India was accused yesterday of complicity in the killing of an estimated 20,000 civilians in the last stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year war against the Tamil Tigers.
Major-General Ashok Mehta, a former commander of Indian peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka, said that India’s role was “distressing and disturbing”. Two international human rights groups said that India had failed to do enough to protect civilian lives.
“We were complicit in this last phase of the offensive when a great number of civilians were killed,” General Mehta, who is now retired, told The Times. “Having taken a decision to go along with the campaign, we went along with it all the way and ignored what was happening on the ground.”
Despite being home to 60 million Tamils, India has provided Sri Lanka with military equipment, training and intelligence over the past three years, diplomatic sources told The Times. More controversially, it provided unwavering diplomatic support and failed to use its influence to negotiate a ceasefire for civilians to escape the front line, they said.
India joined a bloc led by China and Russia at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council last week to thwart a proposal for a war crimes inquiry, and instead supported a resolution praising Sri Lanka. In January India voted in favour of a war crimes inquiry into Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip, which killed an estimated 926 civilians.
General Mehta said that the Indian Government, led by the Congress Party, wanted to counterbalance China and Pakistan, its main regional rivals, which had each increased arms sales to Sri Lanka in the past few years. It also wanted to avenge the Tigers’ assassination in 1991 of Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister and late husband of Sonia Gandhi, the current Congress leader, he said.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that neither reason justified failing to act when the Red Cross warned of an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”. India “could have saved many lives if it had taken a proactive position — and it would not have affected the outcome of the war,” he said.
Sam Zarifi, Asia Pacific director of Amnesty International, said: “India . . . simply chose to support the [Sri Lankan] Government’s notion that it could kill as many civilians as it would take to defeat the Tigers.”
India says that it provided Sri Lanka with non-lethal military equipment and sent officials repeatedly to persuade the Government to protect civilians. “We’ve consistently taken the line that the Sri Lankan Government should prevent civilian casualties,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
However, President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka told NDTV: “I don’t think I got any pressure from them. They knew that I’m fighting their war.”
Mr Rajapaksa told The Week magazine that he planned to visit Delhi next month to thank Indian leaders. “India’s moral support during the war was most important,” he said.
Diplomats, human rights activists and analysts say that Delhi either did not use its full diplomatic force or, more likely, gave Colombo carte blanche to finish the war. India’s only real concerns, they said, were that the conflict should not create a flood of refugees to India. Some raised questions about Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat, who is chief of staff to Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General. The Times revealed last week that Mr Nambiar knew about but chose not to make public the UN’s estimate that 20,000 civilians had been killed, mostly by army shelling.
India comlicit in recent Sri Lanka (SL) war crimes
Sri Lankan case is a classic ‘how to’ guide book on committing the worst human rights crimes and still escape criminality. All the invaluable work on SL’s human rights crimes done by UNHRC and other mandated Human rights groups were brought to naught (even a preliminary investigation was killed off thanks to Delhi) at the May Council meeting with Delhi exploiting the Council’s weakness as presently constituted. Delhi involvement in the SL genocide explains its intense interest in seeking such an outcome.
UNHRC and related Hunan Rights groups used their commendable field work and statements/reports to successfully prosecute the world’s most renowned human rights abusers/criminals. In SL’s case Human Rights groups reported ‘unacceptably high’ civilian deaths and ‘politically motivated massacres of surrendering Tamil Tiger fighters’ by the SL army. Yet Delhi (Raman) not only disputes vehemently the civilian numbers killed in SL’s ‘no fire zone’ but unfairly accuses the West and the personnel of the UN and mandated Human Rights groups of using the ‘Elam issue to embarrass the SL government and put its senior officers in the dock by disseminating unauthenticated high figures of civilian casualties’ and cruelly overlooking the savagery of SL’s attacks on civilians that bordered on criminality; There was intense bombardment of the narrow ‘no-fire zone’, government troops throwing grenades into unarmed bunkers where civilians were sheltering, using heavy vehicles to run over injured civilians and bulldozing civilians ‘into mass graves along with the dead’. Leaks of graphic details of these are effectively plugged by keeping incommunicado the front line human shield civilians prisoners now in the concentration camps in the Vanni. However TV images of the long marches to the concentration camps of emaciated civilians, victims of starvation vouch to the savagery of SL’s use of starvation as a weapon of war on unarmed civilians. A well informed analyst cynically observed that SL crimes received praise in that Council meeting which also ordered an investigation into Gaza atrocities though SL’s crimes were easily 10 times worse; the difference; there were no cameras in the SL case for the world see.
An observer explained ‘India’s (strong) backing for SL over the war crimes at the UNHRC for the West using ‘the Eelam struggle, to actually de-stabilize SL and India’. The ‘no fire zone’, the brain child of Narayanan/Menon was meant for the massacres to occur in utmost secrecy without independent witnesses, to frustrate potential SL war crimes proceedings. Tamil civilians entrapped in the war front trustingly moved into the India blessed ‘no fire zones’ but they were actually well planned ‘massacres zones’ unlike Israel’s 1982 Shabra and Shatila camp massacres. Lurid pictures of the SL massacres are in the public domain worldwide, thanks to the internet. Furthermore the revelation in The Sunday Times Gothabhaya Rajapakse’s interview described the role of the Indian trio (Foreign Secretary, National Security Advisor and Defense Secretary) who were ‘in the loop during the fighting’ and involved in the step by step liaising with the SL counterparts over the timing /details of the (May 16 to 19) massacres. Narayanan reportedly insisted that RAW be involved in the capture and massacre of the Ltte leadership along with a certain number of civilians politically acceptable to Delhi. RAW’s over flights gave precise co-ordinates of the targets and the ground conditions for the massacres. In these circumstances prudence called for India to act in the May UNHRC meeting as it did. India saw a threat in the West’s SL war crimes initiatives in the UNHRC though the Tamils view that the western powers unlike Delhi were acting perfectly morally exposing SL’s inhuman crimes against unarmed civilians. The Tamils are distressed that an unabashed Delhi will continue to frustrate UNHRC’s pains to establish the criminality of the SL genocide as long as the Council is heavily stacked with members who are human rights abusers. Sri Lanka lost its membership in the UNHRC almost exactly a year ago. SL’s success in the UNHRC this time around is the result of India’s robust lobbying for SL’s for which the Tamils in their tens of thousands were used as sacrificial lambs.