Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s action plan, titled ‘In Larger Freedom: Toward Development, Security and Human Rights for All’, addressed three priorities that included “freedom to Live in Dignity”.
In the area of human rights, Annan asserts that priority should be placed on taking concrete steps to reduce selective application, arbitrary enforcement and breach without consequence. His specific recommendations include:
(i) The “responsibility to protect” should serve as the basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If a state is unable or unwilling to assume this responsibility, the international community needs to act, including enforcement action by the Security Council as a last resort.
(ii) The rule of law should be strengthened and all treaties relating to the protection of civilians should be ratified and implemented. Cooperation with the International Criminal Court and other international or mixed war crimes tribunals should be promoted and the International Court of Justice should be strengthened.
But in Sri Lanka, “freedom to Live with Dignity” is currently non-existent for Tamils of the NorthEast.
Thousands of civilians have died in the past few months alone and more than 350,000 people have fled their homes.
The UN threatened to suspend aid operations in Sri Lanka after the international ceasefire monitors (SLMM) blamed the Sri Lankan military for the execution on August 6th of 17 local staff of "Action Contre la Faim."
A signed agreement by the government with the LTTE to share international tsunami aid with Tamils in LTTE-controlled areas has never been implemented.
Meanwhile, the arbitrary bombing of schools, villages and refugee camps carried out by Sri Lankan state on its own citizens appears to be done with a total lack of concern for any consequences of its actions.
In the name of fighting terrorism, blockades and economic sanctions are being applied as collective punishment to Tamil civilians with no apparent concern for their devastating impact.
These actions by the state are all well recorded and recognized by several national governments, INGOs and the UN itself.
If such a situation does not warrant action by the UN and the international community, it is doubtful the Secretary-General’s action plan will ever have an applicable environment.
The silence of the international community to the reality unfolding in Sri Lanka’s Northeast is shocking to the Tamils, both there and, especially, in the Diaspora. There is a saying in Tamil that you can wake someone who is sleeping but not someone pretending to be asleep.
The international community not only exerts significant influence over Sri Lanka but has also, to a great extent, presided over the last five years of the conflict management. But now it simply walks away when confronted with the result of its action.
The principles loudly articulated when action was taken by the international community against the LTTE when fresh bans were imposed on the LTTE last year are no longer spoken about.
Instead the Sri Lankan government is able to proceed with impunity.
The callous disregard for Tamil lives is also reflected in the enthusiastic response from the international response to the Sri Lanka’s offer of economic partnerships, including ventures in conflict zones, with the blatant aim of bringing in new partners in the war against the Tamils
The lone stance taken by Germany in regards to funding projects in Sri Lanka was heartening, but this falls far too short and comes far too late to have any impact on restraining the state.
It is of little wonder that discussions amongst the Tamils, particularly amongst the Diaspora, is increasingly dominated by the position that the there is no option but self-defence in the face of the state’s escalating violence.
The ongoing aggression by the Sri Lankan government and the apparently deliberate inaction by the international community are quickly removed the doubts of the dwindling number of Tamil sceptics of this argument.
The book ‘We did nothing’ by Linda Poleman is serves as an eyeopening read for those who still expect international action to halt state aggression against Tamils. Polman's observations about UN response in Rwanda should also serve to shatter complacency about international commitment to humanitarian norms.
Today’s international environment does not offer any legitimate space to armed non-state actors defending their basic human rights of their people even in the face of well planned and executed genocides.
Anyone with a nominal understanding of the past sixty years of Sri Lanka’s history is aware of the onslaught against the Tamils by the Sri Lankan State and also how the response of the Tamils correspondingly escalated to an armed struggle.
It is the sheer unwillingness of the international community to respond in appropriate ways during the early stages of this conflict that led to what they now call “a terrorist problem.”
Outlining his Action Plan to Prevent Genocide, Mr. Annan said the first step must be to prevent armed conflict by addressing the issues that cause it.
“We must attack the roots of violence and genocide: hatred, intolerance, racism, tyranny, and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and their rights,” he said.
Protecting civilians during war is a second step in thwarting potential genocides, the Secretary-General said, noting that in more and more conflicts non-combatants, including women and children, are no longer just “caught in the crossfire” but have become the direct targets of violence and rape.
“Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide,” he said, warning the international community that it could no longer afford to be blind to this grim dynamic.
“Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening,” the Secretary-General concluded.
“Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference. Let us be serious about preventing genocide. Only so can we honour the victims whom we remember today. Only so can we save those who might be victims tomorrow.”
But Annan’s inescapable logic has no relevance in a today’s global politics dominated still by interests, rather than principles.
It is more than evident that the international community’s (in)actions in Sri Lanka are based entirely on calculated opposition to the LTTE and support for the state than anything else, especially a desire for a just peace.
How can the Tamils respond to the state’s violence? They are denied the space to legitimately respond in meaningful ways.
But dying is no alternative.
The Tamils cannot console themselves, that, just as in Rwanda and Darfur, the international community will sincerely regret its inaction after yet another genocide.
The Tamils have proved their astonishing resilience by refusing to succumb to the unprecedented might thrown at them.
A community with such tenacious survival instincts and bound by a strong affinity with their culture and language will not relent.