Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2252

West unaware Sri Lanka’s true story - Barbara Crossette Faults overseas diplomats & Colombo’s 'short-sightedness'

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 31 January ( “The fact remains that as a reporter, unless I knew a Sri Lankan diplomat personally, I found the (Sri Lankan) High Commissions and Embassies very unhelpful and ill-prepared to put a professional effort into media activity abroad” says Barbara Crossette a well known, highly experienced, influential and well connected journalist who has specialized in South Asian affairs told the Asian Tribune when discussing the macro effect of Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as Tamil Tigers, has on the international community especially in the West despite being on the verge of losing all the territory it held in the north and east of this South Asian nation making Sri Lanka look like having a genocidal regime.Barbara CrossetteBarbara Crossette

Drawing attention of Asian Tribune to the media release put out by the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on Thursday January 29 (2009) Ms. Crossette said:

"There is still a lot of foreign distrust around – as you can see in international media reports about who is to blame for holding more than 200,000 civilians hostage in the north. Today the UN more or less blamed the government, and only lamely included the LTTE. When BBC reporters in Colombo asked a UN official named Weiss (I forget his first name) why the LTTE would prevent these people from leaving their control, he said that the Tigers thought it would be too dangerous for them to cross over battle lines. The BBC reporter let that comment stand without challenge."

The Asian Tribune is privileged to get the input of an experienced journalist of the caliber of Barbara Crossette as she has accumulated a vast knowledge of Sri Lanka issue when acting as the bureau chief for The New York Times reporting in the late eighties and nineties from Colombo. She is now attached to the United Nations in New York for the widely read The Nation and works with The World Policy Institute, contributes to its World Policy Journal. The above comment shows how closely she watches the developments in South Asia in general and Sri Lanka in particular.

Barbara Crossette has been the New York Times UN bureau chief since September of 1994; a post she ascended to after serving as senior editor of the bureau since January 1993. She had previously been a correspondent in The Times' Washington bureau from 1991 until 1993, a bureau chief in New Delhi from 1988-1991 and a bureau chief in Bangkok from 1984-1988. Between 1983 and 1984, Ms. Crossette was deputy foreign editor for The Times, prior to which she reported on foreign affairs from Washington. In 1978 she was named assistant news editor and in 1977 she was an assistant metropolitan editor. She was also the first editor of the Westchester Weekly, which was introduced early in 1977.

Ms. Crossette is the winner of the 1998 Society of the Silurians 5-Year Achievement Award. She also won the 1991 George Polk Award for foreign reporting for her coverage of the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi. In 1980, she was awarded a Fulbright teaching fellowship and in 1980 and 1981 she lectured on journalism at the Panjab University in Chandigarh and at the Indian Institute for Mass Communications in New Delhi. She was 1994 Ferris visiting professor on politics at Princeton University and was a member of the adjunct faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In 2003, she led an advanced workshop in journalism at the Royal University of Phnom Penh for writers and editors from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. In 2004-2005 she worked with journalists in Brazil as a Knight International Press Fellow.

Ms. Crossette is now a travel essayist and a freelance writer on foreign policy and international affairs. Her articles and essays appear periodically in World Policy Journal, published at the New School University in New York

The Asian Tribune would like to highlight her influence in Washington when she wrote "Will John Bolton Ruin the UN?" an article published in Foreign Policy, in the July/August 2006, presaged the campaign that led to the resignation of the US ambassador nominated by President Bush to UN..

In January 6, 2009 edition of The Nation Barbara Crossette under the caption ‘Will Peace Finally Come to Sri Lanka’ wrote: "Sri Lanka bungled its case diplomatically and very quickly lost an international propaganda war to the LTTE."

Then she opined: "Most of the world did not see what was happening in Sri Lanka, and outsiders were willing to believe that the Tigers were leading a legitimate fight for an oppressed minority and were the victims of official human rights abuses, not the instigators of terror. The voices of unarmed moderate Tamils were never heard. Most of them were soon silenced."

