The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention

Posted on 06/01/2012

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“…the international community will wait till Tamil resistance is sufficiently weakened or annihilated before it attempts to ‘intervene’ on ‘humanitarian grounds’, and in seeming response to ‘world wide Tamil appeals’. Meanwhile the IC will even welcome such world wide appeals by Tamils as that will pave the way (and establish useful contact-points amongst the Tamil diaspora) for IC’s eventual intervention with ‘development aid’ with the mantra of not conflict resolution but ‘conflict transformation’.”

… human rights and humanitarian laws are more often than not, political instruments – instruments which States use selectively so that they may intervene to advance their own perceived strategic interests.

After all, the simplest thing that the international actors could have done to protect the Tamil people would have been to remove the ban on the LTTE, so that the capacity of the people of Tamil Eelam to resist the genocidal onslaught launched on them by Sinhala Sri Lanka may have been strengthened. The simple and humane thing that the international actors could have done was not to taunt the struggles against terrorism with the label ‘terrorism’. but to adopt a principle-centered approach which liberated political language and also helped to liberate a people who have taken up arms as a last resort in their struggle for freedom from oppressive alien Sinhala rule. …”

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The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention

Nadesan Satyendra
24 February 2009

The Sinhala-owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 22 February(2009) that the ‘donor Co-Chairs’ are working out a coalition humanitarian task force spearheaded by the United States, to evacuate civilians trapped in the fighting in the Vanni. It said –

“The purpose will be purely to facilitate the movement of civilians from the northeastern coast to a ship in the deep seas. This is for transfer to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) centres or hospitals outside the battle zones.”

The proposed transfer to IDP centres will need to be understood in the context of the London Daily Telegraph report of 13 February 2009 –

“(Sri Lanka) Officials have confirmed they will establish several “welfare villages” to house the estimated 200,000 Tamils displaced from their homes by the Sri Lankan army’s “final offensive” against the LTTE’s stronghold on the north of the Island. Senior officials have however confirmed that those housed in the villages will have no choice on whether to stay in the camps.”

It appears that what I wrote three weeks ago on 29 January 2009 in Sinhala Sri Lanka’s Genocide of Eelam Tamils – a Crime Against Humanity, is now coming to pass –

“…the international community will wait till Tamil resistance is sufficiently weakened or annihilated before it attempts to intervene ‘on humanitarian grounds’ and in seeming response to ‘world wide Tamil appeals’. Meanwhile the IC will even welcome such world wide appeals by Tamils as that will pave the way (and establish useful contact points amongst the Tamil diaspora) for IC’s eventual intervention with ‘development aid’ with the mantra of not conflict resolution but ‘conflict transformation’.”

It was the Buddha who said said that suffering is a great teacher. The Tamil people are being taught on the hard anvil of death and suffering appropriately enough in Buddhist Sri Lanka, that human rights and humanitarian laws are more often than not, political instruments – instruments which States use selectively so that they may intervene to advance their own perceived strategic interests.

Having banned the LTTE which was the armed resistance of the people of Tamil Eelam and which could have protected the people of Tamil Eelam against the genocidal onslaught by Sinhala ethno nationalism;

– having called upon the LTTE to surrender to those same armed forces so that Tamils may be saved from genocide;

– having failed to condemn the Sinhala army’s brutal genocidal attacks as genocide but on the contrary having armed and trained the Sinhala armed forces;

– having failed to condemn the shelling by Sri Lanka of self announced safety zones, which killed hundreds of Tamils and gravely injured many thousands more;

– having failed to prevent Sri Lanka’s deliberate targeting of hospitals;

– having refused to recognise that Sri Lanka’s resort to genocide was no accident but is directed to give Tamil civilians a clear message – ‘get away from the LTTE controlled areas or die’ and therefore a war crime;

– having failed to prevent Sri Lanka from ordering humanitarian organisations to leave the war-affected areas

– having failed to condemn Sri Lanka for preventing the media from entering these areas as deliberate actions directed to facilitate a genocidal war without witnesses;

– having refused to admit to the horrific truth that faced with the unity of a whole people in their struggle for freedom from alien Sinhala rule, Sri Lanka has resorted to the anti guerrilla strategy of the genocidal destruction of that people, in other words, the civilians, women and children;

– having suggested that Tamil civilians are ‘trapped in the fighting in the Vanni’ when in truth Tamil civilians are not ‘trapped in the fighting’ or in the crossfire but are being deliberately targeted and killed by Sri Lanka armed forces;

– having done all this –

the co-chairs now propose a ‘humanitarian operation’, assisted by the United States Pacific Command (US PACOM) to evacuate civilians ‘trapped in the fighting’ in the Vanni.

