Govt. in a quandary
(The Editorial The Island -November 29, 2017)
Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana would have us believe the government is planning to make use of Lord Naseby’s statement contradicting UN figures as regards the number of people killed in the Vanni, when it thinks the time is opportune for doing so. Naseby maintained in the British House of Lords a few weeks ago that the number of war dead in the Vanni should be brought down from 40,000 to between 7,000 and 8,000. He supported his argument with facts and figures. Marapana has also warned that if too much attention is drawn to Naseby’s statement at this juncture interested groups will have sufficient time to put forth counter arguments. Does the government want us to believe pro-LTTE groups are babes in arms?
LTTE activists are far smarter than Sri Lankan politicians and diplomats save a few. They have been able to sway even the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and get some senior British MPs to do their bidding. They don’t have to wait till Sri Lanka shows its hand to prepare counter arguments. In a way, they don’t have to come out with counter arguments at all because the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government does not put forth any arguments. It hasn’t drawn the attention of the UNHRC to Naseby’s statement, which demolishes the very basis of the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of Oct. 1, 2015 on Sri Lanka, calling for a hybrid war crimes tribunal. It takes everything lying down.
This newspaper has repeatedly pointed out the glaring discrepancies in UN figures as regards the death toll during the final phase of the Eelam War IV. UN experts have the habit of plucking figures out of the air. A UN Panel of Experts (POE) appointed by UNSG Ban Ki-moon placed the number of civilian deaths in the Vanni at 40,000 whereas pro-LTTE groups claimed more than 150,000 people had perished. The UN Colombo office, which had a system in place to monitor civilian casualties during the war, said in a report that 7,721 persons had been killed in the Vanni from August, 2008 to 13 May, 2009. The war ended about a week later. The POE refused to accept this figure, claiming that it was too low! It was a case of the UN contradicting the UN!
It may be recalled that there was no love lost between the Rajapaksa government and the Colombo-based UN officials and the latter, therefore, had no reason to mention a lower death toll in their report.
Why the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is wary of flagging the issue of contradictory UN casualty figures anent the Vanni war is obvious. Having plunged feet first into co-sponsoring the aforesaid UNHRC resolution, based on POE’s unsubstantiated claims, the government does not want to make use of Naseby’s compelling arguments because such action will be tantamount to admitting that it blundered by subscribing to the US-drafted resolution.
How would the government have reacted if Naseby had revealed something that could be used against political opponents? It would have swung into action, ordered an investigation and got its propaganda hit men to target its enemies.
One is puzzled by the former AG turned Foreign Minister’s statement that no room should be made for counter arguments on Naseby’s argument. We believe there should be a debate on this issue. The onus is on the government to take it up in Geneva so that it will be discussed at length at the UNHRC. There is absolutely no need to prevent anyone from challenging Naseby’s contention.