Sunday, September 21, 2014

News Bar

Feature : Australia broke ranks with 'world bullies' to assist Sri Lanka

Home News & Events MOD News

Last modified on: 7/1/2011 12:49:53 PM What's so independent about the Chilcot Inquiry?

A response to Alistair Burt

What's so independent about the Chilcot Inquiry?

The war in Iraq was fought by the British in a foreign land. The majority of victims were Iraqi civilians. Several thousands of them were killed. Many more were gravely injured. The country was pushed into sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia. The Iraqi Christians have almost been eliminated. Those who were displaced by this "illegal" war that "undermined the United Nations" became refugees by the millions in Syria, Jordan and other neighbouring states.

Does Britain's Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War have a single Iraqi as a member, to represent the very theatre of war? Is there any Syrian, Jordanian or any other representative from a country that received that massive exodus of Iraqi refugees? Regrettably, there is no such representation. It is a British Inquiry into an international operation by Britain that took place in foreign land, and caused (and still causes) untold misery to those people. But the inquiry remains wholly British, states journalist Lucien Rajakarunanayake, in response to UK's Foreign Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt's recent Op-Ed on Sri Lanka-UK relations.

That being so, why can't we in Sri Lanka conduct our own inquiry, by our own persons of eminence -- public officers with good records, senior diplomats and competent professionals -- to look into a crisis within our own borders, without having the so-called "independence" of foreign inquirers, who are not probing what needs to be probed in their own countries, when the Sri Lankan crisis and armed conflict was entirely local; with no foreign boots on our soil. No attacks from foreign helicopter gunships on civilians and journalists, or foreign bombardment of civilians.

So why can't we conduct our own inquiry, by our own persons of eminence -- public officers with good records, senior diplomats and professionals -- to look into a crisis within our own borders, without having the so-called "independence" of foreign inquirers, who are not probing what needs to be probed in their own countries?", asks Rajakarunanayake.

It is accepted that most that left the country at that time seeking refugee/asylum status in the west, including the UK, went for better economic conditions. Many of them are now returning, and Britain itself is sending back those who failed to fulfill the requirements of refugee/asylum status, with no fear for them when they return.

Here is the text of the response:

"The UK and the world watched in agony as Sri Lanka suffered over 25 years of civil war. The barbaric tactics of the LTTE, who pioneered modern day suicide bombing and forcibly recruited child soldiers, were brought to an end. The plight of many thousands of displaced people after the war reminds us of the human cost of such conflicts. It is because of the strength of relations between our two countries that we care so deeply about events in Sri Lanka. This relationship has been forged

over many years and spans not just history, but also areas such as trade, education, family and sporting links. Only this month our cricket teams are competing against each other in a spirit of friendly sporting rivalry."

This is what Alistair Burt UK's Foreign Office Minister for South Asia, said in an Opinion Editorial on the Sri Lankan situation titled "Honest Friends" published in "UK in Sri Lanka", the official website of the British High Commission, Colombo.

Mr. Burt is profuse in his expressions of friendship towards Sri Lanka, with lots of syrupy observations as seen in the paragraph above. The wordy declarations of friendship are not anchored in fact. Just one example: UK did not watch in agony as Sri Lanka suffered over 25 years of "civil war". First, there was no civil war in Sri Lanka, not by any definition of such a conflict. What we had was a confrontation with a terrorist organization determined to use terror to dismember the Sri Lankan State. No community in Sri Lanka took up arms against another, which is what a civil war is. The very use of this phrase shows something other than friendship in looking at Sri Lanka.

