[* Nizar Qabbani, Syrian-born diplomat and poet, moved to Beirut in 1967, and London in 1981 after his wife’s killing and remained there until his death.]
From the Editor’s Desk Imperialism has come a long way since its colonial era. Direct military interventions are less common, but not altogether absent. It uses one section of the population of a country against another. Even more subtly, it uses the threat of potential civil war to subdue wayward rulers. Many rulers, who mouth anti-imperialist slogans to appease the strongly anti-imperialist sections of their support base, make deals behind scenes with imperialism and submit to economic conditions laid down by the IMF, the World Bank and other arms of imperialism.
Emerging capitalist economic powers like China and India are, sometimes grudgingly, partners of imperialism and some are already asserting themselves in their respective regions in hegemonic fashion. The conduct of India has been particularly notorious in the case of Sri Lanka. India has used the pretext of the rising economic influence of China to apply political pressure on Sri Lanka.
The establishment of two Deputy High Commissioner’s offices for India in addition to the long existing one in Kandy has no justification, since no other country, including Sri Lanka’s old colonial master, the UK, has more than one embassy in this small island. The Indian diplomatic mission has, since the bloody anti-Tamil violence of 1983, been blatantly meddling in the affairs of the country, except briefly, following the formal withdrawal of Indian troops in 1990.
India meddled in a big way to impose its will on Sri Lanka in 1987 in the name of resolving the national question which, partly with India’s assistance, developed into armed conflict. It meddled again in the national question to subvert a fragile peace process, initiated in 2002 and under siege by chauvinistic forces, in order to ensure that the West does not gain the upper hand by parading as patrons of a successful peace process. On the pretext of curbing Chinese and Pakistani influence in Sri Lanka, it fought a covert war against the LTTE alongside the Sri Lankan government, and in the process contributed to the killing of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians.
Indian High Commissioners in this millennium have conducted themselves Viceroy-like, as High Commissioner JN Dikshit did from 1987 until his departure in 1989. There have been instances of unwelcome meddling by Indian diplomats in local affairs, besides the use of ‘cultural’ activities to buy influence― which of course is something that other missions indulge in on a smaller scale.
However, the Deputy High Commissioner in Jaffna set a new precedent in breaching diplomatic protocol by threatening a judge of a Sri Lankan court of law regarding the custody of 136 Indian fishermen (arrested while fishing near the Sri Lankan coast by local fishermen and handed over to the police). What is sad is that the Sri Lankan government yielded to Indian pressure wielded at the level of the High Commission and higher. It is a bad sign, and will be a precedent for meddling by other diplomatic missions in matters that concern the welfare of the people. What has thus been compromised is not just the sovereignty of the state but, more importantly, that of the people
This would have been unimaginable before 1983, even under governments that were submissive to imperialism on matters of economic and foreign policy. What is even more disgraceful is that while the political parties of Tamilnadu are seeking to make capital of the problem be demanding the release of the fishermen arrested for poaching, there has been little forthcoming by way of protest from Sri Lankan parliamentary politicians about the high-handed activities of Indian diplomats. (The impending election for the state assembly is an important factor in Tamilnadu). Not even the JVP, which has of late been denouncing Indian economic expansionism, has condemned the Indian diplomats or expressed support for the fishermen. One would not normally expect anything critical of India from the Tamil nationalists who have sold themselves lock, stock and barrel to the rulers of India.
The warning that the recent events carry for us is not just about India, whose conduct may have been a little clumsy compared to that of the more sophisticated imperialists. It is against every existing and potential imperialist power and all forms of hegemony. Foreign investments in the sectors of agriculture, fishery and forestry will mean concessions to big capitalists and multi-national companies backed by the might of powerful states wielding influence over the government.
We have let it happen by allowing the ruling classes to divert attention from basic economic issues through heightening the national contradictions and transforming them into hostile contradictions. It is about time that the trend is reversed. That requires building a strong anti-imperialist national economy, for which a necessary precondition is the unity of all nationalities and the toiling masses.
***** Wars and Disappearances E Thambiah [Given below is a slightly edited text of the address by Comrade E Thambiah, International Organiser of the New-Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party, at the First Plenary Session of the Sixth International Conference Against Disappearances from 9th to 12th December 2011 in London.] International Humanitarian Law is specifically dealing with or concerned about individuals and groups at war or where there is armed conflict between resistance movements / liberation movements and the state/government security forces.
