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Panel Report fails to recognize:

Terrorists, biggest violators of HR - Prof. Rohan Gunaratna

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, an international counter terrorism expert who has closely researched LTTE’s evolution and it’s warfare says the UN report fails to recognize terrorists are the biggest violators of human rights although it has recognised the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.

The most alarming aspect of the Panel Report is that it disputes the official UN statistics and agrees with LTTE statistics. The Panel is giving voice to the LTTE through the UN by repeating the LTTE’s inflated numbers. Prof. Gunaratna also added, “It also fails to recognise the sacrifice of 23,790 Security Forces personnel since 1981 and the fact that Sri Lanka ended terrorism, held elections in the North and the East and today there is peace and harmony.”His advise is that the Sri Lankan Government should respond, not react, to the Panel Report. Otherwise, the world will believe that the report is accurate.

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna
                                           Pic: by Rukmal Gamage

Q: The UN Secretary General’s advisory panel released their final report on Sri Lanka on Monday, April 25. The report indicates that ‘serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law’ may have been committed by the LTTE ‘during the final stages of the war’. In this backdrop is it possible to probe the LTTE by the US and the UN?

A: The UN should not investigate the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The LTTE has been adequately investigated by the Sri Lankan government and dismantled at great cost to the country.

With modest international assistance, the government eliminated the threat posed by Prabhakaran and the core group of leaders actively responsible for unlawful killings starting with Alfred Duraiappah, the dynamic Mayor of Jaffna, former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, the former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Lakshman Kadirgamar, and tens of thousands of Sri Lankan and Indian military, law enforcement and intelligence officers.

Although the member states of the UN can assist, the UN as a body lacks the expertise and the capacity to act against the LTTE at a tactical and an operational level.

Behind the scenes, the US government especially the FBI and the Department of Defence helped Sri Lanka to fight and finish the LTTE. Sri Lanka remains in debt to the US for this assistance although elements in the US State Department have been significantly lobbied by the LTTE.

However, Sri Lanka must not forget that the US government investigations into the LTTE on US soil disrupted LTTE capacity both to raise funds and ship weapons. As the LTTE remains a designated group, the US is continuing to monitor LTTE criminal and political activism on US soil and will act when appropriate with another wave of arrests.

Q: The LTTE remnants proclaimed a Trans National Government to advocate the LTTE’s separatist ideology, following the annihilation of its leadership in Sri Lanka. The Chief of this transnational government is Rudrakumaran, a lawyer domiciled in the US. Can the US and other countries, arrest or take action to investigate the operations of the leaders of this outfit based on this advisory panel report?

A: Rudrakumaran an immigration lawyer served as the legal advisor to the LTTE. At the talks in Norway, Rudrakumaran who wanted to curry favour with Prabhakaran, opposed Anton Balasingham and Karuna’s call for a compromise with the Sri Lankan government in the direction of peace. His interest is political power and not genuine peace. If he violates US laws he will be arrested, charged and prosecuted like many of his former associates who are serving long term sentences.

Even within the LTTE led by Nediyawan, there are many who want him replaced as they see him as a man driven by politics and power rather than genuine concern for the suffering Tamils.

The Sri Lanka government should take a bold step and invite him to visit Sri Lanka and see for himself what the country has done to hold elections, give freedom to the people, rebuild the North and the East, and look after 11,500 former LTTE leaders and cadres.

Q: The LTTE is listed as a designated terrorist organisation in over 30 countries including the EU, US, Canada and India. But the UN Secretary General’s panel has failed to recognise them as a group of terrorists. What impact does it make on the international war on terrorism?

A: No, the UN Panel Report recognises the LTTE as terrorists. However, the UN report fails to recognise that terrorists are the biggest violators of human rights. It also fails to recognise the sacrifice of 23,790 security forces personnel since 1981.

Since LTTE recommenced the fight in Mavil Aru in August 2006 until May 2009, 6,261 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and 29,551 were wounded. Lastly, the UN panel report failed to recognise that Sri Lanka ended terrorism, held elections in the North and the East and today there is peace and harmony.

As it lacked the expertise, the UN itself did not help Sri Lanka directly in its fight against terrorism. However, the UN Conventions helped to criminalise the LTTE as a terrorist group.

