Amnesty: Unsubstantiated Allegations and Fabrications presented as Credible Truths



article_image

By Neville Ladduwahetty


The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Mr. Salil Shetty has stated during his recent visit to Sri Lanka that "a credible investigation was required to ascertain the number of civilians as well as enforced disappearances during the conflict in Sri Lanka" (The Island, April 6, 2017). The report added: "Salil didn’t mince his words when he declared that people were sceptical about the local judiciary and the AI. too, shared their opinion"


In this regard, it is pertinent to bring to public attention a speech I delivered as early as March 1987, as a member of the Sri Lanka Union of USA, during a seminar at a prestigious hotel in New York City, on an AI Report titled "Sri Lanka – Disappearances". My analysis immediately followed the AI representative’s presentation. The response of the audience was very positive.


Despite establishing with clarity the many flaws, contradictions and ambiguities in the AI Report, their practice of transforming unsubstantiated allegations into credible truths continues. Furthermore, there are many fellow travelers among INGOs and local NGOs who unhesitatingly accept whatever the likes of AI or their local equivalents dish out as "credible truths", even after glaring contradictions and lack of evidence are brought to their attention. The reason for the current state of affairs is the extreme politicization of every aspect of human activity at the behest of handlers who finance the work of the INGOs and local NGOs. These INGOs/NGOs have as their mission, the transformation of unsubstantiated allegations into credible truths.


Abridged TEXT OF A SPEECH DELIVERED in NEW YORK in March 1987 in REPLY TO THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT TITLED "SRI LANKA – DISAPPEARANCES" by Neville Ladduwahetty, Member, Sri Lanka Union of the USA. A REPLY TO THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT TITLED "SRI LANKA - DISAPPEARANCES"


Among speakers was Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister for National Security,Sri Lanka.


"The treatment of the current tragedy unfolding in Sri Lanka, where minority Tamils, claiming discrimination at the hands of the majority Sinhalese, are demanding a separate state, does not meet the standards of truth and justice that we have come to expect from INGOs such as AI. The investigators from AI have not only carried out "impartial research" but also failed to diligently search for the truth and thereby, have misrepresented facts and have arrived at wrong conclusions. Their report titled "Sri Lanka - Disappearances" is reflective of misrepresentations of the truth. Some of the more glaring instances of these are dealt with below……."


"….For example on AI's page 27 of the report an incident is referred to as described by the Secretary General of AI, Mr.Ian Martin, in the text of a letter that appears in the Saturday Review, a Jaffna-based newspaper, on November 15, 1986: "You were asked about the disappearances on 17 May 1985, of some 40 young men, most of them in the Eastern province, alleged to have been taken by Special Task Force personnel, ordered to dig their own graves, shot, their bodies subsequently being disposed of in secret.


AI states that one of its objectives is to carry out impartial research, yet page 27 is devoted to giving a summary of the above incident as covered by the international press. Is the international press the only source of information for an inquiry that embodies serious charges against a country's government?


Discussed below are examples of discrepancies and inaccuracies pertaining to this incident:


1. Pages 1 and 29 refer to a small boy known as Tambimuttu Packiarajah. However, on page 80, the age of this same person is. given as 22 -- some small boy !


2. Page 31 states that the bodies were reportedly removed by 6 or 8 Special Task Force personnel on the 18th of May. Yet, on the same page, an eye-witness account states, "removed the corpses from the said burial site on 19 May and again on 21 May" .


3. Page 30 states -"the Police Superintendant with a police party, five parents and one Paul Nallanayagam tried to exhume the bodies on the 20th of May, and the eye-witness account states" it could not be dug out as the soft sand was collapsing" - referring to the one body that they found. That is, nearly a dozen men tried to exhume one body and failed, yet 6 or 8 Special Task Force personnel are supposed to have removed over 40 bodies. Further, we have 3 contradictory dates on which the bodies are supposed to have been removed, and another convenient date in between when they tried to exhume the body.


This exemplifies the generally poor quality of the research into incidents in Sri Lanka cited in the AI report. The obvious discrepancies in the dates, the improbable and contradictory reports given by the eye-witnesses seem to have gone unquestioned.


In contrast to AI's attitude to Sri Lanka, it is interesting to examine AI's handling of the situ ation in Kampuchea. I quote from an article that appeared in the Washington Times dated July 14, 1986. "We learn that Amnesty's Secretary General sent off a cable "expressing concern for civilians detained in areas of conflict", while noting prudently that allegations of mass execution were based on "flimsy evidence and second-hand accounts". Amnesty also sent off a cable congratulating the new regime on the "large national union without distinction of class, religious belief or political tendency" it had just proclaimed. By the following year, Amnesty had to deal with a barrage of press reports of mass executions based on accounts of Kampuchean refugees arriving in Thailand. But, Amnesty remained sceptical. Many allegations, it said, seemed to be based "on the belief, rather than evidence, that people who disappear from a village or other place of work have been taken away by the army to be executed.


