2m2ba #4: Killings and cover-ups

Jerome Starkey of the London Times published a great piece of reporting yesterday about an incident in Afghanistan’s Paktia province on February 12 when U.S. Special forces gunned down two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother in their home– and then “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened… ”
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent follow-up today in which he gives extensive details of how successful the cover-up was. Well, it was especially successful in that the military concocted a cover-up story–as shown in this NATO press release from the time– and then most of the US MSM just swallowed that whole story completely and regurgitated it without trying to do any independent reporting.
The NATO cover-up story was particularly odious because it blamed the U.S.’s opponents for the killings and quoted NATO/ISAF’s Canadian spokesman as saying,

    “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.”

He should resign.
Greenwald noted that the only independent reporting that came out at the time was performed by AP and by Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news agency created in Afghanistan to enable war reporting by Afghans.
Late on Sunday night, the U.S. military command in Kabul finally admitted that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
This news comes out at the same time that Wikileaks, yesterday, published some extremely disturbing footage, shot from a U.S. attack helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007, that shows the chopper’s gunners gunning down a group of around 7-8 people who appear to be relaxedly standing and walking in a street. The group included two TV cameramen for Reuters. It seems the troops on the chopper thought the cameras were weapons– but no-one shown o the video looks as though they’re in any kind of combat stance.
Reuters has been trying since 2007 to get the military to release the video. Wikileaks does not say how it got it.
On the video, the U.S. troops later fire at a van that comes to pick up a wounded survivor from the assault. Then, as U.S. ground troops arrive, one of their voices on the intercom is laughing about having driven over a body.
All these revelations that keep coming out about the strong propensity of U.S. (and Israeli) troops to engage in excessive violence, and the propensity of their respective high commands to cover up that fact, underline a couple of important lessons:

    1. Armed conflict is always violent, and extremely damaging to anyone who is in the war zone. No matter how often they tell us about “pinpoint accuracy”, “smart weapons”, and so on, the vast majority of the violence involved in armed conflict is brutal and anything but “pinpoint”.
    2. Armed conflict always also brutalizes those sent out to engage in it. And it brutalizes people more and more over time, as acts that earlier are seen as taboo or “exceptional” progressively become more and more routine. Time was, in Israel, the military would rigorously investigate the cause of every death-in-conflict of a Palestinian. Then it stopped doing that. Then it started acting as if extrajudicial executions could be considered as “just routine”…

Using violence to try to resolve differences is outrageous, and barbaric. All of us who live in countries that claim to respect human life and human liberties should renounce it. Guess what, we do now have international institutions that, if further strengthened, could help us resolve all the world’s big conflicts without recourse to war.

The “Piece Church”

One wonders what the “Prince of Peace” would have to say about “bringing a piece” to Church. Tonight, the New Bethel Church, in Louisville, Kentucky will be “packing it (guns) in the pews” to “celebrate our rights as Americans.”
That’s right, Pastor Ken Pagano is urging his flock to bring their weapons to his Assemblies of God church. Talk about “fire and brimstone.” Open guns must be unloaded; concealed firearms … well, they won’t be checked.
An AG Professor friend who knows Ken Pagano tells me that Pagano is a reasonable, well-educated conservative chap. (with a Doctorate of Ministry) My friend suspects this event to be more about publicity to attract new members to a small church. Indeed, Pagano has received much media attention, even appearing on Fox News.
Pagano asserts that he wants to celebrate how “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” that if we didn’t have guns, we wouldn’t have America. Any proceeds from a “raffle” at his bring-your-guns-to-church-day, he says, will “go to charity.” (Would that be the NRA?)
Pagano says he wants to start a dialogue, that he just wants to “promote responsible gun ownership,” that he is open to considering other approaches. Then again, who would want to “dialogue” with someone toting a semi-automatic machine gun?
I wonder too about the fears driving this. We’ve heard about horrible shootings in churches lately. The solution isn’t to bring more “pieces” into the church, but more peace. If matters get really bad, then metal detectors and security. The notion of weapons in a modern sanctuary “creeps me out” — as a person of faith. I wonder too if there’s a good bit of ole’ time southern revanchism afoot here, as I’ve heard all too much “chatter” about “the black man who is going to take away our guns.”
Pagano apparently revels in the attention and is undaunted by the few criticisms he’s heard: “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”
On that point, Pagano does not know his own church’s history. Until 1967, the Assemblies of God Church was officially an antiwar, pacifistic, and peace-seeking church; even today, youth from that church are able to claim “conscientious objector” status. (though very few do)
For more on this lesser known history, I recommend a new book by Paul Alexander: PEACE TO WAR: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Alexander chronicles how the former peace church (among the fastest growing worldwide) devolved into a war church — and suggests how it might yet reclaim a middle position, for the sake of its own witness.
Paul Alexander, a Professor at Azuza Pacific University, deserves a wide reading in “charismatic” circles — his book was even favorably reviewed by Amos Yong of (Pat Robertson’s) Regent University.
Alexander runs a new organization called, “Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.” (strange as that may sound to those who recall my lament about “the mother of all sermons” here at JWN” ) Alas, I doubt his influence is felt very far – yet. Shunned by the AG and mega-evangelical presses, his book was jointly published by two Mennonite Houses. (kudos to Cascadia & Herald)
As for tonight’s gun-fest, cameras are banned, to protect the “privacy” of the gun owners. No doubt. Maybe one of those courageous Iranian protesters with cell cameras can get a peek for us?
As far as I know, the Assemblies of God church hierarchy has remained muzzled about Pagano. The silencer ought to be removed. Or are guns and war the only “fire” left in the soul of the Pentecostal church these days?