Resistance against injustice, unreasonableness and social injustice is an inherent right of an individual as well as communities. Resistance perhaps would lead to violence that is not individual terrorism or group terrorism or crime. Suppression of resistance through armed operation of the state security, alone or with the help of paramilitaries, is more or less war. Therefore war does not only mean armed operations between two state security forces or alignments of security forces.
In such situations states or governments tend to claim that the international humanitarian law is wrong and only relevant under a normal situation.
Besides, the state/government passes special laws to suppress resistance and to justify its violation of human rights and humanitarian norms. On the other hand, even under a normal situation there is no value for humanitarian norms within the framework of the so-called rule of law, other than shallow regulations/rules (of military discipline) on paper.
In these circumstances International Humanitarian Law is indulged as the means of protection of individuals and/or groups. It was believed that the Humanitarian Law, unlike International Human Rights Law, was inspired by feelings of humanity and centred on the protection of the individual in times of war and/or internal armed conflict, and the treatment of prisoners of war, hostages, surrendered persons and civilians.
International Humanitarian Law is mostly contained in the four conventions of 1949 and the protocols of 1977. It is about war and warlike situations and deals with the protection of victims of armed conflict. It has very specific provisions forbidding killings, involuntary removal or forced disappearances, torture of captives, taking of hostages, imposition of collective punishment and inflicting of avoidable hardships on civilians, among others. Moreover, the International Humanitarian Law imposes obligations on government forces as well resistance and/or liberation armed groups.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has formulated the contents of treaty and customary law under humanitarian law with regard to armed conflicts, as follows:
A Persons hors de combat and those who do not take a direct part in hostilities are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. They shall in all circumstances be protected and treated humanely without any adverse distinction.
B It is forbidden to kill or injure an enemy who surrenders or who is hors de combat.
C The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent is the sign of such protection and must be respected.
D Captured combatants and civilians under the authority of an adverse party are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They shall be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They shall have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.
E Everyone shall be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one shall be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one shall be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.
F Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.
G Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Neither the civilian population as such nor civilian persons shall be the object of attack. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives.
The rules may not be complete and may not be acceptable to all, but they are the basic rules put forward before the world community. The violations of same are tantamount to war crimes.
The international institutions that are expected to observe and take action against governments or individuals who disobeyed or acted in contravention of the rules are in the hands of hegemonic forces such as the US and powerful Western states, and have, except in one or two instances, not strictly pursued the matters when the rules were violated by the forces of the state themselves and constituted war crimes.
Apart from the above hegemonic forces, most of the countries are either aligned with them or their client states. Therefore attempts to charge them for war crimes, where they have violated the said rules, have proven futile before the so-called international forums.
This situation encourages parties to armed conflicts, mainly the state or the government, to implement repressive measures such as the involuntary removal of persons and forced disappearances of combatants as well as civilians. It can be seen from the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other Asian, African and Latin American countries during and after the period of war or armed conflict. In short, disappearances have become day-to-day occurrences.
On that basis, I will share some of my opinions and information about disappearances during and after the period of war.
The call for the fulfilment of the aspirations of the Tamils and other minorities (especially the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils) of Sri Lanka, denied to them by the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinistic elite classes of Sri Lanka, got transformed into armed resistance by Tamil nationalist youths since around 1980. From the very inception, there were forced disappearances of Tamils. The government as well as the Tamil nationalist movements are responsible for the disappearances, but successive governments have been responsible for most.
It has been reported in the newspapers, despite denial by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, that approximately 287 000 people were displaced and 40 000 were killed in the last days of the war in May 2009 in the Vanni region which was controlled by the LTTE. He accepted that one or two civilians could have been trapped and killed and that the Sri Lankan security forces attacked only the terrorists but not civilians.
The Government claimed that the number of arrested persons was 10 000 and that between 5000 and 6000 of them have been released after screening and rehabilitation, whereas unofficial reports reveal that more than 30 000 people were arrested and that very few of them have been released, and that some of those released were taken into custody again and some are missing.
According to Lakshman Kiriella opposition (UNP) Member of Parliament, there are 9000 political prisoners in Sri Lanka (Thinakkural, Tamil daily 3rd December 2010), and around 11 000 according to an Australian parliamentarian (Thinakkural, Tamil daily 5th December 2010).
According N Sathasiva Iyer, Additional Registrar General, the Department of the Registrar will issue death certificates for disappeared or missing person as soon as possible and the number of persons reported as missing in the Jaffna Peninsula since 1990 is 1000; and so far no parent of a missing person has been compensated.