To quote Victor Comras, the author of Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism (Potomac Books, 2010), “...the strategy that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed to the General Assembly in May 2006 contains many proposed measures and objectives that remain unfulfilled, thus rendering the UN virtually impotent against terrorism.” Although individuals in the UN remain steadfastly committed to the fight against terrorism, as an organisation it needs greater understanding of the terrorism challenge. By engaging the UN rather than criticizing it, Sri Lanka can help the UN to play a much more useful role in the fight against terrorism.

Q: What is your definition on the LTTE, as it stands now?

A: The LTTE has reconstituted itself as an ideological, political, informational and ideological force in the past two years. As Sri Lanka celebrated the defeat of the LTTE, the LTTE international emerged as a strategic threat to Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government should post its best law enforcement and intelligence officers to work with their international counterparts to dismantle the LTTE.

In parallel, the Sri Lanka Army should create an information service to counter propaganda both instigated and inspired by the LTTE. Likewise, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Information should have the capacity to counter LTTE disinformation and misinformation as well as promote the unprecedented development in its Northern and Eastern provinces.

Unless the government moves in this direction, the post Prabhakaran LTTE will return to haunt Sri Lanka.

Q: Some critics say the UN report is a clear indication that the Government failed in its war against terrorism with the LTTE-internationally?

A: While harnessing its best minds, the Sri Lankan foreign office cannot fight this battle without bringing in a new set of highly skilled men and women to the frontline. They should not be relatives or friends or party activists but some of the best minds in Sri Lanka.

In addition to retaining Minister Peiris as Minister, the President should bring in Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, an expert on human rights, to the Ministry of External Affairs full time until this crisis is over.

The President should appoint former Minister Milinda Moragoda as his personal envoy to bring US, UK and France up to speed on post-war developments in the North and the East and former Under Secretary General of the UN Jayantha Dhanapala as a presidential advisor to both engage the UN and advice the government on the UN system.

While Moragoda participated in all the rounds of talks with the LTTE, Dhanapala was the head of the Peace Secretariat and they are fully aware of the ground reality in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has the only foreign ministry in the world without a proper legal affairs division.

The President should invite Anura Meddegoda, a former Prosecuting Attorney from the Hague, as the Legal Advisor to the Ministry of External Affairs.

Instead of appointing friends or relatives to diplomatic posts, the government must reduce the percentage of political appointees.

Jayantha Palipana, a highly competent diplomat, should not be sent to the Middle East but to a Western country where LTTE inspired and directed activism is significant.

Q: In your opinion did the Government Forces commit greater war crimes than the LTTE. The report seems to be indicating just that?

A: Written from a humanitarian law and a human rights law perspective, the UN Panel report states that both the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE committed war crimes. There are similar allegations against the US and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistani forces in tribal Pakistan, Israeli forces in Gaza and Indian forces in Kashmir.

If at all Sri Lanka is going to be investigated, there should be similar investigations to conflicts that have produced larger civilian fatalities and casualties. For instance, Iraq and Afghanistan produced one million civilian deaths.

A professionally trained soldier will not kill a civilian.

There may have been atrocities committed by individual soldiers of the Sri Lankan army but the Sri Lankan army had no deliberate policy to kill, maim or injure civilians.

Even the Sri Lankan military looked after LTTE leaders, members and employees and even their families exceptionally well.

When the World Food Program stopped giving rations, the Sri Lankan soldiers gave their ration packs to LTTE detainees, a practice that continues to this date.

As a ceremonial army in the late 1970s and early 1980s, whenever terrorists attacked, angry and poorly trained soldiers conducted reprisals. But this attitude of tit-for-tat changed dramatically after Sri Lankan officers and soldiers received better training and education.

Like in every army, there have been a few exceptions and they have been punished.

Today, the Sri Lankan military is considered one of the most capable forces in the world. Sri Lankan Forces have served with the UN Forces around the world.

Q: The report has identified the LTTE as one of the most {disciplined armies}. As an expert on counter-terrorism and LTTE affairs could you agree with this opinion?

A: Disciplined in the context of the UN Panel report means a negative connotation. It meant LTTE recruits when trained adhered to a strict code, order, and a set of instructions.

To interpret, ideologically indoctrinated and physically trained LTTE cadres functioned as an effective killing machine.

When instructed suicide cadres travelled long distances and conducted targeted assassinations of VIPs and indiscriminate bombings of the public without any compassion for their victims. They were willing to kill and die. Rather than calling the LTTE disciplined, a much more accurate term would have been efficient.

