Govt Should Invite Bachelet to Visit SL – Prof Rohan Gunaratna

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Feb 20 2021
Interview Govt Should Invite Bachelet to Visit SL – Prof Rohan Gunaratna

In an interview with Ceylon Today, Dr Rohan Gunaratna, Honorary Professor at the Sir John Kotalawala Defence University and Senior Advisor to its Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, stated the Government should invite UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet to visit Sri Lanka and show her that Sri Lanka is finally at peace as she appears to be unaware that the conflict ended in May 2009.

Following are excerpts: 

Q: The report dated 27 January 2021 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, lists a number of human rights allegations against Sri Lanka. It also urges, “It is time for international action to ensure justice for international crimes. States should also pursue investigations and prosecution in their national courts.” How should Sri Lanka respond to this challenge?

A: The Government of Sri Lanka should invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet of Chile to visit beautiful Sri Lanka. High Commissioner Bachelet who co-ordinates human rights activities throughout the UN System and acts as the secretariat of the Human Rights Council in Geneva will be pleased to know that Sri Lanka is at peace. She does not know that the Sri Lankan conflict ended in May 2009 and there are many lessons Sri Lanka can offer to the international community.

First, after end of conflict, Sri Lanka went through three phases – humanitarian assistance, socio-economic development and political engagement. In the humanitarian assistance phase, 399,785 rescued from the LTTE human shield were resettled after demining the Wanni. Over 90 per cent of demining operations were conducted by the Sri Lanka military. According to the Justice Minister Ali Sabry, 12,847 LTTE terrorists were given an amnesty, rehabilitated and reintegrated back to society. With unprecedented economic development in the north, the economy of Jaffna growing at 22 per cent compared to 7 per cent for the rest of the country. 

Although many requested the then Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa to proscribe the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), he created the security environment for elections to be held where Tamil political parties participated in a free and a fair elections. Despite its record of advocating for the LTTE, many TNA politicians who supported the LTTE were given an opportunity to cut off ties  with the LTTE. The next stage of the political engagement phase is to groom mainstream Tamil politicians, especially young and up-coming leaders willing to serve all communities.

Second, the Sri Lankan conflict should not be viewed in isolation. The Sri Lankan conflict should be examined in a global context. The contemporary conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya Yemen, Mindanao and Kashmir continue to kill, maim and injure civilians and security forces personnel. After western forces intervened, a million civilians were killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. 

Based on their inability to remain in the conflict zones and end the fighting, the US and European forces are increasingly reluctant to deploy overseas. Based on who counts, 10,000 to 20,000 civilians are killed every year in conflict zones. With the dawn of peace, Sri Lanka does not contribute to this global death toll any longer.

The first country in the world to defeat an insurgent and terrorist group in the early 21st century was Sri Lanka. As a modern war, the conflict was meticulously documented by several parties. Both parties to the conflict, Sri Lankan security forces – LTTE, and others maintained records of fatalities and casualties. The Sri Lankan military lost 23,790 personnel since 1981. The Government of Sri Lanka should share the documentation with the UN and also release significant information through a portal run by the security forces. 

The reports should include the United Nations Country Team Assessment on Casualty Figures that was never released publicly. According to this vital report a total figure of 7,721 were killed and 18,479 were injured from August 2008 to 13 May 2009. This includes both civilians and LTTE terrorists. UNICEF Supported Family Tracing and Reunification Unit said as of June 2011, 2564 tracing applications have been recorded out of which 676 are related to children and 1,888 to adults. UNICEF stated that 64 per cent tracing requests were reported by parents as having been recruited by the LTTE.

Third, the testimonies of LTTE leaders and recoveries of LTTE documents reveal that the LTTE funded human rights activists and human rights organisations both through its international accountant based in the UK and through its branches. According to Tharmalingam Shanmugam Kumaran alias Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, the chief of LTTE finance, procurement and shipping, the LTTE had a dedicated a budget to pay human rights organisations including prominent human rights organs. The impact has been huge. The LTTE international network provided a fictitious figure of 40,000 that the UN report has reproduced several times without authentication. 

Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka referred to some as the Darusman Report was rejected after it reproduced the fictitious figure 40,000. An indelible lesson learnt from the Sri Lanka experience is that international organisations especially the UN should not reference a death toll without verification and validation. It is within the capability of the UN to build a database of the dead that is transparent and open the scrutiny. UNHRC has a budget of over US $200 million and 1400 staff. The Sri Lankan government should counter any individual or organisation repeating the fictitious numbers generated by the LTTE notorious for using its affiliates to influence the human rights lobby.

Finally, a question should be posed to the UNHRC the extent to which its focus is driven by geopolitics and by LTTE lobbying. Considering the ongoing grave human rights violation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, where a million civilians were killed and more people are killed every day, is human rights not so much about human rights? A sub question is to determine to what degree UNHRC is driven by intense lobbying by personalities dependent on LTTE funds and votes and LTTE front, cover and sympathetic organisations masquerading as human rights bodies.