It has been reported in the media that 87 000 women (50 000 in the Northern Province and 37 000 in the Eastern Province) became widows as a result of 30 years of armed conflict, which implies that 87 000 men have been killed or have been disappeared.
During the war and in the post-war period, Tamil businessmen and personalities were abducted and some of them were released after paying large sums as ransom to the abductors. Bodies of some abductees were found and the whereabouts of the rest remain unknown.
It was continuously reported that people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces made submissions about the disappearance of their loved ones before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President of Sri Lanka to make recommendations to him about measures to be taken to prevent the re-emergence of separatism and terrorism, although the LLRC had no mandate to inquire into disappearances.
There are detainees belonging to the Sinhala community branded as ‘Sinhala Tigers’, who have allegedly aided the LTTE. Some army and police personnel too have been held in custody on suspicion of helping the LTTE. Among the Sinhalese detainees are leaders of trade unions, journalists and teachers who have raised their voice on behalf of the Tamil people. There are a few left/revolutionary activists and leaders who have been detained for long as they were involved in resistance movements against anti-people programmes of the governments and demanded a political solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. The oppressive measures, seemingly against the minorities, are actually and basically against democracy, the right to self determination of the minorities, and human rights.
There have been journalists subjected to threats: Ekneligoda, a Sinhala journalist who has allegedly reported in his on-line news the security forces of Sri Lanka had used chemical weapons during the war in May 2009, has been missing for the past one year.
There are reports and advertisements that appear daily in the media about disappearances of Tamils, including businessmen: Kanapathy Kunaratnam, a Tamil businessman from the Colombo suburb of Wattala disappeared on 24th November 2010, and his body was found in Colombo 6 on 25th November 2010; another businessman, Melo Kunja disappeared on 22nd November 2010 from Colombo 13 and his body was found later by the side of the rail track in Colombo 6. The police say that they are investigating the deaths to ascertain whether the dead committed suicide or were murdered. Bodies of some members of the Muslim community have been found. And it was claimed that they were involved in drug peddling and were killed by their enemies: Patani Razeek of Puttalam, the founder of a social trust fund is missing for the past 10 months. Thus, disappearances in Sri Lanka do not exclude any nationality but mostly affects Tamils.
National and international laws warrant all governments to answer and be held responsible for the disappearances of their citizens and residents in their respective territories. Nationally, a writ of Habeas Corpus application before the Court of Appeal is the prerogative remedy for disappearances, but now the scope of such applications has become senseless. There was also a committee comprising some parliamentarians to receive complaints of disappearances, but it has done no justice to the victims.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has the mandate to look into disappearances, but that serves no purpose since the SLHRC has no enforcing authority.
Internationally, there have been some commendable measures taken against states which were responsible for disappearances. For example, in 1981, the Inter-American Commission held the Honduran government responsible for the disappearance of Velaquez Rodriguez, a university student. Now the so called International Community, comprising the world’s hegemonic forces, is directly or indirectly patronising states which force disappearances and violate human rights.
There have been calls from political parties, social organisations and individuals demanding the Government of Sri Lanka as well as international institutions to investigate disappearances and/or war crimes alleged to have been committed during the war (the ‘humanitarian operation’ according to the Government of Sri Lanka), that ended on 19th May 2009, to release political prisoners, to resettle the displaced people with proper compensation and facilities, and to establish justice for the victims.
The need for investigation into war crimes including disappearances is totally rejected by the Government of Sri Lanka, and despite mutterings by the ‘Committee of Experts’ of the UN Secretary General, no meaningful step has been taken.
Therefore this conference should urge the Government of Sri Lanka and international institutions to take meaningful measures in this regard, at least with the available mainstream resources. This course of action should be followed with respect to other governments on the question of disappearances and violation of human rights.
Apart from these, I invite local organisations as well as international organisations like the International Committee Against Disappearances, with their alternative approaches, to accept complaints about, and investigate and inquire into disappearances and violation of human rights, with the view to exposing the truth to the people of the world for them to implement justice, transcending the limitations of sovereign states and the ‘International Community’.
Finally, only a political solution acceptable to the Tamils, Muslims and Hill Country Tamils of Sri Lanka would heal and soothe the wounds of war and violation of human rights.
