|The systemic abuses of Human Rights Watch, the individual aberrations of Amnesty International|
|Wednesday, 10 September 2008|
by: Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
The moral authority that we would all like NGOs concerned with Human Rights to exercise has sadly been eroded in recent years. This has coincided with the apotheosis of such organizations into recognized players on the world stage. Unfortunately, a mechanism designed to enhance their stature has led in many cases to their being prey for skilful lobbyists, anxious to bend their pronouncements to purposes that have little to do with Rights. Countries that can influence such organizations, through funding or more subtle means, have also got into the act, and we find that increasingly organizations that should look after the Rights of all are selective about their pronouncements. Not entirely surprisingly, such selectivity is often at the expense of countries that strive to remain independent of the dominant consensus.
Perhaps the most obvious example of selectivity in pursuit of a particular agenda is that of Human Rights Watch. Its recent simplistic pronouncements with regard to South Ossetia were of a piece with the failure earlier this year to join other NGOs in their critique of what was going on in Gaza. Mulling over the reasons for these idiosyncrasies can however be left to other commentators. This article will be confined to the HRW’s lack of objectivity and balance in its comments on Sri Lanka, and particularly its constant disparagement of the Government of Sri Lanka regardless of facts or the context in which Sri Lanka maintains a better record than that of any other country struggling against terrorism.
Whilst comparisons would be odious, it is obvious, given the constant deaths of civilians in other theatres, deaths that are swiftly forgotten, that focusing attention on comparatively minor tragedies in defenceless states like Sri Lanka allows greater problems to be forgotten. So, while Lanka is pilloried with epithets such as ‘indiscriminate attacks on civilians’, there is no challenge from the favoured agencies to the barrage of excuses that the dominant consensus trots out relentlessly for their own mistakes, viz hardly anyone died, and in any case those who died were terrorists (well, all but a few), and only terrorists were targeted (well, all but a few), and any mistake was the fault of certain individuals, who will be duly tried (after some years, and then they will all be acquitted, except one or two), not part of the system, which is obviously beyond question and would certainly never deceive its own people.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
HRW has often in the last fifteen months peddled stories on Sri Lanka meant to orchestrate adverse media coverage about alleged human rights violations on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka. These have little relation to ground reality. HRW has blown stories out of proportion to fact, striven to seek newspaper publicity with sensational headlines and aired blatantly false interpretations about the movement of the internally displaced seeking refuge in Government controlled areas.
In maintaining its campaign of denigration and condemnation of a sovereign state battling terror almost single-handedly, Human Rights Watch has generated not only strong criticism of its conduct but also raised legitimate questions about its own background, its objectives, both overt and covert, and its double standards when approaching similar conflicts in different parts of the world. Human Rights Watch appears to be guided as a matter of policy by a strong desire to push to their limits the elitist views of the more patronizing amongst Western political and social activists, whether dealing with national security and foreign policy, or resolution of conflict, including intervention, whilst using the disarming rhetoric of Universal Human Rights.
This article, in looking at specific examples of misinterpretation and exaggeration, will raise the question whether the subject of Human Rights has been hijacked by bodies such as HRW to isolate and demonise countries that resist external influence or control, with the ultimate aim of using ‘human rights violations’ as an excuse for political operations against such countries. It is manifestly clear that ‘Human Rights’ has now replaced earlier catch phrases as the justification for intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states and the subsequent overthrow of governments.
Human Rights Watch Canards:
HRW released a statement at the beginning of July 2008 that Sri Lanka should end what it referred to as ‘internment of displaced persons’. This resort to sensationalistic language was highly unwarranted as the uninitiated reader might have been inclined to equate the conduct of Sri Lanka with that of the excesses perpetrated against the Japanese in America during the Second World War, or the forcible detention of Jews in Concentration Camps in many countries of Nazi occupied Europe. ‘Internment’ is a term that is applied to situations where people are taken forcibly from their homes and placed in forcible detention or prison camps. The Sri Lankan Government adopts no such policy towards the people, overwhelmingly Tamil, fleeing Tiger controlled areas to the safety of Government controlled areas.
In LTTE controlled areas there is forced recruitment of children and young adults, extending now to two per family, and cancellation of marriages with a view to forced recruitment of the parties to the dissolved marriage. Interestingly, even now NGOs, possessed by a love that dare not speak its name, keep quiet about such matters, circulating them only privately, fearful of LTTE retribution in the face of overt criticism. Not only from the complaints of idealists sick and tired of the pusillanimity of their bosses, the Sri Lankan Government is well aware of the tyranny imposed by the LTTE on Tamil people in uncleared areas and the reasons for their flight from despotism.
