Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America – Blog series 27
Continuation of Series – 26 – The United States Renews its rhetoric in Geneva/
Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and as a Political Specialist with Dr Robert Boggs. Dr Boggs recently served as Professor of South Asian Studies at the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at the U.S. National Defence University. He was the Foreign Service Political Counsellor, while Daya Gamage was the Foreign Service National Political Specialist. Both of them were at the Colombo Diplomatic Mission’s key persons who closely monitored the Southern (JVP-88-89) insurrection and the North’s LTTE separatist-terrorist movement for the U.S. State Department. Daya Gamage retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. Sharing his knowledge, understanding and his intimate, professional association with the U.S. Department of State, he has come out in the form of a book ‘Tamil Tigers Debt to America‘. He assures those facts found in his book are exposed only due to his own experience and research! Daya Gamage authorised the writer to ‘ to quote anything from his book’ so that the readers will get a clear picture of America’s foreign policy, Sri Lanka’s national issues and the LTTE struggle in depth. His book is available at Amazon.
A team including Deputy Assistant Secretaries of the State and Defence who arrived in Sri Lanka on 29th January in 2013, declared their version of the US policy to the Press in Sri Lanka
Media: You had a resolution before. You had all kinds of commitments, and you are saying that still more need to be done. What is the main threshold before you will do something concrete?
Zimmerman: The LLRC is this democratically elected government’s commitments to its people, to heal the wounds from the past conflict. We fully support that goal. The elements of the LLRC are excellent. They can do a lot to get towards that goal. We realise there are certain things that are going to be harder to implement than others. In any post-conflict situation, accountability is always one of the toughest issues. Reconciliation is so critical to ensure that wounds of the past heal cleanly.
Singh: Real reconciliation that gets at some of the root causes of the conflict in the first place is tough. It involves addressing really fundamental issues of every Sri Lankan having a sense of justice and belonging in a Sri Lanka that is unified and is really moving forward into a bright future. I think that is going to involve a lot of issues being hashed out over time. We really look forward to partnering comprehensively in all areas with the Sri Lankan government, people, and civil society as they try to build that really true lasting peace.
DAYA GAMAGE’S (Author) COMMENT : The United States was conscious of the false steps successive Sri Lankan Administrators took to creating an atmosphere somewhat detrimental to the minority Tamils; its failure was to undertake remedial actions due to pressure from Sinhala Nationalist elements. But most strikingly, the United States saw the LTTE professed political agenda for the Tamils had a clear resemblance to what the Federal Party ( Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi or Lanka State Party) demanded since its inception in 1951, that is, the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nationality, Tamil homeland, and self-determination of the Tamil people within a unitary state. The Tamil United Liberation Front’s (TULF) interpretation given over the years to the US FSOs was that the LTTE manifested the aspirations of the eleven (11) percent Tamils in the Island; the US forced the hand of the Sri Lankan administration to re-arrange the policy toward self-rule in predominantly Tamil North and East within unitary state.
By 1995, the US State Department had already developed a very clear understanding of what is said to be the outline of the Sri Lanka policy towards the “Tamil issue,” which is now governing the conversation since the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. This is why, following their talks with the GSL officials, opposition politicians, and civil society activists, visiting US officials at the media briefing declared, “ Reconciliation is so critical to ensure that the wounds of the past heal cleanly,” and “ The “LLRC is this democratically elected government’s commitments to its people, to heal the wounds from the past conflict.”
Quite rightly an impression was created by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government that the reconciliation was at the bottom of its agenda. There were no signs that the administration was making any attempt to understand the plight of the Northern Tamils who were, for decades, under the despotic rule of Prabhakaran and move them out of the psychological trauma they were subjected to by the Tigers. The operatives within the Tamil diaspora took maximum benefit out of it as much as the erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties became fodder to Tamil diaspora activities to resonate with cherished American values. Strategically resonating with such values helped them to win the recognition of American officials to gradually position themselves as the voice of the Tamils.
Zimmerman: I should also say another important partner is civil society. That includes those of you are right here at this table. Media. Journalists. Lawyers. Human right defenders. But we can’t help but be worried about the future when we perceive threats to the independence of judiciary such as the impeachment of the Chief Justice; when we are hearing very creditable reports from our contacts in civil society, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists such as yourselves about harassment and intimidation and even physical attacks and violence.
DAYA GAMAGE’S (Author) Comment: “There was a credible belief, during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, in the American diplomatic mission in Colombo that dissent and free speech had been curtailed and that those who freely expressed an opinion were harassed and intimated. The American officials had been addressing this issue for a considerably long time, and allegations of such incidents had not been seriously investigated or perpetrators brought to justice.”
A Cabinet ministers’ admission that he was responsible in beating a journalist, who later fled the country, was taken note of by policy makers of these Western nations. The government parliamentarian who forcibly entered a television station and assaulted programme producers was promptly elevated as the media by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. These incidents hardened the American approach as well as provided fodder to the Tiger operatives within the Tamil diaspora.
Zimmerman: Again, it’s very much a joint civilian/military effort. For instance, we have an assistance programme to develop livelihoods in conflict-affected areas so that people can have jobs and a stake in the future, the peaceful future. We stand by ready to help to build the capacity of civil society so that the military will have a strong civil society to which it can pass off responsibilities that it has naturally had to undertake in the post-conflict environment.