Nationalism and Nationhood under Neo-colonialism - 2 Creation of Nations Imayavaramban The nation state came into being to serve the interests of capital, but the uneven development of capitalism and its use of colonialism as a means of control over natural resources, trade and human resources had implications for the development and emergence of nations in territories under direct or indirect colonial rule. The development of capitalism as imperialism around the start of the twentieth century further aggravated relations between various ethnic groups and communities that had existed in relative harmony, despite conflicts among their rulers for power and hegemony.
The manner in which the colonial powers set out to wield control over different regions varied from one colonial power to another as well as on the extent to which capitalist production had advanced at home. The manner in which they exercised control also depended on the predominant social structure that existed in any region.
The emergence of states in Latin America, in the Arab regions of the Middle East and in Africa, despite fundamental differences, show how ‘nations’ and national boundaries were created out of territories without defined boundaries to suit the interests of the colonial powers concerned, and ignoring feasible boundaries based on political or ethnic identity.
In contrast, in South Asia, British colonialism made a single state out of a land mass with ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural identities more diverse than in the whole of Europe. The colonial powers that controlled China did not impose direct colonial rule there. Instead, they exercised control over relatively small, but strategically important, regions. Ethno-linguistically and culturally distinct regions comprising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos came became the federated colony of Indochina under French colonialism.
When colonial rule neared its demise, imperialism resorted to neo-colonial control. Direct control continued where possible, at times by dividing countries with no national rationale for it or by holding on to un-liberated parts of countries. The US, following the defeat of the Guomimtang (KMT) in China, helped Jiang Kaishek to establish the Republic of China in the island of Taiwan, recognised by the UN under US persuasion as the lawful government of China, until 1972. The political and economic isolation imposed on China by imperialism obstructed the liberation of the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau from the British and Portuguese, respectively, until near the end of the 20th Century. When the KMT regime lost its status as the lawful government of China, however, the US conspired with secessionists in Taiwan to call for independence from China.
US dominance over Vietnam following the end of colonial rule and over Korea following the defeat of the Japanese occupiers was achieved by prolonged partition of the countries ―Vietnam until 1975 and Korea to this day. Imperialism, on the other hand, besides promoting ethnic Malay domination in Malaya, backed the founding of the Federation of Malaysia ―comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak― in 1963, amid strong Indonesian objection to the merging with Malaya of Sabah and Sarawak in the north of the island of Kalimantan (Borneo), most of which is in Indonesia. Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965 following an ethnic conflict in Singapore in 1964. Notably, British colonial rulers ensured that the tiny oil rich Sultanate of Brunei was an independent state.
Thus it can be seen that people and regions outside Europe have been grouped as countries, based on imperialist interests, under colonial rule as well as under neo-colonial domination.
Victorious anti-colonial struggles persuaded some Arab leaders to think in terms of political unity of Arabs. The United Arab Republic comprising Egypt and Syria, founded in 1958, however, fell apart in 1961. An Iraqi proposal soon after to re-establish the UAR to include Iraq alongside Egypt and Syria failed. It is thus evident that, despite desire for Arab unity among the people, divisions created among the ruling elite, class interests and alliances with imperialist forces have obstructed not only the Pan-Arabism but also Arab unity on matters affecting the Arab people. Imperialist control of the Middle East would not have lasted almost as long as a century following the fall of the Ottoman Empire early last century if not for the weakening of Arab nationalism by fragmentation. Imperialism and Zionism rely heavily on the division of the Arab World based on rivalry among the ruling elite while ensuring that few strategically important states remain clients of US imperialism for their survival against the anger of the oppressed population.
Imperialism, besides causing the division of the contiguous Kurdish territory mostly between Turkey, Iraq and Iran, was also a strong opponent of the right of the Kurds to self-determination, at least until it suited US imperialism to use self-determination to bait the Iraqi Kurds to weaken Iraq, although not Turkish Kurds, yet.
While the Portuguese colony in South America remained more or less intact as one country (Brazil), the Spanish colonies splintered into several countries based largely on Spanish colonial administrative regions (vice-royalties). The republic of Gran Colombia ―comprising the predominantly Spanish-speaking territories of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, and parts of other countries― established under the initiative of Simon de Bolivar, a progressive thinker and an important figure in the anti-colonial struggle, was short-lived (1819-1831), but the Bolivarian spirit has been revived a decade ago amid the anti-imperialist upsurge in South America.
The British, French and Dutch colonial rulers held on to their relatively small territories in South America, while the weakening of Spanish rule led to the ceding of further territory to the British and the French in North America and the Caribbean and later to the westward and southward expansion of the United States of America since its emergence out of British occupied territories in 1776. French colonists lost their hold in most of North America, formally ceding Quebec to the British in 1763 and Louisiana to the US in 1803.