It is paradoxical that on the one hand, in the case of Kampuchea, "allegations seemed to be based on belief rather than evidence" and in the case of Sri Lanka, allegations are considered fact although the statements of eye witnesses begin with statements like "Reports from people which again I have no means to verify or confirm" (page 31), and "Reports from people which my neighbours and I could not verify or confirm" (page 30). On page 2 is stated "we came to hear conversation that boys from various places including the boys of our place have been shot". This particular incident is spread over 2 or 3 days depending on which story one believes- yet not one witness actually saw any of the mass killings. Yet, there is no ambiguity in the letter by the Secretary General of AI , Mr. Ian Martin .


Page 15 of the AI report gives an account of a mother who saw her son being taken in a truck by security force personnel. The mother states "We saw the vehicle coming with my son and my son was taken off the vehicle and taken into the camp. I went to the camp one week later and made inquires for my son". It is difficult to conceive that this anguished mother who went so far as to follow the army vehicle, should wait one whole week to make any inquiry. On the other hand, it is not difficult to conceive that this son was one of the boat people who came to Canada seeking greener pastures, and that the safest reason that the mother could give to explain the absence of her son was to say that he was taken by the Security Forces.


Page 19 of the report deals with "the case study of Father Mary Bastian". Briefly, the incident referred to is that on the mid-night of January 5, 1986, the Security Forces surrounded St.Anne's church and in the ensuing shoot-out the priest along with some others were killed. The report adds that the body of the priest was removed by the forces. Despite the details covered in the AI report on this incident, it fails to mention a judicial inquest that was held in the church premises by a judge of the High Court. At that inquest, the nuns attached to the church did not give evidence. Also, those who claimed to have seen the incident were found not to be truthful in their evidence, because it was established that they could not have witnessed the incident from where they claimed to have been. It became clear during the inquest that the findings contradicted the statements made by the eye-witnesses.


What is surprising is that Amnesty International covered only the eye-witness accounts and failed completely to mention the inquest held by the High Court judge. It is obvious that the omission of vital facts is deliberate. If Amnesty is interested in seeking the truth, perhaps it will not rush into hasty conclusions that are prejudiced. For instance, it is well known that a Tamil youth who joins the terrorist movement is given a nom-de-guerre, which is not known even to his parents; in fact most of these parents are unaware that their sons are terrorists. A witness in the Paul Nallanayagam case, when cross-examined at the trial, admitted as such:


Q. You say that even a person living in the area may not be able to distinguish between terrorists and a non-terrorist?


A. Yes, because I know sometimes that the parents are also unaware that their son is a terrorist.


Q. Another question. At that point of time, if you telephoned the security forces and asked "Have you got a person by the name of "X", and the boy had given the name "Y", the response you would receive would be "No, we have not arrested him?"


A. Yes.


"This is another possible explanation for the cases listed as disappeared by Amnesty International.


On page 55 of the AI report we find the following statement: ‘The ineffectiveness of this traditional legal remedy - even in cases of people arrested on criminal charges - has been the object of criticism by the Sri Lanka Bar Association which is reported to have adopted the view that habeas corpus does not provide expeditious relief for people held beyond 24 hours. The President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association when contacted went on record to say that the statement contained on page 55 of AI's report is completely untrue. Here is an example of blatant misreporting via omission of the full facts.


Clearly, these are several instances where the evidence presented in AI's report is either inconclusive and contradictory, or false. A valid question that may be asked is :Are instances of disappearances being fabricated in order to cover up the many thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils illegally fleeing abroad, seeking asylum for economic reasons of one sort or another, participating in the illegal international trafficking of drugs, or avoiding being conscripted by the terrorists ?


The Christian Science Monitor of October 4, 1983 reports a story that has relevance to this question. It states -"Shanmugarajan tells his story. He says he obtained a visa to enter Mexico, then crossed the Mexican border to enter the US without a visa in October 1982. S. Nadanasabesan gained entry into the US after being rescued when a merchant freighter he worked on collided with another vessel off Cape Cod. Another -Rasiah, says he also came across the Mexican border with no US visa. These young men like most of the estimated 1000 Sri Lankans living in the Boston area are Hindu Tamils"


Recently, the chairman of the West German Red Cross said that 99% of the estimated 20,000 Sri Lankan Tamils seeking political asylum had gone to this country for economic reasons "purely to seek greener pastures". In October 1984, the Swiss government decided to repatriate 1700 Sri Lankan Tamils seeking asylum after a 8-day Swiss Justice Dept. investigation in Sri Lanka concluded that "at present there is no discrimination against the Tamils".


