The Minister of External Affairs reacting to the UN Secretary General's panel report on Sri Lanka asked how one could respond to the voluminous document so quickly. That may well be so, but had he and his Government activated the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies, the brainchild of one of his illustrious successors, the task at hand would have been far easier, and quicker.
For quite some time now, this newspaper among others, has been urging the Government to get this autonomous think-tank functioning, given the strategic importance of Sri Lanka and the undercurrents in the world of international relations. But, no; for some petty reason, the Government stubbornly ignores the visionary concept of such an institute which bears the name of its founder - and the Government is now running helter-skelter to collate material and put together a white paper that will challenge the various allegations contained in that report.
It is only now that the gravity of the situation has sunk in -- that a group of Western nations, piqued by the way they were treated in the last stages of the war against terror in Sri Lanka (2009) and its aftermath have ganged up with an agenda that is aimed at having serious ramifications on this Government's leadership and carrying with it, the threat of economic and other sanctions against the country.
That the Government had a 'success story' on the battlefield would have been a story worth telling the world. Instead, the government leaders behaved as if they were suspects of some crime wanting to hide their fingerprints. They made a hash of things from the beginning. Ill advised and cocky, they took this lightly, underestimating the ways and wiles of the Western powers behind what is ex facie, a damning report.
The report itself which is now in the public domain (readers can see some of the highlights on ST 2 pages) is replete with factual inaccuracies, contradictions, speculation, downright clumsiness and allegations presented as facts -- unworthy of such an exalted organisation.
One would expect such a high profile panel not to make such silly mistakes as referring to Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary as Mr. Basil Rajapaksa (page 48) or to the "thousands of deaths" in the 1983 riots, or to suspected LTTE cadres being removed to separate camps where they were held "for years" (page 50) when it is not even two years since the war ended. Such tardiness with names and figures is matched by some horrendous allegations made on purely speculative information. For instance, the report dwells on so serious a charge as rape committed by the Security Forces. These charges are made in print on the basis of "naked photographs of LTTE female cadres" and the irresistible conclusion is arrived at - that they "may have been raped or sexually assaulted".
Rape as a weapon of war is a heinous war crime and the panel of experts must provide substantive evidence before making such a serious allegation. One would hope the Government's answer would call for proof, and if such proof does exist, severely punish the culprits or otherwise, call for a public apology from each member of the UN panel for spreading such a canard.
The panel admits that Accountability Standards cannot be applied in a 'vacuum' and on page 20 of the report states that their fact-finding could not be conducted according to UN practices and therefore "does not reach factual conclusions". Then, the panel concedes that it was not on a fact-finding or investigative mission, but only to "assess" the credibility of information from a variety of sources "based on information at hand".
The report has willfully omitted the mention of the sources of the information except in the case of some satellite imagery the panel has sourced to the UN's own Military Division. The report also goes well beyond its mandate by discussing political accountability, good governance and the gradual breakdown of power-sharing institutions in Sri Lanka, which a large section of Sri Lankans themselves have issue with; never mind that this is hardly within the panel's scope.
This patently gives the panel's hand away -- that of a bigger agenda behind the motives for this report, as the Government rightly claims.
These extraneous references range from the ignoring of the demands of the 'moderate' Tamil political parties in the 1950s and 60s to the 1978 Constitution, and the Executive Presidency - all cited as contributory factors and the historical basis for separatist militancy; but the panel is blissfully ignorant of India's role in fermenting the insurgency in the early years, the geo-political dynamics of the time, and the LTTE's chronology of ethnic cleansing and murder of its own brethren it labeled as 'traitors'.
As was to be expected, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken full advantage of the report to boost his own standing by exploiting the popular support in the country for the war effort. He has plunged into the Deshapremi (patriotism) highway and called for national unity and a show of strength on International Workers Day (May 1) against the UN's Western-backed agendas. Unfortunately, this is a political show of the ruling coalition of parties and not a national event which would have attracted wider support than a partisan rally.
Furthermore, the continued incarceration of the then Army Commander who helped steer the ground forces to victory against a ferocious enemy also tends to make the call for national unity somewhat farcical.
The UN report's findings must be clinically shredded to pieces. The Government must point out the UN Charter -which proclaims the inherent right granted to a sovereign state to self-defence. But just as much as the panel of so-called experts has mixed its apples and oranges, the Government too cannot keep demanding national unity when its own conduct is under scrutiny at home. It can no longer ignore calls from home, for political accountability and good governance by forever relying on the people's patriotic fervour to bail it out of difficult situations.