The Government, which continues to provide food, health and education facilities to people in LTTE controlled areas, will also, with the assistance of the UN and other agencies that are not frightened to transfer their operations to government controlled areas, provide shelter, food, medicine and security, in welfare centres, to people who manage to escape.
Freedom of movement during the day for refugees in welfare centres is generally permitted, but whatever restrictions that are imposed at other times are to prevent terrorists, who infiltrate government controlled areas by taking cover behind genuine refugees, from engaging in acts that may cause severe damage to both life and property of civilians. This is current LTTE strategy: to inflict maximum damage on the people in the south through terrorist bombings and provoke a repetition of events that occurred in July 1983 in Sri Lanka.Both the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and comments of the UN Special Rapporteur Walter Kälin make it clear that precautionary steps can be adopted by a State under ‘exceptional circumstances’. Any restrictive steps taken by the authorities are because of the absolute necessity to curtail terrorist bombings and the resulting loss of lives of innocent civilians.
In a Report on Sri Lanka submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2008 in connection with the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka, HRW again resorted to canards beginning with the baseless charge that ‘Sri Lanka security forces have conducted indiscriminate bombing and shelling resulting in civilian casualties’. In August 2007, HRW, in a statement, claimed that ‘Security forces have subjected civilians to indiscriminate attacks …. Both the government and the LTTE have a shown a brazen disregard for the well being of non –combatants’The Peace Secretariat has emphatically refuted these allegations in a response entitled ‘HRW’s dirty war and the clean record of the Sri Lankan army’, which was sent to HRW. There has so far been no response to this piece, nor a rebuttal of the arguments presented with regard to the Kathiravelli incident, the only one in the military action in the East in which civilians were killed. SCOPP was able to show that this particular incident had occurred because of ‘mortar locating radar’ which had led the forces to believe that they were actually firing in the direction of LTTE guns. In fact even the HRW report concedes that ‘The LTTE had sentries in the area of the camp, ostensibly to monitor the movement of displaced persons’ and that they were told that ‘In the daytime, the LTTE didn’t carry weapons….When the LTTE has heavy weapons, they don’t show them because they’re afraid someone will inform’.
There were bunkers in the camp, though HRW claims that these had been built by the displaced. It is doubtful whether the displaced could have built such structures without the knowledge or support of the LTTE cadres living in the area of the camp.In another section HRW says that, since the abrogation of the Ceasefire in January this year, `the fighting has claimed hundreds of civilians lives, and tens of thousands more have been displaced’. This is simply not true. According to available figures, the total number of civilian deaths caused by the conflict from the beginning of the year until the end of April amounted to 325. Of these, 137 were the result of indiscriminate LTTE terrorist attacks including suicide bombings in regions in the south of the country. The highest number of civilian deaths recorded in a district was in Moneragala where terrorists not only bombed a bus but shot the passengers as they were rushed out from the bombed vehicle.
The total number of civilian deaths to the end of April in the Northern Province which is a conflict zone amounted to 80. The figure of 325 is certainly excessive, but in comparison to the deaths of civilians in other parts of the world in conflicts against terror, the actual figure of less than a score of civilian deaths in the actual course of fighting is proof of the precautions taken by the forces out of concern for the civilians. Indeed, the Bishop of Mannar singled this aspect out for praise, in a recent discussion concerning the situation of IDPs. In contrast, during this same period, as a consequence of LTTE bombs alone, 98 lives were lost.The total number of internally displaced had risen by 149 between the end of December and the end of March 2008, according to UNHCR figures. In actual fact 2384 more people were displaced, but 2235 have been resettled in the Eastern Province. In the two predominant LTTE districts the increase was 480, while in the four areas under LTTE dominance in three other districts, one has shown no change, another indicates an increase of 311, a third area shows the numbers declining by 446 in two months before rising again by 2214, and the fourth area a decrease of 1156.
