The PUCL National President, K.G. Kannabiran, a very respected legal luminary in India, wrote to the new External Affairs Minister of India, S.M. Krishna saying the role of the Ministry of External Affairs in dealing with the Sri Lankan conflict had been disastrous, so far. “Though hailed as the largest democracy in the world and a regional superpower, India has been acting in favour of autocratic and dictatorial forces in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka”, wrote Mr. Kannabiran, to Minister Krishna, after he was sworn in as External Affairs Minister.
Following is the full text of the letter.
PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES
270-A, Patpar Ganj, Opposite Anand Lok Apartments,
Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110 091
Phone 2275 0014 PP FAX 4215 1459
Founder: Jayaprakash Narayan; Founding President: V M Tarkunde
President: K G Kannabiran; General Secretary: Pushkar Raj;
Please visit PUCL website at<www.pucl.org>
May 24, 2009
Mr. S.M. Krishna, External Affairs Minister,
Government of India,
Sub.: UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Sri Lanka on 26.5.2009 -Condemning Uncritical Endorsement of Sri Lankan Government and Demanding relook of GOI Policy on Sri Lanka
Dear Mr. Krishna,
Greetings to you on taking charge as External Affairs Minister of India. With your long years of experience and openness to ideas and people we are sure you will establish new standards for the functioning of the Ministry of External Affairs (MoEF) and chartering India’s Foreign Policy.
In recent times India’s foreign policy has come under severe criticism for two main reasons. One, though hailed as the largest democracy in the world and a regional superpower, India has been acting in favour of autocratic and dictatorial forces in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Two, policy is being arbitrarily laid down by biased bureaucratic elements not borne out by sound political judgment. A top official’ s repeated praise of Parvez Musharaf, erstwhile military dictator of Pakistan, and extending support to the Monarch in Nepal against the country’s democratic forces are cases in point.
In this context comes the disastrous move by MoEF at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22nd May 2009. UNHRC has convened a Special Session on 26th May, 2009 to discuss a requisition made by Germany and endorsed by 16 other countries, about the commission of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) in the recently concluded war against the LTTE in the Vanni region. Fearing action, GoSL has launched a counter move, circulating a self-generated resolution with the endorsement of 12 counties including India in the ‘distinguished’ company of China and Pakistan!
We write this letter to express our serious concerns and condemnation of the Government of India endorsing uncritically, the resolution brought forward before the UNHRC by Sri Lanka praising itself for the manner it conducted the recently concluded war and giving credit to itself for the manner it was treating Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). The Resolution dated 22.5.09 titled, `Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights’ seeks enhancement of the continued cooperation between the GoSL and UN agencies, which is strange as the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon himself has been urging the GoSL for access to the IDP areas for UN Agencies!
MoEF’s stand flies against the weight of a growing body of documentation which clearly indicates that the GoSL is guilty of committing the grossest of crimes – of killing unarmed, defenceless civilians in hospitals and safety camps and much more – viz., war crimes and crimes against humanity. Several UN agencies have brought out detailed reports establishing that the Sri Lankan forces attacked civilian locations unconnected with the war thereby killing innocent Tamils.
Fact of the matter is that the Sri Lankan State has transformed existing institutional structures to become state sponsored purveyors of terror. Serious human rights violations, including genocide, enforced disappearance, extra-judicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention, targeting the Tamil civilian population has become the order of the day.
Four UN Human Rights Council experts on right to health, food, water, and sanitation, in a statement have said “[t]here is good reason to believe that thousands of civilians have been killed in the past three months alone, and yet the Sri Lankan Government has yet to account for the casualties, or to provide access to the war zone for journalists and humanitarian monitors of any type,” and that “shipments of food and medicine to the “no fire zone” have been grossly insufficient over the past month and the Government has reportedly delayed or denied timely shipment of life saving medicines as well as to chlorine tablets,” and urged the U.N. to establish a commission to address the critical human rights situation, and demand full respect to human rights (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EGUA-7RULKC?OpenDocument)
We are left to wonder as to whom does Government of India represent? Is it the stand of the Indian Government that they will accept whatever the Government of Sri Lankan states as the only truth and totally ignore the
voice of the World and the wailings of the tortured?
