Analyzing the State Department report - 21 November 2009

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Analyzing the State Department report - 21 November 2009
by Rajiva Wijesinha
From http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/11/21/fea06.asp: The Daily News, Sri Lanka

Supposedly one of the wonders of modern management studies is what is termed a SWOT analysis. We had to engage in them endlessly when trying to make good use of funding the World Bank provided for universities about a decade back, Sadly the present state of the universities suggests that, while the good universities have arguably got better, the others have not really developed in the ways that were anticipated. SWOT it seems turned out to be just that, worthless repetitive labour, not a way of transforming weaknesses by building on strengths, and turning what seem threats into opportunities.


I was reminded of this when reading through the recent State Department report on incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka. What some have seen as a threat seems rather to provide an opportunity to make clear the sterling professionalism of the Armed Forces in their struggle to deal with terrorism.


In this context it is worth noting the detailed study by Neville Laduwahetty of what he sees as a problem with the report, namely that it also extends to possible war crimes, whereas it was meant only to look at possible violations of international humanitarian law. The distinction is a subtle one, and understandable in a context in which the United States and its allies have been accused of war crimes, but to me the advantage of the confusion is that it suggests the report has recorded every single incident its writers think could possibly be an offence.


If then one can deal with what is a worst possible case scenario, the miasma of suspicion that the LTTE has managed to create can conclusively be laid to rest. Hearteningly, for instance, in its record of allegations with regard to 'Children in Armed Conflict', the Report has nothing against the Government, which can be cited finally to silence those who have been trying to suggest over the last four years that the Government bears some guilt in this regard too. Tragically, this position was used to moderate what should have been categorical outrage about the manner in which the LTTE took many international do-gooders for a ride while continuing with its disgusting practices.


I refer advisedly to the LTTE creating a miasma of suspicion, since in fact I have at hand a much larger list of allegations, namely those that appeared on TamilNet. I monitored these as what seemed to me part of my responsibilities as Head of the Peace Secretariat, and I would request reports from the forces of anything that seemed a violation of human rights - though I should admit that I did not have at my fingertips the distinction that Ladduwahetty records and which he has understandably assumed the State Department would be aware of.


It was thus that I was able to put on record in December 2008 the fact that, on a worst possible case scenario, even the LTTE and its agents had been able to allege only 78 deaths of civilians at the hands of the Army from June to December 2008. There were only 74 allegations of deaths from June 2006 until December 2008 from Air Force sorties, excluding the incident at Sencholai, where it has been proved that what was attacked was a training centre.


Whilst the Army was not always able to give me precise details, given the range of activity, the Air Force reported in detail in each case, often with maps, on what its target had been. It transpired that they had engaged in 451 actions until December, and in only 29 of these were there even allegations of civilian deaths.


In 20 of these instances the alleged casualties were one or two, which suggests that there was no bombing of civilian targets. In all cases the military target that was hit was pointed out to me, and these certainly seemed plausible, as for instance in the case in which the greatest number of casualties had been alleged, on February 24, when I was shown that it was a Sea Tiger base that had been attacked, in Kiranchi in Pooneryn.


I have sometimes felt then that I was responsible for the plethora of allegations that arose after 2008, after this statistical analysis had put paid to the claims of institutions such as Human Rights Watch which asserted with deplorable frequency that we engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Sure enough, after I proved this, the numbers of alleged casualties rose dramatically.


It could be argued that this was because the war had intensified. But if we look at just the incidents recorded for January, both by me and (far fewer) by the State Department, we can trace a pattern that suggests the majority of allegations pertain to damage inflicted by the LTTE itself.


I say this advisedly, because the UN itself is on record, on January 26, as saying that 'For info we believe that firing this morning most likely was from an LTTE position'. This message was sent since before dawn the head of the UN had called up Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to report alleged firing by the Army into the No Fire Zone. The Minister had in turn called up the Vanni SF Commander who assured him that the firing was by the LTTE.


Further confirmation of this came in the course of the morning when the Bishop of Jaffna issued a press release in which he said that he would ask the LTTE to stop using its weapons in the No Fire Zone.


He also noted that he would ask the Army to expand the Zone, which he would hardly have done if he thought the Army was firing into areas it had declared safe. Following on this came the admission from the UN.


Significantly enough, the greatest number of allegations of this sort, apart from those on TamilNet, were put forward by Human Rights Watch, which had begun the practice of supporting in 2008 the LTTE effort to suggest that civilians were staying with them of their own free will. It was Human Rights Watch that began the practice of talking of internment camps with regard to the centres the Government had set up for the displaced who sought safety in Government controlled areas. I pointed out then that HRW would have blood on its hands if it persisted in providing justification for the LTTE strategy of holding onto civilians, to use as shields and as bargaining tools.


And worse, as fodder. There is no doubt that, from January, there began a cynical process, as the UN has testified, of the LTTE firing on the civilians they were keeping hostage, so as to stir up feeling against the Sri Lankan Government. Whether through gullibility or worse, HRW became a useful ally in this process.


Thus we find that, of 34 specific incidents recorded by the State Department for January, only two were about LTTE actions. Neither of these was reported by HRW. Of the remaining 32, fully 23 allegations against the Forces are attributed to HRW. Interestingly enough, even the State Department notes, with regard to a hospital which HRW reported was hit by shells on January 13, that 'According to satellite imagery taken on January 28, the Puthukkudiyirippu Hospital did not appear to show visible damage and appeared to be functioning'.


With sources like this, who needs refutations? But of course we should supply them, with detailed analyses, as the Air Force provided me with, of at least some of the essential targets they took to reduce the murderous reach of the terrorists. The UN personnel who went into LTTE controlled areas in January, and were then prevented from leaving, should be a good source of information, and they will surely not object, if it is to help the State Department, to answering in detail questions as to what they saw and heard - certainly one of them told us, with maps, that the one shell the trajectory of which they could analyse with certainty was fired by the LTTE.


A similar cursory analysis of the incidents reported for the next four months would also show opportunities to make crystal clear the tactics of the Tigers and the mature responses of our Forces. I have in fact responded already with regard to some allegations, through analyses that are still available on the Peace Secretariat website. But these were written in haste, when we were also under siege in Geneva, in a diversionary assault that began in February with some HRW missiles, as indeed I recorded at the time. More detailed analysis then would be helpful, since it would also help to educate others fighting against terror about the combination of forces and strategies terrorists have at their disposal to do down democratic accountable governments.

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