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Trump’s Jerusalem ploy: A clear violation of international law

John Wight

US President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, US, September 18, 2017

President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not only a clear violation of international law, but a moral outrage when it comes to its acquiescence in apartheid, ethnic cleansing and the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Delivered with the indifference of a mafia don parcelling out territory to one of his capos, in this instance Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump’s announcement did not so much signal the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as it did provide confirmation that the US and Israel are rogue states.

Rejectionist stance
Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has embraced with unfailing ardour a rejectionist stance when it comes to a Palestinian state. He knows that peace, a viable peace, cannot exist and will never exist unless justice for the Palestinians is placed at its heart. Hitherto the Israeli prime minister had stood isolated in his obduracy – even if opposition to it had been more sotto voce than meaningful on the part of a supine international community – but now in Trump his greatest dream has come true, providing him with a willing partner in his refusal to depart as much as an inch from his embrace of Israeli exceptionalism and belief that Israel’s right to the land of Palestine is inviolate.
In truth, of course, Israel has never and will never have any right to Palestinian land – unless, that is, religious and biblical obscurantism, buttressed by settler colonialism, is the kernel of international law and diplomacy in the 21st century.

Jerusalem is indisputably a part of occupied Palestine
Jerusalem is unequivocally and indisputably a part of occupied Palestine, adjudged such by both the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations. Its ooccupation also constitutes a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically Article 49 concerning forced transfer and deportations of civilians out of an occupied territory, and the transfer of its own civilians into said territory.
Thus the violation of international law reflected in the assumption of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is clear and inarguable, just as it has been over its decades-long occupation. What has been lacking, and grievously, throughout this time is the requisite will on the part of the international community to take serious measures by which to compel Israel to conform to its obligations under international law as a UN member state.

Israel’s alliance with Washington
The only reason Israel has been able to continue to flout those obligations is its longstanding alliance with Washington, providing it with unparalleled military, financial, and military support. The bond which the political establishments of both countries share is long and, in the inimitable words of the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama, “unbreakable.”
The point surely, though, is that no one is asking or expecting it to be broken. All people who are of goodwill expect, and are entitled to expect, is that Washington – with the extirpation of its own indigenous population as part of its own shameful history – stand on the side of international law (the operative word here being ‘international’) instead of being complicit in its breach, as it has been and continues to be when it comes to its support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Trump’s recklessness and disregard for the craft of diplomacy has once again thrown a metaphoric hand grenade into the midst of an issue and region that needs another incendiary development like a malnourished man needs to go on a crash diet. Does the current US president think this is a game? Does he understand that he’s supposed to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world and not a recurring character in The Sopranos?
The barrage of criticism that has met this development from across the world tells its own story. It is a development which constitutes the final nail in the coffin of the Middle East  peace process, pushing the Palestinians down the path towards physical resistance in the form of a third intifada as a consequence.

Mass experiment in human despair
Who could possibly blame them? Decades spent existing under the brute heel of occupation in the West Bank – where Jewish only illegal settlements have expanded and continue to spread, where hundreds of checkpoints are a daily reminder of their subjugation and degradation, occupied land the natural resources of which have and continue to be expropriated – can only but leave a sour taste.  Meanwhile, Gaza continues to exist under a siege that amounts to collective punishment, one that evinces no sign of abating anytime soon. Taken together, the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ has been engaged in a mass experiment in human despair.
Ironically, such a brazen move by Trump can only weaken rather than increase Israel’s security. It will serve to marginalize moderate Palestinian voices and allow more radical ones to come to the fore, able to point to this measure as irrefutable evidence of the futility of a diplomatic solution to the crisis, attracting support for their belief in resistance by any means necessary, including, as mentioned, physical resistance. Increasingly, it seems this is the only language these thugs in tailored suits understand.
That Trump’s understanding of the Middle East, with all its complexities, is of insufficient breadth to fit on the back of a postage stamp, is not in dispute. Indeed it is tempting to ascribe to the 45th president the withering verdict of one of his predecessors, Lyndon Johnson – “so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”

[John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1]
— Counterpunch

Comment

John Wight

US President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, US, September 18, 2017

President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not only a clear violation of international law, but a moral outrage when it comes to its acquiescence in apartheid, ethnic cleansing and the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Delivered with the indifference of a mafia don parcelling out territory to one of his capos, in this instance Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump’s announcement did not so much signal the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as it did provide confirmation that the US and Israel are rogue states.