Q: The TNA has long been acting as a proxy political wing of the LTTE. Should they be made to answer to the atrocities committed by the LTTE, which has been banned as a terrorist entity by a number of countries?

A: The TNA is not a monolithic party. The genesis of the TNA can be traced back to the Tamil United Front (TUF) led by S.J.V. Selvanayagam that spearhead the separatist cry for political and electoral reasons. After the TUF changed its name to Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1975, its campaign for an independent state grew.

The separatist ideal in Appapillai Amirthalingam and his wife Mangaiyarkarasi influenced Velupillai Prabhakaran to assassinate the then Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappa on 27 July 1975. When Duraiappa went to worship at the Varadaraja Perumal Temple, he was assassinated by Velupillai Prabhakaran. To sever relationships with the rest of the country, the focus of the LTTE was to kill Tamil politicians serving in multiethnic parties such as the United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party, government officers and informants. Although Amirthalimgam believed that he could control the militant movement, the group developed its own dynamic and eventually the LTTE assassinated Amirthalingam and other Tamil leaders. Nonetheless, the separatist spirit continues to drive a segment of the TNA today. 

The TNA also includes three Tamil terrorist groups that abandoned violence – Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) – and supported the security forces to fight the LTTE. With the LTTE targeting leaders, members, and followers of the EPRLF, PLOTE and TELO, they conducted operations and provided support to the security forces.

When the TNA was formed in October 2001, its leader R. Sampanthan said, "The time has now come for all Tamil political forces in the northeast to unite under one banner to give full support for the militants who are involved in the freedom struggle.” As Secretary General of the TULF, Sampanthan added, "without the wholehearted participation of the Liberation Tigers, no firm and lasting political solution could be found for the Tamil nation question. A political solution found in talks with the Liberation Tigers can only be implemented under the supervision of the international community." True to its spirit, a slice of the TNA leadership promotes separatism covertly and overtly. 

On the human rights front, a few TNA parliamentarians have worked with LTTE fronts overseas to promote the canard of a ‘genocide’ in Sri Lanka. Most in the TNA are aware that the systematic attacks against civilians were staged by the LTTE from ethnic cleansing to striking border villages and both bombings and massacres. The TNA is also aware that if the LTTE was running the North and East, they would kidnap children from schools and universities. Certainly, there will be no Elections and no P2P march! The LTTE tolerated no dissent. Any Tamil who rebelled against the LTTE was incarcerated, tortured and killed. 

The LTTE saga has been conveniently forgotten by the TNA. The TNA was terrified of the LTTE. The TNA exactly did what Prabhakaran asked them to do. Otherwise, they knew the consequences. Prabhakaran would turn them to ash. No one can dispute that the TNA was a proxy of the LTTE.

The Sri Lankan Government should invest in four initiatives to counter the separatist threat. First, the Sri Lankan security forces should introduce mandatory national service to inculcate a sense of patriotism to prevent polarisation and fragmentation promoted by some constituents of the TNA. Second, the ethnically and religiously segregated education system should be reformed and a truly national education system should be created. 

Third, the Sri Lankan civil service should create a system for Tamils and Muslims to serve in the south and Sinhalese to serve in the north and east. Fourth, immediately stop registering parties along ethnic and religious lines and gradually delist all ethnic and religious based political parties and promote multiethnic and multi religious parties to create a ‘One Sri Lanka’.

Q: LTTE cadres who killed and maimed thousands of people were rehabilitated and released into society, once the war concluded. Going by what is proposed in this report, should they be brought back and tried for their crimes?

A: A total of 12,847 LTTE leaders and members surrendered or were identified by Tamil civilians or government investigators intelligence operators. The former terrorists were given an amnesty, rehabilitated, and, reintegrated. As it prevented the revival of the LTTE, the rehabilitation programme of Sri Lanka is considered one of the three top programmes in the world.

 The then Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave full access for a period of five years to a team of psychologists led by distinguished professors such as Arie W. Kruglanski and Michele J. Gelfand to interview the entire detainee population. In addition to the meticulous records maintained by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (BCGR) debriefing of the former terrorists are with the Police Special Branch, Criminal Investigations Department, Terrorism Investigations Division, Military Intelligence Directorate and the State Intelligence Service. 

The records provide the most comprehensive account of LTTE atrocities, the ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese and Muslims from the North and East, the attacks on the Sinhala and Tamil villages, the massacre and bombings of civilians in the South, the assassination of civilian and military leaders including two world leaders, and the international network of the LTTE that supported and enabled three decades of terrorism in Sri Lanka. 

