Monday, April 30, 2012

Suspension of disbelief a must for Darusman fans

Published in my column in The Nation on April 29, 2012 
By Darshanie Ratnawalli

There is one part in the UN report on Sri Lanka that even should one have passionate crushes on one or all three members of the panel one should find hard to read without wincing. That is when they talk of the Government shelling of the 11th UN convoy. From paragraph 79 to 91, the report details the adventures of this convoy, 50 lorries full of essential goods accompanied by 7 international staff that had travelled from Vavuniya to PTK. When they offloaded and most of the international staff went back, leaving behind two international UN staffers to wait it out with the National staff in the PTK, until the LTTE should permit them to leave, the fun starts. The fun is in the telling of it in the UN report, not so much in the actual happening (highlights include dead babies blown up into tree tops).

“In the early morning hours of 24 January, hundreds of shells rained down in the NFZ. Those with access to the United Nations bunker dove into it for protection, but most IDPs did not have bunkers and had nowhere to seek cover. People were screaming and crying out for help. The United Nations security officer, a highly experienced military officer, and others present discerned that the shelling was coming from the south, from SLA positions…” That is paragraph 84. But almost in the next breath, in para 86, this crux statement that the shelling was discerned by those present to be coming from SLA positions is contradicted; “…The LTTE did fire artillery from approximately 500 meters away as well as from further back in the NFZ…”. This schizophrenia, this almost Hollywoodian manifestation of a multiple personality disorder, this two handed writing, the left hand contradicting what the right writes, is the besetting sin of the Panel report throughout.

An opinion held even among the severest critics of the Panel is that, rather than evidence of bad faith, it could be simple ignorance of warfare, the Panelists being from legal backgrounds. It is believed that their training simply did not qualify them for the insight that if it was being discerned that shelling was also coming from LTTE positions (as revealed in 86) the statement that a highly experienced UN security officer discerned that ‘the shelling’ was coming from SLA positions became farcical, inviting the lowest contempt on heads (of the Panel) that should be held the highest.
“..all we were told about the incident – other than the calls made by the UN to which we responded, and which culminated in the UN Resident Representative sending us a text to say they believed the bulk of firing had come from the LTTE – was the description given by Chris du Toit when we called him in to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, to discuss the figures that were being bandied about of civilian casualties over a month’s period. He told us then that they could not be sure from the trajectories where most of the shells had come from, but the one shell of which they could be sure – and he showed us the crater of a blown up photograph – had come from the LTTE.”
– (Rajiva Wijesinha, ‘Inconsistencies and deceit in the Darusman Panel/Weiss account of Convoy 11’)

But I can’t see that it is a matter of legal knowledge vs warfare knowledge. It’s simple composition the rules of which should have dictated to the Panel that when describing a scene which featured shells coming from LTTE positions as well as SLA positions, an act of collation was called for. Such collation would have produced a sentence such as; “So and so discerned that the shelling was coming from SLA positions as well as from LTTE positions”. Throughout the report such collations are conspicuous by their absence. In fact this practice is so the norm in the report that it deserves to be identified as a special ‘Darusman’s Law’: By keeping two co related facts physically separated instead of collating them in a single sentence, you can cook up a credible allegation.

It gets worse. Even when two such factors are present in the same sentence, the Panel obliterates the proper co-relationship of those factors through the use of inappropriate grammatical conjunctions in order to cook up a credible allegation. The Review by Marga Sri Lanka has pinpointed one such ‘incongruous’ instance in paragraph 94 (re PTK hospital) of the UN report.

It reads; “The LTTE also fired mobile artillery from the vicinity of the hospital, but did not use the hospital for military purposes until after it was evacuated. Yet in its eagerness to capture the area, the SLA repeatedly shelled the hospital and surrounding areas.” It should have read; “The LTTE did effectively use the hospital for military purposes by firing mobile artillery from the vicinity of the hospital, though they did not convert the hospital into a military target until after it was evacuated”. Such a composition would have compelled the Panel to make a distinction between collateral damage and systematic and deliberate targeting. If such a compulsion had moved the Panel, they would have been coy about ; “Yet in its eagerness to capture the area, the SLA repeatedly shelled the hospital and surrounding areas.” They would have specially blushed to use ‘yet’. Their report would have acknowledged “a trend whereby the LTTE had merged protected premises to be an integral part of their combat strategy;”(LLRC 4.287- ii). If we had been able to read such words of judicial acumen in the Panel report, we wouldn’t now be speculating on the aggregate IQ of the Panel. And preening and congratulating ourselves about being smarter than a UN appointed panel.

As it was, “None of the persons making representations was able to state with certainty that they were in a position to definitely confirm that the shells which fell on the hospitals, originated exclusively from the side of the Sri Lanka Army or from the LTTE. Civilians who appeared before the Commission stated that there had been shelling from both sides. One civilian stated that ‘when a shell lands, the general anticipation was that it was the Army – cannot state exactly’. Another ex LTTE cadre in the course of his representations had stated that the Puthumathalan hospital was in fact accidentally shelled by the LTTE for which they had subsequently apologized.”- (LLRC 4.292 ii)

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