Faux nonviolence ‘missionaries’– and the real thing

Kathy Kelly, no doubt about it, is the real thing. In the 1990s, as one of the leading lights of ‘Voices in the Wilderness’, she made repeated visits to Iraq to document the mass-scale suffering caused by the excruciatingly long-lived US-UK (UN) sanctions campaign waged against the country… In 2003, she was there as a voluntary human witness/shield as the US started its completely illegal invasion of the country.
Now, small surprise, she’s in Gaza, from where she recently penned this amazing piece of testimony. She says people often ask her “how do the Gazans survive?” But she says she finds a happy resilience among many of the children– and turns the question around and asks her fellow-citizens of the US how we survive, knowing the degree of our government’s complicity in Israel’s atrocities.
Then, brilliantly, she asks us to imagine what size of a “tunnel” would be needed to trans-ship all the arms the US has supplied to Israel:

    Think of what would have to come through.
    Imagine Boeing’s shipments to Israel traveling through an enormous underground tunnel, large enough to accommodate the wingspans of planes, sturdy enough to allow passage of trucks laden with missiles. According to UK’s Indymedia Corporate Watch, 2009, Boeing has sent Israel 18 AH-64D Apache Longbow fighter helicopters, 63 Boeing F15 Eagle fighter planes, 102 Boeing F16 Eagle fighter planes, 42 Boeing AH-64 Apache fighter helicopters, F-16 Peace Marble II & III Aircraft, 4 Boeing 777s, and Arrow II interceptors, plus IAI-developed arrow missiles, and Boeing AGM-114 D Longbow Hellfire missiles,
    In September of last year, the U.S. government approved the sale of 1,000 Boeing GBU-9 small diameter bombs to Israel, in a deal valued at up to 77 million.
    Now that Israel has dropped so many of those bombs on Gaza, Boeing shareholders can count on more sales, more profits, if Israel buys new bombs from them from them. Perhaps there are more massacres in store. It would be important to maintain the tunnel carefully…

Okay, so in terms of courageous and principled nonviolence activism, Kathy Kelly is undoubtedly the real thing. Go read the whole of that brilliant essay of hers.
And then there are the numerous, extremely ignorant and patronizing liberal hawks, in the US and perhaps also elsewhere, people like Tom Friedman or Nick Kristof, who “preach” to the Palestinians– safely and from a great distance– that they really “ought” to adopt Gandhian principles in their struggle.
Here’s what really irritates me about such people:

    1. They are ignorant, arrogant, racist, and defamatory. They give no recognition whatsoever, nothing, nada, that the Palestinians already have a very lengthy record of mass nonviolent action! (Just yesterday I found this amazing history of portions of the movement, written by former Palestinian minister Abdel-Jawad Saleh.) Instead, the Friedmans and Kristofs of this world just lazily buy into, and through their writings further perpetuate, the racist and defamatory notion that all the Palestinians have ever done at the political level thus far– or very nearly all– has been to use violence…
    (Also on the ignorance front, these people never seem to have read the passages in which Gandhi says that any kind of resistance to imperial oppression– even if it is violent resistance– is better than no resistance… but nonviolent resistance is even better.)
    2. These people have no personal credibility as “apostles of nonviolence.” Here’s my litmus-test: Do these apostles/missionaries of nonviolence have any track record of working publicly within their own countries to oppose the militarism of its policies, or those of its allies? If so, then they could have some credibility talking about these issues to other people. But have you ever seen Tom Friedman join an antiwar march or otherwise lend the support of his well-known name to antiwar movements at home? … No, neither have I. So why should anyone listen to him when he goes and preaches (his version of) Gandhi-ism to people living in circumstances very far removed from his own? By their deeds shall ye know them…

Well, pardon the rant. I guess I should have made this into two posts. One on the Friedmans of this world and the other on Kathy Kelly. Her work is so much more interesting and constructive than his!

