Sri Lanka’s Greatest War Criminal (Gotabaya) is a US Citizen

It’s Time to Hold Him Accountable

by Ryan Goodman, ‘JustSecurity.org,’ May 19, 2014

Monday, May 19th marks the five-year anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which claimed the lives of 40,000 to 70,000 civilians in its “catastrophic” final phase. In 2009, Congress asked the State Department to report on the humanitarian law violations during the war, and those reports make for gruesome reading. If history is a guide, this week congressional representatives will publicly call for accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka—as members of Congress have done on the past four anniversaries. (See accompanying post, “Honor Roll of US Congressional Members Who’ve Stood for Accountability in Sri Lanka”)

This post proposes specific action that congressional members can include in such calls, and something meaningful that the Justice Department’s war crimes section can do.

The man who oversaw the Sri Lankan armed forces’ operations during the final stages of the war was the President’s brother and current Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (“Gota”). As detailed below, not only was Gota the self-proclaimed mastermind of the military’s actions and thus criminally liable under well-settled international rules of command responsibility; there is also prima facie evidence in the public record that he ordered the execution of political leaders and their families upon their surrender, that he directed the systematic bombing of civilian hospitals, and that he repeatedly suggested that he could target and deliberately kill innocent civilians in order to win the war against the LTTE. That’s just the public record. (There is good reason to believe the Justice Department is sitting on a trove of additional incriminating evidence against Gota.)

Why might Americans, in particular, care about Gota?

Here’s the dirty secret: He is one of us. As “luck” would have it, Gota happens to be an American citizen, who once worked as a computer systems administrator at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles before he became the architect of Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

As a citizen of the United States, Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary is thus directly liable under Congress’s War Crimes Act—a legal windfall for any US effort to investigate and prosecute him across international borders. His citizenship also expands US policy space—by reducing US vulnerability to accusations of meddling if we go after one of our own. That’s the upside to taking such actions.

There is also a downside in not taking action—and taking it soon. Failure to act when we have such a capacity to do something meaningful undermines the US position that the time for accountability in Sri Lanka is now, especially since the Rajapaksa government has demonstrated no real interest in pursuing credible war crimes investigations on its own.

Failure to act also sends a negative signal for US counterterrorism efforts with other foreign military partners. Gota and his top brass disregarded repeated US calls for restraint during the final stages of the war, despite years of relationship-building between our two militaries (see the SFRC’s “Kerry Report” of 2009). Such gross excesses by the army followed by an absence of accountability for their actions signals a lack of US leverage to our military partners elsewhere. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s historic defeat of an insurgency is emerging as a competing model to US counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy. It is a draconian alternative that, if adopted by other militaries, risks counterproductive and blowback effects to the detriment of US interests. The United States now needs to take up the mantle to demonstrate to the world that Gota’s model of warfare is absolutely unacceptable.

Let’s turn to the facts in the public record about Gota’s alleged crimes.

I. Alleged Crimes

A. Command responsibility

Among the standard forms of criminal liability for commanders during armed conflict, Gota may be held liable if his subordinates perpetrated widespread crimes and he failed to repress them. The UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts found war crimes committed on both sides of the conflict, including institutionalized practices and policies on the part of the government’s forces. The report concluded that the evidence of systematic war crimes and crimes against humanity “represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law” designed to protect victims of armed conflict.

Did Gota exercise the type of control over the troops that committed those acts? Consider four data points:

1. In an interview posted on the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry’s website, Gota boasted about his close management of the operations:

“Gotabaya says that he along with [Sri Lankan armed forces] top brass ‘read’ and analysed the war operations every hour, every day. … ‘My job was to understand the priorities, rationally organize those priorities in terms of what was really required for victory and flush out needs and requirements that had zero relevance to our objectives.’”

2. In a Wikileaks cable, US Ambassador Patricia Butenis candidly reported that “responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers.” Senator Ed Markey has called Ambassador’s Butenis’s statement “devastating.”

3. Also proudly reproduced on the government’s website is a detailed article published in the Indian Defence Review entitled, “Eight Fundamentals of Victory or the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ of Fighting Terror.” The description of the “Sixth Fundamental—Complete Operational Freedom”—shows how Gota unleashed the worst forms of violence by his troops:

“With rock solid political backing Fonseka was able to motivate his troops and officers to go all out without fearing any adverse consequences. It’s not surprising why Eelam IV turned out to be a bloody and a brutal war. ‘That there will be civilian casualties was a given and [Gota] Rajapaksa was ready to take the blame. This gave the Army tremendous confidence. It was the best morale booster the forces could have got,’ says a Sri Lankan minister who wishes to let this quote remain unattributed.”

4. A pro-government book (check out the book launch’s fanfare), Gota’s War, describes a well-disciplined military campaign in the final stages. Gordon Weiss, who served as the UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka in the final months of the war, stated that the details inGota’s War “confirms beyond doubt the command responsibility of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

B. Direct orders: The “white flag” incident

On May 16, the President of Sri Lanka announced the military defeat of the LTTE. At roughly 6:30 a.m. two days later, according to the UN panel of experts‘ findings (and other reputable reports), the two top political leaders of the LTTE emerged from their hideout walking slowly with a white flag and accompanied by a large group of their family members in a surrender that had been organized by international brokers. The two leaders and their family members, including unarmed women and children, were all shot dead. As the State Department reported to Congress, Sri Lanka’s own former Army Chief stated that Gota had given the order that “they must all be killed.” [The Army Chief made those statements to the media, and secretly discussed the incident with the US Ambassador.]