As for "watching in agony' it was certainly not agonizing for the UK to allow Anton Balasingham, the theoretician of the terrorist LTTE, and his wife Adele, who trained and built morale among the LTTE's women suicide cadres, to function freely in the UK for so many years, while Sri Lanka was bleeding from the LTTE's terror. It was we who suffered in agony, as Balasingham and others, sheltered in the UK, organized the forces of terror, broke up peace talks, and raised funds for the huge military strength of the LTTE, that had to be subdued by the Sri Lankan armed forces, without the help of any British weapons or military advisors, as happens when the UK claims to fight terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is it the agony the UK underwent watching the tragedy of Sri Lanka being bled by LTTE terror that made the UK wait till 2001 to ban the LTTE as an international terrorist organization, when the US took this step in 1997, and others too did it before 2001, without all those historic friendly relations with Sri Lanka, that you speak of?

If, as you state, the strength of relations between our two countries has made the UK care so deeply about the events in Sri Lanka, those same relations should urge you to be more understanding of the actual developments in this country, that necessitated the defeat of the LTTE, about which you are crying so loudly today, couched in alleged satisfaction in its defeat, but warning us of consequences if we are not "accountable" as Alistair Burt would want us to be.

In fact when Alistair Burt makes such expressions of friendship, and honest friendship at that, one is reminded of the adage about the need for enemies when having such friends - I mean the likes of Alistair Burt, David Campbell, and William Hague. The sting comes later in the expression of honest friendship. "We have seen allegations of war crimes in the detailed accounts in the UN Panel of Experts report, and in documentary footage authenticated by independent experts. The former indicates that civilians lost their lives through widespread shelling by the Army of hospitals and humanitarian objects and that the LTTE used civilians as a human buffer and killed those who attempted to flee. The UK government is deeply

concerned about these allegations.

"The evidence which has so far come to light is enough to lend credibility to the claims that war crimes were perpetrated by both sides in the conflict in those difficult days. It is not for me to judge where this evidence should lead: that is for the full and independent inquiry that I and Sri Lanka's other friends have been calling for." Despite his knowledge of jurisprudence obtained at Oxford, Alistair Burt is satisfied that the "detailed accounts in the UN Panel of Experts report", and "in documentary footage authenticated by independent experts" are enough to lend credibility to the claims of war crimes perpetrated "by both sides in the conflict in those difficult days". He is not bothered by the "UN Panel of Experts" stating that nothing in its reports has been authenticated or verified. He is also not bothered by the views of experts, other than those independent experts who have authenticated the documentary footage, who have been emphatic that there is much to be questioned in technology and desired in the standards of truth and veracity, in the said video footage that has impressed him so much.

Not all of his expressions of friendship and concern for Sri Lanka's agony in bloody crisis, helps dispel the belief that Alistair Burt has been very well approached or lobbied by those who did the pre-publicity for the Channel 4 video telecast, and must also have read every word of the messages sent to him as an MP, by those who used the Tool Kit provided by the Global Tamil Forum, for influencing UK MPs on the issue.

And, what does this "Honest Friend" want? He is modest, and does not want to judge where this evidence would lead. What a good friend. He leaves that "for the full and independent inquiry that I and Sri Lanka's other friends have been calling for." It is necessary to state that Sri Lanka has many friends that do not share such views, and do not as good, honest friends make such calls.

Apart from friendship, whether honest or not, it is necessary to ask what exactly Alistair Burt means by an "independent inquiry". He is aware of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) already sitting in Sri Lanka, and of its mandate. He refers to it and has advice for it too, but thinks it is not independent. What should it be independent of? This is the important question that has to be asked from him and all other "friends", honest or not, who crave for such independence.

It is not out of place to remind Alistair Burt, and other such friends, of what is known as the Chilcot Inquiry, appointed by the former Labour Government led by Gordon Brown, to probe into the merits or otherwise of the UK's entry into the Iraq War to carry out regime change in that country, and also study the record of British military activity in that war, that continues to bleed Iraq.

