“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, ALWAYS.” – Mahatma Gandhi
This latest report from the University Teacher for Human Rights (Jaffna) documents the final chapter of Sri Lanka’s war 26-year war. Drawing on individual eyewitness accounts, it chronicles the relentless violence experienced by survivors of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between September 2008 and May 2009, when the Sri Lankan government ultimately crushed the LTTE leadership and declared victory. What these survivors’ stories make clear is that for both parties, the key to military dominance lay not in brilliant strategies, but in an utter disregard for the lives of civilians and combatants alike, driven by their leaders’ single-minded pursuit of personal power.
Both sides treated truth as an enemy. Outsiders who could bear witness to these events were kept out or silenced; dissent on either side was crushed; the poor and powerless were treated as cannon fodder and in the case of Tamil civilians, ultimately locked up to prevent them from revealing what they had experienced. As the report notes, Sri Lanka’s “war against truth has grave implications for the future of democracy.”
But this report is more than a catalogue of war-time atrocities; it provides an analysis of the social and political underpinnings of the conflict that made atrocities possible, and that have historically shielded the people who committed such crimes from justice.
This report is a call to Sri Lankans of all communities to examine their history and take control of their present; to acknowledge the degeneration of the country and its democratic institutions, to demand justice for the crimes that have been committed in the name of fighting terrorism or securing Eelam, and to declare “never again.”
It was bloody war and international norms were breached by both sides, which by trapping people in the conflict zone wrought large scale death and destruction. The State systematically marginalised and restricted the operation of international organisations, subverting their efforts to humanise the conduct of the war and secure reduced casualties. It convinced the majority of people in the country (and many outside), that utter annihilation was only way to deal with the forces like LTTE. At the same time the Government blatantly lied about the real number of civilians trapped in the zone, and the number killed by their disproportionate use of force in the form of intense shelling and bombing.
The LTTE’s callous attitude towards the civilians, its forced conscription and the violent and coercive methods it used to prevent people from fleeing for their lives, further helped the government to successfully neutralise any criticism against their modes of operation.
Perpetrators must be brought to account.
It is also imperative for international human rights activists and organisations to go beyond mere condemnation of the way in which this war was conducted and recognise what it has shown us about the limitations of the present broader architecture of international Human Rights and Humanitarian mechanisms and institutions, which failed utterly to avert this disaster.
Social and political forces with narrow ethnic or religious ideological trappings continue to undermine democracy in most of the developing nations. These are not new phenomena; the world had seen many major religious crusades to wars between nations which in the modern era led to the creation of international institutions, conventions and treaties. The unequal economic and military power structures operating at a global level continue to undermine these institutions while allowing local actors to blame the external powers for their own failures.
In Sri Lanka, the political elite continues to fail the people, and whatever potential the country had to move towards a healthier path of development and prosperity has been continuously undermined by narrow electoral politics. The country is at a crossroads. Improvement will not be achieved by relying on the political elite in the belief that they will have at last to moderate self interest and address the many underlying social and economic issues which caused the war.
The callousness of Sri Lanka’s powerful towards their own people has been clearly shown in the persistent undermining of state institutions, the deterioration of which has been met with major armed resistance again and again. Today politicians continue to use this war, this monumental tragedy, for political capital in their narrow power game in the South, while the removed and insensitive Tamil Diaspora tries to further polarise people in their home country with their meaningless rhetoric and slogans of Transnational government.
There is only one way forward. An initiative to forge a broad multi-ethnic and multi-religious movement that challenges these narrow ethnic and religious agendas and Sri Lanka’s climate of impunity; that demands accountability for the grave and systematic violation of human rights that has for so long prevented Sri Lanka from progressing. This should be the priority for all those who desire to fight for social justice and human rights.
University Teachers For Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka.
Special Report No: 34
Date of release: 13th December 2009
For complete report – click link