In an interview with BBC’s Hardtalk, Gota was told that the former Army Chief said he would testify before an independent war crimes investigation. Gota responded irate: “He can’t do that. He was the commander. … That is a treason. We will hang him.” The Army Chief was later prosecuted and imprisoned in a manner that the State Department recognized as illegitimate in its 2011 annual report on Sri Lanka.

In 2011, Britain’s channel 4 reported an interview with an army officer who served in Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s 58 Division that carried out the attack. The officer stated: “The defence secretary phoned Brigadier Shavendra Silva and ordered him not to take them prisoner, but to kill them. … I can confidently state that those who ordered the killings were Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Brigadier Shavendra Silva.”

You might ask, what happened to Brigadier Silva after the white flag incident? He was promoted to Major General and then appointed Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

C. Direct orders: Attacking civilian hospitals

The UN Secretary-General’s panel report includes findings that “[t]he Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them were hit repeatedly.” The Department of State’s 2012 report to Congress picked up on these findings and concluded that they should be investigated and prosecuted. The State Department’s report, handled by its Office of Global Criminal Justice, states:

“[T]he [United Nations panel] report concludes that ‘virtually every hospital in the Vanni, whether permanent or makeshift, was hit by artillery.’The Panel found that the PTK Hospital was shelled every day from January 29 to February 4 most likely by the 55th Division of the SLA.

…As these allegations implicate grave breaches of IHL, they merit full investigation and, if appropriate, prosecution of the responsible individuals.” (my emphasis added)

In interviews with the media, Gota stated that he considered these hospitals legitimate military targets. That’s right, a prosecutor’s dream piece of evidence. Here is one of thoseexchanges:

“REPORTER: The aid agencies say a hospital packed with wounded has been repeatedly shelled, killing some patients and injuring many more. The Defence Secretary has told us that right now everything is a legitimate target if it’s not within the safe zone the government has created. And the only hospital [in the area] is outside that zone.
GOTA: Nothing should exist beyond the no fire zone. Nothing should …
INTERVIEWER: So just to be clear, if this hospital is operating…
GOTA: No hospital should, no hospital should operate now…
INTERVIEWER: If it’s outside of the safe zone, it’s a legitimate target?
GOTA: Yes. No hospital should operate in the area, nothing should operate. That is why we clearly gave these no fire zones.” (emphasis added)

To be clear, although the above admission applied to a hospital outside the No Fire Zones, the Sri Lankan military shelled hospitals both inside and outside those areas during the last stages of the war.

D. Attacking Civilians

Human Rights Watch reported that Gota suggested he considered civilians in the area legitimate targets:

“Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa suggested in an interview to media on February 3 [2009] that all persons subject to attack by the armed forces were legitimate LTTE targets. He stated: ‘There are no independent observers, only LTTE sympathizers. Radio announcements were made and movement of civilians started a month and a half ago.’”

That outlook was also in evidence during an episode recounted in Gordon Weiss’s book,The Cage, in which Gota verbally erupted in response to a delegation from the UN at the home of Sri Lanka’s foreign minister:

“They presented the UN estimate of the number of dead to a gathering of ministers and officers. An enraged defense secretary demanded to know what business the UN thought it had collecting numbers. He insisted that they should refer to the dead as ‘people’ rather than ‘civilians,’ suggesting that no distinction could be made between fighters and innocent victims.” (p. 124)

I imagine some of the members of that UN delegation would be willing to testify against Gota.

II. Steps for the United States

According to the internal talking points prepared for the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka on the release of the State Department’s 2009 report to Congress, US or international prosecutions loomed as a threat. The talking points read:

“International law places primary responsibility on the state to ensure that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in its territory are held accountable, but recognizes the appropriateness of international mechanisms where a state is unable or unwilling to act.”

Gota is a key obstacle to meaningful accountability in the country, and he needs to be politically marginalized to make room for more moderate voices. In Gota’s own words, as long as he holds the reins, there will be no credible war crimes investigations. He told the BBC:

“There will be no investigations in this country. … These are the people who have other motives who are asking. … I am not allowing any investigations in this country. There is no reason. Nothing wrong happened in this country. … Take it from me. … This is my final word.”

The White House successfully led an effort at the UN calling for an international war crimes inquiry, and Congress (through the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act) has tightened the screws on Sri Lanka with respect to financial and military cooperation. What specific steps are now open to the United States to enhance these efforts?

A. Publicly open a criminal investigation

Even if Gota never sees the inside walls of a US prison, the White House could send a powerful signal of its commitment to accountability by formally investigating and, if the evidence is there, indicting Gota. It would at least help to marginalize a man who many consider a principal roadblock to a just and stable transition. As I explained above, because of Gota’s citizenship the US would also be less vulnerable to accusations of meddling. And, indeed, the US administration could also suspend its own criminal inquiry, in a very public way, on the ground that it will give Sri Lanka’s political establishment an opportunity to do the right thing. Congressional members can very publicly support the initiation of a full-blown criminal inquiry by the Justice Department.

B. Release key information the US holds

The administration should publicly release some of the intelligence that it might have in its possession such as phone intercepts of Gota’s orders and satellite imagery of the last stages of the war. In a post-Snowden world, revelation that the United States has these capacities and engages in such SIGINT operations is nothing new. At least the cost is not as high to revealing this information, and its public exposure can be especially valuable in mobilizing efforts toward accountability.