One Virtuous Man

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
In the late 1960’s a fellow officer of mine, an African-American, call him Captain Em, was quite upset that Dr. King had come out against the Vietnam War. King, Captain Em stated to me, was fully justified in seeking better civil rights but he had no business commenting upon the foreign policy of the United States, particularly the righteous campaign in Vietnam (which was to result in the deaths of 58,000 US troops, average age of 19, and millions of Vietnamese). I disagreed with Captain Em, but at the time I wasn’t sure why. Now I know better.
What are the responsibilities of citizenship, after all?
Henry David Thoreau, at a time when the US was invading Mexico, wrote about the functions of good citizenship in his essay on Civil Disobedience.

    What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes the petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.

Dr. King, like Tolstoy and Gandhi, was familiar with Thoreau’s work, and also was particularly influenced by “Civil Disobedience.” So when King decided in 1967 to oppose the Vietnam War he was prepared for the enmity that naturally came from his regular supporters such as Captain Em. Thoreau had warned him:

    And very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

Dr. King delivered his little-known speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.

Continue reading “One Virtuous Man”

Tewks: “Let the Children Dance”

I recently highlighted Gina Bennett’s National Security Mom, with it’s marvelous drawing from the “lessons we teach our children” to understand national security.
I’ve been wondering then what lessons Israel has been purporting to teach to the children of Gaza. Is this the message of the iron fist, that if you dare to mess with Israel, you will be pounded, mercilessly, until you submit? That seems to be logic of Tom Friedman’s latest column, wherein he invokes the “success” of Israel’s pounding of Lebanon in 2006 to explain Israel’s Gaza “strategy:”

“Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future….That was the education of Hezbollah.”

In Gaza, Friedman can’t quite tell “if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population.”
Friedman favors “educating” those civilians who would vote for Hamas. He prefers that Israel not “obliterate” them. How magnanimous.
We’re now past 1,000 Gazans dead, including over 300 children. With Gazans now properly “educated,” Friedman deems the time for “diplomacy” with them is at hand
But what lessons have the surviving children learned? Are they now more likely to submit to Israel’s will or turn in despair to very violent means?
As I have struggled with such madness, I came across a lyric from a rising Charlottesville singer/thinker, David Tewks: I post his blog preface and song with his permission.

Continue reading “Tewks: “Let the Children Dance””

Violence in Mumbai, love at home

My condolences to all who have lost loved ones to the terrorist violence in Mumbai. Most of those killed and wounded have reportedly (and not surprisingly) been Indians. But tens of westerners, including US citizens, Brits, and Israelis have also been killed, many of them having reportedly been directly targeted. Each life lost is equally shocking. Each is a loss to the universe.
I’ve had the huge joy of spending much of the past two days with my one-month-old grand-daughter, Matilda. Holding her, and breathing in her baby softness, is a wonderful and restoring thing to do in a world marked by far too much violence. She is so special in every single way. And she has two extremely devoted and capable parents.
But as I appreciate this little person’s special-ness, I am also acutely aware that in a sense she ‘represents’ every other baby, every other person in the world.
All should be equally loved and equally supported.
Unimaginable to think that a baby like her could be targeted for punishment if she happened to be in Mumbai, or in Gaza, or D.R. Congo at this time. Our world is a terrible fractured place. Fractured mainly by the woundedness of all those who wish– and do– violence to others.
Hatred can only ever be overcome by love.

