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Wall Street Journal calls on 'leaders abroad to tread carefully' on SG's Panel report on Sri Lanka

Focus on fixing the democracy before investigating the past, as "there's a real danger that an international war-crimes investigation would do more harm than good", Wall Street Journal says in an Editorial, April 27, 2011:

Sri Lanka and human rights activists around the world are in an uproar over a report released by a United Nations panel this week on the final months of the island nation's bloody civil war. The survey may prove illuminating, so far as it goes, in terms of understanding what happened during those violent six months in 2009. The greater risk is that the international response will tip Sri Lanka closer to losing the peace.

Colombo's final military push through the Northern Province between January and June 2009 displaced hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. As the fighting neared its conclusion, the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam used thousands of civilians as human shields to try to thwart the army's advance. A three-man panel assembled by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has investigated allegations of atrocities at that time. The bulk of the U.N. report concerns charges that the government didn't do enough to avoid killing civilians and may even have targeted them.

These are serious allegations that deserve an airing. It's hard to see how Sri Lanka can build a stable multi-ethnic society as long as members of its Tamil minority believe they were victims of crimes that have been shoved under a carpet.

But that is where the U.N. and other international parties are in danger of running off the rails. The report calls for a more formal U.N. investigation, perhaps culminating in a war crimes tribunal. That call has been echoed by various human rights groups and may find a sympathetic hearing among some governments. It could prove to be the wrong approach for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's problem is not a lack of interest in getting at the truth of the war's final days. On the contrary, opposition presidential candidate and one-time war hero Gen. Sarath Fonseka made waves during his campaign last year by suggesting a willingness to blow the lid on alleged human-rights abuses while he was head of the war effort. Courageous journalists have tried to write about those events, too. Whether politically or morally motivated, such public discussion will be critical moving forward.

Tamil civilians fled the war zone in northern Sri Lanka in April 2009. Rather, the problem is the measures President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken to stifle that discussion. Gen. Fonseka was arrested and court-martialed after he lost the election. Journalists have repeatedly come under attack, including one war critic, Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was killed by unknown assailants as the final offensive ramped up in 2009.

Cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, also a critic of the government, has been missing for nearly a year and a half. Earlier this year, the offices of opposition news website Lanka eNews were burned in an apparent arson attack, and its editor Bennette Rupasinghe was briefly jailed on questionable charges late last month before being let out on bail.

Against this backdrop, there's a real danger that an international war-crimes investigation would do more harm than good. The "international community" already is deeply discredited in many Sri Lankan eyes for its failure to stand against the neo-Marxist Tigers as they waged bloody battle on Sinhalese and Tamil civilians alike. As the war neared its conclusion, foreign powers criticized the military effort without ever offering a plausible alternative.

For the U.N. or some other institution to launch a formal tribunal now would only allow Mr. Rajapaksa to bolster domestic support among the ethnic majority Sinhalese by playing the nationalism card. His government already is trying to dismiss this week's U.N. report on exactly those grounds, suggesting the process has been unfair and politicized. Given the U.N.'s track record, it will be easy for Mr. Rajapaksa's supporters to credit such arguments, undermining his domestic opposition.

The international community would do better to focus on building the institutions that will eventually allow Sri Lankans to grapple with their own war history. That might mean, for now, focusing less on the end of the war and more on issues such as demanding greater press freedom and a more open political process.

Leaders could also press Colombo to revisit last year's constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits, which cleared the way for Mr. Rajapaksa to entrench himself in power. The U.N. report raises such issues, but the report's focus on war crimes has distracted from these points. These issues don't cut across nationalist lines and could lead to a more stable Sri Lanka with more justice for all of its citizens.

Sri Lanka is at a critical moment as it emerges from a decades-long war and rebuilds its politics and economy. There are worrying signs the Rajapaksa government already is heading in the wrong direction. That makes it even more important for leaders abroad to tread carefully, lest they inadvertently push the country back into sectarian strife. (courtesy: Wall Street Journal)

6 Comments

if your mother sister and brothers

massacared and raped,

would you keep the same line?

i want justice for my families sufferings !

whoever harmed my family brought to justice!

my priorities are accountability and justice!

peace comes after!

it's alright for outsiders to preach what is best

but they haven't sufferd or now suffering?