What is important about the national identities that emerged out of centuries of colonial intervention in the Americas is that the language, culture and even religion are still seen as those of the occupying powers at the expense of what really constitutes the identity of the indigenous people. The settlement of Africans and, to a less extent, Indians (mostly from the south) as slaves or indentured labourers added newer ethnic identities as did mixing between the races.
Mass uprisings and left governments led to state recognition of indigenous people as nationalities or national minorities and granting of legal status to indigenous languages. Peru granted official language status to Quechua and Aymara in 1975; and Venezuela in 1999 and Bolivia in 2009 made all indigenous languages official languages.
In contrast to South and Central America, with a large number of Spanish speaking countries, North America comprises just three nation states ―with the US expanding its territory even in the 2oth Century― while the US now encourages secessionist movements in South and Central America, already divided among several nations. The push for secession is, however, based on class interests that coincide with the imperialist interests rather than on ethnicity.
The indigenous people have been thoroughly marginalised and, given the degree of mixing with other races, the prospects for nationhood of any of the indigenous people are poor. But in the past two decades or so they have become assertive of their rights. Given the diverse identities of the indigenous people, not only is secession not feasible it is also not in their interest. What is sought therefore is their rightful share in the wealth of the country and the rights to their identity and to lead their lives in ways that are most appropriate to the communities. Thus the ‘nationalism’ of the indigenous people throughout the American continents has aspirations vastly different from that of nationalism elsewhere, except, perhaps that of the marginalised indigenous people of India. It also has features in common with ‘Black Consciousness’ in the US following the abolition of slavery, including a spirit of anti-imperialism and anti-racism.
The formation of nation states also led to the marginalisation and denial of traditional territory of nomadic people like the Gypsies across Europe and considerably undermined the territorial rights of the Sami in the arctic region of Europe. The emergence of the nation state, especially the ones with arbitrarily determined boundaries as in Africa, have divided communities and affected the livelihood as well as identity of tribal and ethnic groups.
The concept of the right to self determination has been tampered with by the United Nations which recognises the right to self determination only for aggregated populations of territories under colonial or foreign domination, thus denying that right to many tribal and indigenous people who form minority groups within those aggregated populations. Such minorities suffer colonial style discrimination and face the prospect of assimilation or extinction under a state acting in the name of a majority.
The global search for mineral resources has become a threat to the existence of indigenous people. Despite the UN General Assembly adopting in 2006 the UN Draft Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect against discrimination, racism, oppression, marginalisation and exploitation, after spending 20 years to draft and agree, amid stiff resistance by the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, imperialism and its client states continue to act in breach of the principles. (See “Rights of Indigenous People” by Anup Shah in www.globalissues.org/article/693/rights-of-indigenous-people for an extensive comment on the subject).
Imperialism, despite its notorious record of denying freedom to nations and nationalities, has helped in creation of new nations, by transplanting populations, as in the case of Israel, and breaking up countries by inducing ethnic and national conflicts. In some instances, like for example in Ethiopia and Sudan, the cases for self determination of Eritrea and South Sudan, respectively, were strong since both countries were creations of imperialism. Imperialism for geopolitical reasons, changed sides on the question of Eritrea following a change of regime in Ethiopia, and encouraged the secession of South Sudan, well after the region was granted autonomy. The same is true of imperialist attempts to break up Somalia, which are not much unlike the attempted secession of Katanga from Congo in the early 1960s and Biafra from Nigeria in the late 1960s.
The break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent secession of Kosovo Province from Serbia were not motivated by any altruistic considerations but out of the interest of the US and certain European imperialist states to wrest control of these regions from a state that has resisted imperialist domination, however weakly.
The Third World has diverse identities, with which societies have coped, and countries have survived without serious ethnic conflict. The national question in the Third World owes much of its complexity to colonialism and now imperialism, whose interest in the right to self determination of populations and the creation of nation states has been driven by a single purpose, namely global control.
Imperialism is likely to aggressively pursue an agenda of supporting nationalist causes in contexts where states tend to defy imperialism, while allowing oppression of nationalities and indigenous people to continue unchecked elsewhere. In all cases imperialism keeps the oppressed people divided.
The lesson for oppressed people therefore is to find ways of resolving their respective national questions in ways that will not allow imperialist and hegemonic intervention in their affairs.