Defining ‘winning’

I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about war and its unwinnability. I’ve been thinking a lot more about this, and I want to clarify that in those writings I was referring primarily to wars being won or not won in the traditional military sense of “winning”– that is, that the victorious country is able to either destroy or defeat (that is an important distinction, right there) the armed forces of the opposing side and thereby to impose its own political will on the defeated country.
It is that “thereby” that seems increasingly– or perhaps in some cases, completely– unattainable these days.
Destruction– yes, that has certainly occurred. In Iraq in 2003, the Saddam-era armed forces were first defeated and then completely disbanded. In Lebanon in 2006, the Israelis were never able to destroy Hizbullah– but they were able to sow massive amounts of destruction on the country’s vital infrastructure, including on an entire, quite sizeable chunk of the South Beirut Dahiya.
But despite* that level of destruction, Israel was unable to defeat Hizbullah– which it had sought to achieve by imposing its will on the government of Lebanon, and forcing Beirut to crack down on Hizbullah.
And in Iraq in and since 2003, even though the US was able to defeat and enitrely disband the Saddam-era armies it has still been incapable of imposing its will on the Baghdad government.
So traditional, military kinds of victory have not been attainable in these two cases.
That’s why I want to shift the policy discussion to a different, much richer and more human-centered definition of “victory”. This is one that would flow quite naturally from the principles of human security, which include, crucially, the two principles that:

    1. True security in the modern age is people-centered, rather than addressing the needs/desires of nation states to defend their territory against aggression from outside (or from competing national claims to the same terrain,) and
    2. The human security of all the peoples of the world is interdependent: increasing the human security of any one group of people increases the human security of all others; and decreasing the human security of any one group decreases the security of all others. That is, unlike in the traditional, “nation-state” model of security, human security is a matter of win-win synergies, rather than a zero-sum game.

Therefore, to “win” in human-security terms in Iraq or Afghanistan would involve looking primarily at the human security situation of the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, and certainly not at the narrow national interests of any outsiders. And if the human security situation of the peoples of those two countries can be significantly and durably improved, then that helps increase the true security of everyone else, from close neighbors to people in distant countries like Europe or the United States.

    (By the way, I wanted to provide a link here to the 2003 final report of the UN’s “Commission on Human Security.” But it looks as though someone forgot to renew the Commission’s domain name, http://www.humansecurity-chs.org/, so you can’t find it there any more. Can anyone tell me where else this report might be lodged and thus available to the web-prowling public?… Update August 1: Thanks to commenter Charles Cameron who told us that the text has been archived here. It’s a pretty large PDF file. Ch. 1 strikes me as particularly crucial, since it lays out the theoretical approach of HS.)

* Although I wrote “despite” that level of destruction, it also seems clear to me that, in the case of Lebanon 2006, it was precisely because of the level of destruction that the IDF sowed throughout Lebanon that Israel was unable to impose its political goals on Beirut. In other words, the “Shock and Awe” aspects of Israel’s attack proved actively counter-productive…

Kenya: Life, death, and unknowing when things fall apart

If you want to know what actually happens in communities that get caught up in a paroxysm of inter-group violence, and what it feels like to live in such a community, go over to the Kenyan Peacework blog today and read this post from Dave Zarembka, a US Quaker who lives with his Kenyan Quaker wife Gladys in Kipkarren River, in western Kenya.
All of Dave’s emails about the violence that has swept Kenya since the deeply contested January 27 election have been posted on the KP blog (which I earlier wrote about here), and are worth reading. In this one he writes, in particular, about the role played in fomenting the climate of violence– and the commission of actual acts of horrendous violence– by the rapid spreading of fear-inducing rumors and the parallel spreading of great clouds of unknowing.
He gives several examples of this, and reports several things that have been happening in his town in the past couple of days. Including this:

    In Chekalini, the area where Florence lives, the high school is now the internally displaced person’s camp for about 1000 Luhya who have fled the violence in Nakuru and Naivasha. Like the Kikuyu IDP’s here, they have lost everything. More are coming all the time as they are being forced out of Central Province as being non-Kikuyu. So soon we are having another humanitarian disaster. A man stopped me on the road during my morning walk through town and said that it was not fair that the Kikuyu were getting relief and the others were not. At that time I did not understand since I did not know that so many internal refugees had showed up in Lugari. Lugari is the closest Luhya District on the main road through Eldoret so I suspect that many of these people will stop here.
    None of this, of course, is reported by the media since no one has reporters of any kind in the area. Are those who have died in Lugari District accounted for in the national total which
    is now officially 850? I doubt that many of them are. There are hundreds and hundreds of little places like Lumakanda, Turbo, and Kipkarren River. What is the real truth of what is happening in all these communities?

He ends with this:

    So truth, the reality of what actually is happening around you is difficult to grasp because all those normal markers you have about your surroundings are suspect. It is so easy to be “sucked in” by rumors. And yet to understand the dangers around you, you have to listen to others.

