7 June 2009
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2009-06-07 03:00

Wars are not gentlemanly affairs. They are won by the most ruthless and aggressive side. Surely, no army has ever triumphed without some acts of savagery perpetrated in the heat of battle by frightened soldiers who know they must kill or be killed.

War crimes are less about such slayings, deplorable though they are, but more about premeditated slaughter stemming from a command policy, for instance an order to take no prisoners.

There can be no doubting the barbarity of the defeated Tamil Tigers, toward their own people and their own soldiers as much against the Singhalese majority who opposed Tamil independence and the Sri Lankan Army forces who for so long battled to defeat them. Despite years of wanton violence against their soldiers and civilians, the Sri Lankan authorities insist their forces behaved according to the rules of war in the final battles that destroyed the Tamil Tigers and their inflexible leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. This is as it should be.

It therefore does not make sense that Colombo should be so very angered by calls for outside investigation into allegations being made against their armed forces. The Sri Lankans share with the Americans, an opposition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the grounds that they should always try their own nationals. The response, therefore, to international concerns over the conduct of their military is for the Sri Lankan government to take up the allegations and have them tested in an open inquiry held on its own soil.

It is not good enough to dismiss absolutely all-foreign concerns as being motivated by expatriate Tamils. In the same way, the authorities cannot blame international worries about the camps they have established for 250,000 Tamil refugees on malign and biased influence. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited what seems to have been a “show” camp has said his officials have evidence that it was by no means representative.

There is an easy way to resolve this and that is for Colombo to permit neutral observers free access to all refugee facilities. They will then be able to prove they have nothing to hide. To refuse such scrutiny must inevitably make outsiders suspect the government is not being entirely straightforward. President Mahinda Rajapaksa surely cannot fail to see how his administration’s attitude is undermining its own argument. Nor will anxieties be lessened by the government’s airy dismissal of criticism of the camps coming from none other than Sri Lanka’s own Chief Justice Sarath Silva, saying the judge was “entitled to his opinion”.

The problem is that past Sri Lankan governments have “form”. In the wake of the 2004 Tsunami, the great quantities of foreign aid that flowed into Sri Lanka were for weeks simply not distributed to Tamil coastal villages, even though they were under government control.

If it remains obdurate, Colombo faces the very real danger that its military triumph will be dissipated by the way in which it is setting about the peace. How much fresh Tamil bitterness is now being sowed in these refugee camps?

China’s Uighurs deserve freedom

Excerpts from an editorial that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post:

There is still a small window of opportunity for President Obama to do right by 17 men who have spent years behind bars even though they should never have been imprisoned. If the president fails to take action, then the courts must. These men, ethnic Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs, were brought in 2002 to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and held as enemy combatants. A short time later, military officials raised doubts about whether these men were enemies of the state; a federal appeals court believed to be the first to review the classified information justifying detention unanimously concluded that the government lacked any credible evidence against one of the men. The Bush administration ultimately announced that none of the Uighurs had been properly classified or held as an enemy combatant.

That should have been enough for these detainees to regain their freedom, except that the United States could not return them to their homeland for fear that they would be persecuted there. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, tried unsuccessfully to find countries to take the men. Germany, which is home to a Munich-based Uighur community, recently declined to take nine of the detainees, in part because of the fear-mongering by US lawmakers and strong resistance from China. The Uighurs have also found little relief in court: Last year a federal trial judge ordered the men to be brought to the United States only to be overturned by an appeals panel. Lawyers for the Uighurs have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The administration may be right, but these developments threaten to make the Uighurs modern victims of a real-life version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.” The president should save them from this fate by using his executive power to allow them entry into the United States, following final and thorough security reviews to be shared with lawmakers in the places where Uighurs are likely to settle.

Main category: 
Old Categories: