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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 77

United States Senator Patrick Leahy Castigates Rajapaksa Administration

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 04 November (Asiantribune.com): The most senior and influential Senator in the United Stated Congress Patrick Leahy presented an impeachment against the Government of Sri Lanka on the Senate floor on November 02 proclaiming that the Rajapaksa administration has no credibility and transparency refuting allegations that the information and facts before him are definitely not from Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tiger sources but from credible human rights organizations and the United Nations.

Severely castigating the incumbent administration of this South Asian nation led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose administration is facing a severe armed terrorist threat from the Tamil Tigers to rupture the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and the democratic system while making a balancing act to safeguard the civil liberties, the Senator, while making the ‘state player’ responsible for human rights violations, gives credit to the ‘non state player’ LTTE for showing its willingness to participate in serious negotiations as well as to respond to human rights concerns. Senator Patrick Leahy:  “We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community.”Senator Patrick Leahy: “We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community.”

While Senator Leahy proclaims “We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community,” he fails to recognize that there exist many political parties and movements that represent Tamil opinion contrary to that of the LTTE which the Senator is well convinced, according to what he has said on the senate floor, that the Tamil Tigers are the main component of any negotiation.

Before Asian Tribune carry the full text of the statement made by Senator Patrick Leahy there are several discrepancies, misinformation and misinterpretations that need to be clarified for the readers benefit:

Mr. Leahy says “However, we are also aware that the LTTE has, at times, shown a willingness to participate in serious negotiations, as well as to respond to human rights concerns. These overtures should be pursued.”

It is a universal knowledge that the LTTE on all occasions unilaterally withdrew from negotiations, a fact surprisingly unknown to the senator. It was also a fact that the Tigers came to negotiations to bid time to replenish their military arsenal as a preparation for the next attack on the government of Sri Lanka. What the late Tamilselvan said about their serious commitment toward a negotiated settlement seems to have had an impact even on U.S. lawmakers.

He continues to say “We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community,” a most welcome change in the mindset of the United States who until recently believed that Tamil grievances and the LTTE are inseparable, they are the sole representatives of the Tamil people and, therefore, the Tamil Tigers are a necessary component of any negotiations.

Does Senator Leahy understand that there are other political parties and movements influential in Sri Lanka who represents the minority Tamils who hold alternate views and opinion contrary to that of the Tamil Tigers?

No, unfortunately, no.

Mr. Leahy has not been adequately fed by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, and that’s why he stops short of this: “There are many ethnic Tamils living in and outside of Sri Lanka who do not condone acts of violence and terrorism against civilians. Many have been victims of the LTTE themselves.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Chairman of the Senate Sub Committee on Foreign Assistance and Appropriations strongly believes that the actions of the Rajapaksa administration and his military have alienated the Tamils.

Which is why when Asian Tribune interviewed President Rajapaksa last month in Los Angeles asked if the international community buys his story.

This is what he said on the Senate floor on November 02: “Every time a Sri Lankan soldier violates international humanitarian law it alienates the very people in the Tamil community whose support the government needs to combat terrorism.”

Mr. Leahy obviously is unaware that the minority Tamils are moving away from the Tamil Tiger domain, away from the territory the Tigers control in the Northern Province and away from the vicinity of the Tiger-controlled areas. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona told this writer last month when Asian Tribune was interviewing President Rajapaksa in Los Angeles that “at a given time, there are at least 10,000 ethnic minority Tamils from the north residing in lodges.”

To update his Senate report Mr. Leahy need to be told that 54% of ethnic minority Tamils now domiciled in the Sinhalese-majority districts in the rest of the country out of the grip of the Tamil Tigers.

One cannot understand the Senator’s logic: If the armed forces are violating international humanitarian laws violating the civil liberties of the minority ethnic Tamils why should they drive the LTTE, which declare themselves as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamil people’, in to a ‘splendid isolation’?

The Government of Sri Lanka headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been almost ‘impeached’ by the most senior, respected and influential senator in the United States Senate. The government needs to clarify, in a cogent manner, the most serious statements made by Senator Leahy to the effect that current Sri Lanka administration has no credibility in the eyes of the United States Congress and the State Department.

Mr. Leahy does not absolve the Tamil Tigers but when the ‘state player’ is severely reprimanded and almost impeached in the highest echelons of the United States administration the threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka by a ‘non state player’ becomes insignificant and forgotten. Which is why Senator Leahy himself put a clause in the 2008 Appropriation Bill that military assistance to Sri Lanka should be suspended.

Misinformation and misrepresentation that are reflected in the presentation to the Senate by Mr. Leahy, if go unchallenged by the Sri Lankan authority, give a ‘life line’ to the most ruthless terrorist organization which has been so far very successful in its global public diplomacy campaign even to register its fingerprints on the ‘Leahy document’ that was presented in the United States Senate on November 02, 2007.

Here is the full text of Senator Patrick Leahy statement before the full Senate on November 02:

MR. LEAHY: Mr. President, it has been a little over a year since I last spoke in this chamber about the fragile peace process in Sri Lanka. I want to take a moment to discuss the situation today, because in the past year we have seen human rights in that small island nation steadily deteriorate. I also want to correct some confusion that may have occurred as a result of statements reported in the press regarding the Senate’s action in connection with the Fiscal Year 2008 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. That bill passed the Senate by a vote of 81 to 12 on September 6, 2007, and we are waiting to begin conference discussions with the House of Representatives.

