Benchmarks for Sri Lanka

D.J. Mitchell photo.
D.J. Mitchell photo.

Sharif Abdullah writes:

I shed no tears for the passing of the LTTE or its leader, Prabhakaran.  The goal of the organization was always unrealistic and its methods always brutally violent.  I am not sorry to see them go.

I do lament the orgy of violence, and the bloodlust that still grips the island.  With upwards of 20,000 of their fellow-citizens killed or maimed in the recent fighting, with their country and their economy in tatters, I believe the celebrations in the capital city of Colombo are ill-advised and will be short-lived. I believe the costs of this war will be more than the country can bear.

As bad as things are, I believe the situation is poised to get much worse.  Is it possible for a “failed state” to get “failed-er”?  War crimes, summary executions, extensive use of prison/ concentration camps and the possibility of ethnic cleansing are distinct possibilities.

So, what happens next? It’s anyone’s guess, but here are a few benchmarks or milestones you should pay attention to in the near future:

The next 3-6 days:

  • Are international observers granted access to all former battle areas?
  • Are international observers and international/ independent media granted access to all refugees?

(If not: expect a massive cover-up of war crimes, summary execution of suspected LTTE cadres and sympathizers, and bulldozing the “safe zone” battlefield to conceal the extent of non-combatant deaths.)

The next 3-6 weeks:

  • Are the refugee camps opened and unlocked?  Are people residing in the camps only because they WANT to be there, not because they are FORCED to be there?  (Of course, it is reasonable to restrict people from returning to areas that have not been cleared of landmines or have other health and safety hazards.)
  • Are detention camps for LTTE combatants open to Red Cross inspection?
  • Are the Sri Lankan people given full information on how much the war actually costs, in human lives and in financial expense?  (The government stopped publishing casualty figures months ago, similar to the Bush Administration not allowing photos of flag-draped caskets returning from Iraq .)
  • Has the government initiated and opened a national dialog on the long-term solution of the underlying ethnic issues that gave rise to the LTTE?  Have all parties and constituencies been invited to participate?

(If not: expect summary execution of LTTE combatants and ethnic cleansing.)

The next 3-6 months:

  • Is insurgent violence receding (or eliminated)?
  • Is there a reduction and removal of the police state security apparatus (fewer checkpoints, less population screening, fewer “high security zones” in the North and East)?

(If yes: this would be the first indication that the violence of President Rajapakse‘s military offense against LTTE is yielding a non-violent result.)

Next year:

  • Is there a rise in post-traumatic stress related factors (the already astronomical suicide rate goes higher; alcohol and drug use up, domestic violence on the rise)?
  • Is there more violence on the island than in 2003 (the first full year of the Ceasefire Agreement)?
  • Is there a rise in communal violence?

(If not: Sri Lankans can then legitimately celebrate the victory of May, 2009.)

Three years:

  • Is there a meaningful devolution of power that protects the rights of ALL Sri Lankans, including Tamil and Muslim minorities?
  • Has Sri Lanka moved off of the list of “failed states”?

Stay tuned.  The first benchmarks are less than a week away.