03 May 2012

Human shields: never the preserve of the LTTE

['It's about civilians' has been the cry. 'Civilian' is easy prey, convenient proxy, lovely alibi.  In short, an effective 'human shield'.  This article, written in May 2011, speaks to the issue and I thought it's worth a re-visit]

A few days from now it will be mentioned somewhere, I am sure, that two years have passed since the war ended.  If the elimination of the LTTE’s military leadership is equivalent to war-end then this would be true.  On the other hand, it can and should be argued that the war ended in January 2009, when the LTTE leadership along with their cadres fled Killinochchi. From that point onwards it was technically and politically a matter of rescuing hostages.  Some might argue that the LTTE had held the civilian population to ransom from Day One, and that these hostages included every single citizen of Sri Lanka.  This is also true, but in purely military and practical terms, the LTTE, after it lost Killinochchi was nothing more than a ragtag bunch of gun-toting brigands whose aspirations had been reduced to surviving (perhaps to fight another day, but nevertheless intent on extending life-expectancy at whatever cost). 

The LTTE always used Tamil civilians as a human shield, this everyone knows.  It was a particularly convenient human shield, for dropping military fatigues, gun, grenade and cyanide capsule and wearing a sarong would take all of two minutes. That’s what it took for terrorist to turn into civilian and that’s what terrorists did, and not only after they were trapped (or ‘trapped’ themselves) in Puthukudiarippu.  On occasion, civilian in sarong could and did throw grenade and fire bullet and this should not be forgotten. 
Such civilians were expected to and did get rescued by the security forces.  There have been reports of LTTE cadres, who shot at people fleeing the No-Conflict Zone, turning up in IDP facilities, and being duly released after a short period of time or identified, detained, rehabilitated and then released, whereas the loved ones of those who killed still remaining un-resettled. 

Yes, it was a formidable challenge to get past this human shield, rescue the several hundred thousands that made up this shield and eliminate the hostage-takers, the LTTE military leadership, clearly the most ruthless terrorists the world has ever known. 

I’ve just read Shanie’s column, ‘Notebooks of a Nobody’, in The Island of May 14, 2011 (‘Accountability, rule of law and good governance’).  Shanie quotes from the text of H.M.G.S. Palihakkara’s 2011 Professor J E Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture, underlining sections where he refers to the legal binds associated with international treaties and agreements a country has been a signatory to.  The following comment is slipped in: ‘It was undeniably within the mandate of the UNSG to appoint a Panel of Experts to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.’    

That move runs counter to all established UN procedure and moreover amounts to cocking a snook at the Human Rights Council, the Security Council and indeed the General Assembly, not to mention creation of a dangerous precedent.  The legitimization of the move by big name nations only indicates the asymmetries of the global political landscape.  Shanie does not, one notes, question the neutrality-credentials of the advisors nor the manifest disingenuousness of the report nor the reliability of sources cited. 

Now people like Kumar David (‘Factual reliability of the UN Report’ – Sunday Island of May 8, 2011), like Shanie, have little to say about the bona fides of the ‘advisors’, the man who appointed them and the legitimacy of the appointment, to say nothing about factual inaccuracies, deliberate lying, carelessness, misquoting, half-quoting and double standards which robs the report of integrity and academic worth.  Indeed, he has spared no pains to paint these ill-intentioned forces as a benign, competent, intellectually astute bunch who are disinterested and neutral.  He nevertheless asks a pertinent question: ‘Is it true or false?’ 

In that piece, Kumar regurgitates claims made by fellow-travellers in a now par-for-the-course factoid-legitimating exercise.  Much of the claims made in the report are nothing more than hearsay and a re-uttering of pro-LTTE propaganda.  They have been effectively refuted on numerous occasions.  The demand that the Government offer an official response is basically an attempt to bait the Government into conferring legitimacy to what is essentially a mischievous document.  The Government should of course read the document carefully, study the allegations, offer evidence that debunk the claims made and, if this is the case, have the humility to acknowledge error, if not for anything, because there is absolutely no doubt that malicious elements in the international community would use this document or at least its substance (ugh!) to hurt Sri Lanka in various forums, beginning with the Human Rights Council. 

Kumar is naked in his Eelamism and has made no bones about wanting the LTTE to prevail over the security forces.  Add the fact that he is an ace quote-twister, confused Marxist and a got-nothing-to-do Leftist, doesn’t know whether he is coming or going when it comes to reading global political processes and political economy therein and he is good for a lot of laughs. Shanie is different. 

Shanie has been consistent in expressing opposition to the LTTE and its methodology. And yet, Shanie’s columns have consistently taken the save-the-LTTE’s-butt position.  This is done, not surprisingly, in a manifest mimicking of the LTTE’s time-tested strategy of using civilians as a human shield. 

