19 November 2012
INTERNAL REVIEW PANEL REPORT ON SRI LANKA
Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) welcomes the release of the Internal Review Panel Report on Sri Lanka, hereafter the Petrie Report.
One of the key acknowledgements of the report was of a bias towards the Sri Lankan State, despite the availability of evidence that it was the State that was the greatest perpetrator of both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Detailed at length are numerous instances of UN knowledge of and access to evidence of atrocities at the hands of the Sri Lankan state, and both the failure of the UN to effectively challenge the Rajapaksa Government regarding these crimes and abuses, and its failure to communicate them to member states.
Not only did the UN fail to report the killings by the Sri Lankan government, but, through downplaying the State’s responsibility, laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Tamil Tigers. Para 25, for example, records that in a UN briefing to the diplomatic corps on the 9 Mar 2009, “when describing the lack of food and medicines, the briefing did not explain that the most immediate causes for the severe shortfall had been Government obstruction to the delivery of assistance, including its artillery shelling.”
The bias is a product of the structure of the UN and the internal conflict between the humanitarian mission and the human rights obligations. Para 26 explains “the UN almost completely omitted to explicitly mention Government responsibility for violations of international law” they “...did not want to prejudice humanitarian access by criticising the Government.” It is bias that has infected all coverage of the conflict, and the aftermath of the conflict. Indeed, delegations at the UPR, 1 November 2012, privileged still the Sri Lankan state framework of a war on terror.
Silence, in the face of knowledge, is the overwhelming and recurring theme of the report. Silence regarding the crimes of the Sri Lankan state, and silence as to the scale of the killings. Para 63 reveals that the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide (SAPG) “raised concern...but favoured quiet diplomacy”. The most distressing aspect is perhaps the conclusion, para 70, that had the UN spoken out, the International Community might have acted to stop the slaughter. It is noted in the report that the March 2012 HRC Resolution came after information had become accessible, information that the UN had had access to for some time.
TAG News Team writing in Sept 2011 after the publication on wikileaks of a Cable recording the meeting between Ambassador Rice and the UN SAPG, Frances Deng, despaired at the gulf between, on the one hand, public silence, on the other, private concerns.
"International inaction and silence, not ignorance, made it possible for Sri Lanka to continue and to escalate its mass killing".
In the cable, the SAPG, Deng, described the mandate of the SAPG as "impossible", and stated "the Sri Lankan representative left the impression that his government's measures against the LTTE are supported by the US and India". Nothing in the cable indicates that the US contradicted this impression.
More chillingly, in May 2009, an audio conference was held between members of the Tamil Diaspora and with three UN SG Officials. In that meeting Jan Jananayagam (director of TAG) argued that the Government of Sri Lanka’s actions, in demarcating a small strip of lans as a NFZ which they then shelled, and in denying adequate food to IDPs clearly demonstrates genocidal intentions on the part of the State. She asked if the UN officials also saw it as genocide. The notes from that meeting of the response by one of those officials reads;
“...it is a difficult question but not one that they have not considered. The fact that it is not being discussed in public does not mean it is not being discussed as there have been private discussions and added there may be reasons for them also to think it is genocide.”
In a separate audio conference with UN OCHA officials, Jan Jananayagam demanded why the UN were not publishing casualty figures, it was pointed out that the Tamil press had been publishing casualty figures with details, and that this number was close to leaked UN numbers; the reply was that “these numbers could not be verified”.
The Petrie report speaks to the contrary, it was not lack of verification that stopped the casualty figures being reported, but an internal conflict between the demands of a humanitarian operation and human rights considerations, but also an institutional bias in favour of the Sri Lankan state.
Whilst we are dismayed at the findings, at the scale of UN knowledge and depth of inaction, we are not surprised. We question the necessity to black out certain sections of the report, and find the explanations for so doing wanting.
Although welcoming the release of the Petrie report we are concerned at the seemingly endless cycle of review upon review. We continue to push for an Independent International Investigation, as endorsed by the Resolution at the World Tamil Conference, London Nov 2012, which won broad support.
Furthermore we continue to press for a review of asylum processes for refugees and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, especially in light of the Petrie report’s exposure of the endemic bias in favour of the Sri Lankan state that has permeated UN bodies and member states alike.
The Ambassador Rice - SAPG Deng cable can be accessed at http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/03/09USUNNEWYORK283.html.The full text of the TAG article published after the cable leak can be read at - http://www.tamilsagainstgenocide.org/read.aspx?storyid=57.