The 8th August saw the beginning of a three day defence seminar held in Sri Lanka which explored the end of the war and how the Sri Lankan government sought to rebuild and reconcile the country. What the seminar failed to address however was any of the allegations of war crimes levelled against the army and government.
The theme of the title itself illustrates the extent that the Sri Lankan’s government is attempting to whitewash the army’s record on brutality and human rights abuses. It seems that much of the seminar and its news coverage served as a PR exercise for the army and Gotabhaya Rajapaska, who is accused of war crimes during the civil war. The question of the army’s “overbearing presence” in the Northern provinces was brought up by one audience member who noted the incompatibility between what was being said during the seminar and reports coming out of the Northern region. This was brushed aside by the speaker with a brief, insubstantial answer referring to security requirements.
As this was all to be expected from the Sri Lankan government we asked you to write to your governments and ask them to boycott the seminar in recognition of the serious allegation levelled at the army. Your response was overwhelming. In just four days you sent:
- 507 emails to the American government urging them not to attend
- 468 emails to the British government urging them not to attend
- and a total of 416 emails to the other 17 nations allegedly attending urging them not to attend.
Unfortunately, despite such a fantastic response to our campaign none of the 19 countries pulled out of the seminar. This however does not in any way diminish your excellent efforts. It is deeply disappointing that all the countries chose to attend, as their presence serves to further legitimise the actions of the Sri Lankan government.
Although it is undeniably disappointing that neither the British nor American governments were dissuaded from attending the seminar it is worth remembering that such email campaigns have been successful in the past. Therefore we must build on this experience so that the international community is pressured even more into recognising the heinous war crimes the Sri Lankan government still has to answer for.