A Response to Lakbima News - 15 June 2009
I write with reference to a news item you published last week entitled ['Diplomatic corps in huff over Rajiva's statement'], which claims that a report in the Guardian in Britain led to diplomats in the west having 'to face mounting pressure by western countries'. You are obviously not aware that these poor diplomats had had to face mounting pressure previously, and it was precisely for that reason that the High Commission in London asked me to come there to meet the press. The Foreign Ministry kindly asked them to facilitate my visit, and the High Commission staff fixed several press interviews and a couple of television ones as well as meetings with both Tamil and Sinhala members of the diaspora.
The Guardian unfortunately used the term civilian casualties, even though I had explained to them that, given the techniques of the LTTE, distinguishing between combatants and civilians was difficult and my estimate was of total casualties. This was based on analysis of evidence, as indicated in an earlier article entitled 'Foolishness or cunning - indiscriminate allegations about civilian deaths', which made the point that, when figures were cited, three questions had to be asked, viz
•First, are the figures of dead and injured accurate? •Second, are they all attributable to the Sri Lankan forces, or might some of them at least have been inflicted by the LTTE? •Third, are all those who died or were injured civilians?
I then pointed out that my collation of complaints that had appeared on TamilNet, plus extrapolations from the number of injured the ICRC had brought away taken together with what seemed an established ratio of injured to dead, suggested that the figure of actual dead was far fewer than was being bandied about. Thus, when too the second and third questions were taken into account the number of civilian casualties for which our forces were responsible was minimal. I am sure the diplomats under pressure could also have made similar reasoned arguments, which is more convincing in dealing with the Western media than assertions of ignorance or blanket denials.
I should add that such reasoned arguments were effective in discussing allegations being made against us with countries that ended up supporting us in the vote in Geneva at the Human Rights Council. It must be remembered that the propaganda of various other countries and their journalists had proved effective, despite the best efforts of our diplomats, and it was necessary to deal with this through detailed analysis, not simply categorical rejections of suggested figures, which would not have been at all credible.
I am happy that the members of the diaspora whom I met all felt that the detailed analyses I had produced were useful in their efforts to combat misinformation, though of course they work only on a small scale, unlike our diplomats abroad who have a more important role to play. Had any of them been actually questioned about what appeared in the 'Guardian', they could well have called me for clarification, which I would have been happy to supply.
The diplomats in London, who gave me a copy of the article, obviously saw nothing wrong with the report, which to any reader used to the British press suggested a very different and from our point of view salutary approach as compared to the unrestrained accusations of some other papers which had contributed to mounting pressure. Now, for instance, the figure of 20,000 casualties, which was being publicised as though it were established, is now scarcely heard.
I am aware that some huff has arisen about me following the appearance of posters in Colombo that exaggerated my role in the diplomatic victory in Geneva. I only heard about these aberrations recently, and will endeavour to have them removed as soon as I reach Colombo, since such inappropriate publicity is not only undeserved, it also has predictable unpleasant consequences in the Sri Lankan context.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha