A Sri Lankan Tamil living in the U.S. responds to the recent screening of Channel 4’s video on Capitol Hill.
Originally published in the Asian Tribune on July 18th 2011
By Joseph Navaratnam , Bethesda, MD, USA
The disaster the world heading in terms of human rights was well demonstrated yesterday (July 15) at Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. It was really shocking and disgusting to witness how the so-called protectors of global human rights shamelessly tried to capitalise the sufferings of my kith and kin in Sri Lanka to fulfill their self serving objectives.
As a Tamil living in the USA, I travelled to the Washington D.C. expecting that these Human Rights protectors would finally do something meaningful to support the Tamils in Sri Lanka who had suffered immensely due to the three decades of civil war. I was informed by an email circulated among the Tamil community here that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have organized a screening of “Sri Lanka Killing Fields” by Channel 4 at Capitol Hill. I have of course seen this video before, but this time, I thought that these organizations were trying to obtain some kind of support from the United States to make the lives of my friends in Sri Lanka better.
I thought of carrying happy news to them after the event. But, alas, what did they do? They sold our sufferings wholesale without any regard to the people who really suffered and tried to the rekindle the bonfire that caused all these sufferings with their fallacies. From the opening remark to the end it was disgusting. I am sure that these shameless people will continue their effort until they see bloodshed in Sri Lanka once again. All I can do is to report what I saw and at least the world would be aware of it.
The event was facilitated by Congressman Jim Mc Govern who represents an area where many of my Tamil friends live. His motive in the event was clearly to gain some political mileage over the sufferings of some unfortunate people in a far away island. There was no harm in it, unless the event turned into a showdown of hateful propaganda fuelling racism.
Congressman Mc Govern, for some reason kept his introductory remarks very brief for the disappointment of the organizers. It seems that he had somehow smelt the fishy nature of the whole episode. Then there were four employees representing the organizing bodies, one female employee from HRW, a short bold headed male employee of Amnesty international, an African male employee of International Crisis Group and another white male employee of HRW who tried to convince the audience that he was actually there in Sri Lanka when the war was going on.
The female employee did her best to rouse the emotions of the audience before the screening. Then came the video; a harrowing masterpiece of propaganda produced with great deliberation. There has been lot of comments by both sides about the video. To me I have no doubts that the suffering of the people in video was real, but who was responsible for them, I have my serious doubts.
The footages claiming to be taken inside the no fire zone were not new. They were there in the Tamil net and many other websites during the wartime. The cameramen were definitely the LTTE cadres who filmed the scenes with no reaction of panic or fear about shelling. Knowing the LTTE’s brutal skill to create situations which they can take propaganda advantage, I have serious doubts of the party who had really fired the shells.
There were many reports during the wartime LTTE targeting no fire zone with their heavy artillery to stop people going there. About the girl who testify about shelling, I wonder how she survived if such systematic shelling occurred. Her agenda is clear, to put the whole blame on the government to fuel racist ideology that she faithfully upholds. She purposely avoids telling that the LTTE positioned their heavy guns in the hospital premises, the medicine and food supplies she claimed to use were all provided by Sri Lanka government, and she was also rescued by the Sri Lankan soldiers when she finally decided to flee the LTTE.
About the execution footages I would let those Human Rights champions to prove them. If they are so sure about everything they should be able to do that.
It was not the video but the “panel discussion” that turned the whole event to a bitter embracement. The lady opened the discussion with her emotional drama and slashed the government for being critical about them.
Then the other bold headed person from Amnesty struggled with few sentences taken here and there from some report issued by the UN and came to his point. He tried to convince the audience that the greatest need for the Tamils in Sri Lanka at the moment is the setting up of an Independence International Commission of Inquiry.
The African person representing the International Crisis Group without taking much time revealed what he is paid for. Without any shame he compared Sri Lanka‘s situation to what he claimed to have seen in Rwanda.
The fourth white person from HRW gave the greatest show. He tried to show the audience that he is as an expert of U.S. foreign and military policy. He told many stories from Sri Lanka war zone as if he was really there. Later, I found that none of the panel members have ever visited Sri Lanka. He told the audience that Sri Lanka’s civil war was the worst human disaster that he had seen during the last two years. Moreover, he approved U.S. led bombing on Libya that kills hundreds of innocent civilians daily and suggested that U.S. should have taken similar approach towards Sri Lanka to bring justice to the war victims there.