* * *

In May 2009, President Obama stood in front of the White House (videotranscript) to call on Sri Lanka’s government to “stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals.” Gota flatly ignored that warning. Taking the steps outlined in this post would allow the President to show that ignoring such a message can have serious consequences.

http://justsecurity.org/10537/sri-lanka-gotabaya-us-citizen-war-crimes-accountability/ 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security. Ryan is the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.

HRW: Comply with Rights Council Investigation No Justice for Abuses in 5 Years Since Conflict’s End

by Human Rights Watch, May 20, 2014

(New York) – The Sri Lankan government should comply with the March 2014 United Nations Human Rights Council resolution creating an international investigation into allegations of serious abuses by both sides during Sri Lanka’s civil war, Human Rights Watch said today. The resolution calls on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate violations of the laws of war and serious human rights violations. The week of May 18 marks the fifth anniversary of the end of the conflict that resulted in the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The Sri Lankan government denounced the Human Rights Council resolution, yet for five long years it has failed to act on its promises to investigate and bring to justice wartime atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should finally accept the council’s vote and assist the investigation, which represents the best hope yet for victims awaiting justice.”

The Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has resisted taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes by government forces and the LTTE as recommended by Human Rights Council resolutions in 2012 and 2013.

Government rhetoric and arbitrary arrests against Sri Lankan activists who advocate for accountability have increased in recent years. The government has also widened its crackdown against the independent media and human rights defenders. There have been further reports of abuses, including torture and sexual violence, against suspected LTTE supporters in custody. While various government development, resettlement, and reconstruction projects have been undertaken in former warzones in the north and east, government pledges to address the concerns of the ethnic Tamil population have gone largely unfulfilled. The government has also prohibited simple gestures, such as allowing Tamil communities to hold commemorative services for their dead, or to sing the national anthem in Tamil.

The Human Rights Council resolution calls upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a “comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes” as well as to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and “to continue to assess progress on relevant national processes.” It calls upon the high commissioner to provide an oral update on its findings during the 27th session of the council in September 2014, and a thorough report during the 28thsession in March 2015. The resolution also calls on the Sri Lankan government to address ongoing rights abuses as well as deliver justice and accountability in parallel with the high commissioner’s investigation.

“This is the third council resolution on Sri Lanka in three years and reflects the impatience of the international community to see justice done,” Adams said. “The resolution is not only a huge step forward for conflict-era accountability, but it also acknowledges that ongoing abuses need to stop.”

The War That Wasn’t Live

by Francis Harrison, Newsweek Pakistan, May 13, 2014

There was no BBC or CNN inside the war zone, which is perhaps why Sri Lanka is one of the great untold war stories of this century. It is certainly one of the bloodiest…

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s legal advisers are, however, clear that “most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” which they described as “large scale.” They also accused the Sri Lankan Army of systematically, knowingly, and repeatedly shelling all hospitals in the war zone, depriving civilians of food and life-saving medicine, and attacking all safe zones it had declared for civilians…

Another reason that the world failed to take closer notice of the Sri Lankan civil war was Colombo’s successful rebranding of its decades-long ethnic-territorial conflict as part of the global “war on terror.” That meant the world signed off on the destruction of the rebels, wrongly assuming that without the troublesome Tigers there would be an equitable peace in Sri Lanka. The terror label made it easy to discredit all Tamils as Tamil Tigers, blurring the boundary between combatants and civilians. Scottish, Bangladeshi, Italian, and Australian eyewitnesses were denounced as “White Tigers” far too sympathetic to the “terrorists.” U.N. employees were intimidated, threatened, expelled, and spied on, with the result that the organization failed to speak up about war crimes its own staff had witnessed firsthand and failed to publicize the significant casualty numbers they had collected.

AFP

AFP

It’s been five years since the civil war in Sri Lanka was declared over, but P. J. still can’t escape the images of horror even in his sleep: “I dream of fleeing, of being surrounded by the Army, of dead bodies and people suffering. It all comes back to me. My mind is stuck at the end of the war and I can’t move on.”

He was one of more than a dozen cameramen working for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s television station in northern Sri Lanka. Today, P. J. is a key witness to Colombo’s war crimes. At the brutal climax of the civil war, in 2009, he dodged bombs and shells, videoing civilian casualties and then editing the pictures in a series of underground bunkers while constantly under fire. He sent these images to contacts in France, Switzerland, and Canada hoping that the world would pay attention to the atrocities. But there was little interest. The images were deemed too gruesome for news audiences.

“Everyone said I sent horror videos,” P. J., who now lives abroad because of security concerns, tellsNewsweek. “Sometimes they’d say, ‘Friend, this video is very shocking but it is not suitable for broadcast in the Western media because it’s too graphic.’ I felt we needed to show the truth of what was happening to us. We had a satellite connection and the world could watch our war virtually live. Why didn’t they do anything to stop it?”

There was no BBC or CNN inside the war zone, which is perhaps why Sri Lanka is one of the great untold war stories of this century. It is certainly one of the bloodiest.

From 2008 to 2009, there were more battle-related deaths in northern Sri Lanka than in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Rwanda or Somalia. The U.N. now estimates that between 40,000 to 70,000 civilians may have died in just six months in a shrinking “safe zone” of 35 square-kilometers or less. The World Bank’s population data, based on the Sri Lankan government’s statistics, supports an even higher number of people who went missing after the war. (An outspoken Tamil Catholic bishop has asked why families of the 147,000 people who have disappeared from the government’s statistics have received nothing by way of answers except threats.) The death toll from the war between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers still can’t be rounded up with any certainty to the nearest ten thousand—this is extraordinary in today’s age of social media and citizen journalism.

