Let there be transparency!
Posted on June 7th, 2012

Editorial The Island

Sri Lanka has come under tremendous international pressure to make public the findings of special presidential commissions, especially the one that probed the massacre of a group of 17 aid workers in Muttur in 2006. It continues to be hauled over the coals at international fora for not abiding by principles such as transparency. The UNHRC last March adopted a resolution at the behest of the US calling on Sri Lanka to address, inter alia, accountability issues related to its war on terror.

Now, the Sri Lankan government has got hold of something to bludgeon its critics with””…”””…”a vital yet unpublished document prepared by the UN country team here, whose findings run counter to the main thrust of the Darusman report prepared by an advisory panel appointed by the UNSG to study Sri Lanka’s accountability issues.

The UNSG’s panel has made the world believe that about 40,000 people perished during the closing stages of the Vanni war. But, according to the UN country report kept under wraps only 7,721 people died due to the conflagration including LTTE combatants during ten months from August, 2008 to May 13, 2009 in the war zone. The UN country team which ascertained information from religious dignitaries, the ICRC, UN workers in the Vanni and various NGO activists has estimated the number of the war wounded at 18,479. The onus is on UNSG Ban Ki-moon to explain the glaring discrepancies between the two reports, one by his advisors and the other by his staff.

The Darusman report contains very sensitive information covered by a confidentiality clause which prevents the witnesses’ identities from being revealed for a period of twenty long years. This is the very antithesis of the principle of transparency that the UN and the international community advocate. The UN is powerful enough to protect witnesses, and the western governments that are pushing for a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka could/should have given asylum to all the witnesses willing to give evidence against the Sri Lankan government/military and thereby ensured their protection, without invoking the controversial secrecy clause. Most of the western countries already have on their soil hundreds of thousands of LTTE activists openly campaigning against Sri Lanka and even preventing the Sri Lankan President on state visits there from attending public functions.

It is rather unbecoming of the UN chief and his advisors to hide behind a wall of secrecy in levelling war crimes allegations against a member state. The Darusman panel’s modus operandi is similar, in some respects, to the goni billa method used by the counter-terror units in the late 1980s in this country; they would put a sack with two holes over a ‘turned’ JVP activist’s head and order him to identify terror suspects brought before him. The informant was thus given carte blanche to have anyone killed without being identified. There were some goni billas who helped their erstwhile comrades in arms escape and had their rivals killed!

The Sri Lankan government has drawn heavy flak from the international community as well as the UN for pigeonholing commission reports, dragging its feet on the implementation of recommendations made by its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The UN should practise what it preaches and publish the contents of the report its country team has filed on incidents and casualty figures during the last ten months of Sri Lanka’s war. It cannot justify, on any grounds, its failure/refusal to do so. Will the advocates of transparency and fair play pressure the UN to release its own report? Let the world community’s right to information be respected!

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