So, those were the human rights champions who are going to help Tamils in Sri Lanka!
Then, came the questions time. The true agenda of the event started to unfold. One by one our Tamil friends who still keep their faith on racism came forward and started giving their well prepared comments to the audience. There was hardly any question asked. None of them suggested anything that would benefit Tamil population in Sri Lanka but aired their interests such as lifting the ban on the LTTE and justifying its terrorist activities. One highly paid LTTE lobbyist came and talked about some litigation he had filed against Sri Lanka’s secretary defence and the panel asked him to re submit it.
Interestingly, one young Indian person who claimed himself to be a representative of some Hindu fundamentalist organization tried to give a new twist to the Sri Lanka’s Tamil issue. He suggested that the whole issue is about Buddhists committing ethnic cleansing against Tamil Hindus and the LTTE was trying to prevent this crime. This is a diabolical lie and it was the first time I heard something like that.
I was quite sure that the U.S. security officials took a good note of him. Unless he is another hired hand by the LTTE lobby to present such wild argument to the panel, that guy’s attitude reminds me of Bin Laden belonging to a different creed. All this time, the panel was playing for the tune of these extremist comments adding more spices to them with their own comments
I was getting tired of what was going on. This was no what I expected. Then I saw a girl continuously lifting her middle finger at one Sinhala young man who was in the audience. It was difficult to identify her at once as she has become double in size since I last saw her in 2009.
She was one the leading organizer of LTTE propaganda and fund raising work in the U.S. Then, I identify the others with her. All those people have become very rich since the war ended as the LTTE left them a large fortune. Tamils like me in the U.S. have been giving our hard earned money to these people during last 25 years. So, they have not understood the crime committed by them against our kith and kin in Sri Lanka. While enjoying comfortable lives here these cowards funded the LTTE to make more suicide bombers, and they still want more of them there. I thought of going forward and air my views. I had little to fear as the LTTE was no more. Then it happened.
I saw a middle aged white guy was trying to ask something from the panel. Suddenly, sounds cut off for some reason. Somehow he managed to air his question; he simply asked the panel how they came with the civilian deaths figure of 40,000. The faces of the four Human Rights champions suddenly changed. The lady become furious and was making all sorts of faces with her supportes in the audience, whether to ask who let this guy in.
Without asking answering the simple question, she blamed him that he was just representing his client. In fact, the individual was a journalist representing the Embassy of Sri Lanka. The HRW guy was almost went mad and said “Ok, you keep the numbers 20,000 and sleep well”. So, suddenly he cut the seriousness of the “worst humanitarian disaster he had seen in last two years” by 50%. Then the bold headed Amnesty guy cried “or even it can be two hundred thousand”. The LTTE supporters were jubilant. The few officials of the state department in the audience were looking at each other unable to believe what was going on. The question received no answer.
Then the young man, who was enjoying the middle salutes so far, came forward. Seeing him, the HRW lady said “I can see another representative of the government of Sri Lanka” and advised him to be brief so the others have time to continue with their comments. The young man rejected her comments and said he is actually a community member but not an official member of the government. He said something about lessons learnt and reconciliation commission, but the panel did not take any interest of it.
Then, came a gentleman who introduced himself to be the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Sri Lanka. He politely requested the panel to wait till the findings of the Lesson Learnt Commission known to the public, before making any judgment over what had happened. When the panel started criticizing the commission blaming that it consists members that they cannot trust, the gentleman argued how the panel suggest that the members are individuals of bad virtue.
So what could I possibly except from such “an eminent panel of Human Rights champions”?
They did not do anything when LTTE committed all sorts of crimes against humanity against both Tamil and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka during last 30 years. They did not do anything when my poor relatives were trapped in between the bloody war during last 3 years. Now, they say they want to act, but for what?
Clearly, they are trying to fulfill their own self serving objectives. I decided to remain silent like many others who were there.
Now, I wish my silence will be heard loudly to the whole world that really cares about human rights.