Dave is an incredibly fearless guy and a valuable witness for us all there. He reports that another US Quaker, Eden Grace, has been evacuated from Kisumu to Nairobi with her family, but he himself seems thus far intent on staying where he is.
Send Dave and Gladys a thought or a prayer. Read (and perhaps send your comments to) that blog post there at KP. Circulate that post or other KP posts to all your friends who might be interested. And do whatever you can, wherever you are, to urge your government to work with Kenya’s people to restore calm, security, and hope to a country now bleeding badly from this internal violence.

On desertions and conscientious objection

The rate of desertions from the US army “skyrocketed” during the 12-month period ending September 30, according to this report in the semi-official Army Times. Reporter William McMichael noted that 4,698 soldiers were declared deserters during that year (which, in US government parlance is known as “Fiscal Year 2007”.)
He wrote that that was a 42.3% increase over FY2006– and “More disturbingly, the pace of Army desertions appears to have increased even during fiscal 2007: 63.6 percent of the year’s 4,698 desertions were recorded from April through September, according to Army data.”
He added this:

    The Army has borne the brunt of the contentious Iraq war. Thousands of troops are on their second, third and even fourth deployments. Soldiers currently deploy to Iraq for 15 months and come home for 12; leaders at all levels lament the lack of “dwell time,” saying troops need more time to rest and reconnect with families as well to properly train for the next deployment.
    Troops in mobilized, deployed and deploying units who have reached the end of their enlistment contracts fall under the ongoing “stop-loss” program and cannot be discharged.
    That strain largely explains the rise in desertions, said Lawrence Korb, formerly a senior Pentagon personnel official in the Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “It’s a combination of not enough dwell time, and having to go back [to the war] as well as the type of people you’re taking in,” Korb said.
    The increased rate of desertions in fiscal 2007’s second half, he said, coincided with the surge of troops sent to Iraq. “A lot of them probably didn’t want to go back,” Korb said. “And don’t forget, you’ve lowered your standards of people you’re taking in.”
    In an effort to boost recruiting, the Army granted moral waivers for past criminal behavior to 11.6 percent of new recruits in fiscal 2007, and accepted more recruits who dropped out of high school or scored low on entrance tests.
    … Desertion is a felony, punishable by death under military law if committed in wartime.
    While it’s still treated seriously, that maximum punishment may be a thing of the past. The last service member executed for desertion was Pvt. Eddie Slovik, who was shot by a firing squad in France on Jan. 31, 1945, following his conviction for desertion under fire.
    … A death penalty for desertion “obviously has struck [military] convening authorities and juries as excessive,” said Eugene Fidell, an attorney specializing in military law who is president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “We rely more on positive incentives for our personnel to remain with their units, rather than fear of death.”

On a related (though dissimilar) note, I want to once again draw attention to the website of Quaker House, in Fayetteville, NC, which counsels individuals seeking to register their conscientious objection to participation in war. The website has been upgraded a lot over the past couple of years: it has a large amount of very informative material on it.
Including the numbers for the “G.I. Rights Hotline”: +1-877-447-4487 (toll-free) and +1-919-663-7122.
One of the cases Quaker House worked on was the application of Jeremy Hinzman for asylum in Canada, on the grounds that he would face persecution in the US on account of his (mid-service) application for CO status in 2002 and his subsequent refusal to be shipped to Iraq. Yesterday, however, the relevant court in Canada turned down the asylum applications from Hinzman and fellow CO, Brandon Hughey, and today the Candian Supreme Court refused to hear the two men’s appeal against that judgment.
These are tragic stories that involve serious issues of principle as well as families bing torn apart and men being punished for trying to follow the dictates of their conscience.
All the more reason, then, to strengthen the campaign to bring the troops home now and– most certainly– not to launch the US military into yet another (quite avoidable) military maelstrom any time soon, or indeed ever. War wreaks terrible things on everyone who is involved in it, whichever end of the gun barrel they stand.

Sri Lanka: Asia’s Darfur?

