That Sri Lanka's military carried out atrocities on a mass scale has never really been in doubt for those who followed the closing months of the war. Quite apart from the daily accounts, including video footage broadcast on Tamil television channels and available to the international community, emerging most days from January to May 2009, there were countless, pleading interviews from aid workers, medical workers, community workers, and others - all civilians.
Nonetheless, day after day, the Sri Lankan military continued to direct artillery, airstrikes and naval gunfire at hundreds of thousands of terrified Tamil civilians huddled in an ever shrinking enclave surrounded by several divisions of the Army (SLA). Human Rights Watch and others issued repeated statements urging international action to stop the slaughter. But little was done, even as the Sinhala-dominated state, drunk with racism, paid no heed, not even when the quartet of the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway also protested, or even when newly inaugurated US President Obama demanded that the "indiscriminate shelling" directed at civilian concentrations and hospitals stop.
Nothing was done even after the bloodletting came to an end in May 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers, not even when hundreds of thousands of shell-shocked survivors were herded into barbed wire ringed militarized camps and kept there for over a year - some are still there. The remains of at least forty thousand civilians are meanwhile scattered across spaces the government mockingly labeled safe zones as it shelled them. Little wonder then that President Mahinda Rajapakse and Sri Lanka's other civilian and military leaders have felt secure there will be no international reckoning.
As discussed earlier in this newspaper's pages, there are differences of nomenclature - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide - amongst the network of state and non-state actors painstakingly and determinedly seeking to build a case for accountability. What is not in doubt is that President Rajapakse, his brother (Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse) and the country's top military leaders bear ultimate responsibility for the atrocities. What is also not in doubt is that the Sri Lankan state will never bring to justice those responsible. That will always be ultimately the responsibility of the international community.
The international architecture to seek accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that emerged in the past two decades did so in the wake of the horrors of Rwanda and the Balkans. Quite apart from the International Criminal Court, there are national laws and mechanisms in many countries. To this day - and well into the future - military and government leaders who confidently massacred, tortured, raped and brutalized at will find themselves arrested, tried and often -but unfortunately not always - convicted and punished. Fittingly, it is their own states that, reluctantly and under insistent international pressure, give them up, years, sometimes decades, after their victims' lives were expunged.
We know - even without the leaked US cable - that some Tamil representatives in Sri Lanka are reluctant to agitate for war crimes investigations. The leadership of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), for example, has largely been silent on war crimes. They have confided to the US Ambassador that firstly, they fear for their lives if they raise this issue and, secondly, that the priority of many Tamils in the island is the restoration of normalcy in the Tamil homeland.
But these are not mutually exclusive, and to suggest otherwise is tantamount to shielding the most brazen mass killers of the Tamil people from justice in exchange for them permitting the bare necessities of life to reach those victims who survived. It is the Sinhala state which is responsible for the devastation of the Tamil homeland and its inhabitants. Conversely, it is the responsibility of those who claim to be representatives, or leaders, of the Tamil people to devote themselves single-mindedly to ensuring an accounting of the violence unleashed against them.
Especially amid inaction by the TNA and others, it is the responsibility of the global Tamil community living beyond Sri Lanka's murderous reach to do everything it can to contribute to, and support, international efforts to bring President Rajapakse and the rest of the leadership to justice. This is both our right and our obligation. Most importantly, this campaign is not only about the past, but the future: it is only in this way that we can ensure the chilling horrors being unearthed by global rights activists are not visited again and again on the Tamils.