Rejectionist stance
Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has embraced with unfailing ardour a rejectionist stance when it comes to a Palestinian state. He knows that peace, a viable peace, cannot exist and will never exist unless justice for the Palestinians is placed at its heart. Hitherto the Israeli prime minister had stood isolated in his obduracy – even if opposition to it had been more sotto voce than meaningful on the part of a supine international community – but now in Trump his greatest dream has come true, providing him with a willing partner in his refusal to depart as much as an inch from his embrace of Israeli exceptionalism and belief that Israel’s right to the land of Palestine is inviolate.
In truth, of course, Israel has never and will never have any right to Palestinian land – unless, that is, religious and biblical obscurantism, buttressed by settler colonialism, is the kernel of international law and diplomacy in the 21st century.

Jerusalem is indisputably a part of occupied Palestine
Jerusalem is unequivocally and indisputably a part of occupied Palestine, adjudged such by both the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations. Its ooccupation also constitutes a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically Article 49 concerning forced transfer and deportations of civilians out of an occupied territory, and the transfer of its own civilians into said territory.
Thus the violation of international law reflected in the assumption of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is clear and inarguable, just as it has been over its decades-long occupation. What has been lacking, and grievously, throughout this time is the requisite will on the part of the international community to take serious measures by which to compel Israel to conform to its obligations under international law as a UN member state.

Israel’s alliance with Washington
The only reason Israel has been able to continue to flout those obligations is its longstanding alliance with Washington, providing it with unparalleled military, financial, and military support. The bond which the political establishments of both countries share is long and, in the inimitable words of the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama, “unbreakable.”
The point surely, though, is that no one is asking or expecting it to be broken. All people who are of goodwill expect, and are entitled to expect, is that Washington – with the extirpation of its own indigenous population as part of its own shameful history – stand on the side of international law (the operative word here being ‘international’) instead of being complicit in its breach, as it has been and continues to be when it comes to its support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Trump’s recklessness and disregard for the craft of diplomacy has once again thrown a metaphoric hand grenade into the midst of an issue and region that needs another incendiary development like a malnourished man needs to go on a crash diet. Does the current US president think this is a game? Does he understand that he’s supposed to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world and not a recurring character in The Sopranos?
The barrage of criticism that has met this development from across the world tells its own story. It is a development which constitutes the final nail in the coffin of the Middle East  peace process, pushing the Palestinians down the path towards physical resistance in the form of a third intifada as a consequence.

Mass experiment in human despair
Who could possibly blame them? Decades spent existing under the brute heel of occupation in the West Bank – where Jewish only illegal settlements have expanded and continue to spread, where hundreds of checkpoints are a daily reminder of their subjugation and degradation, occupied land the natural resources of which have and continue to be expropriated – can only but leave a sour taste.  Meanwhile, Gaza continues to exist under a siege that amounts to collective punishment, one that evinces no sign of abating anytime soon. Taken together, the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ has been engaged in a mass experiment in human despair.
Ironically, such a brazen move by Trump can only weaken rather than increase Israel’s security. It will serve to marginalize moderate Palestinian voices and allow more radical ones to come to the fore, able to point to this measure as irrefutable evidence of the futility of a diplomatic solution to the crisis, attracting support for their belief in resistance by any means necessary, including, as mentioned, physical resistance. Increasingly, it seems this is the only language these thugs in tailored suits understand.
That Trump’s understanding of the Middle East, with all its complexities, is of insufficient breadth to fit on the back of a postage stamp, is not in dispute. Indeed it is tempting to ascribe to the 45th president the withering verdict of one of his predecessors, Lyndon Johnson – “so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”

[John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1]
— Counterpunch


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EU rejects Trump’s call to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Alex Lantier

AT A MEETING between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) member states in Brussels yesterday, the EU rejected the demand spearheaded by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This call openly tramples international law, which has long maintained that the status of Jerusalem can be settled only in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Brussels meeting, coming after Netanyahu met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for tense talks over the weekend, pointed to explosive divisions between Washington and its European allies over the growing conflicts in the Middle East. At the same time, European officials issued reactionary denunciations of protests that are spreading internationally against Trump’s demand.
Though EU officials repeatedly opposed Trump’s proposal on Jerusalem before the summit—after meeting Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron called it “contrary to international law and dangerous for world peace”—Netanyahu said he expected European opposition would ultimately be overcome.

