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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1590

Mutual bailing out game over Hilary Clinton’s Rape story in Sri Lanka

By Bandu de Silva

hillary_clinton_0.jpgTo get away after making that statement in the UN Security Council session on September 30, 2009 presided by her would not have been easy for Hilary Rodham Clinton. The media present in New York saw the weakness of her position when she placed Sri Lanka in the short list of countries where she said rape was used as a tactic of war.

The relevant paragraph reads: "Now, reading the headlines, one might think that the use of rape as a tactic of war only happens occasionally, or in a few places, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Sudan. That would be bad enough, but the reality is much worse. We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks."

The essence of her statement is that she included Sri Lanka among countries which used rape as a tactic of war.

Matthew Lee reporting for the Associated Press on the adoption of the UNSC resolution could not agree. Obviously he saw the weakness of including Sri Lanka in that list. He observed in general that rampant sexual violence has also been seen in other conflict zones in Africa, Asia and Europe — from Bosnia to Myanmar. He did not think of including Sri Lanka in the category of other countries short-listed by Hilary Clinton whose record as documented at the UN was horrendous.

Nor have any of the other members of the Security Council nor the Secretary General endorsed what Ms. Hilary Clinton said about Sri Lanka though a number of them made reference to the situation in Congo. The Libyan representative made reference not only to Congo but also to Iraq and Palestine as well as Guinea. He said, pointing out that perpetrators of sexual violence irreversibly maimed survivors, and calling for the adoption of legislation to ensure that those crimes did not go unpunished, he drew attention to (yesterday’s) scenes from Conakry, Guinea, where women had been raped, tortured and then killed, and truly horrific…… “Any perpetrator of such crimes, whether in Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Palestine, must be brought to justice,” he concluded.

A bi-lateral issue

It must be observed in the first instance that Ms. Hilary Clinton did not make the statement as the President of the last session of the UN Security Council but as the representative of her country. This is clear from the statement made by the UNSC on the adoption of Resolution 1888 (2009). As such, the issue arising from her statement is a bi-lateral one between the U.S and Sri Lanka.It is abundantly clear that dragging Sri Lanka’s name into a short-list of five countries she named was not only undiplomatic on her part but unjust.

She may have reasons to think that there were violations against women by armed forces and the Police in the course of the Eelam war but that was no reason to generalize and place Sri Lanka among a short-listed group of five countries whose record as the UN itself has observed, is miles apart from that of Sri Lanka. One might say it is the principle which is involved and not the numbers. In that case, U.S. herself cannot go scot free and her statement would have been balanced if she included her own country in the short list.

Rajapaksa government bailed out

There has been no response to the protest made by the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to Ambassador Ms.Patricia Butenis over the State Secretary’s statement. Has there been a retraction of that position as claimed by the Sri Lankan government? No. Not as far as I see.

How can there be a retraction? Retraction must come from the person who made the statement. There has been no such thing. There has been only a low level ‘clarification’ by U.S.’s roving Ambassador for Global Women`s Issues at the State Department, Melanne Verveer. She is reported to have stated that `In the most recent phase of the conflict from 2006 to 2009, we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war ....`

Despite this the Sri Lanka government has accepted this clarification as sufficient and the President himself referred to it at his address to the large election gathering at the Samanala Park in Galle. It is not that the rape story of Tamil women in the North has had any adverse effect on the Southern vote at the Provincial Council election there; but for the President the clarification was sufficient to make an impression on his government’s [clean] record because the clarification stated that there had been no reports of rape and sexual abuse as tool of war between 2006 and 2009. In other words, President Rajapaksa’s government has been given a clean certificate by the U.S. administration.

