It’s hard to know who bears more responsibility for the bloodshed in Sri Lanka, the government or the Tamil Tigers, but it’s clear that huge numbers of civilians are being killed in the crossfire. “The United Nations asserts that at least 4,500 civilians have been killed since January as the government has sought to decisively end a bloody rebellion that has lasted for a quarter-century,” said a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday. “The army is said to be preparing a final assault that, according to U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, could produce a ‘bloodbath.”‘
This is a situation of armed conflict in which both parties are acting in ways that pose a grave risk to innocent civilians. The party that is perhaps more culpable — the rebels — answers to no one. And the Sri Lankan government has been able to operate with virtual impunity because it is fighting “terrorists.” Even Western states that usually condemn violations of international law have given the situation a wide berth.
The leader of the government’s military campaign is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense, brother of the President and an American citizen. (He lived in the U.S. until 2005, when he returned to Sri Lanka and helped get his brother elected. He still has a residence in San Dimas, California valued at around $1 million, according to Bruce Fein, general counsel of Tamils Against Genocide, an organization funded by ethnic Tamils living abroad.) Sarath Fonseka, the Commander of the Sri Lankan army, also has U.S. ties, being a green card holder.
Predictably, Washington lobbyists are making out quite well from the war. In January, the firm of Patton Boggs was retained by the Embassy of Sri Lanka, with “a fixed fee of $35,000 per month, payable quarterly in advance,” according to the contract. Democratic lobbyist Tommy Boggs is helping run the account, which calls on Patton Boggs to “provide guidance and counsel to the Embassy of Sri Lanka regarding its relations with the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. Government.” In other words, to sanitize the government’s conduct of the war and make it look good with the Obama administration.
After producing a “white paper” on Sri Lanka and the ongoing civil war, Patton Boggs organized a series of official meetings for its client. In late-March, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S., Jaliya Wickramasuriya, met separately with Senator Richard Lugar. He briefed him on the conflict, stressing “the care taken to protect displaced civilians,” according to an Embassy press release.
Despite Patton Boggs’ best efforts, the government’s PR offensive has fallen flat. “I think that the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering,” Secretary of State Clinton said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in February Fein filed a 1,000-page report with the U.S. Justice Department against Rajapaksa and Fonseka, charging violations of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. “Derived from affidavits, court documents, and contemporaneous media reporting, the indictment chronicles a grisly 61-year tale of Sinhalese Buddhists attempting to make Sri Lanka ‘Tamil free’,” he wrote recently in the Boston Globe.