Sri Lanka, leading the way in inhuman rights

The arrogance of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime knows no bounds.

First, there was the (ultrapatriotic) speech Rajapaksa made about how there is no reason to investigate the Sri Lankan military for war crimes since (he argues) it has conducted itself with the utmost decorum: there was “no violation of human rights. There were no civilian casualties.”  Rajapaksa is trying to make Sri Lanka the model country for dealing with terrorism, since he claims “terrorism was eradicated here.”  The speech was followed by one of the more obscene displays of military hardware in some time.

Now that Rajapaksa can claim to have defeated the LTTE (even if it was Fonseka who was the real butcher of Tamils) he is hosting a seminar to train other nations in how to conduct effective counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism operations (read: ethnic cleansing and human rights violations).  The conference has already been condemned by Human Rights Watch: “Governments should decline the invitation to attend a Sri Lankan military conference that seeks to legitimize the unlawful killing of thousands of civilians during the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).”

But this comes on the heels of some pretty damning evidence.  First, the United Nations released a report arguing that Sri Lanka committed some of the worst kinds of human rights violations in its campaign against the LTTE and non-combatant Tamils.  It claims that between 80,000 and 100,000 Tamils were killed in the course of the war in 2009.  In part, the report argued:

Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni using large-scale and widespread shelling in three consecutive No Fire Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons. It shelled the United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ships that were coming to pick up the wounded and their relatives from the beaches.

The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery; some of them were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government. The Government also systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to their suffering.

The full report is available here.

Then, there were a series of video reports about the brutality of the Sri Lankan military.  Al Jazeera produced a short documentary called “People & Power: Sri Lanka war crimes” which showed (among other things) unarmed civilians being fired upon at close range, indiscriminate attacks on civilians from shelling, and attacks on hospitals and ambulances.

Then, the UN authenticated another video which showed “graphic images of naked men, hands tied behind their backs, being shot in the head.”

Despite the evidence, the Sri Lankan government continues to say that it is being unfairly attacked by the international community.

To make matters worse, the Sri Lankan government has been letting the military supervise increasing amounts of civilian and commercial life in Sri Lanka, extending the militarization of Sri Lankan society:

Soldiers are taking on the civilian middlemen who control the vegetable trade by selling cheap produce, some of it from military farms. The navy has even opened a vegetable shop near one of its biggest camps in Colombo. The army has an air-ticketing agency. It is building roads and bridges, and houses for the internally displaced. Soldiers built one cricket stadium and renovated another for the World Cup earlier this year. Restaurants along the highway to Jaffna in the north are mostly army-owned or -run. The army will even supervise the private companies that collect the rubbish in Colombo.

For an excellent account of the history of Sri Lanka and the oppression of the Tamils living there, check out this International Viewpoints piece:

Today, there is an urgent need to address justice and reparations for the Tamils and Muslims who were displaced and dispossessed during the war and for the Hill-country Tamils who are still economically disenfranchised. Rather than so doing, the current government of Sri Lanka has profited from the military “victory” over the Tamil Tigers in 2009 to restrict still further democratic liberties, block any opposition and on this basis attack all workers whatever their ethnic origin. The new trend in economic development further causes uneven development and inequality for the majority of the Sri Lankan people. Therefore, there will not be any progress toward social justice and democracy without linking the political settlement of minorities’ demands with the class struggle of all workers for social justice and redistribution. In that perspective, devolution of state power could be an important step to empowering local communities and minorities against this authoritarian and centered State.