Addressing Shenali Waduge and the One-Eyed UNHRC Hunters, One

Michael Roberts

Shenali Waduge has a long history as a defender of Sinhala interests within and beyond the island of Sri Lanka. In quite a few minds she would be classified as a Sinhala chauvinist. One must, however, not throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater.[1] Her essays should not be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, there were several striking claims in an essay she presented recently in two outlets[2] for me to include it within Thuppahi under this imposed heading: “To Your Face: UN and UNHRC challenged by Shenali Waduge.”

Her essay is ambitious in its reach and covers lots of terrain – including, so to speak, deep canyons and rocky ravines. In my reading, she overextends her reach and should have divided the essay into two or three articles.[3] The force of her explorations and assertions is also reduced by the hidebound restraints imposed by her media outlets: which obstinately reject the use of footnotes and bibliographies.

Footnotes and honest bibliographical lists are vital elements in the discussion of contentious topics. They indicate an author’s reach and authority; or conversely, display the hollowness of his/her surveys and claims.[4]

Though not revealed to the world, Waduge, in fact, has grounded this her essay in lots of grinding research. When I asked her where she had secured the figures of 534,227 metric tons of food and medicines transported by the government of Sri Lanka to the LTTE controlled territory (Point No 17 in her essay), she immediately sent me two references: one from a fellow named Roberts and this other reference:

She has subsequently sent me details of the web material she had tapped in making the specific claims presented in her Points 22, 23 and 29.

To reiterate, then, it is a shame that media managers enforce practices that do not reveal such groundings.

Waduge would also be well-advised to deploy photographic illustrations and maps in support of specific claims – though, admittedly, space limits would restrict the degree to which such tools can be presented. To illustrate: would not her arguments about Muralidhar Reddy’s reports from the battlefront on the coastal strip in late  April and mid-May 2009 secure greater weight if she had added just two of these pictorial illustrations taken by Kanchan Prasad of Prasar Bharti who accompanied Murali (who was attached to The Hindu newspaper chain including its magazine Frontline) on these particular trips?[5]

Murali at briefing at 58th Brigade HQ … and at LTTE Buer ward in the Last redoubt in mid May 2000

Again, some of the claims associated with the report from “the rear-battlefront” (my considered terminology[6]) provided by the Reuters cameraman, David Gray, that are conveyed in her ITEM 23 would garner more authority if Waduge included this type of pictorial illustration.

Needless to say, this form of tactical ploy in argument, the deployment of pictorial data, demands space. It appears that even internet web/site editors are mangy-mean in the use of this simple tool.

David Gray’s visit to the war front for a couple of days on the 27th April 2009 had, in fact, received attention in Thuppahi way back. He was a Reuter’s cameraman and this work was just one measure in the excellent coverage of the warring scenes by the Reuters staff in Colombo directed by the American, Bryson Hull. I have recently commended Hull and his Reuters’ staff for “their balanced reportage on the war throughout 2009  contrasting sharply with the biased and ignorant tales conveyed by Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press and Charles de Haviland of BBC.”

This remark was inspired by Hull’s report from Kilinochchi well to the rear of the fighting conveyed on 23 February 2009 where, inter alia, he noted that (a) the A35 road “showed[ed] little sign of war;” (b) where he refers to a refugee reception centre [set up by the SL Army] where  “more than 25,000 people fleeing fighting were screened before being moved to camps outside the war zone;” and where “witnesses who have escaped said the LTTE forced civilians to stay as conscripts or human shields, shooting those who tried to escape and firing artillery from areas thick with people;” and (c) where he contends that the presence of a mass of civilians enforced  restraints on the use of artillery and aerial bombardment by the GoSL forces – caution because they believed this would induce forceful foreign intervention.[7]

The most revealing coverage from Bryson Hull, however, reached the world in late April when the Government of Sri Lanka invited an array of Reporters to the SLAF HQ in Slave Island to watch UAV footage of the final assault on the remnant Tiger territory – the “Last Redoubt” as I term it – on the north-eastern coastline (see Pix above). A map is a vital ingredient for any appraisal of the unraveling situation and a Daily Mirror ‘magician,’ one Pradeep Jayakody, has extended this value by embellishments with statistics.

However, Reuters went further and wheeled off some video footage as well as a remarkable series of photographs that display the wide variety of scenes that unfolded over the next few days.  Do dwell on the article “Reuters in Word and Image” where I address their reportage and provide an array of their photographic illustrations –  such as these two examples.