    The revived and very violent civil war in Sri Lanka is another world event that seems to have slipped off the scope of most of the US mainstream media. For that reason, I am glad I am able to publish the following, very disturbing account of the situation there. ~HC

by Rageen Joseph and Prashanth Parameswaran

“Either help us, or give us poison so we can kill ourselves,” cry aging Tamil mothers in war-torn Northern Sri Lanka. “The only difference between us and dead people is that we are breathing,” claims an internally displaced man in the East.
These and other similar stories have been reported both through direct conversations and stories broadcast by the BBC Tamil language service. Civilians have grown weary of the violence between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but that cannot prevent it.
Since 1983, over 70,000 people have been killed; virtually the total population in the North and East has been displaced over the last two decades with thousands missing. Meanwhile, the international community has offered only minor mediation. Outside pressure and increased international monitoring is required to restore basic rights for Tamil civilians. With more than 5000 killed since December 2005, and disappearances, extra-judicial executions, and unlawful killings occurring every day, the violence has been getting more extreme.
In Vauniya, a government-controlled area in the North, armed and masked Sri Lankan soldiers spread fear and intimidation, demanding identity cards from Tamils at gunpoint. At night in government controlled areas, the Karuna group and other paramilitaries enter houses, holding randomly selected families at knifepoint while they rob, brutalize, and sometimes kill family members. In the past, civilians have been able to live through periods of violence without being brutalized, but recently both sides have assaulted the civilian population as part of their psychological warfare.
In the rebel-controlled Vanni region, people expect shelling and aerial bombardment without warning, while economic embargo leaves many without food and medicine. Without allowing civil dissent, the Tigers forcibly recruit one member from each Tamil family to join the armed struggle, a retired government employee reports. Temporary safety is found only in refugee camps. They provide food and some protection from attack, but no one can stay there for more than a few days. Some are soon sent back into conflict zones.
In East Batticaloa, school children go unconscious when the government forces use nearby playground to launch rockets and other artillery. At a hospital close to this launch site, patients collapse from the fear caused by the violent shaking of the buildings. Sometimes, rockets fall into civilian areas killing many people. In refugee camps in the North and East, shelter is a plastic sheet on the burning hot sand. Thousands of aid workers have withdrawn due to the violence and insufficient supplies.
More than 27 aid workers were killed in Sri Lanka since April 2006. On June 1, 2007, two Red Cross workers were abducted from Sri Lanka’s main railway station in Colombo and executed miles away. This happened despite government checkpoints in every block. Following recent Tamil Tigers bombing in Colombo, Sri Lankan government expelled hundreds of Tamils from the capital city until they were stopped by the Supreme Court. According to Sir. John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordination, Sri Lanka has become the most dangerous place on earth for humanitarian workers. He has called on the government to probe civil war abuses and consider an international rights monitoring mission.
Monitoring and mediation are stymied by Sri Lankan government officials trumpeting national sovereignty, but a state’s sovereignty flows from the ability to protect citizens. Legitimacy is lost when human rights violations are committed with tacit state approval. No matter which party committed the atrocities against Tamil civilians, the government is responsible to prosecute the perpetrators, a former Sri Lankan foreign minister has stated.
A mission to provide international monitoring has been proposed by EU nations, local and international human rights groups, and senior UN officials. The effort would be coordinated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This mission would supersede the government’s Commission of Inquiry – which has not prosecuted anyone.
The appointment of a US or UN special envoy to Sri Lanka would demonstrate genuine concern. Many nations have advocated this, and 38 lawmakers in the Sri Lanka Caucus of the U.S. Congress, urged this action in a letter to President Bush in February. The Sri Lankan government has opposed the measure, so diplomatic pressure is needed. The May 2007 visit to Sri Lanka by Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher was not enough. Continuing events show his visit changed nothing. Recently, Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group warned that the situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating to that extent where large-scale atrocities – Cambodia-style, Rwanda-style, Srebrenica–style, Kosovo-style– have occurred. Mr. Evans said “…Sri Lanka is anything but a Responsibility to Protect (R2P). So it is an R2P situation which demands preventive action by the wider international community to ensure that further deterioration does not occur.”
Under the Leahy Law, the U.S. is prohibited from providing aid to any foreign military personnel engaged in human rights abuse. Yet, the US government continues to train Sri Lankan troops, disregarding human rights violations. To add to the problem, the Bush administration signed a military cooperation agreement with the Sri Lankan government in March 2007.
Lost in the international humanitarian inaction is the voice of Tamil civilians. Whether in refugee camps, government areas or rebel territory, civilians can find no relief from this war. Despite the conflict, people deserve basic rights. If the world does not hear their cries, Sri Lanka becomes not only the Asian Darfur but it forces Sri Lanka Tamils into virtual servitude as a permanently dominated, oppressed, and exploited minority without political rights of self-determination.
Rageen Joseph is a recent graduate from University of Virginia and a humanitarian worker in Sri Lanka involved in several relief programs.
Prashanth Parameswaran is a senior at the University of Virginia. He is a columnist for the school newspaper and an editor of several research journals.