The Government should not share publicly the names of the rehabilitated and reintegrated LTTE terrorists as they are living happily with their families. However, they will be of exceptional value in bringing to justice those who supported especially funded the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

We should not rearrest the reintegrated and rehabilitated LTTE leaders and members as they have understood the futility of violence. Having interviewed a large number of LTTE leaders and members, my view is that they have genuinely abandoned violence. As they were treated exceptionally, they came to realise that they were misled by the LTTE. Unlike the LTTE functionaries and supporters overseas who live in frozen time, the beneficiary of rehabilitation have sufficiently reflected, repented, and expressed remorse for their crimes. As they have cooperated with the government to restore stability and security, Sri Lankan authorities should not rearrest its citizens although they engaged in terrorist crimes in the past.

Q: Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN, Mohan Peiris, stated at the United Nations Security Council’s Arria Formula Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict held in New York recently that Sri Lanka rehabilitated all 594 of child soldiers recruited by the LTTE without prosecuting them. But, it is regrettable that certain sectors of the international community and even the UN refuse to acknowledge such success stories. Your comment?

A:The UNHCR should study how Sri Lanka rehabilitated and reintegrated the LTTE child soldiers. The Sri Lankan military treated LTTE child combatants as their own children. They were all sent to follow formal education at Ratmalana Hindu College under the supervision of BCGR. Those who completed their education entered university or entered the work force. In addition to academic subjects, the children engaged in extracurricular activities at the Hindu College. Many became girl guides and scouts. Strangely none of the Tamil politicians visited them and Tamils overseas that supported the LTTE forgot their existence. 

However, the children were looked after very well by the military and their families and none of them returned to violence. To mark the birthday of Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, who was assassinated by the LTTE, Mrs Lali Kobbekaduwa visited the school and treated them with cake. The then Australian High Commissioner, Ms Kathy Klugman, brought a team from Australia’s High Commission in Colombo played a friendly Twenty/20 cricket match against students. 

Presenting the winner’s trophy to the children, the gracious Ms Klugman said: “For many years, sport has proved a valuable tool in fostering friendship, participation, teamwork and inclusion. Through sport, individuals can learn and share community values, as well as gain a better understanding of other groups in society. Today, it is our privilege to support, in a small way, the important work being done by the Sri Lankan Government and the Hindu College with these students”.

In response to the LTTE propaganda campaign, the Sri Lankan Government should create within the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, intelligence services, and the foreign office strategic communication capabilities. Unfortunately, neither the foreign office nor the security forces have understood the national imperative to raise the specialist capabilities to rebut the false information produced by the LTTE international network.

Q: A number of overseas organisations actively canvassed to collect funds for the LTTE, which were then used to fund terrorist activities in Sri Lanka. Should they also be prosecuted for helping to perpetuating violence in a sovereign nation?

A: Any investigation should focus on the sources of allegations and counter allegations. The key question that should be posed is who has brought these allegations? Although the LTTE domestic organisation was dismantled, the LTTE international network survived. The LTTE international network that engaged in propaganda and lobbying, extortion and fundraising, procurement of arms and dual-user technologies, and clandestine shipping of arms from North Korea to Sri Lanka transformed. 

The LTTE international network today masquerade as human rights champions in western capitals and in Geneva. Similarly, the TNA that espoused separatism works in Geneva with key LTTE fronts. The Yahapalanaya regime delisted eight of 16 LTTE front organisations overseas and 269 terrorist activists from 424 listed under the UNSCR 1373. With the recovery of the LTTE database, its financiers overseas were listed based on evidence that has never been disputed. The terrorist fronts delisted by the Yahapalanaya regime were the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), British Tamil Forum (BTF), National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), Tamil Youth Organisation (TYO), World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), and Tamil National Council (TNC). The delisting of the fronts led to the revival of the LTTE at home and LTTE resurgence in the West. The time is right to relist the delisted fronts and to investigate, charge, prosecute LTTE functionaries including propagandists, financiers, procurement and logistics officers living overseas.

Q: The events surrounding the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port highlighted some of the issues in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Sri Lanka being a small island nation cannot afford to favour one country over the others. One would go on to point out, Sri Lanka cannot afford to antagonise India, as it would have dire consequences for peace and security in the region. Your comment?

A: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Foreign Policy of neutrality enables Sri Lanka to work with the west, India and China. To build Sri Lanka, the Government is committed to working with the East and the West. Historically, Sri Lanka has been an ally of the West. The US intelligence support to detect and destroy LTTE ships transporting weapons from North Korea was the turning point in the fight against the LTTE. Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan’s remain grateful to the US especially to Ambassador Robert Blake for his steadfast support to dismantle the LTTE. However, after the end of war, Sri Lanka turned to China to rebuild a country devastated by 30 years of conflict. 

Neither the US nor India could support Sri Lanka to engage in large scale investments to rebuild the country. The relationship with China was economic and not military. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s economic relationship with China was misinterpreted. Almost all the investment opportunities Sri Lanka offered the Chinese was first offered to the Indians. The Indians were either too late or too slow.

