The “War on Terror” may be a recent development to some, but as a Sri Lankan, I have spent the greater part of my life watching my tiny island nation locked in a 30-year struggle against the LTTE, a group universally recognized as the “most notorious terrorist organization in the world.” I have witnessed firsthand the brutal aftermath of Tiger suicide bombers in Colombo. I also closely followed the last stages of the conflict in May 2009, when the Sri Lankan Army finally and conclusively defeated the LTTE. Victory was hard earned, achieved only through steely determination, much blood, and without much help from the rest of the civilized world, who was simultaneously waging an all-out war on global terrorism.
In fact, at a time when the Tigers were on their last legs, western powers, strangely enough, urged the Sri Lankan government to declare a cease-fire so that civilians caught in the war zone (and effectively the whole Tiger leadership) could be safely evacuated. If you’re Sri Lankan, however, you’ve been down that path many times before, and seen your enemy regroup, resupply, and live to fight another day. No, this time President Mahinda Rajapakse, ignoring outside pressure, prevailed against a militant Tamil insurgency that had stooped as low as forcibly conscripting children as soldiers as well as using women and the elderly as human shields. Just as a cornered animal is at its most dangerous, the Tigers, in their final hour, even executed their own people if they fled for safety. Despite the best efforts of the government (including the establishment of a “no-fire” zone), who are not in the business of decimating their own citizens, countless innocent civilians still perished in that last battle. While an actual figure is impossible to ascertain due to a lack of independent, third party sources, the same holds true for Iraq, Afghanistan and every other war throughout human history: It is always civilians who pay the highest price. While morally unjustifiable, this is simply the sad truth.
Here we are now 2 years since the war’s conclusion, and well along the path to reconciliation and reconstruction. Of the approximately 294,000 Tamil civilians who were forced to flee from their villages during the war, 95% have returned home. The remaining 5% will have to wait until de-mining efforts are completed. Of the 11,700 Tiger cadres who surrendered or were arrested after the war, 6,000 have been rehabilitated and returned to normal society. The same goes for all of the child combatants. Sri Lanka is well ahead of any nation in the world when it comes to the healing and reconciliation process, but outside forces are still agitating. While the terrorist threat within Sri Lanka has been vanquished, the Tiger’s support abroad within the very influential Tamil Diaspora has not. Skillful manipulators of the media and public opinion, the pro- LTTE agenda has successfully mounted a smear campaign against Sri Lanka in the form of the recently released Darusman Report, a clearly biased and flawed paper, which looms as a threat to the whole post-conflict reconciliation process.
Commissioned by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself to advise him on the issue of accountability with regards to alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, the report, named after one of the “Panel of Experts,” who prepared it (Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, along with Steven Ratner of the U.S. and Yasmin Sooka of South Africa), is not even an official U.N. document, but purely advisory in nature. None-the-less it has succeeded in raising plenty of controversy.
Although the conflict goes back to 1983, the report chose to focus on its last 5 months when the Tigers found themselves cornered in the Wanni region of the Northeast. According to Professor Rohan Gunaratna, Head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) in Singapore, “What is important to understand is that when the Tamil Tigers blew up planes, set off bombs in Colombo, assassinated so many important leaders, and massacred border villagers, human rights organizations did not issue statements. The UN also did not do much. Many Western governments turned a blind eye to Tamil Tigers functioning very openly – actively raising funds and doing their propaganda and procuring arms, ammunition and explosives.” It is not surprising then, that many Sri Lankans will regard this report as being completely one-sided and patently unfair.
Gunaratna adds, “The terrorists are the worst human rights violators, and most Sri Lankans have suffered as a result of this. The UN and human rights organizations should have issued messages of congratulations for having ended a terrorist group that was responsible for 30 years of human rights violations. There has not been a single act of terrorism in Sri Lanka after the government dismantled the LTTE.”
No doubt the media war was won by the savvy pro-LTTE camp, who were able to infiltrate and manipulate the mainstream western media, and fill the streets of western capitals with protesters. In an effort to combat this bad press, the Sri Lankan government erroneously enforced a press blackout during the final stages of the conflict, which by implication, appeared as if they had something to hide. In similar fashion, they denied the panel access to the country to make their report, so most of the information gathered comes from second and third hand sources—NGO’s and human rights organizations who were directly influenced by LTTE propaganda. If that were not bad enough, the panel has also decided that their sources and the records they compiled will be classified as “strictly confidential.” In other words, none of the so-called sources and material used to substantiate the panel’s conclusions can be examined or verified by the public at large, or the government of Sri Lanka. Fairness, once again, has been completely compromised.
Gunaratna takes his criticism of the report a step further when he observes that the LTTE, a proscribed terrorist organization, “Exerted pressure on key Western actors in the UN by using electoral votes. By identifying blocks of Tamil voters mainly in the US and UK, they provided campaign donations and participated in the political campaigns of some British and American politicians. Some of these politicians even when they knew the money was coming from a terrorist organization did not return the money. Initially, without showing their hand the LTTE would work with Parliamentarians in Britain and the US who have Tamil constituencies and provide the guarantee that so many people would vote for them. In return, these officials put pressure on the American and British bureaucracy and make various statements that were very supportive of the LTTE and critical of the Government.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even took a donation from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (T.R.O), which the U.S. government has determined is a front organization for the LTTE, which was promptly returned in February 2008.
As an American citizen, I have seen my government start two illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; kill untold numbers of civilians in both conflicts; and most recently violate the sovereignty of another nation (Pakistan) in their assassination of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden (who, though unarmed, was summarily executed without even thought of a trial). No problem. For a rich and powerful nation, accountability is unheard of, but for a small, developing nation the situation is quite different. The hypocrisy and double standards inherent in the Darusman Report should be painfully obvious to any rational mind.
You may read the full Darusman Report at the following link: