Demonstrations in Colombo, Sri Lanka against a UN investigation into the possible commission of war crimes in the country entered their third day on Thursday. One of our Observers there explains why the protests are a dream come true for a certain government minister.
Some 7,000 people were killed in the final stages of Sri Lanka's 25-year offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After evidence that appeared to show human rights abuses during that period emerged, the United Nations decided to appoint a panel of experts to investigate whether war crimes were committed. The announcement on 23 June was met with fury in Colombo, where the government labelled it "totally unacceptable and unwarranted".
On Tuesday a group of pro-government protestors surrounded the UN building in the capital, trapping hundreds of staff inside. The movement is being lead by the vociferous Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who began a hunger strike on Thursday as part of the protest. In line with the government's own stance, the protestors say that President Mahinda Rajapakse has already promised his own investigation into the affair, rendering foreign interference unnecessary and anti-sovereign.
Images of the protests
“Minister Weerawansa will be hailed a hero following this affair”
Thapu (not his real name) works for Sri Lankan citizen journalist website Vikalpa. He's covering the protests in Colombo.
Even though they haven't admitted to it, it's so obvious that the government is backing the protest. They wanted the UN panel gotten rid of, and they're only too happy to have someone fight their battles for them.
The proof of that came when the government ordered the police to leave the scene on Tuesday. They say it's because this is a democratic state and people have the right to freedom of expression. But really it's because they didn't want the protest disrupted.
Buddhist monks and the extremists
It was easy for the government to get the country's Buddhist monks [which make up a large part of the protestors] involved in the demonstration for two reasons:
- Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka interpret any foreign involvement - such as that of the UN - as imperialism.
- Most of the monks side with the country's extremist groups and have always been very anti-LTTE. They believe that the UN and other foreign institutions are trying to give life to the defeated LTTE. So even though Velupillai Prabhakaran [the late LTTE leader] is dead and the LTTE is no more, these extremists believe - and say out loud - that foreigners are trying to re-establish the LTTE.
The housing minister running the show
Here in Sri Lanka, Wimal Weerawansa is very close to President Mahinda. He holds a great deal of sway in decision making. He is also very popular; as leader of the far-right National Freedom Front Party he received the highest number of votes in the western province in the last general election.
My guess is that Weerawansa will go on hunger strike for a few days. Then the police will come and take him ‘by force' (he will have planned this) to the hospital. Weerawansa will be hailed as a hero by the public and the government will tell the UN that one of their ministers almost died because of them... what a happy ending! But the problem remains a problem.
We say to the government: if you're innocent, then where's the harm in the panel? If a government repeatedly refuses an investigation into operations they were responsible for, what does that refusal imply?"
The siege continues
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ready for a lynching. Posted on Groundviews 8 July 2010.
Outisde the UN building in Colombo on Thursday. Photo by posted on Vikalpa by Karapoththa.
Protestors surround Wimal Weerawansa at the start of his hunger strike on Thursday. Photo by posted on Vikalpa by Karapoththa.
Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon both accused. Photo by Indi Samarajiva 6 July 2010.
A protestor raises a Sri Lankan flag on the UN building. Photo by Indi Samarajiva 6 July 2010.