Meanwhile, India’s acting Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday 18 February(2009) that his Government had formally offered assistance including logistic support to evacuate civilians caught up in the battle zone. He said the Sri Lanka Government had accepted the offer based on the fact that it was coming from a ‘friendly country.’ Mr. Mukherjee’s concern for Tamil civilians would have been touching if not for his words in the Lok Sabha on 23 October 2008 –

“We have a very comprehensive relationship with Sri Lanka. In our anxiety to protect the civilians, we should not forget the strategic importance of this island to India’s interests,… especially in view of attempts by countries like Pakistan and China to gain a strategic foothold in the island nation…Colombo had been told that India would “look after your security requirements, provided you do not look around”. “We cannot have a playground of international players in our backyard.” – Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, 23 October 2008

At that time in October 2008, when Tamil civilians were being targeted and killed by Sinhala Sri Lanka’s armed forces which New Delhi had armed and trained, Mr.Mukherjee urged his Parliamentary colleagues that in their anxiety to protect Tamil civilians, they should not forget the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to India’s interests.

Now that Tamil villages have been bombed and shelled and Tamil civilians have been driven from their homes into so called ‘welfare villages’ which they cannot leave, and Tamil armed resistance to Sinhala rule has been weakened, Mr.Mukherjee has formally offered assistance to ‘friendly Sri Lanka’ to evacuate Tamil civilians somehow ‘caught up’ in the battle zone!

And Sri Lanka has accepted the offer coming as it does from a ‘friendly country’ which had been told by India that “we will look after your security concerns, if you do not look around.” After all what are good friends for if they cannot help each other in time of need.

Again predictably, the United Kingdom engaged in playing the soft spoken Jeff role has voiced its support for a call by Mexico for a briefing on the situation in Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council. The real politick nature of the whole exercise was exposed by Russia opposing the Mexico call. And one would imagine that Russia would not have acted without consultation with New Delhi. Given the changing dynamics of the US-India-China relations and an emerging bi polar world, it should not surprise if New Delhi had turned to its old friend Russia.

‘Humanitarian intervention’ to prevent the humanitarian tragedy that is taking place in the Tamil homeland, had it been early, would have been kind. But the belated attempts that are being made today expose not the humanitarian concerns of the international actors, but the strategic interests that impel the international actors to act the way they do.

After all the simplest thing that the international actors could have done to protect the Tamil people would have been to remove the ban on the LTTE so that the capacity of the people of Tamil Eelam to resist the genocidal onslaught launched on them by Sinhala Sri Lanka may have been strengthened. The simple and humane thing that the international actors could have done was not to taunt the struggles against terrorism with the label terrorism but to adopt a principle centered approach which liberated political language and also helped to liberate a people who have taken up arms as a last resort in their struggle for freedom from oppressive alien Sinhala rule.

Now that Tamil resistance has been weakened, international actors who have armed and trained Sinhala Sri Lanka’s genocidal armed forces believe that the time has come to respond to the ‘humanitarian disaster’ which they helped to create. They are concerned that more genocide will create thousands more martyrs. And they are right.

