential prerequisite to ensure the legal existence of Sri Lanka and its territorial integrity. The power that the LTTE had developed and wielded was based on violence and it required a more violent force surpassing that power to suppress it. In the circumstances, when force is unleashed to suppress an equally strong force it is not possible to avoid the occurrence of a considerable number of deaths and casualties. In the process, it was not only the members of the LTTE who became victims of the war. Equally, a large number of government security forces personnel too, were killed.
Both parties may have committed offences going beyond the rule book. But there were no attempts of vengeance against the defeated. After the eradication of the LTTE the doors of liberty which were closed for civilians for almost three decades were opened wide though there were some snags in the rehabilitation process and reorganisation measures introduced by the government to restore the lives of civilians to normalcy. Soon after the war a substantial number of people in the refugee camps were resettled in their respective villages. A bulk of strong LTTE sympathizers were rehabilitated and released. A massive campaign was launched to improve infrastructure facilities in the areas which were devastated by the war. A special campaign was launched to address the grievances of the people connected with the language issue.
Necessary conditions were created in all police stations in the areas where Tamils live, enabling them to deal with their needs in the Tamil language. A policy increasing the participation of Tamils in public service was implemented. Restoring their democratic rights, the Tamils in the North and the East were given the opportunity to select their representatives to the Northern Province Provincial Council and the local government institutions in the North and the Eastern Provinces. Now, the district and provincial level development council meetings are held in these areas on a regular basis with the participation of Tamil Council Members elected by the people. This was a situation which did not exist for nearly 30 years. Moreover, a special condition has been imposed that 70% of the people employed in the construction work and other developmental activities in the North and the East should be recruited from the area itself.
We can safely claim that the people of the North and the East are leading a better life now than under the domination of Prabhakaran though the problems of the Tamil people have not been settled in full. Now they are not sandwiched between two regimes. There is no need for them to pay taxes to two rulers. They can live without any threat of their children being forcibly recruited for military service. Despite these positive developments still there are people who mourn for those who disappeared. Even after the second uprising of the JVP in the Sinhalese South there were families crying for their dear ones who had disappeared.
It is not a good thing for a situation to occur which leads to the disappearance of people. Yet, of those who disappeared in the South all were not innocent. The bulk of them had their hands smeared with blood. This situation is equally true for the Tamils of the North and the East as well. Excessive acts alleged to have been committed during the suppression of the JVP uprising in the South was investigated only after six years of its suppression. By that time the pains had subsided; wounds healed. Society had matured enough to distinguish between the good and the bad. Even the JVP had abandoned its violent path and entered the democratic parliamentary system. There were no obstructions preventing them entering the main stream of politics.
What needs to be done for the defeated Tamil insurgency should be the same as what had been done after the suppression of the JVP insurrection. It is important to investigate into the excesses if any. Yet, it is too early to initiate such investigations. First, we must allow wounds to heal and psychological pains to assuage. Obviously, anything rushed to expedite the process may invariably upset the ethnic harmony which is gradually developing. It is common sense that no government in power would act against the security forces that had contributed to suppress a terrorist uprising launched against the government. It is not in keeping with the political culture that operates in Sri Lanka.
After the second JVP insurrection was suppressed, special legislation was enacted exonerating security forces and the police from all liabilities of excesses committed in the process of suppressing the rebellion. It was only after the change of government that some issues and allegations were investigated into at least to a certain extent. This reality is equally applicable to the Rajapaksa regime too.
If the Rajapaksa government is to be defeated, it should be done by the people of this country and not with any outside intervention. Like all the presidents who came to power after 1977, President Rajapaksa also seems to be an authoritarian leader, but he cannot be considered a dictatorial ruler. Though his appearance demonstrates a greater affinity to and inclination towards Sinhalese cultural milieu, he could be considered a leader who is pragmatic and exceptionally sensitive to the ethnic issue.
Yet, except for his dedication to the rapid progress and the economic development of the country, he does not seem to have displayed exceptional commitment or sensitivity towards promoting democracy, good governance, freedom of expression and thwarting corruption. Of the leaders who came to power after independence, Mahinda Rajapaksa could be described as the leader who had performed a greater volume of work for the development of the country. He is the most charismatic leader of the people of the country.
Consequences of any attempt to pound such a leader, pushing his back to the wall will not augur well particularly for Sri Lanka and the world in general as it might lead to crystallise his domineering spirit with Sri Lanka being pushed to an extreme end in the global political scenario.
(Victor Ivan is Editor-in-Chief of the Ravaya newspaper and author of 15 books.)