President Rajapaksa was determined to give the East Terminal to India and Japan. However, the Sri Lankan public exercised constituency pressure due to the traditional suspicion of India. These suspicions stem from India’s support to the LTTE from 1983-1987 and a conspiracy theory that India was behind the Easter attack. It is well established that the Indian government provided sound and timely intelligence that could have prevented the Easter massacre. It was the Yahapalanaya leadership that failed to act to preempt the attack.

As Sri Lanka is a vibrant democracy, the government cannot go against the public. To establish the lost trust, the Indian government can restore relations with the Sri Lankan public. Rather than focus on the North and the East alone, that has triggered deep suspicion, it is paramount for India to develop a new strategy of engaging and investing in the South. Otherwise, the historical animosity towards India will persist. As India played a role in supporting Tamil militancy that culminated in the Indo-Lanka Accord and the creation of Provincial Councils, the Sri Lankan public deeply resent India raising the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Like India considers Kashmir an internal affair, the 13th Amendment is an internal affair of Sri Lanka. 

If foreign governments destabilise the North and East, Sri Lanka will repeal the provincial council system the very same way India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. As long as there is an inclination towards separatism in the North and East, neither the Sri Lankan government not the public will want to devolve either land or police powers as they will be misused by the separatists.

President Rajapaksa understands the paramount importance of maintaining cordial relations with India. As such, the Sri Lankan Government has offered the west terminal to India. The Sri Lankan Government also assures India that it will not permit its soil to be used for inimical activities against India. The West should not use the human rights card as it will only weaken relations between Colombo and the West. 

Considering Sri Lanka’s growing strategic importance, US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan should work with Sri Lanka. Rather than confront Sri Lanka over human rights issues and push Sri Lanka towards China, the West should engage and invest in Sri Lanka.

Q: What is your idea about human rights NGOs?

A: We should genuinely work for parity of status among communities, peaceful coexistence, national unity, democracy, Constitutionalism and rule of law. Good governance is when Human Rights strike a balance with national security.  Otherwise, another Easter attack is inevitable. As exclusivism and extremism leads to terrorism and violence, ethnic and religious integration should be actively promoted. No ethnic or religious enclaves but multicultural communities. Otherwise, we will become like India, Pakistan or Bangladesh with intermittent ethnic and religious attacks and riots.

Good Human Rights practice is not permitting the ethnic and religious space to be infiltrated and threatened by separatists and fanatics. Freedom of religion is when it is practiced with responsibility. If preachers whether they are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or Christians are permitted to say what they want, they will radicalise their communities. Sri Lanka needs ironclad laws to punish and confiscate assets of ethnic and religious entrepreneurs.

During the Yahapalanaya regime, to enlist Tamil votes, the government delisted LTTE- front organisations that supported terrorism. Similarly, the Yahapalanaya regime neglected national security by permitting absolute freedom of religion permitting hundreds of radical preachers both foreign and local to propagate foreign ideologies that harmed coexistence.  The Yahapalanaya regime aped some western practices of permitting the spread of hate and tolerated incitement especially in cyber space. This continues to this date. The Yahapalanaya regime witnessed during their own term at great cost to Sri Lanka their own thinking and practice manifested with the rise of the Islamic State and revival of the LTTE.

The standard of Sri Lankan human rights organisations have diminished to a point where they are driven by western governments promoting their own geopolitical agenda. More recently the NGOs are influenced by the funding by LTTE fronts overseas. To quote a specialist monitoring the key Human Rights NGOs in Sri Lanka, “I compare them to the beggars in the Fort railway station. They will show you their wounds that are far worse than the reality – they will say thank you to get more contribution. Where 3000 were killed they will say 30,000, just to get money. They talk as if Sri Lanka is everyday like on 8 January 2009, the day Lasantha Wickramatunge was killed. It has become a business.”

With NGOs being used to destabilise Sri Lanka, the Government should align NGOs to support the national agenda and not foreign agendas. Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike did not allow foreign funded NGOs unless they donated it to the Government first and Government gave grants. Marga was funded by the German Government with Sri Lanka Government’s approval.

I watched with horror how both domestic and foreign NGOs pressured the Yahapalanaya leaders to prosecute the nation’s military. A nation’s military is its pride. The military restored peace after a 30-year campaign of terrorism. Yahapalanaya leaders withdraw the military that was developing the north and east to barracks. The Yahapalanaya leaders dismantled the security and intelligence platform in the north and east by instructing the Directorate of Military Intelligence, one of the two premier services monitoring Zaharan to stop its operations. It is not too late for the Government to discipline the NGOs where they can start to serve the interests of the Sri Lankan nation and not the interests of foreign nations.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Feb 20 2021

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