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Private sector Chambers respond to controversial Darusman Report

Four private sector Chambers which collectively represent a significant number of businesses in the country in a critique of the controversial Darusman Report, claims that the panel of experts had overstepped its mandate in compiling an advisory 'which appears to resemble a product of a fact finding inquiry including factual conclusion on disputed facts."

The collective of Chambers demands to know if the conclusions drawn by the Panel of Experts (POE) were just and fair and if the panel demonstrates bias.

The collective comprise the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL).

It says that the Private Sector Critique (PSC) only attempts to critically examine the modus oprendi followed by the POE in its inquiry and consequent conclusions.

"The objective of this exercise is to draw attention of the UN Secretary General (UNSG) and others involved in the process of considering the content of the Advisory to its obvious lapses and contradictions, which compromise the reliability of the 'Advisory' opinion."

The critique inter alia states: The POE claims that it treated an allegation as credible only when the information was "based on primary sources that the panel deemed relevant and trustworthy." Contrary to this claim, which suggests that the allegations were substantiated by victims and witnesses present on the ground, the POE seems to have relied exclusively on uncorroborated open sources for some of its findings.

The POE concludes that "in practice, ground forces appear to have been given significant discretion to use a barrage of artillery as they advanced." It finds that 'the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni using large-scale and widespread shelling, causing large numbers of civilian deaths' and throughout the final stages of the war, virtually every hospital in the Vanni, whether permanent or makeshift was hit by artillery." The POE thus concludes that the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) carried out a deliberate campaign of shelling civilians and humanitarian objects.

The attribution of GOSL intent and indifference to collateral civilian death is a total breach of scope and transgresses the basic tenant of fairness and temperance that must be the cornerstone of expert advisory opinions - given the volatility of the angst it will and has created in its wake. For instance, by its own indictment the POE states: "the LTTE refused civilians to leave using them as hostages, at times even using their presence as a strategic buffer between themselves and the advancing Sri Lanka Army. It implemented a policy of forced recruitment through the war, but in the final stages greatly intensified its recruitment of people of all ages including children as young as fourteen. The LTTE forced civilians to dig trenches and other emplacements for its own defence thereby contributing to a blurring of the distinction between combatants and civilians and exposing civilians to additional harm." "It also fired artillery in proximity to large groups of IDPs and civilian installations."

There seems a strong possibility that this causality of LTTE terror tactics could have contributed rightly or wrongly on the state actors' conviction that the greater safety and good of the majority of civilians would be met by a quick resolution of the conflict. It is also undeniable that the stated LTTE tactics would have greatly increased the numbers of civilian casualties. The use of terms such as 'persecution', 'systematic,' 'purposefully', state or organizational policy,' and attributing sinister 'strategies' to the GOSL, in this context is not merely irresponsible in its lack of cautionary tenor, it is incendiary in its impact. Some degree of clarification and/or retraction maybe thus advisable, if the other substantive issues the POE raises are to be relied upon.

The lack of reliability of the POE's observations is reflected in the fact that it refers to the Channel 4 footage as 'authenticated footage' when the very source it cites in support for authenticity, Mr Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extra judicial executions, merely states the following regarding the video: "while there are some unexplained elements in the video, there are strong indications of its authenticity." The statement attributed to Mr Alston is by no means an authentication of the video. On the contrary it casts some degree of doubt regarding the authenticity of some elements in the video.

The POE has relied on the 'Channel 4' video as the basis for a number of their conclusions. Considering the controversy surrounding the authenticity of the video footage and the international furor raised in the wake of its screening, it was counterproductive for the POE to regurgitate the same disputed sources of information with no new or discerning perspective. The anti-GOSL bias of the POE is further reflected in the fact that it interprets the unauthenticated footage and photographs which depicts persons in uniforms of the SLA as "Sri Lankan soldiers" without considering alternative possibilities such as imposters staging the activity to discredit the GOSL.

Significantly all acts of a criminal nature are attributed to the GOSL or the Sri Lanka police (CID or TID) or the SLA. Yet, positive acts which bear evidence of a humanitarian approach on the part of the GOSL or its forces towards the civilians are attributed to 'individual soldiers' to counter inferences favourable to the GOSL. For example 'those who managed to escape were helped by individual SLA soldiers."

In this context it is puzzling as to why the POE, which has shown a steep inclination to rely on video footage, did not consider it fit to assess video footage available in the public domain, showing large numbers of SLA soldiers rescuing civilians in the midst of artillery and gun fire, some carrying the injured through the melee. Examination of such information may have led a reasonable person/body to conclude alternatively that such rescues were consequent to a collective effort.

 

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