Just kill them.
Well, my wife wanted peace.
And so did my little children.
So we killed all the lefties
To bring peace for our little children.
Anyway there was no problem.
Anyway they’re all dead anyway.
Pinter’s ‘The Old Days’ is a remarkably powerful poem. Replace lefties in the poem with Tamils and the lines read as if they were anchored to the end of war in Sri Lanka, and a carnage that many still don’t know about. Pinter talks about the banality of violence – how it is justified and internalised when the end justifies the means.
Anyway, all the democracies
(all the democracies)
were behind us.
They said: just don’t
tell anyone we’re behind you.
In Channel 4’s new documentary on Sri Lanka, Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, the former head of UN OCHA, Sir John Holmes says that the Sri Lankan government, towards the end of the war, didn’t believe anyone in the international community was prepared to stop them – no matter what the cost in civilian lives. At around 41 minutes into the documentary, Sir Holmes notes, “A lot of governments, including the Indian government, because of their own huge Tamil population, wanted to show concern. At the same time there was a sort of implicit green light for the government to finish off the LTTE”. Strip away the rest of what’s contested in this film, and that’s the nub of the problem that plagues Sri Lanka post-war. Accountability is most stridently demanded and advocated today by an international community that tacitly supported the present government to treat collateral deaths of Tamil civilians as inevitable and necessary to end the war. One can’t escape this frame of reference when meaningfully appreciating the present-day advocacy to hold key actors in Sri Lanka – including our President and his brutish brother, the Defence Secretary, accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity under chain of command responsibility. Since the carte blanche from three years has now morphed into diplomatic knuckle raps, questions on moral authority, timeliness, sovereignty, domestic agency, international oversight and indeed, international intervention must be robustly discussed. There also needs to be an acknowledgement over the government’s as well as the majority’s emotional, national and ethnic wellsprings of pushback to the international community’s interest in accountability today – which is emphatically not the same as appeasement. Sadly however, this vital discussion and debate – at least within Sri Lanka – is not happening. Worse, it is actually and actively denied.
Take just the past week. State print, web and electronic media have repeatedly, openly and with complete impunity viciously targeted human rights activists. They have been called dogs and prostitutes. Their execution by patriots who love Sri Lanka has been called for. They have been called terrorists and traitors. A senior government minister actually called for the boycott of Google’s Gmail and Coca-Cola to protest the US resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN HRC. Though no mainstream media has translated in full or accurately the US resolution into Sinhala or Tamil, thousands have marched in Colombo to protest against its content to foreign embassies, with placards decrying international conspiracies and the interest of the US in regime change. It’s a truly bizarre, disturbing, volatile context.
Channel 4’s disturbing new documentary reveals to a few of us who have closely studied the dénouement of the war nothing that wasn’t already known, reported, suspected, alleged and denied. Yet as much as I favour and will support as public a distribution of the video within Sri Lanka as possible, I doubt it will help reconciliation or accountability in the foreseeable future. To employ Pinter’s language, too many Sinhala wives and too many Sinhala children wanted peace, and so we killed as many Tamils as necessary.
We just killed them. And for so many today, that’s ok.