Bailing out Ms. Hilary Clinton

On the one hand it exposes the way U.S. government (the levels at which) the U.S. or its Foreign Minister is willing to treat bilateral issues when it comes to dealing with small countries. But that should not be taken as the only reason for the low level response. What is even more important is that on the other hand, had Ms. Hilary Clinton herself offered an explanation, that would have added to her woes by exposing her personally as one who makes unverified statements without a sense of responsibility. That would have further damaged her flagging reputation in the portfolio of foreign policymaking. On her flagging foreign policy postures read Dr.Nile Gardiner, Director of Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, London wrote under the title: “Invisible Secretary of State: Hilary Clinton’ Failure of Leadership on the World Stage”.( July 17,2009)

The result was offering the Sri Lankan government a ‘low level’ official clarification which bailed out the Rajapaksa government.

How the US administration succeeded in killing two birds with one stone?

That the Sri Lankan government saw it sufficient response for its concerns shows that it is prepared to close the issue. Probably, the government thought of other issues that she has to settle with the U.S.

The acceptance of the partial explanation then also means that the Mahinda Rajapaksa govt. does not want to go into affairs that took place before that time; or even hold U.S. responsible for making reference to the period before 2006.

A ‘divisive’ strategy

From the point of diplomatic analysis, it is clear that the U.S. has cleverly adopted a ‘divisive’ strategy in this case to get over the Secretary of State’s over-enthusiasm to defame Sri Lanka. The local political culture is such that over the rape allegation issue the present government will not only find it embarrassing to question the clarification; but also may not want to clean up someone else’s cobwebs. That [partial] clarification itself could be a feather in the cap of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Human Rights activist. It is the armed forces and the Police who will have to take the rap for the past as implied in the explanation offered by Ambassador Verveer. This is what the present Army commander General Jagath Jayasuriya has been trying to do. (Asian Tribune October 7, 2009.).

Folly of dragging Sri Lanka’s name

The horse-trading that has gone over this issue between the U.S. and the Sri Lankan government should not detract from the seriousness of the charge arising from her inclusion of Sri Lanka in that list when one compares with the number of cases officially recorded in respect of other countries in the list. For example, in Congo the situation has been described as “now perhaps most acute where an epidemic of rape and other abuses claim an average of 36 women and girl victims a day” ….(UN records refer to 200,000 cases of rape there), Sudan (unlimited?);Balkans (60,000 cases of rape in 1990s. (Matthew Lee’s report of September 30th 2009 for Associated Press).

On rape in Burma in the course of war, according to New York Times report, nearly all relevant bodies and experts in U.N. have reported on widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence perpetrated by the military regime in Burma under a climate of impunity. These include:

1) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon;

2) UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;

3) UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights in Burma

4) UN General Assembly;

5) UN Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council);

6) UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women;

7) UN Special Rapportuer on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment

The UN Torture Rapporteur added that "The [Burmese] authorities sanction violence against women and girls committed by military officers, including torture, inter alia, as a means of terrorizing and subjugating the population, particularly those in the Shan state." The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma has called the rapes "particularly alarming," and indicated that he had received reports of "widespread and systematic" abuses -- key language in establishing the existence of crimes against humanity.
The New York Times also observed that despite repeated and consistent verbal condemnations by UN officials and resolutions since 2002, the rapes and sexual violence had continued with impunity in Burma.

Serious offenders omitted

On the contrary, Mrs. Hilary Clinton dragged Sri Lanka’s name while omitting a country like Rwanda where during the 1994 genocide, up to half a million women were raped; and in Sierra Leone, incidents of war-related sexual violence from 1991 to 2001 numbered about 64,000; (Matthew Lee) and Guinea where rape was reported as the Security Council session presided by her was taking place. (See statement by Abduurahman Shaglam of Libya at the UNSC session).

The omission of Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Guinea where rape was raging as the Security Council was meeting in Ms .Hilary Clinton’s speech could not have been accidental considering that Ms. Clinton thought of including Sri Lanka which country as Ambassador Patricia Butenis explained, was one where :

"During the 26-year long war in Sri Lanka, there were allegations of rape and sexual violence, just as in other conflicts……" Allegations only; nothing proven.

She has moderated her Secretary of State’s statement where the latter made no such reservation to use the word “alleged” but was firm in calling Sri Lanka a country which had practiced rape as a war tactic.

