TWO years after its war against the Tamil Tigers ended, the government of Sri Lanka is trying desperately to avoid an UN investigation being launched into alleged war crimes during the fighting.
The government is now making the rounds of various countries, trying to bolster support for its position, and has first gone to India, the power-broker in the region. But there is a damning UN report (PDF, 9.2 MB) which clearly indicates that civilians were killed in cold blood during the war which ended an insurrection that ran for nearly 30 years.
There are videos on the internet, including a couple that have been broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 TV channel, of Tamil civilians being blindfolded and shot in the back of the head by uniformed Sri Lankan troops. An army official and a soldier have both told the channel of how the policy during the war was to shoot to kill, not to bother about taking prisoners. And these orders came right from the top, which means the president, Mahinda Rajapakse.
Rajapakse ‘s brother, Gotabaya, implemented these decisions as he is the defence minister. As someone who holds joint US and Sri Lankan citizenship, he is more likely than others to face a a probe for involvement in war crimes. It all depends on which lobby wins out – the government or the supporters of the Tamils.
Sri Lanka is not a signatory to many UN conventions and hence is not bound to carry out a probe despite the damning report. However, the secretary-general can force the country to accept an investigation if he so decides. But like the heads of the UN in the past, Ban Ki-moon has never shown firmness in dealing with anything. A great deal thus depends on countries which still place some value on human rights.
Former UN official Gordon Weiss has written a book about the war which is due to be available in the next day or two. This would be the first authoritative account of the conflict to see the light of day – all that has aired by both sides in the conflict has been propaganda.
There are tens of thousands of Tamils still held in camps in Sri Lanka; the government’s stance is that it wants to weed out the guerrillas among them and the release the rest. But two years on, this excuse is beginning to wear a little thin.
Trying to convince the world that it is aiming at reconciliation at this stage is unlikely to work – unless there are powerful sponsors. It looks like India is attempting to play the sponsor, judging by the sentiments reportedly express by Indian officials to the Sri Lankan foreign minister G. L. Peiris. India is, of course, aware that if it took the high road on human rights, then there would be umpteen calls for investigations into the savagery wrought by Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir.
By the end of this year, if no UN probe is begun, one more government would have killed its own citizens in cold blood and got away scot-free. The most dangerous thing about this whole episode is that other countries, like the Philippines, which are plagued by internal unrest due to militant groups fighting for legitimate rights, are beginning to talk of the Sri Lankan method as the model.