During the war, the Tamil Tigers’ TV station which P. J. worked for moved its editing suite—monitors, digital-tape editing machines—six times in as many months to keep documenting war abuses. “We had to edit the tapes so we could reuse them,” says P. J., “and also because, often, our people would come under fire and forget the camera was still running or the camera would shake because they were frightened.”

Finally, he buried and reinforced with sandbags a boat under the beach rigged with a small generator to keep the operation going. He uploaded his edited images using a huge 2.5-meter-wide satellite dish that also served as a base station to provide Internet for commanders of the Tamil Tigers. The satellite dish was sprayed with green paint and covered with camouflage nets to hide it in the jungle from the drones and surveillance aircraft constantly flying overhead. In the spring of 2009, a shell hit the dish, but, typically, the Tigers had a backup. That, too, was damaged in the final weeks of the war by canon fire from a tank but—according to one of the technicians who survived the war—they successfully patched up the dish. It got destroyed four days before the war’s end.

On the penultimate day of the war, all of P. J.’s TV equipment was in a van that took a direct hit from several shells. Realizing he had no choice but to surrender with his wife and children, he set out to destroy his Sony laptop, soaking the hard disc and batteries in seawater. It was a strangely sad moment to wreck something he had guarded so carefully. As one of the key witnesses to Colombo’s crimes, P. J. has retrieved the images he sent out of the war zone in 2009 and can testify as to where and when they were recorded.

The Sri Lankan government dismisses people like P. J. as terrorist propagandists but it would be impossible to fabricate the stream of images of human suffering that he documented: babies with amputated limbs wrapped in bloody rags lying on mats on the ground in makeshift tent clinics, the elderly wailing and beating their heads in with grief. The Tigers didn’t have supersonic bombers and they couldn’t have shelled their own families because there simply wasn’t space once their territory shrank to a patch of sandy land no bigger than Central Park, crowded with the starving and injured.

The rebels, who were proscribed around the world as terrorists, are also accused by a U.N. Panel of Experts of committing war crimes: forced and underage recruitment, the use of suicide bombers, the use of civilians as a human buffer, preventing civilians from leaving the war zone. At first the Tigers had a rule that each family had to give one child as a fighter to their cause; as casualties intensified, they came back for the second or third. Parents hid their offspring underground in barrels with breathing pipes so the roaming recruitment teams couldn’t find them; they married children off early with none of the normal procedures and if caught begged the Tigers to let them serve in their place. At night in the bunkers, distraught mothers could be heard wailing and cursing the rebels for stealing their sons and daughters.

The Tamil Tiger commanders wrongly thought P. J.’s images of civilian suffering would prompt a Kosovo-style humanitarian intervention. For this they needed to keep their people with them. It was a tragic miscalculation; the rebels rejected a surrender offer, hoping instead for a ceasefire. Eventually the international community abandoned the fighters and civilians alike to die hellishly on a beautiful tropical palm-fringed beach.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s legal advisers are, however, clear that “most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” which they described as “large scale.” They also accused the Sri Lankan Army of systematically, knowingly, and repeatedly shelling all hospitals in the war zone, depriving civilians of food and life-saving medicine, and attacking all safe zones it had declared for civilians.

Gradually Pakistan became one of Sri Lanka’s biggest arms suppliers.

Both sides may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, but not with any moral equivalence. “If two armies fight each other, that’s fine; you expect casualties,” says P. J., “but civilians were killed, not just one or two or three, but hundreds every day.”

How did the world miss the story?

Geography was on Sri Lanka’s side. Being an island, there was no outpouring of refugees across borders with accounts of suffering. The Sri Lankan Navy prevented anyone from reaching India. It has taken years for the survivors to make their way abroad and finally tell their stories. Also key to Colombo’s winning strategy was removing all independent witnesses from the killing fields. A few foreign journalists were occasionally allowed to travel with the military, but none were based in rebel areas or had access to them. Only a handful of aid workers were based in rebel areas.

In September 2008, just as the endgame was starting, the Sri Lankan government ordered all international humanitarian workers out of the territory in northern Sri Lanka controlled by the Tamil Tigers because it couldn’t ensure their safety. This was alarming because two years earlier Sri Lanka had been the site of the world’s worst killing of aid workers. Seventeen members of Action Contre La Faim were killed and the French charity blames Sri Lankan security forces for the executions. Colombo saying that it could not guarantee the safety of aid workers was an implicit threat. And it worked.

Resident U.N. staff drove out of rebel areas wearing their flak jackets in a convoy of white vehicles, abandoning friends and local Tamil staff. It was a moment of extreme shame for the United Nations, which three years later would admit it had made grave mistakes in Sri Lanka and had failed to learn the lessons from Rwanda, where U.N. peacekeepers had similarly abandoned locals to die.

Many of the junior U.N. staff members who served in Sri Lanka in 2009 have been described as among some of the most deeply traumatized aid workers from any conflict. It’s not just that they witnessed extreme human suffering; they feel they didn’t do more to stop it. Benjamin Dix was one of the aid workers who left the main rebel town. “Driving out of Kilinochchi on that morning was a moment of intense shame and guilt,” he says. “Having worked in rebel areas for nearly four years, we abandoned civilians at their greatest hour of need. The abandonment of civilians in conflict is a sense of absolute failure that I will always carry with me. International mechanisms need to change to ensure that a situation like that never happens again.”

