Sri Lankan government’s spin exposed

On Wednesday 1 June a hearing on Sri Lanka at the European Parliament, titled ‘Will the perpetrators be brought to justice?’, which was a huge success.

Around the world almost all the Tamil and some English media reported this hearing in the positive manner it warranted. However, unfortunately and tellingly the media in Sri Lanka, based on the information provided by the Sri Lankan ambassador at the European Union, attacked the hearing as a “gimmick”.

Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha’s views on the 1 June hearing were carried on the front page of the website of the Embassy of Sri Lanka to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union and were sent around the press. Aryasinha attempts to ridicule the hearing as “a mere gimmick”. He further claims that: “The Nordic Greens, together with other Left parties played a leading role three weeks ago in moving for an ‘urgency’ resolution on Sri Lanka seeking the ‘immediate establishment of an international justice mechanism on Sri Lanka’ to give effect to the Darusman Report, which attempt was rejected in a formal plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 12.”

This information was then carried, exactly as dictated by the ambassador, in the The Island, Daily News, Asian Tribune, Lanka Gazette, Daily Mirror and in many other news papers and on blogs. Thus these publications expose both their support for the state the limitation sin relying on a dictatorial state to provide information.
Their reports tend to suggest that this 1 June hearing was organised because the GUE/NGL group was ‘annoyed’ that its earlier May motion was ‘defeated’.

Firstly, the hearing was organised a few weeks before the 12 May motion was even put to the Parliament so that is clearly not the case. Secondly, the motion was not defeated; it was not put to a vote. Compromise motions like this are normally passed without any difficulty. However, the other group’s motions still remain on the voting list to be voted on if the compromise were to be defeated but generally they never get voted on. The point of keeping them there is that the motion is put on the public record.

The Ambassador is clearly trying to suggest that GUE/NGL MEPs put down a motion that was defeated because MEPs support the government’s side of the story! He also managed to get the name of the group wrong!

But on 12 May a motion was actually passed by the European Parliament that was critical of the Sri Lankan government. True, during the debate a few right wing MEPs spoke in favour of the Sri Lankan government, including Charles Tannock, Conservative MEP for London and Conservative spokesperson for foreign affairs in Brussels.

The press release from the ambassador’s office, immediately after the resolution debate, quoting these right wing MEPs, falsely claimed that the motion was defeated. The press release also lied about what was said by Charles Tannock in the debate. In the Tamil Solidarity statement we gave Tannock’s exact quote to expose his attempt to cover up the massacre. (See http://www.tamilsolidarity.org/?p=1387).
Charles Tannock claimed that “the approach taken in the UN panel report seems to be undermining the efforts now taken by the government of Sri Lanka to promote truth and understanding not least through the LLRC [Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission]. And the government actually has released more than 200,000 detained prisoners”. But the Sri Lankan government’s press release, in an attempt to counter our statement, misquoted Tannock saying: “Dr Tannock, questioning the arguments made by the Socialists and Greens, asked ‘how any one could accuse the Sri Lanka Army for genocide or crimes against humanity when the same Army rescued more than 200,000 Tamil civilians from the LTTE and have now helped re-settle most of them’.”

Tannock relates the release of ‘200,000 detained prisoners’ as though it is acceptable to hold so many people in prison. Note also how the Sri Lankan government poses it as a ‘rescue’. This is just one example of the attempt to spin its way out of the war crime charges.

Furthermore the resolution debated on 12 May, despite its weakness, heavily criticised the Sri Lankan government. Paul Murphy MEP and many more who took part in the debate, as well as Tamil Solidarity, gave critical support to it. You can see the text at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2011-0242+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

In reporting the recent hearing and its important resolution the Sri Lankan government is once again factually wrong. It claims that it was ‘just’ the GUE/NGL group that supported the resolution discussed on 1 June. The chair of the parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee, Heidi Hautala, a Green MEP, was also a key speaker at this hearing. In fact her speech was very well received. She not only criticised the limitations of the 12 May motion but insisted that an ‘independent investigation’ into the allegations of war crimes is needed.

The 1 June hearing was extremely significant in a number of ways. It showed MEPs and international institutions that their inaction will not be tolerated by the oppressed Tamil masses. But it also showed them that if any serious action is organised to defend their rights the Tamil-speaking people will support it.
A resolution accepting the right to self-determination of the Tamil-speaking people has never been accepted at this level before.

That the resolution supported trade union rights is also significant as the current regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying to attack trade unions and their rights in order to push through anti-worker, pro-privatisation IMF-led policies. Almost as the hearing took place a young worker in one of the government’s free trade zones (FTZs – areas of concentrated exploitation) was killed by the Sri Lankan government. This killing took place during a protest against the so-called pension reforms.

The 1 June hearing also agreed to send a fact-finding delegation to Sri Lanka. Unlike some high-profile trips to Sri Lanka, which have seen visitors meeting government representatives, this delegation will attempt to talk to the victims and ordinary people. Their findings will be put to the Human Rights Sub-Committee and the UN human rights council as well as to the public.

These are very significant developments, which the government tries to play it down. Huge repression, including assassination has silenced much of the left and genuine press. Shamefully large parts of the media in Sri Lanka are acting as mouthpieces for the government’s propaganda to cover up its massacre. They not only carry the government’s lies and false information but also help to hide the war crimes. Meanwhile they refuse to carry information provided by Tamil Solidarity, which exposes their supposedly ‘independent’ reporting.

Prior to the hearing the The Island newspaper in Sri Lanka had done a so-called exposé of the Tamil Solidarity campaign (TSC). It reported that Tamil Solidarity was once known as Stop the Slaughter of Tamils, information gleaned from a “military source”! However this information is also available on the front page of the TSC website!

Why spin the story like this, implying that the TSC is a front for a ‘terrorist’ organisation except to alienate readers from TSC? Through such ‘reporting’ The Island helps to make a case for us to be silenced. Those who follow Tamil Solidarity’s activities closely know that the TSC has condemned the methods of individual terrorism while safeguarding the right to defend the rights of all people. We also appeal to all workers and poor, ie ordinary Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and upcountry people to join together, not only to bring down the current regime, but also to create a better society where the rights of Tamil-speaking people including the right to self-determination, will be upheld.

Furthermore, it should be added that those who participated in the hearing are very well-respected activists, campaigners, academics and advocates. They are not in anyway connected to ‘terrorist’ methods. Uniquely it brought together victims of the war in Sri Lanka, trade union activists, campaigners, politicians and academics.

If the Sri Lankan government was confident that what it was doing was correct then it should allow the GUE/NGL delegation to visit Sri Lankan and carry out its work without intimidation. If the Ambassador has any respect for democracy he should use this opportunity to assure the delegation that a visit will be facilitated and that access will be allowed to the camps etc so that the fact-finding delegation can act independently.

Instead the Sri Lankan government, through its lackies in the press, chooses to attempt to launch a smear campaign in an effort to deter war crimes allegations. However the determination and willingness to cooperate expressed by those at the 1 June hearing shows these tactics will not help them. This hearing marked a new stage in the struggle.

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