Going beyond the back-handed slap from Washington
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State slipped. Badly. So badly that
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis got tongue-tied trying to
do damage-control. Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large on Women’s
Issues, later said Clinton’s claim of Sri Lanka using ‘rape as a weapon
of war’ did not refer to the last phase of the struggle to liberate the
country from terrorism. Interesting. I went through a clip of Clinton’s
speech to the UN Security Council and nowhere did she mention ‘dates’.
An oversight, Verveer wants us to believe. Ok, Clinton slipped,
Washington said ‘oops!’ and we can now move on. Right? Wrong.
‘Wrong,’ because P.J. Crowley, US Assistant Secretary of State for
Public Affairs speaking with reporters and the Foreign Press Centre had
reiterated Verveer’s clarification and speaks if ‘significant levels of
rape documented (he thinks, he says) through 2002 or 2003 in various
reports, including State Department reports as well as Amnesty
Looks like it’s not only Hillary Clinton who has an aversion to doing
homework! Crowley’s reference is to the first two years of the
controversial ‘Ceasefire Agreement’ between Ranil Wickremesinghe and
Velupillai Prabhakaran. There was no ‘war’ at the time, i.e. the guns
had fallen silent (the LTTE did, however, engage in troop movement,
recruitment, forcibly conscript children, assassinate political
opponents and intelligence operatives of the Army, procure weapons and
so on). As such rape being used as weapon of war is an empty charge.
The message that Washington is sending the world regarding Sri Lanka
is disconcerting: ‘No, there was no wrong-doing in the last phase of the
war, but ‘there was wrong-doing somewhere down the line’. Quite apart
from the United States not having a leg to stand on when charging anyone
of war crimes, common decency requires officials such as Crowley and
Verveer to substantiate claim.
In this case, the onus is on these people to prove that Sri Lanka’s
defence establishment ‘willfully and intentionally, on a premeditated
design used and/or permitted its forces to rape women on a pre-arranged
scale to achieve military objectives’ (as Gomin Dayasri points out), at
any point over the past 30 years. ‘Evidence’ moreover has to be
something more than hysterical statements issued by proxies of the LTTE
who, the world knows, contributed lavishly to the election campaigns of
both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Frankly, I am getting tired of these ill-tempered missives from
Washington, a thieves’ den if ever there was one and headquarters of the
world’s most dangerous syndicate of brigands. I doubt that there is
enough moral fibre in the White House to engage in any serious
Rape is a serious charge and there have been instances where Security
Forces in Sri Lanka have been charged with rape.
Sure, it is a bit sick to say that ‘rape was used as an instrument of
war’ with respect to the Sri Lankan Security Forces, but it is not
possible to claim that rape has never occurred. It is also possible that
rape and other unpardonable acts have been covered up or glossed over
‘to maintain troop morale’. ‘Professionalism’ in the security forces has
been marked by ups and downs, and perhaps this was one of the reasons it
took so long to vanquish the LTTE.
US troops have been found guilty of all kinds of atrocities. The USA
has tried to cover up but when this was not possible, has not hesitated
to take action against the guilty. I am dead certain that the USA does
not pursue all those who are accused of war crimes, again from fear of
compromising troop morale (Obama wanted, for example, to hide
photographic evidence of such crimes being committed), but that country
does succeed in shelving objection by show-casing action taken.
I believe Sri Lanka can and should do better. Not for show, but for
the overall betterment of society, the streamlining of process and in
the interest of upping discipline among troops.
Thrishantha Nanay-akkara in an email has argued that a distinction
should be made between the true patriotic soldier/policeman and one who
abuses the power of his gun to victimize civilians, especially women. He
believes that ‘we have not been bold enough to make that distinction
clear, fearing that punishing a soldier will lower the morale of
others’. He is right; we have opened ourselves to criticism from the
most dubious sources and, more seriously, our friends, and we frustrate
our own fellow citizens, especially those in the conflict zone.
The war is over, but we still hear of excesses committed by men with
guns, especially the police. In the more recent cases, concrete steps
have been taken to bring to book the perpetrators. Still, it can happen
And again. The end of the war gives us an opportunity to re-think, as
Thrishantha says. Abuse of power, in whatever form, is wrong and we
suffer from a marked lack of protective institutional safeguards. ‘Rape’
moreover is something that happens everyday, everywhere. The Security
Forces have been exemplary, comparatively speaking, but we still live in
a society where women are never 100 percent safe.
Every act of transgression has to be investigated and the
perpetrators brought before the law. We can’t afford to be complacent
just because there is no systemic torture or rape in our country. There
are sick people who abuse position and power. The signs are good. There
is less looking-the-other-way happening now, compared with the past.
Let’s hope that this leads to a more systematic approach to ridding our
country of this menace. We can ask Hillary Clinton to stuff it, and I
suppose we more or less have, because she was wrong. We cannot tell that
to our sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and friends, all of whom are
at risk, in their homes, on the street, at their workplace.