Cameraman P. J. also suffers from guilt, but of a different kind. “Now I think it’s very sad. So many people were injured and killed and I just filmed them,” he says. “I never helped these people. At that time I thought the most important thing was to take pictures and send them immediately all over the world. Now I think I should have done more to comfort the injured and carry the dead.” Sometimes P. J. did put his camera down to pull screaming people out of bunkers and transport the injured to hospital. When he had finished filming in the makeshift hospitals, he would try and give the injured a few words of comfort and courage to keep on going, but like any journalist he believed that sending out the news was the way to effect change. He was, of course, proven wrong.

Another reason that the world failed to take closer notice of the Sri Lankan civil war was Colombo’s successful rebranding of its decades-long ethnic-territorial conflict as part of the global “war on terror.” That meant the world signed off on the destruction of the rebels, wrongly assuming that without the troublesome Tigers there would be an equitable peace in Sri Lanka. The terror label made it easy to discredit all Tamils as Tamil Tigers, blurring the boundary between combatants and civilians. Scottish, Bangladeshi, Italian, and Australian eyewitnesses were denounced as “White Tigers” far too sympathetic to the “terrorists.” U.N. employees were intimidated, threatened, expelled, and spied on, with the result that the organization failed to speak up about war crimes its own staff had witnessed firsthand and failed to publicize the significant casualty numbers they had collected.

Politically, too, Colombo deftly secured the support of rivals: India and Pakistan, the U.S. and China, Iran and Israel. It’s been described as “adroit but duplicitous diplomacy” that played on each country’s fear of the other to make them more cooperative. In 2000, Pakistan sold Sri Lanka some of its first multibarreled rocket launchers—the KRL 122mm produced in Kahuta that may well have been used to bombard trapped Tamil civilians five years ago. Witnesses testify to the intense devastation the multibarreled rockets inflicted on civilians concentrated in the “no fire zones,” leaving fragments of human remains strewn around the bunkers which had to be collected with shovels during the brief lulls in fire.

Gradually, Pakistan became one of Sri Lanka’s biggest arms suppliers. Toward the climax of the war, Islamabad agreed to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of aerial bombs, mortar shells, artillery, and hand grenades to the Sri Lankan military, according to a report by the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society. Media reports suggested Colombo kept New Delhi informed about what it was buying from Pakistan, but that India itself wasn’t willing to sell “offensive weapons” because of fears of a backlash in its southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka has denied reports that Pakistani pilots flew air sorties during the war.

The full extent of military assistance to Sri Lanka in 2009 from countries in the region is still opaque. Some surviving rebel fighters even report seeing what they describe as “light skinned” foreign fighters working with the Sri Lankan Army. A recent public-interest litigation case filed in India’s Supreme Court that got thrown out alleged that clandestine Indian forces were involved in directing the fighting on the ground in Sri Lanka. There has been no independent corroboration of this allegation, but the U.N. Panel of Experts’ report did cite Indian naval support in intercepting floating arms-warehouses belonging to the Tigers. Arms-supply ships heading for rebel areas were routinely intercepted with the help of Indian and U.S. intelligence, and rebels do describe running short of ammunition by the end.

Sri Lanka has denied reports that Pakistani pilots flew air sorties during the war or guided their air strikes from Colombo, but the ties between both militaries are strong.

Sri Lanka’s Air Force chief, Kolitha Aravinda Gunatilleka, trained with the Pakistan Air Force and attended the National Defense College in Islamabad. The Sri Lankan defense attaché appointed to Pakistan just after the war was Wing Commander H. S. S. Thuyacontha, commander of a helicopter attack unit known as the No. 9 Squadron and who boasted of causing chaos along the frontline. Chaos on a frontline is to be expected, but in January 2009 hundreds of thousands of civilians were encouraged by the Sri Lankan government to gather in a “no fire zone,” which the government located near the frontline instead of further away by the coast. U.N. officials who witnessed some of the shelling in the first “no fire zone” concluded that the government’s strategy in locating safe areas next to the frontline was deliberate, and intended to kill as many Tamils as possible.

Pakistan’s unquestioning support for Sri Lanka has extended into the postwar period. Now the battlefield is a diplomatic one, located at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Pakistan was instrumental in bolstering support for the first U.N. resolution in 2009 on Sri Lanka which congratulated the island on its victory over terrorism. Human-rights activists consider this an especially shameful moment in the Security Council’s history given that both Colombo and the rebels were facing allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This March, Sri Lanka lost a key vote at the Human Rights Council, resulting in an inquiry being set up to investigate the end of the civil war.

Says Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for the International Crisis Group: “It says a lot about the lack of postwar progress on reconciliation and impunity that the U.S. and other foreign governments that actively supported the military defeat of the Tigers are now demanding an investigation into how that victory violated international humanitarian law. This reflects their worries that the Sri Lankan government won the war but is losing the peace.”

Many factors have contributed to the international community’s impatience—not least the erosion of the rule of law embodied by the impeachment of the country’s chief justice, nepotism on a new scale, militarization of Tamil areas of the northeast, attacks on journalists and religious minorities, continued disappearances as well as recent credible reports of rape and torture by Sri Lankan security forces.

Pakistan has been at the forefront of efforts in Geneva to prevent the Sri Lanka inquiry, even mounting a last minute but abortive attempt to have action at the Human Rights Council deferred. Some Sri Lankans have gone so far as to say Pakistan did a better job of protecting Sri Lanka’s interests than even their own diplomats. “[Pakistani] Ambassador Zamir Akram’s direct involvement in lobbying for Sri Lanka in Geneva went beyond the normal call of diplomacy,” says a retired U.N. diplomat who observed proceedings closely this year.

