Prof. S.Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
The position of our Government is that no war crimes were committed by our forces at the end of the war. In the light of the evidence made available by the UN and world media to deny it at this point of time would be to fool ourselves.
Last week (22 November) I wrote on our responsibility for crimes on the battlefield in May 2009 and of how Australia has approached its own charges of war crimes. I commended its example for our Government beginning trials, asking for forgiveness, and rescinding the medallions, promotions, and high offices given to military personnel.
Subsequently news is that Rear Admiral Dr. Sarath Weerasekera on taking oaths as Minister of Public Security had committed himself to protecting all peoples of Sri Lanka. If that is sincere and true, then to protect Tamils, he must embark on punishing all war criminals identified by due process and withholding promotions from those, inquiries against whom, as in the five students and ACF cases, have been suppressed. So long as the Government fails to do so, those alleged to have committed grave human rights abuses would remain in high office.
Recently it was reported that those mourning their dead, who had not opened their shops to remember their murdered loved ones, were forced by the Army to open their shops closed to commemorate their dead. Therefore it would appear that by “all communities” Dr. Weerasekera meant that protection would only be offered to the majority community… From abjuration of any responsibility to commitments on prosecuting war crimes, the Government is totally mendacious.
Consider this – when battles ended in May 2009, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued statements that no war crime was committed and that his troops went into battle with human rights conventions in one hand and the gun in the other. The majority Sinhalese, who revelled in the triumph over the LTTE, might be expected to make and believe these claims. But Tamils have difficulties understanding why some Tamils would endorse such unbelievable claims.
Subsequently, the Government trotted out so-called IT experts from Moratuwa University and in high positions abroad to say that, based on their scientific examination, the graphics in the UK’s Channel 4 documentary showing cold-blooded execution were doctored – i.e., photo-shopped). Most Sinhalese seemed to take the Government at its word. They do not realise that no one kills his baby to fake a movie.
In the course of time, Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Paranagama reported in 2015 as part of his Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Commission findings that the charge that Government troops engaged in war crimes was credible. The Government did not like what the Paranagama Commission was finding so it restricted its funding. The Commission folded up.
While our demagogic Sri Lankan State thereby manipulates citizens and the majority community in particular, the world sees our nudity. We are inhabitants of the land of ‘Emperors without Clothes’. Only we do not see the incredulity with which the world watches us.
The people forget all the untruths in which the Government has been caught again and again. The Government misleads a gullible population that forgets the past, and continues to vote to delay justice. What is sad is that even Tamils have poor memory. We give them high offices in our political parties without an inquiry into the heinous accusations against them. But we insist on war crimes trials against those responsible.
When a major Tamil party played hide and seek before openly voting to deprive hill-country Tamils of their citizenship and franchise, many Tamils continued to vote for it. When that party had an internal fissure and one faction brought out how the main faction housed CID personnel in its Jaffna office this year, helping them to monitor Tamils, that did not weaken the party’s support base.
There is no war without civilian casualties, whether the number dead matches the UN estimate of 40,000 or well over that number, perhaps as much as 100,000 as estimated by others (vide my article last week).
As noted in that article, the military confirmed that LTTE cadres had surrendered to the Army. A Sri Lankan Army Court of Inquiry acknowledged that the military captured LTTE cadres and that 11,800 cadres had surrendered to the military. In a comical denouement to an RTI request, the Information Officer of the Sri Lanka Military, Brigadier Sumith Atapattu, stated, “LTTE members have not surrendered themselves to the Sri Lanka military during the last stages of the war and they have handed themselves over to the Sri Lankan Government.”
To continue to delude ourselves like this, knowing that others know we are lying, is shameless. Increasingly, our courts have tossed out findings of previous cases. By so reversing numerous decisions, the Sri Lankan State is shooting itself in the foot and proving the need for external oversight in prosecutions regarding gross human rights violations committed during the war.
Where the courts found persons, military personnel, and clergy guilty, the presidential power of pardon has been exercised to release some of them. Such actions only prove that domestic mechanisms and judicial processes to achieve accountability for crimes committed during the war are doomed to fail. A rethink of presidential pardon is warranted if the country is to uphold true justice and credibility of the judicial system.
There is an ancient Greek saying, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first strike mad.” Is this what is happening to our people? We have withdrawn from our own commitments to the UNHRC. We are going back on our commitment to human rights based on which GSP concessions were restored. Like the people of Hamelin, we are dancing to our destruction by following our Pied Piper.
