Today, on the opposite page, we carry a letter by a reader taking the editor of this newspaper to task over our editorial of March 19, Needed: Genuine campaigners for human rights and media freedom! The writer has obviously mistaken our comment for a brief for the southern terrorists who unleashed unbridled terror only to be hoist with their own petard in the end. We made reference to the ruthless counter-terror campaign by the police, the armed forces and death squads of the then government, at whose hands thousands of civilians who were no party to the conflict perished, only to highlight the paradox that some perpetrators of those heinous crimes are today campaigning for human rights and media freedom.
Our reader`s comment reminds us of an observation by the UTHR-J in its latest information bulletin being serialised in this newspaper, Sri Lanka`s Humanitarian Crisis or the Crisis of a Majoritarian Polity? In the instalment published last Friday, the UTHR says: Whatever the military arguments, there remains that one crucial question: Would the Government have fought the way it did, and knowingly (yes, knowingly) fired missiles at camps for the displaced using enemy fire from the vicinity (highly questionable in most cases) as an excuse, were those people in the camps Sinhalese? We reliably learn that when a foreign envoy put this question to a senior military official, there was in response an eloquent silence.`
The foreign envoy concerned seems to be under the impression that the armed forces consisting of mostly Sinhalese would treat the members of their own community differently in a conflict. We are puzzled by the reported silence of the military officer. Anyone who witnessed what happened during the two bloody insurrections in the South, especially the second one (1987-89), would have answered the envoy`s query in the affirmative without any hesitation. About the on-going conflict, there are certain misconceptions, which are fashioning the thinking of the international community and the human rights groups, as evident from that ambassadorial query.
During the JVP`s reign of terror in the late 1980s, as is well known, it was a `curse` to be a `Sinhala Buddhist`. When buses were stopped at checkpoints and cordon and search operations were conducted, it was only the Sinhalese Buddhists who were arrested. For, the JVP consisted of `Sinhala Buddhists`. Ironically, even the LTTE combatants in Colombo were safe at that time! In fact, they were being protected by the `Sinhala army`.
The oprichniks of the then `Sinhala` government who `put the JVP suspects to the question` in government-sponsored torture chambers, invented the method called Dhamma Chakka, as we pointed out in the aforesaid editorial, to interrogate the Buddhist monks who were suspected to be JVP activists or sympathisers! They were suspended on iron bars with limbs tied round them and were made to rotate like a chakka (wheel) by being kicked to death. (Genghis Khan had a friend who rose against him killed in a similar manner. He at least had him wrapped in a carpet before being kicked.) The JVP terror and the disproportionate counter terror left, according to unconfirmed reports, over 600 Buddhist monks dead!
The mass grave of school children?all Sinhala Buddhists?on the summit of the Suriya Kanda is a monument to the brutal counter terror which didn`t spare even civilians during the second JVP uprising. The skeletal remains of the Suriya Kanda victims, had feet tied with military bootstraps. They had been abducted, killed and buried by the army.
Another incident of savage counter terror against the Sinhala civilians took place in Tissamaharama in 1987. The JVP forced thousands of people to take part in a march against the Premadasa government. While the procession was forging ahead, helicopter gunships appeared from nowhere and started strafing. People died in their hundreds. Many died within the premises of the historical Tissa Temple. The malasana (places where flowers are offered to the Buddha) were strewn with dead bodies. Then the death squads and the army descended on them. The JVP suspects in custody were brought to the scene and made to behead the corpses and those who were dying!
In the same year in Kundasale, over two hundred civilians were mowed down by helicopter gunships, while they were being forcibly taken in a protest march by the JVP.
In Hambantota, over two hundred youth were massacred in a single day and burnt on tyre-pyres during the same period. Mahinda Rajapakse, who was then an ordinary Opposition parliamentarian and Vasudeva Nanayakkara were stopped at the airport en route to Geneva and the pictures of the massacre they were taking as evidence against the Premadasa government were seized! Ironically, at that time, the LTTE, as we said the other day, defended the Premadasa government to the hilt in Geneva! Strange bedfellows!
There were many other instances of slaughter of civilians by the JVPand the government forces.
Let it be added immediately that no argument is being peddled that since the Sinhalese civilians perished during that period, the present plight of the Tamil civilians should be taken for granted, lest our comment should be misconstrued. The point we are making is that in a conflict, violence transcends everything else, be it ethnicity or religion or caste or creed. The American Civil War may also serve as an example. The tens of thousands of civilians who were killed in that conflict were Americans, not Iraqis or Afghans!
War is a package where contents are inseparable and disaster is inevitable. Hence, the need to avoid it! But, unfortunately, there arise certain situations where states are left with no alternative to war in dealing with monsters that believe only in terrorism. If the world had not fought Hitler with might and main, we would have been living in hell today. Had the JVP been allowed to establish its Pol Pot regime, Sri Lanka would have become hell on earth! The same goes for the LTTE, which is causing hellish suffering to the people under its jackboot and elsewhere.
War is hell, as General Sherman said. For human rights to be safeguarded, war has to end. Nothing short of that is going to help protect human rights. The urgent need is not so much for `ball-by-ball` commentaries of human rights violations?which no doubt serve a useful purpose?but an all out effort to help resolve the conflict through political means. Now that the government has agreed to negotiate a political settlement, it is up to the campaigners for human rights and the international community to make the LTTE fall in line.