It is likely Pakistan will be deeply involved in continuing attempts to scupper the inquiry in the run-up to the next Council session in September, arguing that the probe exceeds the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mandate and budget. As coordinator of the human rights and humanitarian issues group for the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Geneva, Pakistan is also uniquely positioned to influence other Muslim states. “What’s so puzzling is that the OIC has taken a strong stand on the Rohingya issue [in Myanmar] but they don’t seem to understand that the intellectual heart of extremist, anti-Muslim Buddhism is in Sri Lanka,” says the former diplomat.

Pakistan did a better job protecting Colombo’s interests than even Sri Lankan diplomats.

Sri Lanka’s 9 percent Muslim community—many the Tamil-speaking descendants of traders on the shipping routes that crossed Ceylon—has been at the receiving end of vicious attacks, largely from the extremist Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, which is endorsed by the country’s defense minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of the president. The second largest minority after Tamils, Sri Lankan Muslims overwhelmingly supported the government through decades of civil war and in some ways prospered as a result. “In the postwar era, the Rajapaksa family appears to believe it needs a new enemy to maintain Sinhala Buddhist nationalist sentiment now that they’ve crushed the Tamils,” says the International Crisis Group’s Keenan. “Objects of longstanding suspicion by many Sinhalese, Muslims are particularly easy to brand as terrorists and fundamentalists.”

A damning report by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the largest Muslim party which is headed by the country’s justice minister, detailed 241 attacks on Muslims during 2013. These attacks included mosques being stoned, Muslim-owned shops being struck by Buddhist monks, calls for the hijab to be outlawed, and a successful campaign against halal meat. Four-letter obscenities against Allah have been scrawled on mosque walls and pig’s heads drawn on their exteriors or even tossed inside. Minority Rights Group, a London-based watchdog, in its report said there has been an unprecedented uptick in the level of Islamophobia in Sri Lanka which left Muslims feeling afraid and vulnerable.

If Muslims are rapidly becoming the new enemy for Sri Lanka, what about the old enemy, the Tamil Tigers? When the war ended, at least 12,000 suspected rebel combatants were sent for “rehabilitation.” The government said it planned to replace the mindset of these “terrorists” by inculcating “inner peace and harmony.” The program was not transparent about the screening process or the numbers detained and there was no unfettered international access and no right of appeal or consent. The International Commission of Jurists believes it may have been “the largest mass administrative detention anywhere in the world.” Some rebels forcibly recruited in the final months of the conflict spent up to four years in rehabilitation. It is only now that some survivors have escaped the country that evidence is emerging of the torture and rape of rebels at these military-run rehabilitation camps.

Others who escaped the rehabilitation process are still being rounded up five years later—and are being tortured and raped by Sri Lankan security forces. Yasmin Sooka, South African transitional-justice expert, and the Bar Human Rights Committee England and Wales documented 40 such cases among Sri Lankan asylum seekers and refugees who recently arrived in the U.K. Most of the cases were of Tamils abducted in Sri Lanka’s notorious “white vans” and taken to secret detention centers. Standard torture methods included being whipped with electric cables and wire, branded with hot metal rods, hung upside down and submerged in barrels of water, and suffocated by having plastic bags soaked in petrol put over their heads. In all 40 cases, rape or sexual violence occurred and the detainee only escaped after his or her family paid a bribe to the security forces. The assaults were accompanied by graphic racist abuse: “Tamil mouths are only good for oral sex”; “You Tamils need a separate state; if you want a separate state you will have to take a bath in our urine.” Lawyers who took statements from the survivors concluded that crimes against humanity are still being committed today in Sri Lanka and that the war is by no means over.

P. J.’s personal struggle to overcome the war isn’t over. Like most survivors, he still scans the Internet for news of colleagues who might have survived. Two of his TV station’s cameramen and one camerawoman were killed during the war but today he has no idea what’s happened to the rest who surrendered to Sri Lankan forces.

“I have had no contact with them after the war,” he says. “Five years later, I still don’t know whether they are alive or dead.” He is too frightened to search because the Tamil diaspora is riddled with government informers. “I am alone here while my children are growing up in Sri Lanka without me. But I am lucky because in Sri Lanka every Tamil is afraid, very afraid, and still running.”

Harrison, a former BBC Correspondent, is the author of Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War about the last phase of the conflict.

Sri Lanka to be Investigated for War Crimes

by V. Gunaratnam, May 3, 2014

If seeing is believing, then what brought Sri Lanka to international attention was the Britain’s Channel 4 expose of war crimes. From that time onwards Sri Lanka has been back-peddling on the war crimes charges. Then the international community took an interest and it ended up in the UNHRC, which decided the case against Sri Lanka was a persuasive one and needed investigation.

As a result Sri Lanka came under fire at the 2013 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva. It resulted in a US resolution, debated and passed, that required Sri Lanka to investigate possible war crimes committed by its forces in the war, and to start the reconciliation process going with the Tamils. But Sri Lanka did virtually nothing, and opened itself to further action year later at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC.

When it came up for review at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva, High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s report was tabled, and it emerged that Sri Lanka had done nothing to carry out the terms of the 2013 resolution of the UNHRC. It was then left to them to take further action.

Following this, on a US resolution, debated and passed by the UNHRC, it required that the war crimes committed by the Rajapaksa government should be investigated by an external investigators, with an openended mandate. India however took exception to the terms, because it did not agree with parts of it, saying it was “extremely intrusive and counter productive. But India knew beforehand that there were enough votes for the US Resolution to be carried through, and it probably had some strategy worked out with them.

