Tuesday, August 5, 2008

“Abductions and Disappearances” – Truth or Fantasy?

By Stephen Long, Los Angeles
August 5, 2008

I read so much about the numerous abductions and disappearances happening all the time in Sri Lanka that it makes me wonder. Are they for real? Not only has this issue become the favorite weapon of choice for criticism against the Government of Sri Lanka by the EU Commission, the American Observer at the SAARC Conference, Amnesty International, and various other ngo’s and international human rights organizations, but it has also given many private citizens on several continents great cause for concern, and in many cases justification for doubt.

I’m glad to see that wiping out the LTTE terrorists on the island seems to be supported these days as the GOSL’s right path of action by the governments and organizations cited above, but there are still all those lingering doubts posed about human rights violations in the form of these myriad so-called “abductions and disappearances.” I say “so-called” because I don’t really know what they are – and neither does anyone else. I have some ideas, however, and so do others who know far more than I do.

Here in America where I am often in close contact with members of the Sri Lankan expatriate community, I have heard all sorts of stories that shed a different light on these so-called crimes. The stories apply to members of the Tamil, Sinhalese, and other ethnic communities alike.

First of all, I hear that many of the people that have ostensibly disappeared or have been abducted have traveled to places like the US, Australia, Canada, and the EU countries and fabricated stories of human rights abuses to get the authorities to grant them political asylum. These folks have literally and traitorously lied to get this status – and without any conscience say “sayonara” to the motherland. The vermin that do this eventually have the freedom to go back to Sri Lanka any time after they get citizenship in their new countries. Unfortunately, there’s very little chance the authorities in either country would be able to discover their heartless betrayals.

Secondly, I hear many stories about the Opposition parties fabricating stories about human rights abuses to further their own political agenda, and to keep the pot boiling. I’m sure a number of these tall tales fall into the first category, above.

Thirdly, there are stories of tax evasion going around – one man apparently owing the Government ten million rupees simply disappeared and then reappeared here in California not too long ago. Apparently he went down on the Colombo police reports as “missing, whereabouts unknown” – very similar to the guy who recently faked his own suicide to escape criminal charges for bilking investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars in the US. The American guy was caught; the Sri Lankan guy is still at large somewhere in the Southland.

Fourthly, I’m told that some people who are heavily in debt in Sri Lanka simply leave the country and disappear. This is really not so unusual; it happens all over the world. But whether they file claims of human rights abuses with the authorities in their new country or not, they can still make it appear that they were abducted, or have it said that they simply vanished in a “mysterious white van,” back in Sri Lanka.

(Speaking of those popular white vans, it seems like a conspiracy may be have been uncovered in the white van department. I read today on the Defence Secretary’s website about UNP thugs busted for posing as Gotabaye’s security personnel. They created quite a commotion feigning getting drunk and robbing a restaurant in Colombo – they even beat up the staff and threatened them with a pistol. All this contrived bad behavior just to get bad press for the Secretary. Ouch! Do I hear the word “traitor” anywhere, Mr. Opposition?)

Fifthly, and undoubtedly the biggest category, are the absolutely false claims of abductions, disappearances, and human rights abuses that are funneled into the well-funded LTTE worldwide public relations machines, including numerous “front” websites. Don’t forget that LTTE front organizations have enough money to hire people like Bruce Fein, the infamous mercenary, former US Deputy Attorney General, to lodge complaints for them, attempt to implement their agenda of establishing a mono-ethnic Tamil Eelam, among other items, and make a big noise in the international media.

I’m quite certain that whatever the case may be – scenarios one through five, take your pick – this LTTE-funded media/public relations machinery is making heyday out of each and every “white van” incident, and all the others. Their websites (see “Justice for Thamils,” for example) are even asking for affidavits from alleged victims, and you know quite well how those documents are going to be used. Whether the statements they’re soliciting are true or false it makes no difference; all that matters is how their stories appear to the rest of the world, and how much destruction they can leave in their wake.

The LTTE-funded PR machine has managed to get the attention of all of the governments mentioned above, to the extent that they have condemned out of hand the Government of Sri Lanka for crimes that may or may not have even happened, and that it most likely didn’t commit if they had.

Bruce Fein is even trying to get Gotabaya and Basil Rajapakse and General Fonseca hauled before the International Courts to have them tried for these very same undocumented and uninvestigated offenses. (At least he was before he went underground with missing and unaccounted funds from Canada – 95% cash. Do I hear “thoroughbred horses,” anyone?)

This difficult and sticky issue raises a number of questions:

· Are the Government and its Police Forces investigating all of these strange abductions and disappearances and trading information with allied governments, their police forces, and their immigration departments?

· Are any of these missing guys surfacing elsewhere, and we’re just not hearing about it?

· Have any governments or ngo’s taken the depositions from those who have sought political asylum claiming human rights violations, and then verified them back in Sri Lanka? Is a system in place for doing this?

· Is anyone communicating with the international ngo’s so the Government can get copies of the reports they receive and check them out?

· Are any of the Sri Lankan Ambassadors posted overseas meeting with their host country’s lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, and powerful ngo’s to tell the Government’s side of the story – and attempt to discredit the legions of false reports?

The fact of the matter is, these stories of abductions and disappearances are being taken very seriously by the international community. Very seriously. This issue has become a public relations nightmare for the Government, and it may soon cause it to lose its valuable GSP+ status with the European Union. It already caused it the loss of its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. If peacekeepers are called in, this may only be the beginning of the grief. It can only get worse if the problem is not addressed at once.

I think every effort should be made in terms of investigating these dubious incidents – at the highest levels, via all sources, and from all angles. A great deal is at stake on the outcome. I don’t believe for a minute that these sorts of things don’t happen from time to time (see US Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, etc), but I truly can’t see how the magnitude of these incidents could be as great as it’s been reported.

Lastly, Government of Sri Lanka: Beware of “loose canons” in your midst. These are people you think are on your side – you may even employ them – but in the twinkling of an eye they can do irreparable damage to your image in the world arena. I’m citing as an example the irresponsible, crazy Minister who just the other day lost his temper, went into a complete rage, lost control, and wound up beating up members of the press. (Oh, my…) Friends like these you don’t need. Get rid of them as if you were tossed a handful of hot coals.

Government of Sri Lanka, please put as your second priority (the first is finishing off the terrorists in the North, of course) finding out the truth about all those reported missing persons. You could use a break right about now in the public opinion of the world, and this just might be your ticket. It’s not going to be an easy task, but I think it will be well worth the effort when you come out clean – or at least much cleaner. The whole world knows and understands that in times of war men and their governments can do atrocious things. (Suicide bombers are scary, and they provoke angry reactions. Everyone gets that.) Just let the whole world know that you’re aware of this unfortunate human tendency, you’re taking precautions against it on your watch, and you’re prosecuting any violators you find.

You really can’t blame the governments of the world for throwing sticks and stones at you if they haven’t heard your side of the story. Find the truth, and then tell it!