14 April 2009
Leading media in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala South compare, with renewed fervour, the war-time successes of President Rajapakse to the victory of the first century BC, Sinhala King Duthu Gemmunu (witness a recent article in the Island newspaper, entitled “Mahinda: Liberator or conqueror?”). And yes, there is much in common. Most obviously, the utter disregard for Tamil life.
The Mahavamsa, the central book of Sinhala Buddhism, describes how after Duttu Gemunu’s successful siege and invasion of the Tamil country, thereby creating a unified Sri Lanka, he “knew no joy, remembering that thereby was wrought the destruction of millions (of beings).” It explains how a delegation of Buddhist holy men were sent to comfort him. Their philosophy, as enshrined in the Mahavamsa, is as relevant today as it was then.
The Buddhist holy men explained to the Sinhala King that no harm was done by the slaughter of “millions” of Tamils: “From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven. Only one and a half human beings have been slain here by thee, O lord of men… Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts”
Unlike other holy books, the Mahavamsa has no new theology or ideas: it is simply a chronicle that relates and glorifies the colonisation of Sri Lanka by the Sinhala Buddhists. But its ideas are central to Sri Lankan politics today.
If the Tamils and native peoples of Sri Lanka, were labelled “demons” in the Mahavamsa, to be righteously dislodged by the arrival of the Sinhala and Buddhism, then, so too can contemporary Tamils be labelled as terrorists and terrorist sympathisers.
This seamless melding of the Mahavamsa race theory with the Tamils as terrorist myth is the central driver behind the mass destruction visited on the Tamil people today.
The approach is personified in Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse. As he explained to the BBC: “I have only two groups – people who are fighting terror and the terrorists. Either you are a terrorist or you are a person who is fighting terrorists” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDM9ztLo0mE&feature=related
So naturally, the Tamil civilian population of the Vanni, who are clearly not fighting the terrorists, are terrorists. Presumably the Tamil people of Jaffna are also terrorists as are the Tamils in the South. This would explain why, for example, Tamil newspaper editor, Mr Vithyatharan was a terrorist. Equally, members of the Tamil Diaspora are also terrorists.
Mr Rajapakse goes on to explain the importance of his mission: “We are not going to another country – we are fighting to save our country – the sovereignty of our country”. As Mr Rajapaske’s loyal military chief Sarath Fonseka told Peter Foster: “the country belongs to the Sinhalese”.
So the Tamil homeland does not belong to the Tamil people – it belongs to “us”, the Sinhala Buddhists. Mr Rajapkse is fighting to save the Sinhala Buddhist nation. No wonder is wildly popular in the Sinhala South.
In the last decade Sri Lanka’s Mahavamsa racism has morphed seamlessly into the anti-terror rhetoric pioneered by Karl Rove and the Bush administration. So too, in parallel, has the State’s disregard for law.
Nazi-like race superiority theory is delivered and internationalised via a veneer of “terror” rhetoric. This is the only understandable motivation for the colossal illegality that underlies the current Sri Lankan enterprise.
Like Dutu Gemmunu, Rajapakse chose to invade the Tamil homeland. His first act prior to invasion was to expel the UN and other independent aid agencies.
If there had been no intent from the very outset to break the laws of war, this expulsion would not have been necessary. It follows that, from the outset, Rajapakse intended to do some very illegal things, and for this he needed to ensure there were no foreign witnesses.
In the racist Mahavamsa mindset Tamil witnesses do not count, and even if they did, presumably, it was not intended that they would survive to tell the tale.
There is no proper alternative explanation for the expulsion of the UN. If the concern had been for safety, then surely the safety Tamil children and pregnant mothers, for example, took priority over the safety of adult UN staff who are paid to work in conflict zones.
It follows that Mr Rajapakse was eliminating witnesses ahead of some illegal enterprise.
But we need to look more closely at what kind of illegalities Mr Rajapakse could have had in mind, which would require the elimination of non-Tamil witnesses.
He intended from the outset that the Tamil area would be ethnically cleansed, save for a small “safe zone” of some 20 sq km. But the Rajapakse regime has never been shy to openly admit this.
From Gotabaya’s interview with Sky TV we have this admission: “Nothing must live outside the safe zone.” This, he said, was why an operating hospital was a legitimate target – because nothing must be allowed to live in the hospital, the hospital being outside the safe zone.
This objective of cleansing the Vanni region of Tamils is illegal from the outset. The 1949 Geneva Conventions, additional protocol II of 1977, Art. 17(2) states "Civilians shall not be compelled to leave their own territory for reasons connected with the conflict."
Yet the Rajapakse regime was never shy to admit to it intent to violate this particular Geneva protocol – as evidenced by their interviews.
Presumably because they knew that the international community would back them up in achieving their stated aim. And judging from their statements the European Union and the American government have been quite happy to break Article 17(2) of the addition protocol, 1977, of the Geneva conventions: it was acceptable for civilians to be made to leave their own territory for reasons connected with the conflict.
The European Parliament for example called for a temporary ceasefire “to allow the civilian population to leave the combat zone” notwithstanding the government had turned the area into a combat zone precisely in order to force the civilians who lived there to leave.
