Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

The recent documentary from Channel 4 on the war crimes of Sri Lanka must be one of the most widely watched videos on the net among the Tamils, and also the most widely shared in the social network. This documentary is one of the key evidences for people demanding action against the Sri Lankan government for crimes against Tamils during the final and devastating war against the Tigers. There is now a UN investigation and it will soon go for voting. Indian government is being pressurised by both the parties in Tamil Nadu to vote against Sri Lanka, which it is unlikely to do. However, the pressures of Indian politics are not carried out by humanitarian considerations, but by number politics and currently DMK has numbers and their hard stand taken (for whatever reasons) against the central government may hold the key. Nevertheless, what of this UN’s stand on Humanitarian crime against Sri Lanka?

The FBI, in their records, had termed LTTE as,

‘amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world.’

The LTTE have been accused of several targeted killings of civilians, meaning wilfully attacking civilian locations with the aim of extracting political mileage. They had killed hundreds of Muslims and forcibly displaced thousands from Tamil areas during the early years of war. They had been constantly accused of recruiting child soldiers. They had signed deals and broken them callously. They had agreed to peace-talks and walked out of them irreverently. They had announced ceasefires when low on arms supplies, only to replenish them and then end the ceasefire unilaterally. Veluppillai Prabakaran, the ruthless leader of LTTE had famously proclaimed that he did not believe in democracy and the Eelam, if and when it becomes a reality, will be a one party state, obviously ruled by the LTTE. The European Union stated in the their Parliament that the LTTE ‘did not represent all the Tamils,’ and does not ‘allow for political pluralism and alternative democratic voices.’ They are the first terrorist organisation to successfully launch suicide bombings and sustain this to the extent they had a separate suicide squad called Black Tigers. They had remained undefeated for the past thirty years mainly because of their guerrilla tactics in which the civilians had been constantly used as human-shields. This behaviour of LTTE have been well documented by various sources and especially proved to be a key reason for Indian army’s failure in their operation against the Tigers. In the early 2000s, there was one report which estimated  LTTE’s annual revenue to be over $30 million.

There had been numerous attempts at reconciliation and all had failed. There have been peace talks mediated by Norway which had failed. Ceasefires, unilateral or co-opted, had ended up to be breathers to replenish arms and regroup. Anybody who had different viewpoints towards the solution or opposed to the draconian methods of LTTE were, without exception, eliminated by violent methods, be it Rajiv Gandhi, Premadasa, Padmanaba or even Amirthalingam, the only Tamil leader who believed in democratic and peaceful approaches to the ethnic conflict.

So, how do you deal with such a group? In a nutshell, LTTE had one clear message: the only language they understood was that of extreme violence. When all else had failed, the Sri Lankan government had absolutely no option but to speak the same language, this time much more skilfully and, albeit, ruthlessly.

The documentary that people use to accuse Sri Lanka of war crimes actually places the blame equally on both the LTTE and the army. At one point the documentary even mentions that the Tigers began shooting their own people who tried to flee and this was backed by satellite recordings. And in more than one point, it accuses the Tigers of using the civilians as human shields.

Whilst the war was in full swing, there were heated campaigns lamenting the plight of the people caught in the crossfire. Soon, it became apparent that the Tigers were actually using the civilians as hostages to both to fight the war and to bargain. Throughout the campaign, they believed that the sympathy wave on the plight of the civilians would enrage the Tamils in India and lead to the international circles to force Sri Lanka to accede to ceasefire.

India didn’t intervene. The noise built up in Tamil Nadu didn’t go beyond some token rallies. Karunanidhi stopped short of his usual cunning tactics of token fasts and resignation dramas. To be fair, his family’s power struggle is a much bigger problem for him than the dying Tamilians in Northern Sri Lanka so he couldn’t care more.

So the war went on full blast. Whatever the people in the documentary claimed, such as allowing Red Cross or allowing UN to mediate would only have strengthened the Tigers. They needed to be annihilated, once and for all and quite decisively. There was no way they could have allowed to regroup. The killing of Prabakaran’s son is extremely unfortunate in this situation because he had a potential to become a symbol of his father’s ‘sacrifice’ and might have given the escaped Tigers a chance to regroup. It was a bloody and merciless war, a kind which the South Asia had not seen and hopefully will never see again.

It is difficult to understand the UN officials and, especially David Miliband, waxing eloquent on the human rights with respect to Tigers. They did not talk like this when Osama bin Laden was summarily executed by the Navy SEALs. There was not even a customary condemnation from the UN. This attitude implies that when it comes to handling terrorism, America has a different set of rights than others. The so-called human rights do not apply to governments of the West. Perhaps they couldn’t palate a tiny South Asian country resorting to the tactics usually practised by them.

The documentary mentioned that, towards the end of the war, the US Ambassador spoke to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, asking him to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross into the conflict zone to mediate a surrender. Rajapaksa commented: ‘We are beyond that now”.

Indeed.