On May 26, 2006, Shanie wrote: ‘The country cannot afford the luxury of waiting indefinitely for the LTTE to come to the negotiating table. For how long can we allow them to hold the country to ransom? A blueprint that ensures for the Tamils and Muslims a real sense of belonging, equality and dignity and which is just and fair by all the people needs to be presented to our people. If it is found acceptable to the Tamil, Muslim, Sinhala and other communities who make up our country, it will politically defeat the LTTE and in the longer term, militarily defeat them as well.’

Shanie demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa adopt a ‘change of strategy’, i.e. to give up the military offensive against the LTTE. 

In June 2006, Shanie admitted that the LTTE has ‘no interest in any kind of negotiations that will lead to peace and dignity for the Tamil people whom they claim to represent’ and that they ‘will give the impression that they are going along with international efforts at mediation but will find all kinds of excuses when they find themselves in a corner’. The line of argument has been consistent: offer a political solution to ‘Tamil and Muslim grievances,’ undercut the LTTE’s support base and thereby bring about its political demise.  The call for ‘political solution’ we know is about legitimating claims based on myths and done with absolutely no consideration of demographic, political or economic realities.

On November 25, 2006, Shanie spoke in nostalgic terms about the Chandrika Kumaratunga presidency and called for international pressure. 

Any student of history would say this is the epitome of naiveté.  Shanie has on numerous occasions, especially when it became clear that the LTTE was not going to make a comeback, militarily or otherwise, called for a cessation of hostilities and/or cheered calls by politically compromised individuals and organizations (for being naïve and arrogant about the LTTE or else supportive of their agenda) for a ceasefire. When the LTTE was getting cornered, Shanie was dismayed. In January 2008, suffering a fit of depression on account of the CFA being abrogated (Shanie, like others, forget that it is customary to bury the dead), Shanie conferred halos upon pro-LTTE peace-racketeers, gave a character certificate to the politically compromised, incompetent and even racketeering individuals of the SLMM and saw talk of Chandrika Kumaratunga getting a UNICEF post as a light at the end of the tunnel.  

After the LTTE was made to flee the Eastern Province, Shanie adamantly insisted that they would soon recapture territory liberated by the security forces. 

In December 2008, Shanie wrote: ‘In today`s context, it is not necessary to declare a ceasefire for the war to end. All that is required is for a consensus political package to be offered to the minorities and the war will end by itself and with it the loss of innocent lives.’  In April 2009, Shanie wanted Prabhakaran to be celebrated as hero and argued that he warranted bracketing with individuals like Gongale Goda Banda, Puran Appu etc.  

All this in the name of civilians.  There is admittedly some more distance to go in the matter of resettlement and reconstruction.  The same is true of rehabilitation of LTTE cadres.  The LTTE and its apologists can take credit for making it necessary for the Government to err on the side of caution in all these matters, not least of all the necessity of demining operations prior to resettlement. ‘The poor civilians’ remains, therefore, a wonderful shield behind which the Eelam-mongering, want-to-save-the-LTTE brigade can hide and throw political grenades at the Government and the general citizenry. 

‘The poor civilian’, if he/she can reasonably hope for a different and better future today, can thank and salute the security forces, not the LTTE and certainly not its direct (e.g. Kumar David) and indirect (e.g. Shanie) cheer leaders.  Today, we are in ‘Post-LTTE’ Sri Lanka. Had we been in ‘LTTE-active Sri Lanka’ the ‘poor civilian’ would be getting no sleep at all, worrying about the possibility of LTTE’s child-snatchers robbing his/her children and their childhood. The ‘poor civilian’ would be wondering if the child he/she kissed and sent to school would be home to offer greeting and smile in the evening. 

The ‘poor civilians’ in the North and East, especially the Tamils don’t have to concede political voice to a gun-toting, bullet-spraying thug. 

Shanie speaks of ‘accountability’.  Yes, accountability is an integral part of good governance. Rule of law too.  Now let’s play ‘Physician heal thyself’.  Let Shanie read all the ‘Notebooks of a Nobody’, engage in deep self-reflection and come up with some conclusions that include self-criticism, guilty-plea and remorse, followed of course by ‘change of strategy’, which means of course that Shanie drops the human shield and perhaps be more like Kumar David, i.e. upfront about loyalties and preferred outcomes.   



Walter Rajaratne said...

Shanie, a pseudonym that reminds us the terrorist who can always turn into a civilian and mix with the local people that make him/her an innocent civilian. And later plant political explosives at soft targets in collusion with diaspora.

This article I read then and now, early in the almost winter, a chilly morning reminiscing that this will be valid for all seasons until we vanquish the so called political solution trap. Will our Maha Rajjuruvo blink?

Anonymous said...

Definitely well worth a revisit. Many Sri Lankans have short memories and a disinclination to look below the surface.

Everyone forgets that the LTTE held 300,000 people hostage; they SHOT those who tried to escape. They sent a suicide bomber masquerading as as a refugee into a camp and killed innocent people.

What provision of IHL deals with a hostage rescue situation? For example instances such as Entebbe or Mogadishu or the Iranian embassy in London?

How does IHL deal with the civillian casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palastine?

How does Norway conclude that NATO forces did not commit violations of IHL in Libya?