Fraud of the so-called “peace process” in Palestine
“I believe that all, or most, of the European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and engage robustly with us for security, prosperity and peace,” he said. He also claimed that Israel helps Europe fight terrorism and shields Europe from refugee flows out of the war-torn Middle East.
Netanyahu aggressively promoted Trump’s provocative proposal, which has exposed the fraud of the so-called “peace process” in Palestine, triggered mass protests and raised the specter of a new escalation of war in the Middle East. Demonstrations have erupted from Indonesia in Southeast Asia, across the Middle East including in Lebanon yesterday, to Tunisia and Europe. While Netanyahu was in Paris this weekend, Palestinian groups held a protest on Republic Square.
Netanyahu claimed, however, that in demanding Jerusalem be made Israel’s capital, “what President Trump has done is put facts squarely on the table. Peace is based on reality. … Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, no one can deny it. It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible.”
After Netanyahu’s summit meeting with EU foreign ministers, however, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said the EU would not support the proposal or move its embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “The prime minister mentioned a few times he expected other countries to follow president Trump’s decision... He can keep his expectations for others, but from the European Union member states’ side, this move will not come,” Mogherini said.
Mogherini reiterated the EU’s support for the common existence of Israeli and Palestinian national states, based on the borders prior to the 1967 war. She called this the “international consensus” and added that the EU would continue to support it until the status of Jerusalem was resolved by international negotiations.
Mogherini said the EU was acting in an attempt to prevent Trump’s actions from triggering more opposition to US policy in the region. “We do not wish to see a discredited US administration when it comes to the negotiations in the Middle East,” she said.
Two governments with far-right ties, the Czech Republic and Hungary, had signaled support last week for Netanyahu’s positions. Hungary vetoed a draft EU statement condemning the call to move the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, while the Czech government had issued a statement declaring that it “recognises Jerusalem to be in practice the capital of Israel.” Subsequently, it issued a statement declaring that this previous statement had applied only to Israeli-held West Jerusalem. Yesterday, however, neither government publicly supported Netanyahu’s positions.
The EU’s refusal to back Trump’s demand for what is effectively an Israeli annexation of Jerusalem comes amid a downward spiral of war and bloodshed across the region. The United States and its European allies have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Russia and Iran in the proxy war for regime change in Syria launched by NATO in 2011. Over six years of war that left hundreds of thousands dead in Syria and Iraq and forced tens of millions to flee, it became clear that the NATO powers’ Islamist proxies in the region had no real popular support whatsoever.

Imperialist intervention in Middle East
This defeat has not lessened, but rather increased, the danger that the ongoing wars created by decades of imperialist intervention in the Middle East could coalesce into an all-out regional war, or even a US-European-Russian conflict. The imperialist powers have no intention of ceding ground to Russia, Iran, or other powers such as China that are rapidly developing their influence in the Middle East. However, Washington and the main European powers are increasingly at odds over how to pursue this escalation and divide the spoils.
While the EU sought to bolster its regional military deployments by deepening its commercial influence in Iran after the adoption of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Washington is pushing for all-out military escalation. These divisions have widened since Trump’s election and his trip to the Middle East in May, in which he handed a blank check to Saudi Arabia for action against Iran. The EU opposed Trump’s threat to de-certify the Iranian nuclear treaty, and France sought to defuse the situation last month when Saudi Arabia detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Trump’s call to make Jerusalem Israel’s capital comes after repeated Israeli air strikes, launched with tacit US backing, against government forces inside Syria aligned with Russia and Iran. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz wrote that this signified that Israel is “willing to risk a new front with Iran,” and advocated “eyeing the US to form a decided strategy.” Last week, Israeli officials denounced Iran after the leader of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Qais al-Khazali, visited and delivered speeches near the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Increasingly, the regional powers are preparing for a new, even bloodier war. A major target of the US-Israeli escalation, as of Saudi Arabia’s detention of Hariri, is the Iranian-aligned Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. In 2006, Hezbollah fought an Israeli invasion force attacking Lebanon to a draw, and concerns are growing in Israeli media that Hezbollah has been strengthened militarily by its participation in the war against the US-backed intervention in Syria.
In this explosive crisis, the EU powers play a reactionary role. They are trying firstly to dissociate themselves from Washington and Tel Aviv in order to pursue their own imperialist interests, but above all to suppress anti-war protests against the reactionary policies of Trump and Netanyahu.
In a France Inter radio interview, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned of the danger of mass protests against Israel in the Palestinian territory: “It is a risk, I do not wish it, I think everyone has to calm down now.” He added, “In fact, the United States are isolated on this matter.”
Social-democratic Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo also issued a reactionary attack on the protests against Israel’s threat to annex Jerusalem in her city. Even as Netanyahu orients to far-right forces in Eastern Europe closely tied to anti-Semitic movements, Hidalgo branded opponents of Netanyahu’s policy as anti-Semites, saying: “Anti-semitism, which hides behind anti-Zionism, should never be allowed to win.”
— WSWS