Posted by: chelliah | April 27, 2011 02:42 PM

Your article based on assumptions and without any realty or knowledge on the ethinic problem in the country. So called Tigers or LTTE wouldn't have come to excistance if the Sinhala governments of present or past had given the Tamils their due place to live with equal rights and freedom like anyother other races in the country. They were discreminated from jobs, education,development and more than anything lost their freedom to live a normal life. They were treated like second class citizens in their own country. This lead to armed stuggle and violence unleashed by both the goverment and tigers. If the so called international communities had taken the issues seriously and excerted enough pressure on the government they would have chaged their dicreminatory trend and done something change their attitude and directions and would have agreed to share the political power with the Tamils. All the Western and Asian and FarEaster blocks including China, Pakistan and India even Briton and America were supplying arms and ammunisions to let the Sri Lankan government to do what they did during the later part of the Wanni war. Innocent civilians were killed in thousands, they were denied medical help or tretment. Some of them were starving for weeks with out proper food, dring or shelter. These people were unfortunate in the wrong place at the wrong time and were cought up cought up in between the devil and the deep sea. If you are an not going to punish the government for the attrocities they commited on the civilian population under the guise of fighting against the terrorism who is going to find justice to the innocent victims of war?

Posted by: Martin Thomas | April 27, 2011 08:20 PM

This is the BEST assessment of the report that I have read ! If the report and the world body paints the Rajapakses' into a corner, it will result in the total collapse of even this semblance of democracy that we have in Sri Lanka.

Reconciliation with the Tamil people will become impossible due to the polarization of the Sinhala.

It will then become imperative for the Rajapakses' to remain in power ( or else they will be handed over to the Haig for trial) and then what happens ?

Armed insurrection, military intervention ....a situation worse than before.

Ensure democracy first. The best this report can do is to scare the present autocrats into removing the draconian emergency powers that they sustain their regime on.

Posted by: Ravana | April 27, 2011 09:44 PM

WSJ says that "The international community would do better to focus on building the institutions that will eventually allow Sri Lankans to grapple with their own war history........"

This means WSJ is implying that UN is not an institution that belong to the International Community . Like SL comprises of divided communities, the International Institutions also have divided communities particulalrly among the elite nations which control the global agendas.

When Tamil plantation workers were made statless the IC didi not do anything. In 1958 the Tamils living in Colmbo and rest of the South were set up on by the politicians the IC did not do anything about the accountability of the dead Tamils and encouraged the GOSL to send them to their traditional habitats in the NE, except welcoming the English educated into the Western countries. It happened again 1983 the same thing by the IC about the accountability of dead Tamils except opening their immigration sysytem to allow more Tamils as refugees.

At least since 2002 IC intervened and now 2 years after the war at least the UN has come out with a credible report which can not be dismissed as fiction because already learned Sinhalese are asking question why no accountability in Iraq, Libya and other places. These Phd holders are talking about magnitudes and in their perpetual Ritcher scale the dead Tamil civiliance are negligible not even a tremor.

For me this report is like a nuclear power and has lot of positives to act up on. So WSJ areguments are like condeming nuclear Power because of what happened in Japan. Ofcourse pressing for more press freedom, open political processes are emergency measures to like preventing further contamination aftermath of Nuclear disaster due to Tsnuami in Japan. But proper action based on the report by IC is a must to prevent repition of Violence on its civilians either by the state or by the rebels.

Even if International justice with regards accountability on the killing of civilians takes time, there are other interim measures like sanctions (eg economic, military particulalry that will stop colonising the NE provinces ) by united UN will make the Southern Massess to realise the importance of rejecting unfair policies of the current regime which is going to affect the whole country not just the NE.