DAYA GAMAGE’S COMMENT: Continued “militarization” in the North and East is what the State Department wanted to end. The Sri Lankan expatriate Tamil lobby in the United States and in EU nations have been highlighting this fact, saying the minority Tamils were subjected to military rule. Tamil political parties too brought this matter up with the GSL and the foreign ministries of Western nations.
The State Department officials very diplomatically and strategically declared, “ We stand by ready to help to build the capacity of civil society so that the military will have a strong civil society to which it can pass off responsibilities that it has naturally had to undertake in the post-conflict environment”.
Mr. Singh used the strategic phrase, “ the military will have a strong civil society to which it can pass off responsibilities,” meaning encouraging the GSL to remove or drastically reduce the military presence in the North.
It indicated how influential the Tamil lobby had been since the Tiger defeat in 2009. Reports indicated that the new Sirisena administration would fully address this issue.
Media: Are you satisfied with the progress made in implementation of the LLRC proposals? Are you satisfied with the progress that has been made thus far in the implementation of the LLRC proposals? ( LLRC – Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which the GSL appointed to make recommendations.)
ZIMMERMAN: We’ve certainly seen progress in many areas including demining, infrastructure, redevelopment, the rehabilitation and release of former combatants, but that said, there is still a lot more work to do. There has been a lot that has taken place in terms of process, but we would like to see more in terms of implementation.
Media: What are the specific areas you think there should be vast improvement?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, there are still quite a number of families wondering what has become of their beloved ones: Whether or not they are being held somewhere? Whether or not there’s any answer to disappearances? There’s a desire for accountability when it comes to extrajudicial killings.
Daya Gamage’s ( Author) Comment : Sri Lanka, in overseas diplomatic and civil-society gatherings, has been accused of disappearances and “ unaccountability” of persons taken into custody. The American officials made this point very clear in saying,” Well, there are still quite a number of families wondering what has become of their loves ones: Whether or not they are being held somewhere, whether or not there’s any answer to disappearances! There’s a desire for accountability when it comes to extrajudicial killings.”
Sri Lanka seems to have allowed the Tamil lobby in Western capitals to monopolise this issue that has somewhat tarnished her image abroad with the foreign minister of those nations. The end result: The Tamil lobby has gained easy access to the policymakers of those Western nations marginalising the GSL lobby using these critical issues.
Media: Did you discuss the matter of impeachment with the government: And, also the appointment of the new Chief Justice who is already the political advisor/the legal advisor to the government/cabinet?
Moore: We did. And we noted that we continue to be concerned about the impeachment of the Chief Justice Bandaranaike. The impeachment proceedings were conducted in defiance of a Supreme Court order, and we believe that the impeachment raises questions about the separation of powers, as well as the rule of law, in Sri Lanka. Of course, as part of our ongoing dialogue with the government, we continue, along with our international partners, to urge the government of Sri Lanka to uphold the rule of law and respect the principles of democratic government.
DAYA GAMAGE’S ( Author) COMMENT: Many statements by the spokespersons of the State Department at media briefings reiterated that the impeachment proceedings were conducted, in defiance of a Supreme Court order, to which the officials don’t seem to have received a cogent explanation from the GSL. If a cogent explanation emerged from the GSL after the sentiments were stressed, the visiting State Department official, Mr. Moore, would not have repeated the sentiment and concern at the Colombo media briefing.
The State Department officials also have serious issues about the separation of powers following the impeachment , and rule of law, which is the cornerstone of any democratic society.
Singh: That we could move towards even greater military cooperation as we see progress on human rights and accountability.
Author’s ( Daya Gamage) Comment: “ Greater military cooperation” and “ greater economic assistance” heavily and solely depend on the “ Leahy Law” ratified by the Congress.
The Leahy Law or Leahy provision is a human-rights stipulation in US Congressional Foreign- Assistance legislation. It prohibits US military assistance to foreign military units ( or individuals) that violates human rights with impunity and is named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy. The law first appeared in the fiscal year 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act and has been attached to all subsequent acts.
There are actually two different Leahy laws. One is attached to the Defence Appropriations and the other is within the Foreign Operations Appropriations. The Foreign Operations Appropriations Leahy Law covers weapons, funding, and training, but the 2001 Defence Appropriations Act Leahy Law only covers training. Both Leahy provisions have similar wording.
The Leahy Law version attached to the Foreign Operations Appropriations ( foreign economic assistance) has no waivers, but the Leahy Law in the Defence Appropriations version can be waived if the Secretary of Defence determines that “ extraordinary circumstances” require it.
This is the message that deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of Defence Mr Singh conveyed to the GSL and the Sri Lankan people. He attached “ accountability” to his narrative. Accountability has become the major policy plank in the State Department agenda, even in 2016, and lobbied by the activists and organisations within the Tamil diaspora.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances said, “ international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators” to take part in a judicial accountability mechanism for human rights abuses, including disappearances.
In a page 22 report released in Geneva on September 19, 2016, the UN group reiterated the importance of including international actors in any accountability mechanism.
“ The road that leads to truth and justice is long but is the rights one to take, even if it may be painful at times,” said the group at the launch of its report in Geneva. Sri Lankan should continue on this path, with the awareness that more and more complex steps need to be taken to accomplish the huge task in front of it and finally deliver truth and justice to thousands of families in despair.”
This group was established by the UN in 1980. Tamil diaspora activists, since the end of the war in May 2009, have been lobbying the West and the UN, for an international investigation to which the GSL is yet to commit itself.
Pic Credit: Google photos.