Amnesty International was critical of India’s decision to abstain on the crucial UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka, and said it is an abdication of its human rights responsibilities and unbecoming of an emerging democracy. But if one examines the record it will be clear that India never shied away from the accusations of war crimes against Sri Lanka, which was borne out by the US Resolution of 2013.

The Indian Government for its part said after the 2014 vote at the UNHRC, the resolution had the potential to hinder the efforts of India rather than contribute constructively to its efforts.

India believed it can play a constructive role in the conflict and keep the door open for dialogue with Sri Lanka and the Tamils to forge an accord. This is consistent with the role it had played all along as an intermediary, even if there was no successful outcome. India at one time even trained Tamil rebels. They dropped food parcels to besieged Tamils when they were under attack by Sri Lankan forces. They pressured Sri Lanka into conceding that the North and East were Tamil provinces. They fashioned the 13th Amendment, under which elections were held in North of Sri Lanka in 2013. It one had followed the developments between the two, it could not have escaped their notice that Sri Lanka and the Tamils, at separate times, visited New Delhi for talks about a settlement. There is no question that both parties always looked to India as an acceptable intermediary. No other country is there to play that role. It is a historical reality.

Let us also look back and see what was achieved in peace talks between Sri Lanka and the Tamils. They went to foreign lands to powwow, but nothing came of the yearly rituals. They were just holidays for both parties in salubrious climes,with all the trimmings. Over the decades, the Tamils achieved nothing of any consequence. But it never seemed to send a message to them that they were at a standstill. With every passing

day, the Sinhalese progressed as a state, using Tamil tax dollars to fortify themselves. But now China has camped itself in Sri Lanka and the dynamics have changed. But war crime charges hang over Sri Lanka, and some kind of change is in the offing. But its impact cannot be gauged at this time.

India could be an indispensable part of working out a solution. Keeping out of the vote at the UNHRC has given it the freedom to be an acceptable part of the search for a permanent settlement. It was probably a strategy worked out with the US. There is a need to find a breakthrough to an acceptable settlement which has defied both parties for almost 60 years, since Banda’s Sinhala Only Act of 1956.

After all, the end game is to bring about a successful closure to the saga of the Tamils, and not prolong it. The strategy is to keep the door open for Sri Lanka and the Tamils to exchange ideas with India on an ongoing basis, and bring them closer to a settlement, in the changed circumstances following the 2014 decisions of the UNHRC. Without India, there is no acceptable intermediary. It inconceivable that without India’s assistance there could be any solution, as any other route would prolong a settlement for the Tamils to an indeterminate period.

But China’s presence in Sri Lanka has complicated matters. The US does not look with favor on Sri Lanka’s relations with China. It would like Sri Lanka to have closer military relationship with Washington, in keeping with US strategy for the region. India would also welcome such a change. What Sri Lanka could do to influence the outcome, and with the UHHRC decision hanging over its head? The most acceptable would be to do something and persuade itself to arrive at a solution with the Tamils.

To say that India has betrayed the Tamils is then not only a very shortsighted view, but it is also not justified by history or the facts, and not helpful.

Asian Buddhism’s Growing Fundamentalist Streak

Nirvanaless

* In Sri Lanka, where about 70 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist, a group of monks formed the Bodu Bala Sena or the Buddhist Power Force in 2012 to “protect” the country’s Buddhist culture. The force, nicknamed BBS, carried out at least 241 attacks against Muslims and 61 attacks against Christians in 2013, according to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

BANGKOK — To many Americans, Buddhism is about attaining enlightenment, maybe even nirvana, through such peaceful methods as meditation and yoga.But in some parts of Asia, a more assertive, strident and militant Buddhism is emerging. In three countries where Buddhism is the majority faith, a form of religious nationalism has taken hold:
* In Myanmar, at least 300 Rohingya Muslims, whose ancestors were migrants from Bangladesh, have been killed and up to 300,000 displaced, according to Genocide Watch. Ashin Wirathu, a monk who describes himself as the Burmese “bin Laden,” is encouraging the violence by viewing the Rohingya presence as a Muslim “invasion.”* And in Buddhist-majority Thailand, at least 5,000 people have died in Muslim-Buddhist violence in the country’s South. The country’s Knowing Buddha Foundation is not a violent group, but it advocates for a blashemy law to punish anyone who offends the faith. It wants Buddhism declared the state religion and portrays popular culture as a threat to believers.Though fundamentalism is a term that has thus far been used mostly in relation to Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, some are beginning to use it to describe Buddhists as well.

Maung Zarni, an exiled Burmese who has written extensively on the ongoing violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, argues that there is no room for fundamentalism in Buddhism.

“No Buddhist can be nationalistic,” said Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. “There is no country for Buddhists. I mean, no such thing as ‘me,’ ‘my’ community, ‘my’ country, ‘my’ race or even ‘my’ faith.”

He views the demand for an anti-blasphemy law in Thailand also as a distortion of Buddhism, which doesn’t allow any “organization that polices or regulates the faithful’s behavior or inner thoughts.”

But Acharawadee Wongsakon, the Buddhist teacher who founded the Knowing Buddha Foundation, insists Buddhism needs legal protections and society must follow certain prescribed do’s and don’ts.

She and others see the new movements as providing “true knowledge on Buddhism.”

Thailand’s conflict between Muslim insurgents and local Buddhists, which reignited along the Malaysian border in 2004, is part of a long-standing feud pitting Buddhist monks and Muslim insurgents.

