On the United-Nations’ Report on Sri Lanka
When the UN report that came out recently indicted Sri Lanka for war crimes and crimes against humanity, activists following the crisis in Sri Lanka were least surprised. The Lankan state’s war on the Tamils, which it has been waging openly for over three decades in order to crush their national aspirations, has witnessed every imaginable and unimaginable atrocity being committed – with the all too common argument of “war on terror.” The Permanent People’s Tribunal, in a hearing at Dublin in January 2010, found conclusive evidence of wanton atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state on Tamil civilians and combatants alike. These included usage of banned chemical weapons, cluster bombs, rampant torture, summary executions and sexual abuse of captured women. So what’s the big deal about the UN report?
The UN report has nothing really new to say that we do not already know. In fact, the leaked parts of the report seem to indicate that those that framed it have only a partial understanding of the conflict and the demands of the Tamils. Yet, whether we like it or not, the UN happens to be recognized as a legal arbitrator of international affairs and a report, even should it be a mild one, on war crimes will be taken seriously by most countries. Its inadequacies and biases, of course, have been pointed out by many experts. But at the moment, this particular report on Sri Lanka does open up some possibilities for generating a movement for justice to the Eelam Tamils.
The impact of the report was immediately felt. Sri Lankan officials dismissed the report as rubbish. They have also sought the help of China and Russia, countries that have a consistent record of human rights violations themselves, to defend them against prosecution. Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa went on a jingoistic diatribe claiming that he was willing to even face the electric chair for his country, knowing fully well that it would never happen, but just to flare up the sentiments of his Sinhala-chauvinist supporters. One is actually worried that his threats to have protests against the report on May Day might not lead to violence against the Tamils. Given the massive military-bureaucratic apparatus and the triumphalist mentality that exists in Sri Lanka now, should a breakout of violence happen, it will just end in a Kristallnacht of sorts. It would be indeed a sad reflection on affairs if the world powers allow that…
Activists in Tamil Nadu and politicians who have used the Eelam struggle for their careers should take this UN report seriously. Coming as it is from a recognized legal body, they should use the report to push for the recognition of genocide in the Tamil Nadu Assembly that shall soon be formed after the elections. Till now, that has been avoided since it has only been independent tribunals or commissions that have accused the Lankan state of genocide. Now, the Assembly cannot have any excuse to not officially recognize the crimes of the Lankan state and push for concrete steps in favor of the Eelam Tamils.
While the UN report is indeed a powerful weapon for the Eelam Tamils, especially the diaspora, to secure justice for the brutalities they suffered, they must not lose sight of their political demands. The opportunity that they have now requires a twin-track approach – one, to mobilize international pressure to prosecute those in the Sri Lankan government who are guilty of war crimes. Two, to generate support for their legitimate demands for national self-determination. If the latter is forgotten, this opportunity might just slip into a human rights discourse, one that our liberal democracies in the west are all too familiar with.