Comment

Alex Lantier

AT A MEETING between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) member states in Brussels yesterday, the EU rejected the demand spearheaded by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This call openly tramples international law, which has long maintained that the status of Jerusalem can be settled only in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Brussels meeting, coming after Netanyahu met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for tense talks over the weekend, pointed to explosive divisions between Washington and its European allies over the growing conflicts in the Middle East. At the same time, European officials issued reactionary denunciations of protests that are spreading internationally against Trump’s demand.
Though EU officials repeatedly opposed Trump’s proposal on Jerusalem before the summit—after meeting Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron called it “contrary to international law and dangerous for world peace”—Netanyahu said he expected European opposition would ultimately be overcome.

Fraud of the so-called “peace process” in Palestine
“I believe that all, or most, of the European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and engage robustly with us for security, prosperity and peace,” he said. He also claimed that Israel helps Europe fight terrorism and shields Europe from refugee flows out of the war-torn Middle East.
Netanyahu aggressively promoted Trump’s provocative proposal, which has exposed the fraud of the so-called “peace process” in Palestine, triggered mass protests and raised the specter of a new escalation of war in the Middle East. Demonstrations have erupted from Indonesia in Southeast Asia, across the Middle East including in Lebanon yesterday, to Tunisia and Europe. While Netanyahu was in Paris this weekend, Palestinian groups held a protest on Republic Square.
Netanyahu claimed, however, that in demanding Jerusalem be made Israel’s capital, “what President Trump has done is put facts squarely on the table. Peace is based on reality. … Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, no one can deny it. It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible.”
After Netanyahu’s summit meeting with EU foreign ministers, however, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said the EU would not support the proposal or move its embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “The prime minister mentioned a few times he expected other countries to follow president Trump’s decision... He can keep his expectations for others, but from the European Union member states’ side, this move will not come,” Mogherini said.
Mogherini reiterated the EU’s support for the common existence of Israeli and Palestinian national states, based on the borders prior to the 1967 war. She called this the “international consensus” and added that the EU would continue to support it until the status of Jerusalem was resolved by international negotiations.
Mogherini said the EU was acting in an attempt to prevent Trump’s actions from triggering more opposition to US policy in the region. “We do not wish to see a discredited US administration when it comes to the negotiations in the Middle East,” she said.
Two governments with far-right ties, the Czech Republic and Hungary, had signaled support last week for Netanyahu’s positions. Hungary vetoed a draft EU statement condemning the call to move the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, while the Czech government had issued a statement declaring that it “recognises Jerusalem to be in practice the capital of Israel.” Subsequently, it issued a statement declaring that this previous statement had applied only to Israeli-held West Jerusalem. Yesterday, however, neither government publicly supported Netanyahu’s positions.
The EU’s refusal to back Trump’s demand for what is effectively an Israeli annexation of Jerusalem comes amid a downward spiral of war and bloodshed across the region. The United States and its European allies have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Russia and Iran in the proxy war for regime change in Syria launched by NATO in 2011. Over six years of war that left hundreds of thousands dead in Syria and Iraq and forced tens of millions to flee, it became clear that the NATO powers’ Islamist proxies in the region had no real popular support whatsoever.