Iterating Sri Lanka’s failure on overseas public diplomacy and strategic communication Ms. Crossette says: "Sri Lanka, a small country without powerful international backers, still has not made its case in the West, where old habits and perceptions die hard. Last year a group of Western democracy and human rights groups led a successful campaign to deny Sri Lankans a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (where such nations as China, Cuba, Pakistan and Azerbaijan enjoy membership.) A cause for smug satisfaction, perhaps, but no contest, really, in targeting a small and tormented nation. If peace can be achieved, Sri Lanka deserves better than that."

Barbara Crossette told the Asian Tribune how effective the LTTE public diplomacy was and how little the Sri Lankan state knows how to combat it: "When I was reporting from Colombo I was occasionally sent strange requests from either editors (in The New York Times) or others in the US that to me reflected that someone in a pro-LTTE group had got to them. In one case, there was a story that the Sri Lankan intelligence service had a torture center on the 4th floor of the airport (which didn’t have a fourth floor). Another time a public defender lawyer wrote to me to test the story she had been told by a Tamil client that seemed totally outrageous. It pretty much was. The Jaffna Tamils were not treated well, but his account made it sound like genocide."

She continued to say: "In both cases, no one had talked with a Sri Lankan diplomat, or may be tried and failed. Instead they had only the pro-LTTE version of life to work with."

Commenting on what this writer has been advocating the importance of overseas public diplomacy campaign and the effective use of strategic communication with the international community and Western powers to reverse the unfavorable trend to use all the resources to redress the grievances of all ethnic communities Barbara Crossette told the Asian Tribune: "The second point, more relevant to your work now: If and when the LTTE is formally finished in the field, what the Sri Lanka government does and how it handles public opinion inside the country as well as outside seems critical to overcome the mistakes of the past. Will the government turn to the pressing problems of poverty, as you mention, and try to build a multiethnic society, or will it give ground to the most radical Sinhala nationalists?"

Ms. Crossette says: "What has been lost in Sri Lanka? A reasonably egalitarian society with human development measures that still exceed India's--in better health care, near-universal education and literacy, protected rights for women and numerous other factors--descended on all sides into brutality for long enough to numb too many consciences. (Buddhist monks are among the fiercest of Sinhala nationalists.) Political civility has given way to the culture of the tinted-glass, gun-infested SUV. Resentment still lingers among distrustful Tamils; the LTTE, now cornered in a still-sizable patch of jungle and reliant on abducted child soldiers, may strike again with new ferocity. Suicide is part of its ethos."

She reminds the international community that: "Tamils were killing Tamils in this civil war before it became an island-wide, inter-ethnic conflict. By the late 1970s, the LTTE, under a ruthless and shadowy leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had begun systematically to eliminate competing guerrilla groups and moderate mainstream Tamil politicians who tried to rectify wrongs within the political arena in Colombo, the island capital. Sri Lanka has had democratically elected governments since independence in 1948."

Way back April 1, 2002 Barbara Crossette wrote the following in World Policy Journal. What she told at that time of Tamil Tiger propaganda machinery and hopelessly ineptness of Sri Lankan officials and diplomats in telling 'Sri Lankan story' in a cogent manner to the international community and the powerful West still holds true at a time Sri Lanka is gaining all territories held by the LTTE but the Tigers are slowly and steadily painting the Sri Lankan regime as a genocidal one.

"Thanks to Prabakharan, Sri Lanka lost a generation of Tamil politicians willing to work within the democratic system in the 1980s and 1990s. All the while, the Sinhalese-dominated government was under international pressure to make concessions to the Tamils, who carried out one assassination after another, while also forcibly conscripting children, issuing them cyanide capsules and instilling the cult of martyrdom, practices still very much alive today. To many Sri Lankans, Tamils as well as Sinhalese, the advice from outsiders approached incomprehensible madness, and it left a residue of resentment, particularly toward international human rights groups, even though they have lately been far more critical of the rebels. The Tamil Tigers were skilled propagandists, while many Sri Lankan officials and diplomats were hopelessly inept in presenting the government's case."

- Asian Tribune -

Share this