"We all know about the 150 Sri Lankan Tamils who arrived in Canada after their famous ocean cruise. They could not sustain the lies they spouted, and ended up admitting the truth that they were there for economic reasons, that their ship had not originated in Sri Lanka but in Germany, and that they had not, been dumped overboard but had planned a strategy to make it appear that way. One interesting question that never seems to be asked is, "Why are all these refugees able-bodied young men?" Surely, if the situation in Sri Lanka is as horrendous as they make out, would they not want to protect their families? Would they not want to escape the country with their women and children....."?


"……..In fact, the simplest and most effective way to explain the absence of a young man is to say that the Security Forces arrested him and that he has disappeared. This explanation suits the terrorist groups, for it focuses the blame on the Security Forces and the international press and Amnesty International are immediately contacted for the prized mileage such publicity could bring the "cause"……"


"…..It is interesting to contrast the AI report on "Disappearances" with the 1986 report titled "Tamil Terrorism -Nationalism or Marxist " by Penelope Tremayne of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism, London. On page 12 is stated "The civil population, both Sinhala and Tamil were stampeded into believing any atrocity story, however obviously untrue, and neither journalist nor general public appeared to notice that there were very few Security Forces on the ground to carry out the rumoured atrocities. The Security Forces, badly armed and completely untrained, did not go on the senseless killing-spree attributed to them, but they lost their heads over and over again, and under attack, would fire at anything that moved. The terrorists meantime supplied themselves with uniforms like those of the Security Forces in which they found it easy to commandeer vehicles and carry out attacks for which the blame could be laid elsewhere. It was in this way that, for example, they drove into the town of Anuradhapura in May 1985 and killed 150 people. The report further states on page 16 "But, though accurate figures are hard to come by, it is clear that more Tamils have been killed by other Tamils than by the Security Forces.


"This aspect of Tamil involvement in killings and disappearances of their own people is ironically endorsed by an item in the Saturday Review of November 15, 1986. To quote from this: "Jaffna University undergraduates launched a fast Campaign on Thursday demanding the unconditional release of fellow undergraduate Vijitharan, who mysteriously disappeared...While all militant groups have categorically stated that they had nothing to do with Vijitharan's disappearance, the undergrads maintain that it is impossible for Vijitharan to disappear just like that, especially when Jaffna is under the firm control of the freedom fighters". Since that time the killings of hundreds of fellow Tamils due to in-fighting among the rebel groups has received extensive press coverage internationally.


It is clear that the Amnesty International investigation of the Sri Lankan situation was carried out with preconceived motives that prevented them from checking the accuracy of their facts. In fact it is obvious that the Tamils in Sri Lanka have taken the Amnesty International investigators for a ride, or, has the powerful Tamil lobby brought sufficient influence and pressure on Amnesty's report to give it the correct slant so as to influence donor countries in their attitudes regarding Aid to Sri Lanka? It is hoped that this is not the case, rather, that it is a reflection of inefficiencies that have affected an organization that has existed for nearly 25 years. Whatever its reasons, Amnesty has gone out of its way to give Sri Lanka extra special treatment that includes advertising in newspapers (The Washington Post), and billboards (Rhode Island Ave., Washington D.C.). This commercial slant has not been taken by AI in the handling of human rights abuses by any other country. It has taken the attack from research and reports to an entirely new area. Again, one has to ask, "Why? - Why are we in Sri Lanka singled out - what is the motive, when even South Africa was never attacked this way?" Is there some special influence pressuring this purpose that Amnesty finds hard put to turn down, and if so, who or what is the source of this influence?" (End of speech).


CONCLUSION


It is crystal clear from the flaws, contradictions and ambiguities in the many statements above, presented as "credible facts", that AI has forfeited the right to this credibility. This goes for the local NGOs as well who align themselves with the likes of AI. Hopefully, Mr. Shetty does not continue with "traditions" left behind by his predecessors.


Mr. Shetty’s assertion is that a "credible investigation" exists as it is possible to distinguish between bona fide civilians and combatants. This ability is unique to Mr. Shetty because such capabilities have failed all others; a fact admitted by the UNHRC in its OISL Report that stated in paragraph 1267: "Counting or estimating the exact number of civilian casualties during the different stages of the armed conflict is impossible…..".


The same problem exists with regard to distinguishing between "enforced disappearances" and the hundreds of thousands who sought asylum in foreign countries. These countries have already refused to co-operate with the Sri Lankan Government to establish their identities. However, just this week it was reported that a doctor had created burn marks on a Tamil refugee in order to support the latter’s allegation of torture by the SL Army.


Despite such existential realities, individuals such as Mr. Shetty - and there are too many of them - who make such incredibly stupid claims that cannot be fulfilled and are made purely for political capital, do a tremendous disservice to the Sri Lankan People because at the end of it all what is left is disappointment and resentment for building up their hopes. Therefore, the biggest service the likes of Mr. Shetty could do is apologize for asserting that he has a magic formula to ascertain the number of the dead and disappeared civilians through a so called "credible investigation ".


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...