“For sure, Thailand has its own brand of ‘Buddhist’ racism towards non-Buddhists,” said Zarni. “But, I am not sure the Thai society will go the way of those two genocidal Theravada Buddhist societies (Sri Lanka and Myanmar) — where racism of genocidal nature has enveloped the mainstream ‘Buddhist’ society.”

Buddhist monk Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, a senior lecturer at Chiang Mai Buddhist College in Thailand, said there are reasons why Theravada Buddhists see Islam as a threat. Among them, he cited the destruction of Nalanda University in India by Turkic military general Bakhtiyar Khilji in the early 13th century and attacks on Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, around the seventh century and more recently by the Taliban in 2001.

“Thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism,” he said.

Zarni agrees there are links “among what I really call anti-Dharma ‘Buddhist’ networks” in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, which are “toxic, cancerous and deeply harmful to all humans anywhere.”

Wirathu was recently labeled on the cover of Time magazine as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” The Myanmar government banned the edition. But Wirathu was quoted telling a reporter, “I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/nirvanaless-asian-buddhisms-growing-fundamentalist-streak/2014/05/01/9af7413c-d161-11e3-a714-be7e7f142085_story.html

Sri Lanka to be Investigated for War Crimes

by V. Gunaratnam, May 3, 2014

If seeing is believing, then what brought Sri Lanka to international attention was the Britain’s Channel 4 expose of war crimes. From that time onwards Sri Lanka has been back-peddling on the war crimes charges. Then the international community took an interest and it ended up in the UNHRC, which decided the case against Sri Lanka was a persuasive one and needed investigation.

As a result Sri Lanka came under fire at the 2013 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva. It resulted in a US resolution, debated and passed, that required Sri Lanka to investigate possible war crimes committed by its forces in the war, and to start the reconciliation process going with the Tamils. But Sri Lanka did virtually nothing, and opened itself to further action year later at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC.

When it came up for review at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva, High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s report was tabled, and it emerged that Sri Lanka had done nothing to carry out the terms of the 2013 resolution of the UNHRC. It was then left to them to take further action.

Following this, on a US resolution, debated and passed by the UNHRC, it required that the war crimes committed by the Rajapaksa government should be investigated by an external investigators, with an openended mandate. India however took exception to the terms, because it did not agree with parts of it, saying it was “extremely intrusive and counter productive. But India knew beforehand that there were enough votes for the US Resolution to be carried through, and it probably had some strategy worked out with them.

Amnesty International was critical of India’s decision to abstain on the crucial UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka, and said it is an abdication of its human rights responsibilities and unbecoming of an emerging democracy. But if one examines the record it will be clear that India never shied away from the accusations of war crimes against Sri Lanka, which was borne out by the US Resolution of 2013.

The Indian Government for its part said after the 2014 vote at the UNHRC, the resolution had the potential to hinder the efforts of India rather than contribute constructively to its efforts.

India believed it can play a constructive role in the conflict and keep the door open for dialogue with Sri Lanka and the Tamils to forge an accord. This is consistent with the role it had played all along as an intermediary, even if there was no successful outcome. India at one time even trained Tamil rebels. They dropped food parcels to besieged Tamils when they were under attack by Sri Lankan forces. They pressured Sri Lanka into conceding that the North and East were Tamil provinces. They fashioned the 13th Amendment, under which elections were held in North of Sri Lanka in 2013. It one had followed the developments between the two, it could not have escaped their notice that Sri Lanka and the Tamils, at separate times, visited New Delhi for talks about a settlement. There is no question that both parties always looked to India as an acceptable intermediary. No other country is there to play that role. It is a historical reality.

Let us also look back and see what was achieved in peace talks between Sri Lanka and the Tamils. They went to foreign lands to powwow, but nothing came of the yearly rituals. They were just holidays for both parties in salubrious climes,with all the trimmings. Over the decades, the Tamils achieved nothing of any consequence. But it never seemed to send a message to them that they were at a standstill. With every passing

day, the Sinhalese progressed as a state, using Tamil tax dollars to fortify themselves. But now China has camped itself in Sri Lanka and the dynamics have changed. But war crime charges hang over Sri Lanka, and some kind of change is in the offing. But its impact cannot be gauged at this time.

India could be an indispensable part of working out a solution. Keeping out of the vote at the UNHRC has given it the freedom to be an acceptable part of the search for a permanent settlement. It was probably a strategy worked out with the US. There is a need to find a breakthrough to an acceptable settlement which has defied both parties for almost 60 years, since Banda’s Sinhala Only Act of 1956.

After all, the end game is to bring about a successful closure to the saga of the Tamils, and not prolong it. The strategy is to keep the door open for Sri Lanka and the Tamils to exchange ideas with India on an ongoing basis, and bring them closer to a settlement, in the changed circumstances following the 2014 decisions of the UNHRC. Without India, there is no acceptable intermediary. It inconceivable that without India’s assistance there could be any solution, as any other route would prolong a settlement for the Tamils to an indeterminate period.

But China’s presence in Sri Lanka has complicated matters. The US does not look with favor on Sri Lanka’s relations with China. It would like Sri Lanka to have closer military relationship with Washington, in keeping with US strategy for the region. India would also welcome such a change. What Sri Lanka could do to influence the outcome, and with the UHHRC decision hanging over its head? The most acceptable would be to do something and persuade itself to arrive at a solution with the Tamils.

To say that India has betrayed the Tamils is then not only a very shortsighted view, but it is also not justified by history or the facts, and not helpful.