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Alston Oh! Alston, what ails thee boy

Australian Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings etc, etc, etc is a lawyer, we are told. If he was a practicing lawyer it would not have been in the least bit surprising to find him selective in the evidence he presented before court.

After all it is the business of lawyers to represent their clients to the best of their ability, naturally emphasizing what was favourable to the client and skirting, if not totally ignoring, evidence that was not helpful to the case.

That is in the nature of things and we have been constant witnesses to such happenings.

Philip Alston however is not just a lawyer, not an "aluth kade kalu coat karaya" as lawyers are sometimes derogatorily referred to in Colombo, especially by those who have had to cough up huge fees for poor performance. Alston is a professor of law and as a teacher he must surely provide his students with a rounded picture of whatever law or case he was discussing.

I cannot believe that Prof Alston had not approached the teaching of the law with the academic discipline that is expected of a university teacher.

What then has happened to that academic approach one has a right to expect from a teacher of international law? When did he cross the line between the objective academic and a persistent and partial prosecutor and why?

Judging by his more recent performances Philip Alston appears to have abdicated the role of an impartial official, particularly in the case of Sri Lanka.

It is all the more important that the impartial approach is scrupulously followed when one is entrusted with the highly responsible role of a special rapporteur on such sensitive and inflammable issues as extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The observance of impartiality should be doubly assured when acting as an agent of the United Nations, the world body consisting of all sovereign nations, each of which has equal status (at least theoretically) in that organization.

Since the official is dealing with the reputation and image of sovereign nations it is incumbent on the holder of such a crucial position in the global system to act with discretion and be circumspect in word and deed.

Instead of discharging his duties with the obvious responsibility that is demanded by the role, Professor Alston has tended to rush in where even angels would tread on tip toe.

When the video clip of an alleged execution was first aired by UK’s Channel 4 which had received it from a dissident group called Journalists for Democracy, Philip Alston had little hesitation in commenting on it even before the truth and validity of the video was established.

On behalf of Channel 4 it might be said it did not claim the video it had received was authentic although it was indeed sloppy journalism for a TV channel to have aired it without proper inquiry and double checking the source as any responsible media would have done.

That is perhaps because Channel 4 had a grouse against the Sri Lanka Government for ordering one of its TV crews out of the country. If Channel 4 wanted to safeguard whatever reputation it has, it should have been conducted a more searching inquiry of the dissident group, its motives, how and when it obtained the video clip it handed over to the TV channel.

It should have done so in order that it would not be accused of bias because of the action taken against one of its crews.

But what was Alston’s reason for rushing to offer comments that seemed to suggest that he thought it was genuine, by asking for an inquiry?

In his latest intervention Philip Alston has again tried to play the partial prosecutor instead of the objective observer. Dismissing the Sri Lanka Government’s argument that the video was a fake Alston’s cites the opinion he has received from what he calls three "independent experts."

He presents this experts’ opinion in a manner that suggests to the public that the experts were collectively convinced not only of the genuineness of the video but also that the so-called execution itself had actually occurred.

How true is this portrayal by Alston of the opinions conveyed by the three experts?

The truth of the matter is that Alston has been extremely selective in what he has quoted from the expert opinions and played the role of a prosecutor in his remarks to the media.

As those acquainted with the role of a genuine prosecutor where the rule of law and natural justice prevail would know, a prosecutor must present all the evidence available to him or only the bits and pieces that bolster his case and hide that is favourable to the defence.

Alston as an officer acting on behalf of the UN has failed to do so. By doing what he has done he too appears to be on the vendetta trail as was Channel 4 and the so-called group of "journalists’ that provided the video.

In his public statement made on January 7, Alston says that the "report by three independent experts strongly point to the authenticity of a video tape released by Channel 4 in Britain which appears to show the summary execution of bound, blindfolded and naked Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers."

Now how would Alston or his three experts know by viewing the video that the persons supposedly being executed are Tamils and that the ‘executions’ are being carried out by Sri Lankan soldiers?

Could anybody seriously say with certainty that the victims are Tamils and the shooters are Sri Lankan soldiers? It would surely be churlish of Alston or his independent experts to make such a presumption without the slightest of evidence to establish the veracity of their remarks.

Is there something distinctive in the uniforms worn by the shooters that identify them as Sri Lankan soldiers, and if so, can Alston or his experts point them out?

In fact the stand taken by one of the experts J.Spivack who is introduced as a Forensic Multi-Media Analyst actually undermines Alston’s assertions and punctures his confident claims.

Spivack states that "there is no way to confirm solely from this recording the identity of the potential victims or the shooters. Neither, whether the shooters were actually Sri Lanka military members as opposed to Tamils dressed in Sri Lanka military uniforms, nor whether the potential victims were Tamils or instead innocent victims of another ethnic group can be determined from this recording."

In fact the shooters could well be uniformed LTTErs killing Tamils they considered as traitors or even executing Sinhala or Muslim civilians or captured soldiers.

This indeed is the crux of the matter. If one of the experts Alston consulted cannot say who the victims and shooters are then what is the basis for Alston’s certain certainties?

Has not Alston exposed his bias by quoting not the entire chapter and verse provided by his experts, not all of Genesis through Revelations but only those parts that buttress his case against the Sri Lanka Government?

Can such a person be relied on by the United Nations to present all the evidence made available to him instead of selected bits and pieces.

Some spurious ‘news’ service called Inner City Press that seems to be a one man show (has anybody seen a byline other than that of Mathew Lee in ICP?) castigates UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon for judiciously moving away from the Alston accusations.

Is that at all surprising when Alston appears to be on a vengeance trail and the more he opens his mouth, the more he seems to put his size-15 foot in it.

Why does Alston not investigate charges of British troops killing civilians, even a grand mother after torturing her, and the deaths of dozens of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan through US aerial bombing?

Maybe he is too partial to the West. After all he was teaching law in New York before he picked up this job.

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