Such glimpses of the burgeoning situation can only be comprehended with a map of the battle theatre at this point of time lying alongside … and thus linking pictorial insight to cartographic space.

Then, ask yourself this vital question: did the New York Times, the ICG, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Chatham House, the Darusman Panel (that is, the UNPoE) and the Geneva HQ personnel of the UNHRC dwell on these reports from Reuters and their pictorial illustrations and extract some lessons?  The Answer: there is no evidence that they did so. Thus, the prima facie conclusion is that they chose to avoid reportage that did not abide by their desired path of retribution directed at Sri Lanka.

The Limitations Attached to War Front Reportage

Reporters who gain access to any battlefront only observe some slices of action. The war scenarios are complex and include night operations as well as combat in scrubland and jungles. Desk-bound commentators on Eelam War IV do not seem to have grasped this elementary fact. Nor have many of them transcended their ignorance. Indeed, their intellectual arrogance on this score has been as monumental as the force with which they have been pursuing retribution directed at one party in the war and one party only, namely, the Sri Lankan state.

On a priori grounds one can speculate that some excesses were perpetrated by the SL government forces. For one, it would be unusual for a protracted war to proceed without some instances of rape inflicted on enemy personnel (whether civilian or troop). One must scour the relevant UTHR reports[8] for some instances as well as Rajan Hoole’s book Palmyrah Fallen (2015) and thereafter critically review the long list of allegations Brian Seneviratne’s essay in 2015 entitled Sri Lanka. Rape of Tamil women, men and children by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and their collaborators.[9]

Again, Gordon Weiss and some Tamil sources have provided instances of summary executions of prominent Tiger personnel. Weiss deployed three photographs in highlighting the killing of Colonel Ramesh (nom de plume) in a graphic manner.[10]

As striking are (B) the pictorial illustrations of a “Colonel Vasanthan” being picked out from a cohort of Tigers and (C) that of the Tiger TV announcer Issapriya displayed in the site presented as http://white-flags.org/. This site comprehended the importance of video and photographic evidence and provides a considerable range of data — including  photographs that confirm the tale of lines of clusters of civilians (often just women and children) fleeing from their trapped situation in the Tiger’s “Last Redoubt” – a locale where they were sandbags and hostages within a LTTE strategy seeking international intervention.

While these instances are highly pertinent to any review, they do not sustain the monumental exaggerations of the death toll asserted by the UNPoE, ICG et al as well as several Tamil agencies. Nor can we pursue recrimination and international prosecution without a similar exercise directed at surviving LTTE figures of note placed within a history of umpteen atrocities in civilian arenas within Sri Lanka from 1985 to 2009. What is valid for the Sri Lankan goose is valid for the Tamil Tiger gander.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Michael Roberts:Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt,” 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/

Gray, David: “A day at the front line in Sri Lanka,” 27 April 2009, http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2009/04/27/a-day-at-the-front-line-in-sri-lanka/

Hoole, Rajan 2015 Palmyra Fallen Colombo, Globe Printing for UTHR,

Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009, http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL450259

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009 “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422

Prasad, Kanchan n.d. [2010] “Indian Reporter Pics at NFZ-14-to-18 May 2009,” http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/

Prasad, Kanchan n.d. [2010] 2010 “Mullivaikkal Hospital in NFZ Last Redoubt,”  http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797848747/

Seneviratne, Brian 2014 “Sri Lanka. Rape of Tamil women, men and children by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and their collaborators,” https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/RAPE-in-Sri-Lanka-2014.pdf

Sivapalan, N. 2015 “A Reflection on Rajani’s Legacy: What Went Wrong With the Tamil Struggle?” 6 May 2015, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/what-went-wrong-with-the-tamil-struggle/

Times 2009 “TIMES Aerial Images, NFZ Last Redoubt,” 23 May 2009, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

Final Battle, NFZ Last Redoubt, 13-19 May 2009 = http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626921596968/

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014c “After the Battles: Tammita-Delgoda’s Images from the War Theatre,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/after-the-battles-tammita-delgodas-images-from-the-war-theatre/ , 30 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/after-the-battles-tammita-delgodas-images-from-the-war-theatre/

Thangavelu, Velupillai 2013 “LTTE Cadres Who Surrendered To The Army: Where Are They? Colombo Telegraph, 18 August 2013, http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ltte-cadres-who-surrendered-to-the-army-where-are-they/.

