“We have to defend ourselves. You can’t risk the country…,” Rajapaksa said. “I’m talking about terrorists. Anything is fair.
“When the U.S. does operations, they say covert operations. When something is (done) in Sri Lanka, they call it abductions,” he added. “This is playing with the words.”
–Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother and Defense Ministry Secretary, on justifying last week’s expulsions of Tamils from Colombo
Read the entire article here. . .
As an American and a human rights advocate, I find this quote both disgusting and terrifying.
For those unaware, the government spontaneously decided, in the interest of “national security,” to forcibly expel anyone without a “valid” reason from the capital city on June 7. Naturally that validity was determined by government officials and included those who:
–wished to return but did not have the funds to do so.
–had no rationale for remaining in Colombo.
–said they were remaining in Colombo out of fear. (If there could be a Most Absurd Reason to Force People Back to a Conflict Zone Award, I think this should win.)
Starting at 4am, the government raided budget guesthouses in Tamil neighborhoods and forced 376 people onto buses. The people were not told where they were being taken, nor were they given food or water. If that sounds like a minor detail, you have obviously never spent a summer in south Asia. The people were taken to Vavuniya and Trincomalee, towns in the Northern and Eastern provinces, both of which are enveloped in the conflict.
What disgusts me as an American is the idea that my government’s actions are being used to justify the forced expulsions that involved such obvious ethnic discrimination and human rights violations.
What terrifies me as a human rights advocate is that I understand the connection Rajapaksa is making. The national security rationale superficially aligns itself with Bush’s preventive war doctrine. And we need only remember the “shipping containers” to think that perhaps the methods Bush used to target Arab people and send them to Guantanamo Bay are even worse.
Some part of me instinctively wants to deny the connection, and I actually do think the situations differ. But the fact that the connection was ever made in the first place demonstrates how dangerous Bush’s policies have become and the international precedent they set.
But they are different. Notwithstanding my disgust for the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and anything else relating to Gitmo, Rajapaksa was incorrect when he stated that the difference between two situations is merely wordplay.
In a nutshell, the US claiming to be in the midst of an international armed conflict while Sri Lanka claims to be in an internal armed conflict makes a huge difference.
An armed conflict can be internal or international according to international law. An internal conflict invokes only certain aspects of international humanitarian law, namely those which call for the protection of civilians. However, an international armed conflict between states invokes all of international humanitarian law, including all of the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war and treatment of POWs.
According to Bush, fighting Al-Qaeda is no different than fighting any nation-state in a war. Al-Qaeda operatives are “enemy combatants” rather than traditional soldiers, and the US is employing a lawful use of force by responding to terrorist attacks in self-defense. Therefore the detentions are justified for the same reason we would detain POWs during a war under the Geneva Conventions of international humanitarian law. Yes, this is a huge grey area with many legal questions. But these are discussed by people far more knowledgeable than I.
My point is: Bush claims his war on terror to be an international conflict; thus the international humanitarian law doctrine applies.
The government of Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has never claimed the conflict with the LTTE is international. To do otherwise would give the LTTE exactly what they want: recognition of an independent state of Tamil Eelam. Even if the government did not recognize a separate state fighting for independence, they would at minimum be acknowledging that the LTTE has moved beyond an insurgency or rebel group.
So according to the Sri Lankan government, there are no soldiers/POWs/enemy combatants because the LTTE is not a legitimate military force in the conflict. The LTTE is a non-state party in an internal conflict.
In other words, if Rajapaksa wants to equate Sri Lankan abductions with US covert operations, he must first declare his own conflict international – therein giving the LTTE exactly what they want. He must ‘cut off his nose to spite his face’ so to speak.
What the Sri Lankan government did last Thursday is unequivocally wrong. They violated a number of fundamental human rights (freedom of movement, equality, freedom from ethnic discrimination, forced to return to areas of conflict) without being able to make any argument, however weak Bush’s own argument may be, that these people are enemy combatants.
It is very difficult to imagine anyone successfully arguing that the people in the picture below (from Reuters) could be enemy combatants anyway.
Actually it is very difficult to imagine them being anything other than the innocent civilians that they are.
Posted By Madeline England
Posted Jun 15th, 2007