“Over the years, I have been a strong supporter of U.S.-Sri Lankan relations. A good friend, Ambassador James Spain, served there, and the American people acted quickly to provide emergency assistance for Sri Lanka after the December 2004 tsunami devastated Sri Lanka’s east, north and southern coasts, claiming tens of thousands of lives. Beyond that, we have long supported the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to respond to acts of terrorism by the LTTE, which has been designated by the Department of State and the European Union as a foreign terrorist organization because of its attacks against civilians, assassinations of political leaders, forced recruitment of children, and other crimes.

“We deplore these tactics. However, we are also aware that the LTTE has, at times, shown a willingness to participate in serious negotiations, as well as to respond to human rights concerns. These overtures should be pursued. We also recognize that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community. There are many ethnic Tamils living in and outside of Sri Lanka who do not condone acts of violence and terrorism against civilians. Many have been victims of the LTTE themselves.

“At the same time, our aid to the Sri Lankan government is not a blank check. We have been increasingly concerned with reports of abuses by Sri Lankan government forces – not from the LTTE or their supporters as some have inaccurately claimed, but from the United Nations, the Department of State, and international human rights organizations. These reports are not “disinformation” or “misinformation” as some Sri Lankan officials have alleged.

Rather, they contain specific, documented, consistent information indicating a steady increase in serious human rights violations by both Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE since the collapse of the ceasefire. While the first acts of aggression were attributed to the LTTE, these reports also implicate government forces in attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances.

“There is also evidence that Sri Lankan government forces have stood by while allied paramilitary organizations have carried out abuses, including forcibly recruiting child soldiers. With few exceptions, the Sri Lankan government has yet to bring the perpetrators, including members of government security forces, to justice.

“It is important to note that the Sri Lankan government’s respect for human rights and rule of law has deteriorated even outside conflict-affected areas. The Millennium Challenge Corporation suspended more than $11 million intended for Sri Lanka because of the deteriorating security situation and the government’s worsening performance on human rights. Freedom House, whose assessments of political rights and civil liberties are factored into the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s analysis, stated “The serious human rights abuses and excessive restrictions on freedom of speech and association by the government of Sri Lanka merit the country’s removal from a list of eligible recipients for U.S. Millennium Challenge Account assistance.” We want to see a Millennium Challenge compact for Sri Lanka, but these problems must first be recognized and effectively addressed.

“An international human rights field presence, under the auspices of the United Nations, could do much to improve the situation. Given the gravity and scale of the violations witnessed in Sri Lanka, and particularly the inability of the Sri Lankan government to monitor the abuses taking place in areas held by the LTTE, such a presence would help protect lives, document abuses by all sides, and support the government and civil society in protecting the civilian population. The Department of State has publicly endorsed such a role for the United Nations.

“It is due to this information, from reputable sources, that the Senate attached three conditions to our assistance to the Sri Lankan military in the Fiscal Year 2008 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Anyone who reviews those conditions should agree that they are reasonable and appropriate. They would require the Sri Lankan government to be bringing to justice members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights; end unreasonable restrictions on access in the country by humanitarian organizations and journalists; and agree to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

“It is regrettable that rather than explain why the Sri Lankan government should not meet such reasonable standards when it is seeking millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer assistance, some Sri Lankan officials have attacked our motives and falsely attributed our actions to LTTE propaganda. Others have insisted that they are meeting these standards already, when the facts clearly indicate that far more needs to be done.

“We want Sri Lanka to succeed in stopping terrorism, and we recognize that military force can be necessary against terrorist tactics. But there is no military solution to the Sri Lankan conflict, which has dragged on for more than two decades. Thousands of innocent people, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, have been killed. More than 1,000 are reported to have “disappeared” in just the past twelve to eighteen months, and many more before that. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced by the fighting. Families on both sides of the conflict have suffered terribly, and the country remains divided and no closer to peace.
“Every time a Sri Lankan soldier violates international humanitarian law it alienates the very people in the Tamil community whose support the government needs to combat terrorism. Our country has experienced a similar problem in Iraq, where killings of civilians have hurt our mission, tarnished our image and weakened the support of our allies.

“Mr. President, I would hope that the Sri Lankan government would see our action for what it is. We want to help, but not unconditionally. I believe the United States could and should play a more active role, with other key partners, in helping to facilitate negotiations on a political settlement. But rhetoric about human rights and the appointment of ineffectual commissions of inquiry that have no credibility, only goes so far. The situation remains grave and those responsible for abuses are rarely punished, making a peace agreement more difficult to achieve. A field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with sufficient mandate and capability to conduct full and unfettered monitoring throughout the country, communicate its findings to all sides of the conflict and the public, and provide advice and technical assistance, is overdue. Also urgently needed is greater access for humanitarian organizations to assist civilians caught in the cross-fire and for journalists to report the facts.

“The Sri Lankan people have suffered the consequences of ethnic discrimination, violence and injustice for the better part of their country’s history. We cannot solve Sri Lanka’s conflict; only the Sri Lankan people can. But we can and want to continue helping if the government demonstrates that it takes our concerns seriously.” (END Leahy Statement)

- Asian Tribune -

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