Posted by: Arjuna's Chariot Rider | April 28, 2011 12:26 AM

This UN report is a good guess of what went in 2009 during the war. But i strongly suggest
this will not harm for Sri Lanka if our leaders do a fair investigation with the help of international neutral bodies.The responsible people are well known few figures and there subordinates but the real blame goes to the ones who made commands.
Mahinda Rajapaksha,Gotabaya,Sarath Fonseka,Palitha Kohona,GL peris from Srilankan government.Prabhakaran,Pottu Amman,Charles,K.P and some other LTTE carders.
Now most LTTE responsible s are dead or with the government.
So why not all those culprits take in to investigations... these are only few individuals and sri lanka is a country with 20 million people. Please the world should not prevent such anti human criminals live around freely.....
Let the justice begin.............. and punish those individuals and prevent such things in any corner of the world......
Russia,China are our friends but not to help in hiding these thugs who kill tamils but not only tamils Sinhalese as well for there power craze..........
Be wise and think 1000 times investigate and punish !

Posted by: manmohan | April 28, 2011 12:45 AM

A Human Rights Defender in from Sri Lanka tells me this.

We expressed concerns and gave advance notices on rampant violations and sought (begged for) responses from the international community (IC) during the heightened ‘war days’ in 2008/09.

The IC had the usual answer to us.

It was that, "however bad the situation, we cannot disengage GoSL. If we disengage it will end up with massive unrestrained devastation".

It was the standard and typical response we received during all our official and private meetings with the members of the international community, especially the US, EU and India.

It was the kind of justification given for their ‘inaction’ then.

We do not know if TNA MPs met engaged the IC frequently as we did. We do not know what they asked for during their meetings.

We did not ask the IC to save the LTTE. We were begging for the innocent civilians, the voiceless women, children, elders, wounded and other who were caught held in the killing fields. We did not demand any disengagement between IC and GoSL either. We only wanted pressure restrain. But any ‘pressure’ would amount to ‘disengagement’. We were told to understand this small but basic diplomatic fact, sometimes politely, sometimes curtly.

I can name each and every Diplomat posted in Colombo and visiting members of UN, US, all of EU, India and all in hundreds of meetings. I have the meeting details in my diary. I have had near confrontations with this man Bob (Robert Blake. He was more talking about the post war era, the era minus LTTE. He was assuring us a new era with 13 plus. He was asking us to accompany him to meet the brothers to get the personal assurances on HR and Political solution.

Indians generally did not talk to us much. Many a times they postponed our official meetings with them. But in private Indian diplomats agreed with us and explained their inability to convince Delhi. IHC in Colombo mostly restricted their talks only with the TNA MPs. It was comfortable for them. Indians had the holds on them as main TNA leader MPs had their families in Tamilnadu and on.

The ugly haste of the military onslaught of the GoSL, that the panel report describes in other words, killed the civilians. In the final the weeks, LTTE was on the run. Their fire power was long over. But SLA did not stop. They wanted to 'finish' them before the Indians elections were over. There was a small likelihood that Congress govt in Delhi would go and BJP will replace. GoSL did not want to take even that small ‘risk’. Hence the ‘ugly-deadly haste’ killed civilians. It is basic truth on Sri Lanka's deadly war without witness against Tamil tigers and Tamil civilians. It is all about.

GoSL and LTTE are 1st and 2nd parties. But all those named above had their respective contributions in the KILL.

The war devastation is history today. The so called ‘engagement’ of the international community with the GoSL did not bring any solace but definitely helped the devastation. It was the ‘unrestrained devastation’ these guys promised to ‘restrain through their engagements with GoSL’, alright.

Now again a western ‘Pandithaya’ is coming out with his or her ‘do not rock kind Advice’ here in this WSJ editorial. I can only describe this as the highest form of stupidity who fail to read recent history and an act of a collaborator.

Anushka Ariyaratne

Posted by: Anushka | April 28, 2011 10:50 PM

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