Chaired by Sir John Chilcot, the probe team was appointed in late 2009, full six years after the UK-US invasion of Iraq, unlike the LLRC that was appointed less than two years after the defeat of the LTTE. Now who the hell is Chilcot and how independent can he be? Alistair Burt must surely know that Sir John Chilcot, retired in 1997 after decades long career in the UK Civil Service, no doubt with faithful and dependable service to Governments and Ministers of different political parties in Britain. Following retirement he dealt with British Intelligence Services. Does this career record make him in any way independent of the UK Government whether Labour or Con-Dem, because it was Labour that ordered UK troops to invade Iraq, and the Conservatives very strongly supported that move.

Who are the others in the Chilcot Team? The record is very interesting for those who seek independent inquiries. They are Sir Lawrence David Freedman (Falkland War historian and one who publicly approved of regime change in Iraq), Sir Martin Gilbert (historian who openly backed regime change in Iraq), Sir Roderick Michael John Lyne (ex-diplomat subsequently involved in major British firms involved in Iraq) and Usha Kumari Prashar aka Baroness Prashar (top private and public sector executive). Interestingly, Prashar had been a non-executive director of Channel 4, which is a British public service broadcaster operative since Nov 1982.

Doesn't Alistair Burt find it surprising that no HR groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group et al and the major western media have never challenged or even queried the "independence" of the Chilcot Inquiry? Or is it that they are too honestly friendly with the UK as to make such embarrassing calls for independence?

I owe it to Sri Lanka's Deputy Representative at the UN, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, for the information that the same Sir John Chilcot served on another five-member inquiry appointed in Feb. 2004 to study the failure of Western Intelligence Services in relation to false intelligence. Although western forces invaded Iraq citing intelligence reports of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein having a mega program to produce weapons of mass destruction, the invaders never found anything. Those who investigated the intelligence failure included Lord Butler of Brockwell (served three Prime Ministers as Cabinet Secretary), Field Marshal Lord Inge (ex-Chief of Defence Staff), Sir John Chilcot (now heads Iraq Inquiry) and two Labour and Conservative MPs, Ann Taylor and Michael Mates, respectively, who supported the invasion of Iraq. Indeed an outstanding example of "independence" in inquiry. All members of both inquiries are solely British, and were largely supportive of the Iraq invasion, so by what stretch of imagination could they be independent?

It is also necessary to remind Alistair Burt of two other important matters regarding the invasion of Iraq by the UK (whether it was Tony Blair playing poodle to George W. Bush or not). The present Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, the Liberal Democratic Leader Nick Clegg, said in the House of Common on July2, 2010, that the invasion of Iraq by the UK was illegal. At the end of a heated exchange with Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time the invasion was launched, Clegg said: " We may have to wait for his memoirs, but perhaps one day he will account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all: the illegal invasion of Iraq". He made this statement from the dispatch box of the Commons as the Deputy Prime Minister.

There were more things that Nick Clegg said that would require inquiry. Referring to Wikileaks reports about torture and abuse in Iraq, in October 2010, the Lib-Dem leader told BBC 4: " We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinarily serious. They are distressing to read about and they are very serious. I am assuming the US administration will want to provide its own answer. It is not for us to tell them what to do."

Asked by BBC 4 if there should be an inquiry into the role of British troops, Clegg said: "I think anything that suggest that basic rules of war, conflict and engagement have been broken or that torture has been in any way condoned are extremely serious and need to be looked into...I think people will want to hear what the answer is to what are very, very serious allegations of a nature which I think everybody will find quite shocking."

Is it the extremely warm friendship, whether honest or not, between the UK and US that has not made Alistair Burt to call all for an independent inquiry to the charges about US troop activity in Iraq and Afghanistan? Also, is it a not so honest friendship with Nick Clegg or too much of an honest friendship with the British people that Alistair Burt has not sought any independent inquiry into the charges about British troops?

Just for the record, is Alistair Burt not aware of the Labour Leader Ed Miliband's statement that Blair was wrong to take Britain to war in Iraq, in his acceptance speech at the Labour Party conference last year, which made his brother, the hugely pro-LTTE David Miliband, to walk out of the conference? Here is what Ed Miliband said: "I criticize nobody with making the toughest decisions and I honour our troops who fought and died there. But I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that...Wrong because the war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations."