LTTE was a lean and a mean organisation until Eelam War IV. If one examines the actions of the LTTE, the definition of brutal, cruel or ruthless applies.

The LTTE rank and file was tightly controlled. Nothing happened in the LTTE without the approval of Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman, the two proclaimed offenders of the Gandhi assassination, and his senior commanders.

On a global scale, LTTE ranks among the most violent groups.

The atrocities by Al Qaeda, Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas, Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban pale in comparison with those committed by the LTTE.

Q: How do you think Sri Lanka should respond to this UN panel report?

A: The Sri Lankan government should respond, not react, to the panel report. Otherwise, the world will believe that the report is accurate. The most alarming aspect of the Panel report is that it disputes the official UN statistics and agrees with LTTE statistics. The Panel is giving voice to the LTTE through the UN by repeating the LTTE’s inflated numbers.

The Sri Lankan government should learn a very important lesson from this report.

The UN panel report is a direct result of the failure of the Sri Lankan government to counter LTTE propaganda globally. Hereafter, Sri Lankan diplomats should cultivate the habit of not allowing a single story adverse to Sri Lanka to be published anywhere without countering it.

Ideally the Ministry of External Affairs should recruit the best and brightest information specialists in the country and build a 24-7 media centre dedicated to monitoring and responding to the international press, the very same way the Ministry of Defence built one for the domestic media.

With the shift in LTTE activities from the domestic to the international arena in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government failed to recognise a new set of capabilities it should build to counter that horizon.

Today, it is paramount for Sri Lanka to re-engage (a) an important segment of the international community, notably the US, UK, and France; (b) the advocacy NGOs, notably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and (c) the radicalised segments of the diaspora.

The Sri Lankan government should create within its ministry of external affairs a post of Additional Secretary for Public Diplomacy.

In addition to media, counter terrorism, this new division should include two new capabilities - diaspora affairs and NGOs division especially to keep advocacy NGOs such as human rights organisations briefed.

Until now, Sri Lanka’s response both to this report and to global developments lacks professionalism. Rather than accrue political mileage by harnessing public rage and resentment triggered by this report, Sri Lanka should rise to the occasion.

The President should place an embargo on any minister commenting on this report except the foreign minister and those authorised by him.

Q: Sri Lanka was able to defeat one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world and wipe out its military wing and the leadership two years ago. Many countries congratulated its victory. But, do you think this advisory panel report will have a reverse effect?

A: No, the UN Panel Report will not negate the victory Sri Lanka achieved in defeating a terrorist and an insurgent group designated by the UN. The UN Panel of Experts never visited Sri Lanka and interviewed the key players. For instance, the Panel should visit the centres rehabilitating former LTTE leaders and cadres, the unprecedented development in the North and the East devastated by 30 years of war, review the documentation on how government provided humanitarian assistance to the LTTE controlled areas, and interview the formation commanders who fought in the last war.

The UN panel report is largely based on reporting by human rights, media, and international organisations heavily lobbied by the LTTE as well as front, cover and sympathetic organisations of the LTTE.

For instance the Panel quotes from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), a LTTE front group acknowledged by the international security and intelligence community as a principal provider of funds for LTTE procurement of arms, ammunition and explosives. While the Sri Lankan government lacking in public diplomacy failed to reflect the ground reality of the fight in the terminal phase (September 2008-May 2009), LTTE’s aggressive and selective reporting influenced human rights, media and international organisations including the UN panel.

Q: How fair is it on Sri Lanka to get itself investigated, by the advisory panel, on what happened in the last leg of the conflict where the LTTE was obviously diminished to a defensive mode. Shouldn’t they have evaluated the entire conflict where all the atrocities committed by the LTTE would have been taken into account?

A: The LTTE combat power decreased starting in 2007 due to the systematic destruction of its shipping fleet that was transporting arms, ammunition and explosives. As such, the LTTE could not fight as effectively as the Sri Lankan forces that had increased its firepower and manpower. Although the LTTE’s capacity for conventional war fighting diminished, the LTTE’s appetite for massacre, bombings and assassinations did not diminish.

The UN Panel Report chose a limited time framework from October 2008 to May 2009. In my view, the UN panel report did not adequately take into consideration either the background or the context. For instance, the LTTE created the condition for war by withdrawing from the talks, killing the foreign minister, the commanding officer of military intelligence, attempting to kill the army chief, secretary defence, and igniting the conflict by shutting the sluice gates in Mavil Aru denying water to Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil farmers.

 

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