We are part of a pied piper’s dance but not the rest of the world. Only former Minister Mangala Samaraweera has publicly expressed the dangers of the foolish course of lying to the world that we have embarked on. Our Government seems unconcerned about the dangers that lie ahead due to its follies.
Increasingly, the roadmap in Sri Lanka is clear to the rest of the world. The chest-thumping propaganda and battle cries are truly directed at the citizenry, in order for the rulers to sustain their power.
The Buddha advocated nonviolence. The post-Sangam Epic Period of the Tamils (Third to Fifth Centuries AD when Manimekalai was authored by the Tamil Buddhist monk Kulavaṇikan Seethalai Sataṉar, was a high multi-cultural time for Tamils with evidence for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, and Christianity being practised. That highlighted the liberal ethos where Devanambiya Theesan converted to Buddhism from Hinduism. Asoka’s missionaries implanted this ethos, giving us vegetarianism based on non-violence, hospitals, travelers’ rests, environmental consciousness with trees being planted, animal hospitals, etc. The Buddhist ruins of Kandarodai in Chunnakam testify to our plural traditions.
Despite that heritage, governments since 1972 have sought to ram Buddhism down Tamil and Muslim throats by making it the State religion even in the 21st century, unaware of the human rights consciousness that has overtaken the globe. It would seem, to use V.S. Naipal’s phrase, we Sri Lankans came out of our villages into the 21st century with a democratic state, but the village has not left us. We remain savages.
Ask a Tamil what images are conjured in his head by Buddhism, which has given us so much good. The answer would be war crimes, communal riots, lawlessness, the use of ethnic cleansing, etc. Religion is being foisted on others as means of demonstrating power. This is evident from the introduction of this pernicious clause into our constitution with no one asking, by Colvin R. de Silva, a Marxist and therefore godless by definition. He was giving opium to the Sinhalese to secure his support base.
Persons of goodwill, whether Sinhalese or Tamil, are now willy-nilly placed in the position of safeguarding the constitution and recovering the once untarnished name of the Buddhist religion. Our governments themselves are responsible for the assault on Buddhism and the lawlessness in our midst.
Sri Lankans of sound minds have tried all they can and have failed. Now we must look for outside help from democratic countries. In this endeavour, Tamils must keep in mind that the UN report faulted both the Government and the LTTE for war crimes. We cannot push for one part of the report while tossing out the other against the LTTE.
Maveerar Day, 27 November, translates as ‘Big Heroes Day’. It is set for the day after V. Prabhakaran’s Birthday, 26 November. It makes clear that we are unprepared to jettison our misplaced LTTE sympathies, and shows us to be as racially-prejudiced as the Sinhalese. However, many of the people killed were civilians forced into the Mullaitivu area and shot by the LTTE in the back when they tried to flee Sri Lankan bombings. It is indeed appropriate to remember them and celebrate their lives.
I suggest changing the day to a day in May when most of the violence occurred, and enlisting foreign help to ensure there is accountability. It is the only way to convince the world that we truly and sincerely ask for justice. It is then that outside nations will join us in quenching our thirst for justice and addressing our cry for freedom. The time is opportune as the UK has initiated inquiries against mercenaries that helped Sri Lanka in the war.
We now need to ask openly for the full implementation of UNHRC Resolution 30/1. Our MPs must ask for these in Parliament. We must seek to be heard. As things are, no one asks for these out of fear of a repressive state and judicial machinery, so the world thinks we are happy with allowing the crimes to go unpunished. The majority will understand that this is not racism but expressing what many of them are fearful of saying.
This is a good time. Joe Biden, a human rights advocate, is President-Elect of USA. In 1983, the assault on Tamils under J.R. Jayewardene was at its height especially after his open admission of Sinhalese racism to the Daily Telegraph (11 July 1983): “Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
It was a time we rightly feared for our future, and even Sri Lanka’s future. An uncle of mine in Delaware was a medical practitioner where Biden is one of its two Senators. He got us an appointment and we met Joe Biden. My uncle read out a petition. A cousin’s aged mother-in-law (a US citizen) had been raped by Sinhalese thugs in Colombo. Biden was attentive when I told him of the rape. He was sympathetic and I expect he still is after far worse things have happened.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, like his uncle, gave excuses for not keeping his promises to the UN. Like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, agreements mean nothing to the State as it now ponders the removal of Provincial Councils violating agreements with India. The world realises that solemn promises by Sri Lanka are worthless and made only to buy time till Sri Lanka is an ethno-state.
We and the world must act together before it is too late. This is not against Sri Lanka but for it. As David Cameron, British PM, stated upon the passage of 30/1, “The UNHRC decision on Sri Lanka is a victory for its people.”