“…in martyrdom there is an incalculable spiritual magnetism which works miracles. A whole nation, a whole world catches the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart of all its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable resolution in the minds of all beside which all other hopes and interests fade into insignificance and until it is fulfilled, there can be no peace or rest for the land or its rulers.” Sri Aurobindo on the Strength of an Idea, 1907

“..But imagine it happens: Killinochchi is flattened, Mr P is dead, LTTE dissolved. Will the Tamil dream of a Tamil Eelam die? Of course not. It will be revived, and new cycles of violence will occur…” Conflict Resolution in Tamil Eelam – Sri Lanka: the Norwegian Initiative – Professor Johan Galtung, February 2007

Genocide is not the path to secure stability in the Indian Ocean region – as the self immolation of Muthukumar, Ravichandran, Thamil Venthan, Sivaprakasam and Murukuthasan show. But it is not only stability that the international actors are concerned with. Each of the international actors are also concerned to use the humanitarian disaster facing the people of Tamil Eelam to embed their own influence more securely in the island of Sri Lanka – and so they jockey amongst themselves as to how best to intervene. Each is concerned that if one does not, the other would. And it is not everybody who will welcome an intervention spearheaded by the United States Pacific Command (US PACOM). Hence the efforts to assemble a ‘coalition of the willing’. The US message to New Delhi was loud and clear: ‘We lead, you follow’. I said it some two years ago in Black Pebbles & White Pebbles

“…US and India may find common cause in ‘weakening’ the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom (and the LTTE) – but weaken it in such a way that thereafter each of them may successfully jockey (against each other) for position and influence in the Indian Ocean region. The ‘weakening’ in this context means the isolation and annihilation of Velupillai Pirabakaran and securing an LTTE under a ‘reformed’ leadership.”

The international actors may believe that a people who have been bombed, shelled, rendered homeless, starving and who have seen their near and dear die whilst they looked on helplessly, are also stupid – but the people of Tamil Eelam, whatever else they may be, are not stupid. Perhaps, some of the international actors may want to learn by taking time off to see Gillo Pontecorvo’s film Queimada (Burn!) – a film seen by many Tamils, young and old, in the Vanni. It is a film which “portrays, quite brilliantly, the nature of a guerrilla uprising.

Walker (the British mercenary) seems all too aware of the danger of a popular uprising, when he cautions the white rulers that …in killing a hero of the people, the hero ‘becomes a martyr, and the martyr becomes a myth.'”1

“…Walker, the British mercenary, pursues Dolores the rebel leader ruthlessly, burning half the island while uprooting and killing people, animals and vegetation in his path. He develops a theory that the guerrillas can be defeated only if the peasants among whom they take shelter and who supply them are burnt and driven out of all their villages. The vegetation and trees must be denuded since they too hide the rebels. The logic of defeating a popular movement is inexorably genocidal, entailing total devastation.

Dolores is finally captured and hanged, refusing Walker’s “offer” to escape. Dolores has learned that freedom must be seized in struggle. And he knows the offer to free him is designed to demonstrate his subordination. He also realizes that Walker, having smashed the rebellion, wants to avoid creating a martyr and a legend. Dolores, in cool defiance, prefers death as his fulfilment…

The young boy who guards the captured Dolores stays with him and provides Pontecorvo with a means of allowing Jose Dolores to give his ideas expression through dialogue. Jose Dolores does not assail his captor; he tries to inspire and convert him. He tells the young man that he does not wish to be released because this would only indicate that it was convenient for his enemy. What serves his enemies is harmful to him. “Freedom is not something a man can give you,” he tells the boy…

The last interview between Walker and Dolores is powerful. Walker desperately wishes to set Dolores free. Dolores refuses to speak to him. The camera focuses on the face of Brando who, having been superseded in his superiority and moral strength by Dolores as a mature revolutionary, cannot understand why a man would give up his life if he has a chance to escape. Dolores has purpose and meaning in his life. Walker by this time has none and only now is confronted, looking at the transformed Dolores, by what Pontecorvo has called “his own emptiness.” …

Pontecorvo zooms to Walker as he listens to Dolores’ final message which breaks his silence: “Ingles, remember what you said. Civilization belongs to whites. But what civilization? Until when?”

