University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna Branch
Mark Twain is credited to have said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This is true at least in the case of the latest propaganda bulletin of the University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna Branch (UTHR-JB), a small group consisting primarily of two brothers.
Bulletin No. 28, released by the UTHR-JB just 10 days ago, has already been quoted numerous times, not only in the Sinhala owned Sri Lankan media, but also by the Brahmin owned The Hindu, and even the BBC. This report claims widespread ‘LTTE harassment of civilians’, ‘conscription of child-soldiers’, ‘profiteering’, etc. It will not be long before the other western media start repeating these allegations. The denials by the LTTE, and also by the duly elected Tamil members of the Sri Lankan Parliament, have not found currency, again proving Mark Twain’s point on truth “putting on its shoes”.
University for Human Rights (Jaffna Branch)
The UTHR-JB has been reporting on the war in Sri Lanka since 1988. Their first endeavor was ‘The Broken Palmyra’, a book which became widely known because of its accurate documentation of the mayhem during the occupation of the northeast parts of Sri Lanka by the Indian army (1987-1991).
Members of the UTHR-JB were resident in the area (the city of Jaffna) at that time, and their credibility was enhanced by their interventions on behalf of the Tamil youth wrongfully arrested by the Indian army. One of the authors of this book, the late Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, was the most active in this regard, much to the displeasure of the Indian authorities. She was killed by an unknown assassin, widely believed to belong to a Tamil militant group (EPRLF) aligned with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the Indian Intelligence Agency (RAW). Subsequently the IPKF helped the leader of EPRLF become the Chief Minister of the Tamil province, a short-lived regime that collapsed no sooner the Indian army left.
The original UTHR (JB) group also left Jaffna at that time, practically disbanded, and eventually boiled down to the activities of two brothers, Rajan and Ratnajeevan Hoole. Rajan Hoole, the primary author of The Broken Palmyra, continued to publish with the assistance of his brother Ratnajeevan Hoole. The book was in fact published in Claremont, California, where the Ratnajeevan lived and worked as a professor at a small college. Ratnajeevan subsequently moved to Sri Lanka, claiming antipathy to the American values as inimical to the welfare of his children. The two brothers have since spent considerable energy producing voluminous reports on the war in Sri Lanka.
These reports have received some respectability, firstly because the authors are ‘Tamils’ and that they ‘hail from Jaffna’, and secondly because of their claim to a connection to the Jaffna University.
The Dons at the Jaffna University, however, have publicly disclaimed any connection with this group on at least three separate occasions. In 1993, Jaffna University Senate passed a resolution to this effect, and in 1996 and 2000, groups of influential teachers at the university issued joint statements condemning them.
The public rejection by the Jaffna University notwithstanding, the duo have deceitfully continued to use the name – ‘University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna Branch)’ – a name coined when one of them was attached to the Jaffna University. According to the current teachers at the Jaffna University they have not been to Jaffna since they left more than 10 years ago.
Anti – LTTE BiasA persistent theme in the UTHR (JB) reports has been an anti-LTTE bias. The bias, evident right from the start, has grown in intensity to a point of being an obsession.
The Broken Palmyra, which described the atrocities of the IPKF well, blamed the LTTE for it. If only the LTTE didn’t provoke the IPKF they wouldn’t have behaved so badly towards the civilians, went the argument! With passage of time the authors found the bias to be advantageous and even profitable.
The Sri Lanka government also found the reports helpful because of this bias. This is in spite of the fact that these bulletins also reported on the violations by the government forces.
The government forces have been found responsible for over 90 percent of the civilian killings, and the percentage-blame for other forms of human rights violations is even higher. The number of ‘reported’ rapes committed by the government forces, for example, run in the hundreds, whereas the LTTE has never been accused of this crime. The UTHR (JB) bulletins, however, paint a contrary picture.
The good deeds of the two sides are also reported lopsidedly. Numerous independent reports credit the LTTE for acts of assistance to civilians, such as emergency housing, food programs, employment, agricultural aid, etc., despite poor resources, but these have never found a place in the UTHR (JB) bulletins. Contrarily, the UTHR (JB) reports are full of praise for what little the army provides. Even well known war criminals like Janaka Perera have been praised.
It is no wonder that the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government finds these reports useful. It uses these reports to counter criticism from other quarters, such as the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights Commission, etc.
In her recent interview with CNN [30 October 2001] President Kumaratunge asserted that “UTHR was very appreciative of the fact” that with a few “exceptions” her government was able to “completely control the human rights violations” in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala owned media in Sri Lanka quotes these reports ad nauseam. The Sri Lankan army has even taken on the task of distributing some of these reports to foreign NGOs working in Sri Lanka.
The government backing has helped UTHR (JB) with respectability, funding and also international recognition. Foreign governments, NGOs and the media, starved for news of events in Thamileelam due to the government censorship and the ban on visits to the ‘war zones’, have increasingly relied on these reports as their only source.
The real teachers of the Jaffna University say, “the authors of the report have not even visited the North ever since they ceased to be members of the University staff [in 1991]” and that “the information contained in these reports are based on hearsay and authenticity of the sources from which they are supposed to have been obtained is open to question”.
The Tamil people have not been uncritical either. Apart from the Jaffna University itself decrying these reports for the last ten years, there have been numerous other instances where the Tamils have been bitterly critical [see related stories below]. In 1998, the South Asia Media Services (SAMS) reported on the Tamil Diaspora reaction to these bulletins.
UTHR (JB) Bulletin No. 28Isolated from the Tamil community and feeling invincible in the Colombo environs, the Hoole brothers have gone overboard in this report. Now they are not only unreservedly critical of the LTTE but are also reproachful of anyone perceived to be supporters of the LTTE.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which won the December  elections on a platform supporting the LTTE, is the primary target in the latest report. Elected TNA members are maligned with purported ‘incidents’, aptly termed by the Jaffna University dons in 1996 as ‘based on hearsay’. Even the parliamentary elections, in which the TNA won hands-down, despite tremendous obstacles including murder by the government-aligned opponents, are questioned. A specter of ‘large scale recruitment of child-soldiers’, and parents running away to ‘save their children from the LTTE’, is raised and described, in their words, as akin to the ‘African Slave Trade’.
This report is venomous and reveals extreme frustration.
We understand the disappointment of this duo. They have spent over ten years creating this apparition, describing the pre-eminent Tamil leadership as fascists, hated by most Tamils. Morally, they thought they were on high grounds. With the recent election results, and also the international support for negotiations with LTTE, the bubble has burst and they don’t like it.
[10 February 2002]