Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sri Lanka is a counterproductive exercise:

(By Chandrani Gunaratna)

The one-sided hearing will be a counterproductive exercise for Sri Lanka's road to recovery....

Feb 24, Washington, D.C.: The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is holding hearings on 'Recent Developments in Sri Lanka' today at 2:30 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Building.

The hearing will be presided by Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, Robert P. Casey, Jr. and chaired by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The Committee has called former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Lunstead, Dr. Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Bob Dietz of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as witnesses at the hearing.

However there are no witnesses at the hearing to represent the Sri Lankan government or the international aid organizations currently assisting the trapped civilians in the battlefields.

Two of the invited witnesses, Anna Neistat, Senior researcher of HRW and Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator of CPJ are well known for their unfair criticism of the Sri Lankan government.

Human Rights Watch just last week issued a lopsided report demanding to stop the "war" on civilians in Sri Lanka.

In an obviously transparent attempt to show a nonexistent impartiality, the report, while calling the LTTE to allow the civilians free passage to safety, said the Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there.

Giving credibility to made-up genocide charges against the government HRW quoted James Ross, its legal and policy director saying "This 'war' against civilians must stop, Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there."

HRW comparing the welfare villages that house the civilians to squalid military-controlled camps said "the government seems to be trying its best to keep its role in their ordeal away from public scrutiny."

However Sir John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator who toured the civilian shelters on Saturday (21) said he was very satisfied with the way the government authorities are handling the humanitarian situation in Internally Displaced People (IDP) centers in Vavuniya.

Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator of CPJ in a recent interview to CNN accused the Sri Lankan government of throwing journalists who criticize the government in jail and threatening them as the government ramped up the war. Dietz has reportedly said that when the war began Tamil journalists were targeted, and later the government started to attack the mainstream journalists.

With the input from just two witnesses, both of whom are totally biased against the Sri Lankan government and no witness from the government to counter the criticism, the esteemed Senate Committee members are not going to learn the actual scenario of Sri Lanka or the plight of the Tamil civilians held in the battlefields against their will by the LTTE as human shields.

How useful are the Committee's findings is a matter of doubt as the Committee will only be hearing one sided arguments and there is no other side to provide a counter view or to challenge the charges against the Sri Lankan government.

Undoubtedly the HRW, having been failed so many times at the United Nations Human Right Council to push their agenda, will try to show the Senate Committee the need for a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka.

At a time Sri Lankan government with limited resources is faced with the immense task of rescuing the civilians held by the LTTE Tigers as human shields and on the verge of defeating a 25 year old organization that terrorized the whole country with numerous suicide bombings, massacres of innocent civilians, assassination of political leaders to name a few, the government need the help from the U.S. to rebuild the troubled region and provide a political solution to address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils in the region.

The one-sided hearing will be a counterproductive exercise for Sri Lanka's road to recovery if the Obama administration formulates the policies on Sri Lanka based on the lopsided input the Committee will receive from the witnesses