The failing of the UN towards the Tamils in Sri Lanka is both shameful and predictable. This is a conflict that continues to receive virtually no global media coverage despite up to 40,000 Tamils being massacred last year:
During the Vietnam conflict, the US military developed some creative ways to increase the numbers of Viet Cong insurgents it claimed to have killed. “If they’re dead, they’re Viet Cong,” meant that any Vietnamese killed by American soldiers would automatically count as enemy fighters.
Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has taken such creative accounting to new heights. The United Nations reported that at least 7,000 civilians were killed and tens of thousands wounded during the final months of the brutal conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended in May 2009. But Gotabhaya has repeatedly cast aspersions on the idea that there were any civilian casualties.
In his recent statement before a Sri Lankan commission looking at lessons learned from the war, Gotabhaya claimed that injured Tigers “changed their uniforms into civilian clothes” and that the Tigers must have suffered at least 6,000 dead and 30,000 injured – suggesting those counted as civilian casualties were really just Tamil Tiger fighters who had shed their uniforms.
As for the widespread war crimes and human rights abuses by both sides reported both during and after the conflict by various UN agencies, the US state department and human rights organisations, the defence secretary seems to be suffering from severe amnesia. He told the Lessons Learned Commission: “No complaints about human rights violations or abuses by the army were brought to my notice. None at all.”
By Antony Loewenstein
An advisor to the Sri Lanka Campaign