His business finished, Walker is stabbed to death on the dock by a porter a moment before embarking. The stabbing of Walker on his way to the ship by an angry rebel comes simultaneously with a repetition of the Algerian cry for freedom. Quemada’s people are awakened, emboldened, and irreconcilable. The camera pans to many worn faces, their rebellion unchecked and the example of Dolores burned into their consciousness.” Joan Mellen – Queimada – Gillo Pontecorvo’s Burn!, 1972

But, then again, it may be that the international actors have seen the film and that is why they are acting the way they do.
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Donor Co-Chairs working out “coalition humanitarian task force”

Sri Lanka Sunday Times, 22 February 2009

A Donor-Co-chair-backed humanitarian operation, spearheaded by the United States, to evacuate civilians trapped in the fighting in the Wanni is now taking shape.

A high-level team of the United States Pacific Command (US PACOM) from their headquarters in Hawaii is now in Colombo for this purpose. The exercise, The Sunday Times learns, will involve US military assets, including those of the Air Force and the Navy. The purpose will be purely to facilitate the movement of civilians from the northeastern coast to a ship in the deep seas. This is for transfer to IDP centres or hospitals outside the battle zones.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told The Sunday Time he was aware of the intended US led “coalition humanitarian task force” but could not give a date when it would be set up. He said yesterday that the Government was talking to member countries of the Donor Co-chairs on an individual basis.”

Mr. Bogollagama added: “we are also talking to several other friendly countries for civilian evacuation. They say they would always be comfortable with the direct involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carrying their flag with Government approval and supervision.” One such offer has come from India.

Their acting Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Lok Sabha (Parliament) in New Delhi on Wednesday that his Government had formally offered assistance including logistic support to evacuate civilians caught up in the battle zone. He said the Sri Lanka Government had accepted the offer based on the fact that it was coming from a “friendly country.”

Though the Government has accepted the humanitarian operation in principle, it is not immediately clear when the evacuation exercise will get under way. One of the factors the move hinges on, it is learnt, is the ground situation since the Army has now further intensified its military campaign to regain control of the remaining areas in the Mullaitivu district. Another is the finalisation and co-ordination of logistic details.

The initiatives of the Donor Co-chairs, consisting of the United States, Norway, Japan and the European Union, The Sunday Times learnt, has met with some initial difficulties. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has flatly rejected moves to allow the evacuation of civilians in the Mullaitivu district’s smaller areas which it is dominating. However, further contacts are under way.

In the light of serious concerns over civilian safety expressed by Donor Co-chairs as well as other countries and continued LTTE refusals, The Sunday Times learns, may force the Government to allow the humanitarian exercise to get under way notwithstanding LTTE objections.

However, such a move, highly placed defence sources said yesterday, would have to be after a close review of the ground realities. In the past few days, troops had made more territorial gains.

The re-capture of Puthukkudiyiruppu, now the guerrilla nerve centre, was a matter of days, these sources said.

Estimates of the number of civilians trapped in the battle zones vary from 125,000 to 75,000. This week there have been more complaints from those working for international agencies of LTTE firing at civilians to prevent them from moving to the newly-created Safety Zone. It lay on a thin stretch of land flanked by a lagoon on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.
Britain to back move against Lanka

The British Government has voiced its support for an earlier call by Mexico for a briefing on the situation in Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council.

Britain’s UN Ambassador John Sawers has told New York’s Inner City Press that his government was calling for a briefing on Sri Lanka. This was after the return to New York of UN’s humanitarian affairs chief, Sir John Holmes. He ended a visit to Colombo only yesterday. However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s spokesperson Michelle Montas told reporters at Friday’s noon briefing that Sir John would not be available for a Security Council briefing after his return.

He is to travel to Columbia. In Colombo, last Wednesday, the Cabinet rejected for a second time, a move by the British Government to name its former Defence Secretary Des Browne as special envoy to Sri Lanka.

Earlier, Mexico’s call for a Security Council briefing on the Sri Lanka situation was shot down by Russia.

The British envoy’s remarks come as Sri Lanka is due to figure at a number of international fora in the coming week.

Tomorrow, the European Union’s Foreign Ministers are expected to issue a strong statement on Sri Lanka. On Tuesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on developments in Sri Lanka. The US Government’s annual Human Rights Report is also due to be released in a fortnight.

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Source:  TamilNation.org

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