Manivannan Incident & UN Hypocrisy

The stories of Tamil lobbyists storming the corridors of UNHRC must be recorded for posterity. In future generations no one will understand the efforts expended and the sweat excreted in the name of lobbyism. An astonished diplomat did ask ‘why are you all here?’ The poor fellow genuinely didn’t know. Why Tamils from all over the world swarm “his palace” had remained a mystery for him over the last years. Little did he know, one of the mythical doors in the UN somehow holds the key to the future of Tamils.

From Australia to Canada, Tamils arrive on their yearly pilgrimage in March to somehow unlock that fabled door. Ah, if only others knew the pain and the preparations behind the annual trip. Ceremonial ties and slogans will start to flow from February onwards. Strategic spins and speeches will take over the Tamil media, announcing the arrival of the messiah. All will come to a damp squib in the end, of course, with one resolution, which by the way is “co-sponsored” these days with Sri Lanka. Rest assured though, the suit will only rest till next March when the procession begins all over again.

This year however was marked by a little encounter of a different kind. Man of the “March” for this year surely belongs to the one and only Manivannan. This incident goes to the very heart of the UN and Sri Lankan officials so much so that they almost want to make it an example of what not to do.

The Sinhala nationalist pro-government media in Sri Lanka boiled. ‘These stalwarts of the LTTE must be stopped,’ was the cry. Many screamed. From the national news agency such as The Island, to Lankasri, the UN news was the hot topic. This incident even warranted a paragraph in the official oral presentation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “Prince” Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein. Here is what he warned:

“I am disturbed to hear reports of intimidation of members of civil society here in the Palais des Nations. Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour, the system-wide coordinator for action on reprisals, will be looking into this, and I trust, Mr President, you will also give these cases close attention.”

What on earth took place then? What took place is something that proved one unknown point – that not all Tamils are that “stupid”. The yearly journey to the great palace is not merely due to utter mindlessness. Passion and anger and desire for justice runs through some veins. Unlike The Island’s portrayal of Manivannan, he had nothing to do with LTTE. Nor has he ever engaged in any violent activities in the past. You can’t get a more passive human than him. But his passionate question is a fully valid one. It was a question about Sarath Weerasekara.

But allow us to provide a bit of background to this Sarath Weerasekara. To say he was a rear admiral in the Sri Lankan navy is to underplay his role as truly one of the hangmen of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime during the genocidal war in 2009.

He was in fact a chief of staff in the Sri Lankan navy and a director general of the civil defence force (CDF). It is well known that the CDF has acted as a paramilitary force, then as an official part of the Sri Lankan navy committed war crime and sexual abuses. The UN’s OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) report records that at least 11 members of the CDF were accused of sexual violence. Ah, you may argue, they were largely acquitted – but the OISL also acknowledges that evidence suggests that “members of security forces enjoy impunity”.

Weerasekara was also a vice-president of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Being a strong supporter of the former dictatorial president Mahinda, Weerasekara was an arch-defender of the bloody executive presidency and voted against the 19th amendment.

Tamil activists have been exposing the hypocrisy of the UN in allowing a war criminal such as Weerasekara to come to the UN while it pretends to defend human rights. The International Buddhist relief organisation (IBRO) has UN accreditation. It is IBRO that invites Sarath and allows him to speak at their fringe event called “truth and justice’. It is not clear whether they went ahead with this meeting.

But not so surprisingly the right-wing lobbyists, the British Tamils Forum organised their usual fringe event. The BTF is able to organise this meeting with the help of Pasumai Thayagam and People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka (PEARL). Sarath was present in this meeting. It is in this meeting Mr Manivannan from the TGTE confronted the hypocrisy.

Manivannan said “This war criminal is coming down here – sitting here and talking to us. [UN] is providing immunity for them. I call upon the Swiss government to arrest him –HERE. Because we have got evidence that he has committed lots of crimes…”

The response came swiftly. Samaraweera showed what stuff he is made of when he shouted “treason”. While demanding that Manivannan should be tried for treason, he shouted that it is the “soldiers who saved the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE”! Later he even claimed “I have given blood to the Tamil people –my blood is running through the veins of Tamil people”. His supporters started taking pictures of other activists in the meeting – an open threat that “we have got your details” – a demonstration of how business was conducted under the former dictatorial regime.

All this in the name of Buddhism, truth and justice. Obviously no mention of the eleven solders under his command who were accused of committing sexual abuse against Tamils during the massacre. The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, working with the IBRO, also contributed to him having the opportunity to address the human rights council. He walked in with a wounded soldier, a master stunt he hoped, and claimed to welcome the international investigation – that is only to investigate the crimes of the LTTE.

The UN once again stands exposed in its hypocrisy. If there is any meaning to the justice they talk about Sarath Weerasekara should have been arrested as Manivannan called for. To the horror of Tamil activists, except Manivannan, the rest of the lobbyists remained “cool” in the face of such hypocrisy.

This incident reveals the many rights and wrongs of the political situation with respect to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The lobbyists have lost sight of their main goal – ie to prosecute the criminals who are complicit in the massacre of 2009. Instead they are now for business. The UN and the west are confident enough that they can continue to do what they want to do and get the support of some of the stooge leaders in the TNA and in the diaspora. The UN and the western establishment are confident these ‘leaders’ will do the job for them. People like Manivannan who still have passion for justice will be systematically side-lined as “hardliners”. Meanwhile the Mahinda gangs still roam free, claiming to give blood to Tamil women.

But support for this political approach is diminishing among Tamils. There will emerge a new strategy with a new perspective, one that will seek unity with all progressive forces regardless of religion and ethnicity. These so-called Tamil leaders are already feeling the heat. No wonder they have to hold meetings with maximum security and move to undisclosed secret locations, etc.

By TU Senan