Times 2011 “TIMES Aerial Images, NFZ Last Redoubt, 23 May 2009,” http://www.flickr.com/ photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

UN PoE 2011 Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011…. http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/ POE_Report_Full.pdf.

UTHR 2009a A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Meaning, Special Report No. 32. http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport32.htm

UTHR 2009b Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/Special%20rep34/Uthr-sp.rp34.htm.

Video Image [GSL] 2014 “A balanced insight into the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict – “Common Differences” (HD),” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L8QfZw0XUo.

Vidura 2009 “The Great Escapes,” Sunday Leader, 17 May 2009.

You Tube Video [GSL] 2013 “The Last Phase,” http://www.youtube.com/embed/RQmn4ubPy5A.

Waduge, Shenali 2014 “In Pictures: Sri Lanka’s Soldiers saving Tamils from LTTE Terrorists,” 13 Oct 2014, http://www.sinhalanet.net/in-pictures-sri-lankas-soldiers-saving-tamils-from-ltte-terrorists.

Weiss, Gordon 2011a The Cage, Sydney: Picador.

Weiss, Gordon 2012 “New Evidence — The Death of Colonel Ramesh,” 21 March 2012, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/newevidencethe-death-of-colonel-ramesh-warning-disturbing-images/ [THIS article is no longer on site]

[White Flag] 2014 5 years On: The White Flag Incident, http://white-flags.org/

Yatawara, Dhaneshi 2009 “Entrapped Civilians seek salvation in Force,” Sunday Observer, 17 May 2009, http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2009/05/17/fea05.asp

***  ***

END  NOTES

[1] This article is the first step in my review. A second essay will dwell on the most important thrust in her article, namely, the apparent illegal underside of the whole UNHRC process and the manipulative realpolitik underpinning the processes.

[2] In (A) http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2019/12/31/30-questions-for-unsg-un-human-rights-council-regarding-sri-lanka-2/comment-page-1/ …. and (B) https://www.spur.asn.au/2019/03/17/30-questions-for-unsg-un-human-rights-council-regarding-sri-lanka/.

[3] This criticism could also be leveled at some of my own articles.

[4] That is why, in speculation, I say that the infamous UNPoE (or Darusman) Report as well as the Sydney outfits marshalled by Gordon Weiss et al do NOT include bibliographies.

[5] Let me note, here, that I was in Colombo in April-June 2009 and Murali (whom I had met in 1995 at Dr Sanjay Srivastava’s house in Delhi) invited me to write articles for Frontline. I was not introduced to Kanchan till a subsequent visit in mid-2010 – an invaluable meet because Murali did not use a camera, whereas she did and her array of PIX are now posted here: https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/eelam-war-iv-images-kanchan-prasad-a-times-stringer-and-makkaal-padai/. Murali and Prasad were housed by the Army at Kilinochchi or the 58th Brigade’s Mobile HQ overnight (in late April and then again from circa 12 to 18th May) because they required access to satellite communications to file their reports.

[6] In warfare with definitive frontlines, it is extremely rare for reporters to gain access to the interface of fighting. Apart from reasons of their own security from broadcast details of impending action (say a commando regiment was identified in readiness for action), no military would welcome the death of a journalist in their care. So: note the large contingent of troops guarding David Gray of Reuters on 27th April 2009  — http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2009/04/27/a-day-at-the-front-line-in-sri-lanka/

[7] See Hull 2019 via https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/11/29/insights-for-today-a-reuters-report-from-the-eelam-war-front-in-late-february-2009/

[8] See UTHR, Let them Speak and A Marred Victory – both presented in 2009. While I was familiar with these reports ten years back my memory has blanked out (and worse still I left a  marked copy on an airplane about 8 years back).

[9] Rajan Hoole referred me to this item as well as an earlier enumeration in Tamil Nation viz ……………… https://tamilnation.org/indictment/rape/index.htm. Obviously, each claim needs to be investigated carefully.

[10] See Weiss at https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/newevidencethe-death-of-colonel-ramesh-warning-disturbing-images/ [THIS article is no longer on site].

2 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, British imperialism, centre-periphery relations, chauvinism, conspiracies, disparagement, fundamentalism, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, NGOs, photography, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, refugees, security, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, unusual people, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes

2 responses to “Addressing Shenali Waduge and the One-Eyed UNHRC Hunters, One

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