We would like to remind the Government of India that millions of Indians, both in Tamil Nadu and outside, have serious concerns about both war crimes as also about safety in IDP camps. We outline 5 issues which are elaborately dealt with in a representation we submitted to the UN Human Rights Council through another accredited organisation. We list below some of the reports:
(i) Absence of external monitoring in IDP Areas: Since September, 2008 there are no independent UN agencies, barring ICRC, working in the northern war torn areas. As per May 18, 2009 report, for nine consecutive days ICRC has been pursuing efforts without success to reach the area of north-eastern Sri Lanka hard hit by fighting in recent weeks (ICRC 18-05-2009 News reléase 09/104). On May 20, 2009, the ICRC announced that it will be suspending humanitarian aid to the largest internment camp housing over 130,000 IDPs because the GOSL has restricted its access into the camp.
(ii) The Situation of IDPs The situation for over a quarter million internally displaced persons (IDP) detained in Government run internment camps is becoming more intolerable everyday. Reports raise serious concerns about safety in the camps which are military-controlled, barbed-wire camps. Issues include separation of families, abductions of male youth, separation of young girls with reports of being raped and killed The paramilitary groups have been allowed “unhindered” access to the camps which are tightly guarded by government troops and committing violations of law.
(iii) Attack on hospitals: The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)and other independent institutions have used satellite imagery to confirm the use of heavy artillery and aerial bombing of civilian safety zone (CSZ). This violence was reported by international news sources,(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8045135.stm;http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/12/sri.lanka.fighting/index.html) including the BBC, and was referred to by the United Nations (UN) as a “bloodbath”.( Gordon Weiss, Spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka)
The three humanitarian doctors are at grave risk for reprisal from the GOSL, two doctors, Dr. Shanmugarjah and Dr. Sathiyamoorthy are currently detained’ and Dr. Varatharajah is undergoing treatment for serious injury.
(iv) Crisis of Food Security, Health and Basic Facilities: Four UN Human Rights Council experts on right to health, food, water, and sanitation have pointed out that the Government has reportedly delayed or denied timely shipment of life saving medicines as well as to chlorine tablets,” and urged the U.N. to establish a commission to address the critical human rights situation, and demand full respect to human rights (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EGUA-7RULKC?OpenDocument) .
(v) Denial of free media access to northern area and threat to journalists. Almost 20 journalists have been killed in the last 2 years for questioning the present government. No one has been brought to book. The most glaring case is of Lasantha Wickramatunge, the Editor of Sunday Leader, killed on Jan. 8th, 2009 and posthumously awarded the recent UNDP prize for journalism.
The way MoEF has endorsed the Sri Lankan Government giving `GOOD CONDUCT CERTIFICATE’ to itself is unacceptable and is a total denial of democratic process. The least that should have been done is to consult public opinion in Tamil Nadu and invite experts and other citizens to voice their concerns and opinions on this issue. That would have been the truly democratic process. However the MoEF has been unilateral and arbitrary in its actions without taking citizens of this country into confidence.
PUCL would like to remind the Government that it is the fundamental right of the citizen to be involved in and be given the chance to participate in the governance of the country and in the making of policies of the government including foreign policy. Equally, foreign policy cannot be decided by diplomats on the basis of diplomatic expediency; it will reflect in the anomalous situation as prevails now in India’s stand on supporting Sri Lankan Government.
We will also like to remind you about the constitutional vision and duty prescribed by the Indian Constitution in Article 51: Promotion of international peace and security. We invite your attention in particular to clause (c) which stresses that “The State shall endeavour to – (c) foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised people with one another. It is indeed sad that at a time when India should champion respect for human rights laws, it is actually supporting a state which has not been averse to killing its own people.
We enclose for your record, the complaint with detailed documentation, we filed before the UN Security Council demanding reference to the Prosecutor of the ICC to investigate and prosecute SL officials for commission of grave crimes against humanity. We suggest that instead of siding with GoSL and endorsing war crimes and crimes against humanity, MoEF should adopt this complaint and file resolutions with UN Security Council and International Court of Justice urging immediate action.
We therefore demand that the Government of India withdraw its endorsement of the resolution on Sri Lanka and immediately initiate a nation wide public discussion on the stand to take vis-à-vis the serious allegations of commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity leveled against the SL Government.
We are ready to provide any further information you may want. We shall also be happy to meet you personally too in this regard. We will also appreciate a reply to this letter.
(K.G. Kannabiran) President, PUCL- National
Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India,