No critical examination of data
It is somewhat surprising that no foreign government, media organization or human rights group, or indeed the United Nations, heeded Sri Lanka’s protests and re-examined the veracity of the information published. In the rare instances it was done, such as when the video was referred to an expert, it was to the same person who had provided the testing gear. Instead, the focus of all subsequent action was to exclude GOSL representatives from their promotional meetings to avoid them questioning the information and produce even more similar material.
The reluctance to reexamine the basis of their claim can be explained, in part, by the fast moving world we live in where people have no time to dwell on issues, or critically examine them, before moving on to something else. So they assume the published information is correct. Some indeed take advantage of this haste to ‘create news’. Martin Fletcher, Associate editor of The Times, who spent six hours in detention in Homs, Syria wrote “The protesters have an agenda of their own – a vested interest in portraying the Government in the blackest possible light. One ‘‘witness’’ cited as a source for reports this week claimed that the regime had shut off supplies of water and electricity to parts of the city, and was refusing to let residents enter or leave – but I saw no evidence of that.”There is another, more fundamental reason. Imagine a situation where the media, the NGOs and other interlocutors agree with GOSL. That would then end the relentless push to vindicate the terrorist group, and along with that, the case for violation of human rights. What would this do to their own survival? NGOs are funded to promote the protection of human rights. It is not their responsibility to investigate the authenticity of claims. This applies equally to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. NGO heavy weights such as the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group and most others depend heavily on donor funding to pursue their objectives. It is the extent to which they have vindicated the under-dog that help attract resources.
Rewards for help to protect the minority player whether the premises are accurate or not apply equally to media and governments. The U.S., U.K. and the other promoters of the UNHCR resolution against Sri Lanka all followed the same route.
It is then not surprising that the three major human rights groups and media players such as the London Times, invited to make representations to the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which was tasked to determine the facts and circumstances of the war, refused to do so.
One major drawback the GOSL had was its inability to produce convincing data to back its position since there had been no census of population taken in the northern province since 1981, when the LTTE took control. The first census in the northern province since hostilities ended was undertaken last year and this information is now available in the public domain. It provides interesting data, among other things, on population and the number of deaths during the period of the war.
According to the census, in accounting for the population that resided, the total number of deaths in the province during the five years to 2009 was 22,329. As expected, half of this, 11,172, had occurred in 2009. Thirty percent of this had been recorded in Mullaithivu, where the last stage of fighting took place.
The census also has collected data on cause of death. Of the 2009 figure, 71 percent (7,934) were deaths under extraordinary circumstances such as accidents, homicides, suicides, and acts of terrorism. LTTE cadres and child soldiers conscripted by the group who died in the war could comprise a high proportion of it. According to the LLRC report, 22,000 LTTE cadres had died in the war through the period since 1976. If the death toll of the last phase was anywhere near the census numbers, it has to be considerably lower than the claimed 40,000.
In spite of the serious doubts cast by GOSL on the two key strands of evidence – the documentary video and the casualty figures, the U.S. persisted with presenting the resolution. This was while recognizing that it was probably the least justified country to question the human rights record of another with its own history of possibly much larger scale violations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There should have been good reason for this.
One abiding reason is the strength of the Tamil political lobby. During the last Presidential election ‘Tamils for Obama’ and ‘Tamils for Clinton’ provided significant campaign funding and support to the two candidates. Being one of the world’s richest terrorist organizations, with an annual income of $300 million as estimated by the FBI, the LTTE was in a position to play such a powerful role. A good proportion of these funds were ill gotten through drug trade, credit card fraud, and human trafficking.
Obama accepted the Tamil overtures despite the fact that the LTTE was a listed terrorist organization in the United States. His justification was the delineation of Tamil terrorists as freedom fighters. The distinction was spurious since Al Qaeda also claims to be freedom fighters.
That support paid handsome dividends for the LTTE. The U.S. dispatched a planeload of logisticians towards the last stages of the war to work out modalities for deploying U.S. assets to rescue the terrorist leader Prabhakaran and his high level cadres and their families to be flown out to a third country. To implement the plan, U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake asked the government to call a ceasefire, ostensibly to rescue the hostages held by the LTTE. The plan came unstuck when President Rajapaksa rejected the proposal since the LTTE did not release any hostages and used the opportunity to regroup and rearm, during the suspension of hostilities weeks earlier. Prabhakaran himself was not cooperating with western moves. Living in isolation in a bunker, he assumed things would turn out in his favor eventually, and balked at deputies who suggested surrender to anyone.
The Tamil lobby was equally strong in the U.K., where at the time Prime Minister Gordon Brown was fighting for his political life. As part of wooing Tamil voters in marginal seats he sent his Foreign Secretary David Milliband to pressure Rajapaksa. Milliband admitted that his focus on Sri Lanka, spending 60 percent of his time, was driven by the looming election in the U.K. and the importance of British Tamils in marginal constituencies. Once again Rajapaksa remained adamant.
Leading up to the U.S. Presidential elections due later in the year, the timing seems ideal, once again, for the terrorist group to apply pressure on President Obama. The U.S. push for the UNHRC resolution reflects this influence. It also shows that the west has not forgotten or forgiven Rajapaksa for his defiance.
These moves have been helped by LTTE continuing to use its funds smartly to maximum benefit. With buying arms no longer a priority, it is now flush with resources to spend on action intended to haul Sri Lankan leaders before international courts or, at least, cause them embarrassment.
The LTTE was aware of the overwhelming influence of human rights groups such as Amnesty International (A.I.) on foreign governments as well as the Human Rights Commission and maneuvered to use them to pursue Sri Lanka on its behalf. Last year the pro-LTTE group the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) handed A.I. a check for $50,000. There were protests from the public but the deal went through. At that time, the CTC was spearheading a campaign in Canada for the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Not surprisingly, A.I. was the most active human rights organization promoting sanctions against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Commission sessions in Geneva. Buying into A.I. was a highly rewarding strategic move with immense downstream advantages.
The terror group also utilized its bountiful wealth to retain influential lawyers such as Bruce Fein, a top Justice Department official under the Reagan administration and Karen Parker to promote LTTE interests in United States. All these actions have no doubt helped the LTTE to sell its agenda against Sri Lanka to U.S. lawmakers.
In this background the U.S. government persecuting a weak, small country like Sri Lanka seems a no brainer since it was a relatively costless trade-off for gaining Tamil electoral support.