|The secret compulsions of Human Rights Experts on Sri Lanka|
|Tuesday, 24 February 2009|
Some months ago, during a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Amnesty representative there, Peter Splinter, said he was surprised that I did not rubbish Amnesty claims with regard to Sri Lanka as I did those of, for instance, Human Rights Watch. The explanation, I told him, was very simple. Sri Lanka is always willing to engage actively with those who are keen to improve the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka, without using any deficiencies to attack the government indiscriminately.
What should obtain is a situation in which Human Rights groups comment on particular incidents, with government pointing out which descriptions are inaccurate while conducting further investigations and trying to find remedies in cases where lapses have occurred. It struck me during the first year in which I had some sort of responsibility in this area that Amnesty International was genuinely concerned to help, as were for instances national organizations such as Caritas-Sedec and the National Peace Council. I may have been naïve, but I felt that those who thought these institutions implacably opposed to the Sri Lankan state because of a political agenda were wrong.
Though spokesmen may have made errors – as Jehan Perera did in talking about brutal terrorism being a sort of tit-for-tat, an error he excused on the grounds that he had said the first thing that came into his head when asked for a comment early morning – by and large they seemed willing to engage, and to discuss problems constructively. Caritas-Sedec, I should note, has generally been admirable in this respect, though some of its brethren in the Vanni tend to fire off indiscriminately, doubtless under pressures as to which we should be sympathetic, given the brutalities of which the Tigers have shown themselves capable, even to religious authorities trying to help the people.
All this changed with regard to Amnesty when I found its so-called Sri Lanka expert, Yolanda Foster, involved in the plot by several Non-Governmental Organizations to rubbish Sri Lanka secretively to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Though I have been told that her involvement was nothing to do with Amnesty, the organization must realize that there is surely a conflict of interests in its then ubiquitous spokesman on Sri Lanka working together with well known Tiger sympathizers such as Peter Bowling of something called I believe the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, that operates from a bedsit in North London.
I hasten to add that I do not know Mr. Bowling at all, but this is how he was characterized by the person in our High Commission in London who dealt with him, and certainly his input into the clandestine letter to the Secretary General seemed to confirm this. The term clandestine, I should note, arises from the fact that the principal plotters were members of these international bodies, including representatives of the so-called Colombo Coffee Club, but they decided that the missive would be signed only by Sri Lankan organizations, which they believed would give it greater weight.
The Sri Lankan organizations involved were the usual cats-paws, though doubtless they see themselves as seminal contributors to the Sri Lankan body politic. More insidious was the role of the international bodies themselves since, though they could claim that this plot was not official policy but simply the result of the concerns of individuals, these individuals were seen by the group as a whole as representatives of their organizations, and in any case – as the thinking behind the concept of command responsibility shows – you cannot avoid responsibility for what those who work for you do unless you repudiate it formally and take suitable timely disciplinary action.
That something was fishy with regard to Amnesty became clear to me when I found that my letter to the Head of Amnesty, the generally admirable Irene Khan – to whom Peter introduced me some months later – had gone unanswered. Though Peter had done his best to get it to her, it had been suppressed it seems, just like the UNDP Stocktaking Report on our National Human Rights Commission, which had been shown neither to the new Head of UNDP in Colombo, nor to the Head of Capacity Building in the Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva. The problem there, as with Yolanda Foster, is that an individual with a particular agenda claims to be the expert on Sri Lanka and, since there is little competition amongst capable people for such a position, the pronouncements and the secret compulsions of such self-proclaimed experts go unquestioned.
Once Yolanda’s excesses had been rumbled however, there appeared on the scene to also comment on Sri Lanka for Amnesty yet another suspicious figure called Sam Zarifi. It turned out that he had worked earlier for Human Rights Watch, which had led the charge to seriously denigrate the Sri Lankan armed forces before the September 2007 sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. Sadly they did not reply to my detailed refutation, based indeed on their own report, of the sensationalistic claim in their wickedly timed press release that the Sri Lankan forces had waged a dirty war with indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
By 2008, after Human Rights Watch had infiltrated Amnesty too, the decency of men like Peter Splinter was a thing of the past. With the dynamic duo Yolanda and Zarifi alternately delivering body blows to Sri Lanka (with regard to internment of displaced persons, indiscriminate bombing and shelling and the impunity of Colonel Karuna, this last complaint obviously designed to persuade the LTTE not to give up since if they did so the dynamic duo would make sure they were relentlessly hounded and suitably punished), they must have assumed we would soon be on the ropes. And when that did not happen they brought in reinforcements in the form of Jim MacDonald, who I am told had been leading the pack which tried to embarrass Sri Lanka during the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean.
MacDonald turned out to be dottier than the other two, since he simply could not cope with the fact that the UN had repudiated his story that Sri Lankan forces had used cluster bombs on a hospital. He had worded his original story subtly so as to suggest that the UN was the source of his allegation, and when they repudiated it he claimed, like Eliot’s Prufrock, that that was not what he had meant at all – without revealing his actual source, which he obviously could not if it sprang from amongst the Tigers. Instead he came out – though not even he was mad enough to do this publicly – with the suggestion that the Sri Lankan forces had used cluster bombs which they had taken over from the Tigers.
I have written to Irene Khan about this, but she has still not responded.
Peter pledged again to make sure she got my letters, but since then there has been not a squeak from them. Doubtless they are all too busy setting the world to rights, but it is downright amoral of them not to try to respond to concerns that are expressed, and set right what might be wrong. After all, they cannot but understand the enormous influence they wield, and not entirely unfairly since Amnesty was concerned about Human Rights, like the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, long before the subject became fashionable and lucrative. That they should now betray their earlier ideals, of engagement and truth telling and meliorism, in favor of money spinning sensationalistic finger pointing, is yet another sad sign of the times in which we live.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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