Had it studied the past seriously, without basing its critiques on its knowledge of countries where IDP problems have gone on for years, it would have realized that it should strive to replicate the success story of the Eastern IDPs by urging the LTTE to release into government controlled territory the displaced it is hoarding in the North. After all, those who harp on the prevention of returnees to one area in the East, because of the creation of a High Security Zone, ignore the fact that alternative lands in close proximity have been found for all displaced families, and except for a few areas where demining still has to be concluded, the situation in the East is almost back to normal as far as displacement goes.Given the complexity of the situation in the conflict areas, the conduct of the Sri Lankan government in resettling most of the displaced and restoring normalcy to the Eastern Province should be commended. It should serve as a role model for good governance in all conflict affected countries, but since HRW cannot really insist on durable solutions to many of the displaced in the world, it chooses to ignore the achievements of a country which has succeeded better than most in dealing with this problem.
HRW released a statement entitled ‘Free Journalist and other Critics’ on August 08, 2008 giving the erroneous impression that the Journalist Mr. J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested because he has been a critic of the government.This is another false insinuation on the part of HRW. The factual position is otherwise. Mr. Tissainayagam was taken into custody because of his suspect connections to the LTTE, and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), two terrorist organizations banned in several countries. TRO was blacklisted when it became clear that its funding was used for terrorist activities. Mr. Tissainayagam had developed connections to both the LTTE and TRO during the period of the ceasefire, and had actively colluded with his other business associates to disparage the Government through false accusations via their publications. An example of his false accusation that has been published reads as follows: ‘Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel, with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and depopulating it. As this story is being written, Vaharai is being subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment’.Mr. Tissainayagam has now been indicted for violating the law. The charge sheet contains the above passage, among a series of other charges. The law in Sri Lanka as in many other civilized countries presumes a suspect to be innocent until he is found guilty by a court of law. Mr. Tissainayagam still enjoys this presumption of innocence. The matter is before the courts. Due process will be followed. He will be freed if the prosecution fails to establish its case.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, which had generally shown itself as more balanced in its general approach, has over the last month taken the lead in attacking the Sri Lankan government. This is in the form of releases issued by a young lady called Yolanda Foster, who spent many happy years in Sri Lanka when she was even younger, and is a wonderful example of what Paul Johnson would have called the bane of the 21st century, the professional do-gooder (even more irresponsible than his bane of the 20th century, the professional politician).Young Yolanda, on behalf of Amnesty International, issued a sharp rebuke to the Sri Lankan government with regard to the situation of the internally displaced, though also recognizing the contribution of the LTTE to the problem. A response to Irene Khan, the Head of Amnesty International, has not as yet had a response, whilst a reminder to the generally conscientious Head of Amnesty in Geneva has prompted the excuse that the Head has been away from Headquarters in London.Obviously no one is in charge in London, because Yolanda has returned to the charge with another couple of statements, each one shriller than the earlier one. Whether Irene Khan will take command responsibility for all this remains to be seen. What I hope she will definitely disown is the attempt of Yolanda, along with her sisters and her cousins and her aunts to write to the Secretary General of the United Nations, badmouthing Sri Lanka. She was working on the letter along with an elderly gentleman called Peter Bowling of something that terms itself the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, based in London and believed to be close to LTTE networks; and also another youth who works for Gareth Evans’ International Crisis Group. Gareth, who seems to relish his new role as the Tailor of Panama, has floated yet another version of the Responsibility to Protect, which he hopes will allow him to pull rabbits out of a hat in Georgia or wherever he can strike gold.
It is surely a legitimate question to ask whether Yolanda Foster’s networking is part of her Amnesty International responsibilities, or whether she has another agenda. It certainly seems improper that AI should permit her, even while plotting with suspected LTTE supporters, to throw spanners in AI’s name into the works of the Sri Lankan government as it conducts a remarkably successful operation, successful most obviously in terms of the absence of civilian casualties, against the last bastions of terrorism in the North.
Surely, there must be some sort of responsibility amongst these self-appointed guardians of morality, and surely, if they are entitled to pronounce in international bodies, they should at least answer letters, refrain from pronouncements which are not checked, ensure that all falsehoods are promptly retracted. Sadly, instead of any of this, they seem now to be single-mindedly or subtly pursuing an agenda suspiciously close to that of the LTTE. More worryingly, given the support they get from some governments, they help to create the impression that there is uncertainty about whether the world really wants terrorism to be eradicated from Sri Lanka. But, as ample examples have shown in recent times, you cannot play with fire. Responsible governments should recognize that and discourage collusion that will provide succour to terror.
(Courtesy : SCOPP )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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