How Sri Lanka came into the scene

Reporting on the situation which prevailed a month earlier after the Secretary of State’s tour of 11 African nations, - Congo in particular where she met victims of rape -the newspaper wrote that at that time it was unclear whether the discussion would focus exclusively on rape and sexual violence in Africa or if Council members would call attention to the widespread and systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in Burma as well. It observed that activists hoped that Secretary Clinton and other international leaders will use the UN venue to highlight the plight of ethnic women and girls in Burma, who are victims of sexual violence by Burma's military regime.

This observation by the NYT is important to understand how Sri Lanka’s name came to be tagged to the Secretary of State’s short-list while she omitted some of the worst offenders in Africa like Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This is why Sri Lankan government’s claim that Sri Lanka’s inclusion was deliberate cannot be excluded. The idea in Washington a month earlier was to rope in Burma. That too on account of the lobbying and not because there was enough evidence established by the UN itself as outlined earlier. The individual cases listed by the UN were quite serious.

Now there were no such proven or well documented cases of rape or violence against women as a war tactic for Sri Lanka by the UN to list her among countries which practiced rape with impunity as a war tactic as claimed in Ms. Hilary Clinton’s speech. But there was a Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora lobby which was even more active than that of Myanmar (Burma). The statement also followed the meeting between Assistant Secretary Robert Blake and the Daispora.

One can therefore understand how Sri Lanka’s name too was tagged on to the list of countries accused of serious violations against women. It was nothing but a response to the Tamil lobby in the U.S. and given without investigating the accuracy of allegations. For Ms. Hilary Clinton it was no allegation but a ‘situation de fait.’ That emphasizes the inordinate urgency that Hilary Clinton showed to include Sri Lanka in her list of countries “where rape was used as a "tactic of war."


It is in view of the disparities of numbers that the naming Sri Lanka among those countries mentioned by the Secretary of State (and also not mentioned) is not acceptable, not because there had been no cases of alleged sporadic violence against women including rape by armed forces personnel and the Police in Sri Lanka. These allegations have neither been substantiated except in very few cases. In the case of the rape of Krishanti ………..the case was gone into in the courts and the culprits were severely punished. There has been no accusation by the UN or any other organization that rape was used as a war tactic for Ms. Hilary Clinton to state at the UNSC session that "We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere……"

"So Rape She Said” as the legal Counsel Gomin Dayasiri captioned. That position has not been retracted either by Ambassador Patricia Butenis or Ambassador Melanne Verveer or Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley.

Problem for the Administration

Does the way the U.S. administration responded to GOSL protest also show that it does not take State Secretary’s lose statements seriously? This is no simple observation. That Secretaries of U.S. Departments have found it difficult to prove themselves in the presence of their subordinates like Assistant Secretaries who are career personnel is something that has been recorded after high level Committee investigations. Let us not go into that here.

That Ms. Hilary Clinton’s own record has come under heavy flak from serious critics in the U.S and U.K is no secret. I have drawn attention earlier to the comments of Dr. Nile Gardiner, Director of Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, London. Just to quote briefly, he wrote:

"As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been almost as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. (elusive wild plant). Her profile on the world stage has been significantly lower than that of her immediate predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, who were highly prominent figures in their first six months in office. In marked contrast, Clinton has struggled to make her mark as an international leader and has on several occasions been embarrassingly overshadowed by Vice President Joe Biden on foreign affairs issues ranging from Israel to Iraq. She has also been marginalized by the White House's appointment of a series of special envoys and special representatives on issues such as the Middle East peace process, Sudan, and Afghanistan/Pakistan……"

After her African tour she found a useful straw to hang on –the issue rape in war as she witnessed especially in Coongo – to make up for the deficiency in the foreign policy field. Even there the poor lady slipped up by trying to flog Sri Lanka! That also contradicts her policy of trying to engage Myanmar and even Iran and may be even Taliban as the course of events in Afghanistan is now leading to.

- Asian Tribune -

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