Advocating the Use of the G word - GENOCIDE
In the run up to today’s HRC vote on Sri Lanka, there has been some considerable debate over how the demands of justice are to be met, and the use of the word genocide. The latter debate was sparked by the DMK’s withdrawal from the Indian central government, in a protest against the government’s position with respect to the US sponsored resolution before the HRC. The DMK demands were twofold, India should work to strengthen the resolution, not weaken it, and the word genocide should be used in the resolution.
In New Delhi last month TAG pushed for India to strengthen the resolution, to call for an International Independent Investigation, and one taken in the context of 60 years of persecution. With regards use of the word “genocide”, given our name, there can be little doubt over where we at Tamils Against Genocide stand.
Criticisms fall broadly into 2 categories, one of tactics, and one of ownership.
Tactics. These criticisms argue from a position of pragmatism, not, by in large, of denial - the argument runs that the time for the inclusion of genocide is not yet upon us. The fear is that the G word will turn away the more hesitant supporters, and what a pity if the resolution falters because of demands to include genocide in the wording.
2009 witnessed such a line of thinking in action. The Petrie report (the UN Internal Review Panel Report on Sri Lanka, November 2012) exposed the extent of UN knowledge of civilian casualties at the hands of the Sri Lankan state, and the depth of UN inaction. It was not for lack of verification that casualties were not reported, rather silence was a calculated decision, the result of an internal conflict between the demands of a humanitarian operation and human rights considerations. Practical concerns won out. Silence won out. The Petrie report acknowledges that had the extent of crimes been revealed, many deaths could have been averted.
Continued silence now is not the answer. International inaction and silence, not ignorance, made it possible for Sri Lanka to continue and to escalate its mass killing. Continuing to muffle calls for genocide, to water down the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan state, grants the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) time and space to continue in the same vein. The crimes committed by the GoSL are not a thing of the past but are ongoing. Accountability and recognition are not sought merely as salves for old wounds. They are necessary to preventing crimes today and in the future.
Ownership. A second vein of criticism avers that genocide is a legal term, to be determined by courts, that to speak of genocide before it has been declared such by an independent judiciary is to put the cart before the proverbial horse.
History tells a different tale. The UN Secretary General, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Oxfam and other non-governmental organizations referred to the Rwandan Genocide contemporaneously in April 1994 years before it had been designated as such by the ICTR. The Nuremberg trials did not use the term genocide in reference to the Holocaust yet few would deny the term is appropriate.
Additionally, there have been many calls for an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes, without such criticism being levied.
The credible allegations of crimes committed in the final months of the conflict, 2009, amount to genocide. They need be viewed and investigated within the framework of genocide, within the historical context of decades of persecution. The crimes committed against the Tamil people within Sri Lanka did not end with the military defeat of the LTTE; they are ongoing. Recognising the scale of crimes matters for Tamil lives now.
The inadequacy of the crimes against humanity charge rests in its failure to properly explain the intent of the perpetrators in this instance. Those who survived the mass atrocities in Sri Lanka wish for a satisfactory explanation of the intent behind those atrocities.
States who rejected the US resolution today and those who advocate playing it softly, who vote for the resolution but fear to speak of genocide, not only deny justice to the survivors, they grant Sri Lanka more time and space to continue to act with impunity.