The EU Parliament did not call for a permanent ceasefire that would allow the civilians to stay in their homes.
The US government also proposed to send a military mission to evacuate the civilians and hand them over to the Sri Lankan government, again meeting the stated goal of the Sri Lankan state, namely to cleanse the area of Tamils.
It follows that international witnesses were not removed because of concerns related to this particular illegality.
If the civilians were to be forced to move, then where are they to be moved to? But here we find another illegal proposal. The Rajapakse regime openly states that civilians are to be indefinitely held in detention centres.
The detention centres wholesale ignore the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ref: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html), specifically:
i. The rights to liberty: Article 9,Article 11, Article 12
ii. The right to life: Article 6
iii. Prevention of torture, cruel, inhuman treatment: Article 7
Again, the European Parliament did not object to the evacuation of civilians to these detention camps, notwithstanding that in the 21st century no human population should be expected to live in indefinite captivity.
The European Parliament merely asked that the ICRC and other be able to monitor the captivity of the Tamil civilians, notwithstanding that no amount of “monitoring” will render the deprivation of liberty legal. Perhaps (illegal) torture may be reduced via ICRC monitoring, but it cannot be eliminated – the conditions exist in the detention camps to enable torture to be carried out.
Similarly on Monday the 13th of April, British Foreign Minister, David Milliband, repeated his call for an evacuation of civilians out of the “safe zone”, but failed to object to the government’s unlawful internment camps that awaited them on the outside. By failing to object to conditions that are clearly unacceptable he implicitly endorsed the camps.
But as Gotabaya tells us: “If you are not fighting terrorists, you are a terrorist.” So the Sri Lankan detention camps are just one big extension to Guantanamo – an extension that will hold Tamil children, women, the elderly and of course, military men, who will be screened and disappeared, a la Srebenica. As with Srebenica, all these parties will be separated from each other, wives from husbands, children from mothers, siblings, grandparents, until the fabric of the Tamil community can be broken.
Raphael Lemkin would recognise all this as a method of genocide. But the European Parliament, the co-chairs, the United Nations and all the other good people involved are not complaining about the proposal to incarcerate Tamils en masse.
So the existence of mass concentration camps is not the illegality the Rajapakses were trying to cover up when they expelled non-Tamil witnesses. Because that particular illegality has the support of the international community.
So what is it that is being covered up?
Firstly, it is the fate of the missing civilians. There were 330,000 civilians to start with and the Rajapakse regime now says there are between 40,000 to 60,000 in the “safe zone”. The up to 270,000 missing civilians are not all in the detention centres: only a fraction are.
Secondly, it is also the means and scale of destruction. The weapons that are being used against to force civilians to move from the Vanni (against the additional protocol II of the Geneva Convention) are also unlawful: cluster bombs, white phosphorous delivered via bombs, shells, and now, we are told, poison gas.
This – the exact weapons used – is one thing that the Rajapakses have been shy about. But it has been raised in parliament as early as August 2001, by none other than (now-assassinated) Member of Parliament Joseph Pararajasingham, that the government has been stockpiling chemical weapons.
Additional methods employed include starvation and an embargo on medicine. The by now many times displaced Tamils are to be left to die of their injuries from air-raids, or to succumb to disease from overcrowding, in-adequate clean drinking water or exposure to the elements.
To track the rate of destruction of life – and thus to square up numbers – one would need to know about the methods used.
The International community’s complicity extends beyond their endorsement of the plan to force Tamils en masse in to concentration camps and their willingness to exit the war-zone to avoid having to bear witness to the atrocities.
For Sri Lanka is bankrupt. Its unlawful array of weapons are purchased on credit. The Sri Lankan state now requires further financing from the International Monetary Fund to prevent default and to keep credit lines to its arms suppliers, among others, open. An International Monetary Fund team visited Sri Lanka last month for negotiations and will present to the IMF board on the 25th of April. April is a crucial month for the war effort.
In the beginning of April the Central Bank of Sri Lanka issued a press release, explaining now that the war had been won and IMF Funds were needed for development of the North.
This needs to be true and the war needs to be over in April. Within a week of this press release, there have been credible reports of the use of poison gas. For nothing quite accelerates the end of a war as the use of poison gas.
Would the IMF have been better advised to delay their negotiations until after a ceasefire had been achieved? But the IMF says that while they have a mandate not to support “terror” funding, they have no mandate to refrain from encouraging or financing the use of chemical weapons, cluster bombs or concentration camps. Surely (say the IMF), the IMF cannot be blamed for putting pressure on Sri Lanka to finish the war in order to be eligible for a $1.9 billion dollar hand out.
For the genocide of the Tamils, has not been a concern for the IMF, the UN or for that matter any international body or leader. Sri Lanka has successfully packaged the Mahavamsa race theory into the rhetoric of a war on terror and exported it, along with its other physical exports of tea and textiles.
Anti-Tamilism is the new anti-semitism: as with the Nazi ghettoes, Tamils are to be packed off to camps for sub humans. As the Mahavamsa says of the slaughtered Tamils “Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts”.