Imperialist intervention in Middle East
This defeat has not lessened, but rather increased, the danger that the ongoing wars created by decades of imperialist intervention in the Middle East could coalesce into an all-out regional war, or even a US-European-Russian conflict. The imperialist powers have no intention of ceding ground to Russia, Iran, or other powers such as China that are rapidly developing their influence in the Middle East. However, Washington and the main European powers are increasingly at odds over how to pursue this escalation and divide the spoils.
While the EU sought to bolster its regional military deployments by deepening its commercial influence in Iran after the adoption of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Washington is pushing for all-out military escalation. These divisions have widened since Trump’s election and his trip to the Middle East in May, in which he handed a blank check to Saudi Arabia for action against Iran. The EU opposed Trump’s threat to de-certify the Iranian nuclear treaty, and France sought to defuse the situation last month when Saudi Arabia detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Trump’s call to make Jerusalem Israel’s capital comes after repeated Israeli air strikes, launched with tacit US backing, against government forces inside Syria aligned with Russia and Iran. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz wrote that this signified that Israel is “willing to risk a new front with Iran,” and advocated “eyeing the US to form a decided strategy.” Last week, Israeli officials denounced Iran after the leader of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Qais al-Khazali, visited and delivered speeches near the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Increasingly, the regional powers are preparing for a new, even bloodier war. A major target of the US-Israeli escalation, as of Saudi Arabia’s detention of Hariri, is the Iranian-aligned Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. In 2006, Hezbollah fought an Israeli invasion force attacking Lebanon to a draw, and concerns are growing in Israeli media that Hezbollah has been strengthened militarily by its participation in the war against the US-backed intervention in Syria.
In this explosive crisis, the EU powers play a reactionary role. They are trying firstly to dissociate themselves from Washington and Tel Aviv in order to pursue their own imperialist interests, but above all to suppress anti-war protests against the reactionary policies of Trump and Netanyahu.
In a France Inter radio interview, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned of the danger of mass protests against Israel in the Palestinian territory: “It is a risk, I do not wish it, I think everyone has to calm down now.” He added, “In fact, the United States are isolated on this matter.”
Social-democratic Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo also issued a reactionary attack on the protests against Israel’s threat to annex Jerusalem in her city. Even as Netanyahu orients to far-right forces in Eastern Europe closely tied to anti-Semitic movements, Hidalgo branded opponents of Netanyahu’s policy as anti-Semites, saying: “Anti-semitism, which hides behind anti-Zionism, should never be allowed to win.”
— WSWS


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Sri Lanka: Expectations about post-war justice processes

Jehan Perera in Colombo

THE GOVERNMENT’S commitment to the post-war transitional justice process can be seen in the Constitutional Council’s nomination of seven members to be commissioners of the Office of Missing Persons. As the Constitutional Council includes the Prime Minister, governmental sanction necessarily accompanies its choices although constitutional council members include the opposition and civil society. The movement forward of the reconciliation process has been in fits and starts, in particular where issues of transitional justice that involve the victims of war are concerned. But it is to the government’s credit that they have never abandoned it. This is particularly true of the office of missing persons, with its mandate to investigate any action where people went missing in any year on in any part of the country. The OMP has been constituted to be a permanent body with a standing not less than that of the Human Rights Commission.
The OMP was initially legislated in August 2016. Thereafter there have been prolonged delays in getting it functional. First the legislation regarding it had to be amended. This was on account of the original legislation failing to take into account some amendments made by political parties that were supportive of the legislation. The next delay was due to the President’s failure to allocate the OMP to any ministry. Finally in July 2017 President Sirisena allocated the OMP to the Reconciliation Ministry which comes under his direct purview. But this seemingly responsible gesture was not taken kindly by supporters of the reconciliation process who found fault with the President for taking on the OMP as they believed it was an over extension of his powers which had been limited by the 19th Amendment.

Slow pace
The desire to know the fate of persons who went missing without a trace is not unique to any one community. In the course of the three decade long war with the Tamil militant movement the majority of victims were Tamil. But large numbers of military personnel who were mostly Sinhalese also went missing. The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints regarding Missing Persons that was appointed in August 2013 by former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa received over 24,000 complaints relating to missing persons of which about 5000 were from families of missing military personnel. There were several incidents during the course of the war in which the LTTE overran military camps and killed almost all they captured. In the case of the Mullaitivu army camp which fell in 1996, about a thousand soldiers were killed in two days and many of the bodies disposed of without record.
 Another very large group of people who went missing was the tens of thousands who perished during the period of the JVP insurrection in the late 1980s. Even today there is no commonly accepted figure for casualties, although the figure of 60,000 is frequently mentioned. This is not dissimilar to the figure of 40,000 which is also frequently given in regard to those who lost their lives in the last phase of the LTTE war. Tracing what happened to the soldiers who died or to the victims of the JVP insurrection will be very difficult as the hard evidence will be lacking. As the OMP has not been given a time frame within which they need to conduct their investigations nor are they limited in their freedom to decide which incidents to investigate, they will certainly be asked to investigate the fate of these missing persons too.
The difficulties that the OMP will face in attempting to track down missing persons from the security forces and from the JVP period is an indication of the problems they will face when it comes to tracing the fate of those who went missing in the last phase of the war. The disposal of the bodies of the victims will mean it is going to be very difficult to find out what actually happened to them individually. A similar situation would exist in the cases of the JVP insurgents or suspects, some of whom were cremated on tyres on roads. The discovery of mass graves in Mannar in the North of the country and in Matale in the South of the country and a hotbed of JVP activity would suggest that many of the victims were also cremated or buried in mass graves.

High expectations
There are several challenges that the OMP will be subjected to that need to be considered. The first will be to manage the high expectations of the families of the missing persons. Many if not most of them continue to hope against hope that their loved ones continue to be alive and are being held in some place of detention, most likely by the security forces. Whenever government authorities tell them that there are no such places they get highly agitated and accuse those in government of being deceitful. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have each said that their government is not holding anyone in places of secret detention.
After the setting up of the OMP the expectation will be rife that it will swiftly locate the missing persons. But as the situation in Kosovo indicates the pace of finding out what happened to those who went missing is extremely time consuming. Such a slow pace will not be acceptable in Sri Lanka. The families of the missing are likely to believe that the OMP too is duping them. On the other hand, if the OMP discloses to the families that their loved one is either dead or they are unable to trace what happened to him, this truth will be difficult for the families to bear. It would be necessary that the OMP should function as part of a package of reforms that include the provision of psychological counseling and economic assistance for development purposes.
The biggest challenge will be that of ensuring accountability. The ongoing case former Navy spokesman and five others, who are currently in remand custody over the alleged disappearances of 11 youths in 2008 is an example. Replying to the defence lawyer who was critical of the treatment of a war hero, the lawyer representing the state said this was not an ordinary allegation but an investigation about the disappearances of eleven youths who were not even LTTE supporters. He said,“We are mindful of the fact about people who had served the nation, but that does not mean that they received licenses to abduct innocent people to demand ransom. Investigations are still going on and much revealing evidence is being filed into this inquiry. So it is not appropriate that counsel behave shouting at the Judge like a bull in a fish market”.
The victims are demanding an international or hybrid system of courts in which foreign judges will be active as they are mistrustful of the efficacy of the national system of justice. They want justice which is also important for society as a whole. The government position has been that foreign judges will not sit in judgment in the courts. The government needs to create a credible system of transitional justice in which all sections of the people can place their trust. It is also the responsibility of religious leaders, their clergy and civil society to both demand this and to educate the general population about these issues. It is easy for those who are not ready to bear responsibility to raise the expectations of the people. It is important that those with deep psychological wounds be cared for and unrealistic expectations be managed.
jehanpc@gmail.com

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo

THE GOVERNMENT’S commitment to the post-war transitional justice process can be seen in the Constitutional Council’s nomination of seven members to be commissioners of the Office of Missing Persons. As the Constitutional Council includes the Prime Minister, governmental sanction necessarily accompanies its choices although constitutional council members include the opposition and civil society. The movement forward of the reconciliation process has been in fits and starts, in particular where issues of transitional justice that involve the victims of war are concerned. But it is to the government’s credit that they have never abandoned it. This is particularly true of the office of missing persons, with its mandate to investigate any action where people went missing in any year on in any part of the country. The OMP has been constituted to be a permanent body with a standing not less than that of the Human Rights Commission.
The OMP was initially legislated in August 2016. Thereafter there have been prolonged delays in getting it functional. First the legislation regarding it had to be amended. This was on account of the original legislation failing to take into account some amendments made by political parties that were supportive of the legislation. The next delay was due to the President’s failure to allocate the OMP to any ministry. Finally in July 2017 President Sirisena allocated the OMP to the Reconciliation Ministry which comes under his direct purview. But this seemingly responsible gesture was not taken kindly by supporters of the reconciliation process who found fault with the President for taking on the OMP as they believed it was an over extension of his powers which had been limited by the 19th Amendment.

Slow pace
The desire to know the fate of persons who went missing without a trace is not unique to any one community. In the course of the three decade long war with the Tamil militant movement the majority of victims were Tamil. But large numbers of military personnel who were mostly Sinhalese also went missing. The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints regarding Missing Persons that was appointed in August 2013 by former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa received over 24,000 complaints relating to missing persons of which about 5000 were from families of missing military personnel. There were several incidents during the course of the war in which the LTTE overran military camps and killed almost all they captured. In the case of the Mullaitivu army camp which fell in 1996, about a thousand soldiers were killed in two days and many of the bodies disposed of without record.
 Another very large group of people who went missing was the tens of thousands who perished during the period of the JVP insurrection in the late 1980s. Even today there is no commonly accepted figure for casualties, although the figure of 60,000 is frequently mentioned. This is not dissimilar to the figure of 40,000 which is also frequently given in regard to those who lost their lives in the last phase of the LTTE war. Tracing what happened to the soldiers who died or to the victims of the JVP insurrection will be very difficult as the hard evidence will be lacking. As the OMP has not been given a time frame within which they need to conduct their investigations nor are they limited in their freedom to decide which incidents to investigate, they will certainly be asked to investigate the fate of these missing persons too.
The difficulties that the OMP will face in attempting to track down missing persons from the security forces and from the JVP period is an indication of the problems they will face when it comes to tracing the fate of those who went missing in the last phase of the war. The disposal of the bodies of the victims will mean it is going to be very difficult to find out what actually happened to them individually. A similar situation would exist in the cases of the JVP insurgents or suspects, some of whom were cremated on tyres on roads. The discovery of mass graves in Mannar in the North of the country and in Matale in the South of the country and a hotbed of JVP activity would suggest that many of the victims were also cremated or buried in mass graves.

High expectations
There are several challenges that the OMP will be subjected to that need to be considered. The first will be to manage the high expectations of the families of the missing persons. Many if not most of them continue to hope against hope that their loved ones continue to be alive and are being held in some place of detention, most likely by the security forces. Whenever government authorities tell them that there are no such places they get highly agitated and accuse those in government of being deceitful. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have each said that their government is not holding anyone in places of secret detention.
After the setting up of the OMP the expectation will be rife that it will swiftly locate the missing persons. But as the situation in Kosovo indicates the pace of finding out what happened to those who went missing is extremely time consuming. Such a slow pace will not be acceptable in Sri Lanka. The families of the missing are likely to believe that the OMP too is duping them. On the other hand, if the OMP discloses to the families that their loved one is either dead or they are unable to trace what happened to him, this truth will be difficult for the families to bear. It would be necessary that the OMP should function as part of a package of reforms that include the provision of psychological counseling and economic assistance for development purposes.
The biggest challenge will be that of ensuring accountability. The ongoing case former Navy spokesman and five others, who are currently in remand custody over the alleged disappearances of 11 youths in 2008 is an example. Replying to the defence lawyer who was critical of the treatment of a war hero, the lawyer representing the state said this was not an ordinary allegation but an investigation about the disappearances of eleven youths who were not even LTTE supporters. He said,“We are mindful of the fact about people who had served the nation, but that does not mean that they received licenses to abduct innocent people to demand ransom. Investigations are still going on and much revealing evidence is being filed into this inquiry. So it is not appropriate that counsel behave shouting at the Judge like a bull in a fish market”.
The victims are demanding an international or hybrid system of courts in which foreign judges will be active as they are mistrustful of the efficacy of the national system of justice. They want justice which is also important for society as a whole. The government position has been that foreign judges will not sit in judgment in the courts. The government needs to create a credible system of transitional justice in which all sections of the people can place their trust. It is also the responsibility of religious leaders, their clergy and civil society to both demand this and to educate the general population about these issues. It is easy for those who are not ready to bear responsibility to raise the expectations of the people. It is important that those with deep psychological wounds be cared for and unrealistic expectations be managed.
jehanpc@gmail.com


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