Does Alistair Burt not want any inquiry, whether independent or not, to inquire why Britain was taken to war in Iraq, in a manner that undermined the United Nations? Or is he too much of an honest friend with Ed Miliband to make such a call?

To get back to the question of an independent inquiry, one must not forget that the war in Iraq was fought in a foreign land. The majority of victims were Iraqi civilians. Several thousands of them were killed. Many more were gravely injured. The country was pushed into sectarian violence. The country was pushed into sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia. Those who were displaced by this "illegal" war that "undermined the United Nations" became refugees by the millions in Syria, Jordan and other neighbouring states. Does the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War have a single Iraqi as a member, to represent the very theatre of war? Is there any Syrian or Jordanian or any other representative from a country that received that exodus of Iraqi refugees. Regrettably, there is no such representation. It is a British Inquiry into an international operation by Britain that took place in another land, and caused (and still causes) untold misery to those people. But the inquiry remains wholly British.

On the other hand the Sri Lankan crisis and armed conflict was entirely local. There were no foreign boots on our soil. No attacks from foreign helicopter gunships on civilians or journalists, or foreign bombardment of civilians.

It is accepted that most that left the country at that time seeking refugee/asylum status in the west, including the UK, went for better economic conditions. Many of them are now returning, and Britain itself is sending back those who failed to fulfill the requirements of refugee/asylum status, with no fear for them when they return.

So why can't we conduct our own inquiry, by our own persons of eminence -- public officers with good records, senior diplomats and competent professionals -- to look into a crisis within our own borders, without having the so-called "independence" of foreign inquirers, who are not probing what needs to be probed in their own countries?

There is another matter that honest friends such as Alistair Burt never raise. It is the oft stated position "that war crimes were perpetrated by both sides in the conflict in those difficult days." It is an easy way of shrugging off the responsibility of the LTTE because it has been defeated, and all the better for it as they all say. There is also the oft stated charge that "the LTTE used civilians as a human buffer and killed those who attempted to flee". How is it that an honest friend of Sri Lanka, who must have humanitarian feelings, can ignore the role of those who still peddle the LTTE line abroad, and are straining every nerve and muscle to level charges of alleged war crimes against Sri Lanka, not ask one word about their own responsibility to these horrendous crimes of the LTTE? Why not appoint an independent inquiry if you wish, to find out what role the members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and such groups were doing by supporting the terror of the LTTE, including its use of human shields, child soldiers and suicide killers? How is it that any call for an independent probe can ignore the work of such people, only because they happen to be non-state actors, despite the fact that they were the strongest contributors to and diehard activists in the cause of LTTE terror, and still seek to subvert democracy to achieve their goal that was denied by Sri Lanka's defeat of terrorism? Is this not a matter of interest to any honest friend, who dares to point the finger only at the Sri Lankan State?

The sting of friendship is in the tail, when Alistair Burt defines an honest friend as one who "would not stand aside and remove the need for difficulties to be confronted." He should know it as a twist of honest friendship to lacerate wounds already in the process of healing, and claim it is because the UK wants an open and honest relationship with Sri Lanka.

Friendship, especially one that is described as honest, requires respect for the integrity of one's friend, be it a person or a state. Honest friendship does not suggest or call for interference in the affairs of a friendly nation, especially with warnings of drastic action to follow if the friendly admonitions are not followed. It is good for the UK to be a friend of Sri Lanka. Let's keep it at that. Honest Friendship of the type that Alistair Burt offers lacks the warmth and spirit of true friendship.

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, journalist, is the Director, Policy Research & Information of the Presidential Secretariat.

Courtesy : PRIU

 

| |   PRINT

Reproduction of  news items are permitted when used without any alterations to contents and the source.

| About Us | Publications | News & Events | Resources | Useful Links | Services | Defence Units |

2009 Ministry of Defence and Urban Development - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor