The world post 9/11 is polluted with “terrorism experts”, usually academics who love to be romanced by armies in the business of brutally killing declared “enemies”.
Rohan Gunaratna is intimate with the thugs in Colombo. In an interview with a Sri Lankan newspaper he offers advice for the government to avoid having to take accountability for the latest UN report on war crimes committed by the Rajapaksa regime and Tamil Tigers during the end of the civil war (though the Wall Street Journal, who never sees a counter-insurgency it doesn’t like, urges critics to focus less on the past and more on the present).
The interviewer is clearly only interested in hearing suggestions how Sri Lanka can ignore international opinion and Gunaratna is happy to oblige, painting a picture of a post-war nation that is simply untrue; Tamils are still treated like second-class citizens:
Q: The UN claims the panel of experts set up to advise Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on accountability issues with respect to the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka has found ‘credible reports of war crimes’ committed by both the Government and Tamil rebels. How valid are these assertions in your opinion?
The Sri Lankan government should respond, not react, to the panel report. This should be viewed as an opportunity for Sri Lanka to tell its side of the story. 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 that fought in the last war. The UN panel report is largely based on reporting by human rights, media, and international organizations heavily lobbied by the LTTE as well as front, cover and sympathetic organizations 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 (October 2008-May 2009), LTTE’s aggressive and selective reporting influenced human rights, media and international organizations.
In Iraq and Afghanistan where over a million civilians have been killed, there is no UN Panel advising the UN Secretary General to investigate war crimes. In May 2009, Sri Lanka was successful in dismantling the LTTE the battlefield but failed to counter the LTTE led misinformation and the disinformation campaign globally. Governments, International organizations and NGOs today react to lobbying and campaigning, a capability Sri Lanka needs to build and operationalize in the coming months and years. The number one lesson from Sri Lanka for contemporary and future war fighters is that they must win both the battlefield and the information operation campaign.
Q: The UN statement issued on the release states that ‘The Secretary-General sincerely hopes that this advisory report will make a contribution to full accountability and justice so that the Sri Lankan Government and people will be able to proceed towards national reconciliation and peace.’ Given the long term repercussions of the report, how would you recommend the government’s respond to the contents of this report?
In addition to a point by point rebuttal of what is factually inaccurate, the Sri Lankan government should respond to the Panel report in many other ways. The outcome of such a Report signifies a massive failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government especially of the Ministry of External Affairs to respond to a new type of threat.
The Sri Lanka government should produce a White Paper detailing what happened in the terminal phase of the battle and recommendations to ensure that Sri Lanka will remain stable and peaceful. The White Paper should also list what government has done since May 2009 to build reconciliation between the different communities, rehabilitation efforts to give a second life to LTTE leaders and cadres, and the unprecedented development in the north and the east. Sri Lanka must highlight that not a single terrorist incident has occurred in the country since the LTTE was dismantled and all communities in Sri Lanka now live in peace and harmony.
Q: The panel in its recommendations calls for ‘initiating an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations’. How far do you believe the government should go in heeding these recommendations?
The Sri Lankan government routinely investigates allegations of atrocities. Whenever there is a credible allegation, it is absolutely essential for the Sri Lankan criminal justice and prisons system to act. If a soldier or an officer is found guilty, the state has the responsibility to punish that individual. However, there is a distinction between isolated acts of atrocities conducted by individual soldier and systematic war crimes conducted by an army. The UN Panel report alleges that there were war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE. It is apparent that the LTTE had a policy of conducting massacres of border villages, bombings of public places and forced recruitment of children. Even during the IPKF period, the LTTE used hospitals as cover to attack Indian peacekeepers causing high fatalities and casualties among Indian soldiers. In defence, when the IPKF fired back, both LTTE cadres and civilians were killed. As a professional military trained by the US, UK, India and other countries, the Sri Lankan military did not systematically and deliberately kill or injure civilians. In contrast, the LTTE has been notorious for using human shields, human bombs and provoking retaliatory attacks. After penetrating a government declared zone for civilians, the LTTE deliberately hid behind a human wall and attacked causing suffering, injury, and death to both civilians and military personnel. Alleging that Sri Lankan security forces intentionally and wilfully targeted civilians stated by a UN panel of experts need careful study. Similar allegations by UN agencies, NGOs, and other bodies have been levelled against the armies of US, UK, Israel and other standing militaries fighting brutal insurgencies.