Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Reflections on Disinformation

( Created date: 31-Jul-2009 )

On the eve of the closure of the Peace Secretariat, I had a call from the BBC to respond to an interview they conducted with Eric Schwarts, the American Assistant Secretary of State who had been in Sri Lanka recently. His comments generally made sense, and his stress on swift resettlement of the displaced was understandable, and in line with Government policy, which is to resettle them as soon as possible.

Indeed I pointed out that it was absurd that the West thought that they were the only people concerned with swift resettlement. If we consider both practicality and past practice, this is clearly a primary concern for the Sri Lankan government. Not only is keeping people in welfare centres expensive, we had shown in the East that we could and would resettle a couple of hundred thousand people far more swiftly than most people imagined possible.

The BBC however insisted that he had wanted them resettled ‘now’, which was to take his words totally out of context, and equate a senior administrator with loonies like Human Rights Watch. This malignant organization had demanded the day before that ‘The Sri Lankan government should immediately release the more than 280,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians held in detention camps’.

I use the word ‘loonies’ of HRW advisedly, for it was they who had complained about our swift resettlement programme in the East, that it was forced. This was in spite of clear acknowledgment by the UN that the returns had been according to international standards. In short, you cannot win with HRW, once they have decided that you are the enemy, and that you should be destroyed at all costs.

At the same time, while promoting returns as swiftly as is compatible with security considerations, we should note that there is still in the East a small residue of IDPs in centres. This is because they do not want to go back, even though the government is anxious to close these centres.

I had to point this out to the BBC when they wanted to know when the Centres in Vavuniya would be closed – obviously one could not give a date because, apart from the need to make sure that returns are to safely demined areas, we are aware that some people may want to stay on in a context in which the shelter and food they receive is better than what they had before. It is also for that reason that the government has also embarked on a development programme for the North, to make sure that the quality of life of the returnees will be satisfactory.

I also pointed out to the BBC that calling our centres Detention Camps was unfair, though this was typical of HRW. They had tried last year to justify the Tigers holding people hostage by suggesting that they were as well off with the Tigers as they would have been if they came into government controlled territory. Internment, the word they used, was more appropriate to what the British and Americans had done during the Second World War, in taking Germans and Japanese from their homes and putting them in camps.

The BBC man patriotically got on the defensive straight away, and said that the people interned then were foreigners. I do not know if he thought it justifiable to violate the rights of foreigners indiscriminately, but I pointed out that certainly now human rights norms demand that anyone, and certainly foreign residents, be treated according to the same standards as others. Indeed the Guardian, for instance, was demanding better treatment for the British national who had masqueraded as a doctor and sent what were treated as factual reports from the front during the last days of the LTTE, that she had so amazingly come out to support in 2008.

It is bizarre that now the West, having used brutal methods in the past (though I assured the BBC that I was glad they had won the Second World War), gets on its high horse with others, while also suggesting that they can treat foreigners wickedly, but everyone else has to be roundly condemned whatever they do. It is also bizarre that they believe that they and they alone are the saviours of the human race.

Thus the Czar of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, Gareth Evans, claims credit now for Sri Lanka not being a ‘classic R2P case’. Having engaged in deceit and disinformation during his shameful Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture here in 2007 (when he omitted to mention that Neelan had been killed by the Tigers, just as he omitted to mention that the ethnic cleansing he declared had taken place in Sri Lanka had been done by the Tigers), and having tried through his glamorous acolytes to bring Sri Lanka under his R2P purview, he now seems to grant that we clearly took steps ‘to be more cautious to avoid civilian casualties’.

What a wonderfully pompous idea – if it were not for Gareth Evans, our forces would have killed all the civilians. No understanding of the fact that, throughout the operations in the East, long before the advent of the Blessed Gareth, there were no instances at all of civilian casualties (indeed no allegations even), except with regard to one instance. That was Kathiravelli, which Human Rights Watch blew up into ‘indiscriminate attacks on civilians’, even though its full report only recorded that one case, and recorded too that the LTTE had been present with arms in the centre for the displaced, and that bunkers had been built there.

What is the reason for all this? With the media, one need not assume villainy, it is more likely to be simply the need to sensationalize, criticism going down much better than praise, given the vagaries of human nature. With Gareth Evans it was obviously a desire to continue to seem important, as was obvious when he rather hopefully declared that the SLMM was useless, evidently to suggest that an old experienced worthy like himself would do a much better job. But I fear that with Human Rights Watch there is a distinct agenda of disruption and destabilization.

The simple explanation is that this is their bread and butter, unless there are crises they can revel in they would not get any funding. But while that may be generally true, I suspect that institutions like that can easily get hijacked, by what seem charmingly idealistic staff who work from other perspectives. Thus I was not surprised to see, on the day that Human Rights Watch delivered its diatribe, another attack by the Coalition against Child Soldiers, in which the glamorous Charu Latha Hogg features prominently. She was responsible for the first salvo against Sri Lanka in 2007, when there was an attempt to carry a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, and when the opposition in Sri Lanka knew what the UN High Commissioner was going to suggest long before she did herself.

Tracing connections between individuals and the agendas they push is fascinating. Most countries have special agencies for that sort of thing, but we are not wealthy or sophisticated enough to do this at more subtle levels, having enough on our plate in dealing with pure and simple terrorism. But we need to be aware that the campaign of disinformation will continue for the future too, and its consequences can burst out to damage us in unexpected places.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process



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