A special Committee has been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the alleged war crimes and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. This Committee is reportedly in the process of preparing to commence the said investigations. This has given rise to uncertainty regarding allegations that might be filed against the present Sri Lankan Government by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Colombo District Parliamentarian Thilanga Sumathipala had the opportunity of holding discussions with the President of the ICC and other top officials at The Hague, Netherlands recently. He was in The Hague as a member of the Executive Committee of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) for the purpose of attending the Executive Committee Meeting. During this visit Sumathipala met with ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Registrar Herman Von Hebel.
The PGA is the largest non-profit, non-partisan international network of over 1,100 (MPs) legislators from 139 elected parliaments worldwide. Only 12 members out of the total number are elected to form the Executive Committee of the PGA. The International Criminal Courts work closely with this organisation which has its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.
Following is the presentation made by Sumathipala to Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of ICC and other officials of the Executive Committee of the PGA:
Sri Lanka was torn by a horrific civil war caused by terrorism that lasted over 30 years. We the citizens were faced with much pain and suffering as a result. Furthermore, the loss to our country was unimaginable. Democratically-elected political leaders including a President and Ministers were assassinated (i.e. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake). Even Tamil political leaders who were part of the democratic system were not spared, one such example is Neelan Thiruchelvam.
The Sri Lankan economy took a beating due to the fact that the country’s economic centres, airports and even the Central Bank and World Trade Centre were attacked during this troubled period. The added cost of the continuing war meant that the economy was undermined, so that the underprivileged sections of society were deprived of State assistance.
Moreover, sectors which are vital to a country’s development such as health and education too were often denied State support in the face of crippling war expenses. Thus it is plain that the people of Sri Lanka have been through a dreadful ordeal caused by the ethnic war.
However, we were able to defeat not just the most dreaded, but also the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. This group is reported to have carried out the highest number of human killings anywhere. They were responsible for introducing the concept of suicide bombing to the world. Their fund-raising methods included trading of narcotics and arms, making them the organisation with the highest illegal earnings worldwide. In spite of all this we were able to demolish and eradicate this organisation.
Very unfortunate precedent
This terrorist organisation was a threat to the entire world, and they were defeated entirely by our armed forces. Therefore it can be considered an immense achievement by the Sri Lankan Government and one for which we expected accolades from the global community. However, we are most distressed to find that it seems the world has a snare in store for us instead.
This is a very unfortunate precedent. What is the message that this action offers to countries that are currently in the process of battling terrorism? Far from encouraging the defeat of terrorist organisations, it creates a feeling of trepidation. No country would want to expend their resources on defeating dangerous terrorist groups only to be faced with interrogation by the International Criminal Court.
After defeating this dangerous terrorist group that waged war on us for 30 years we expected to be heaped with praise and congratulations. In fact we expected the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka. But what took place? Instead of awarding a Nobel Peace Prize, the international community has thought it necessary to conduct an investigation.
Law and order in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a proud history that spans over 3,000 years, with an impressive civilisation and culture. During this period a very strict judicial system was in place beginning with the ‘Gam Sabha’ system at village level.
This internal judicial system continued to evolve in keeping with international laws. We were able to efficiently maintain law and order within our country. As such the need to collaborate with organisations such as the ICC did not arise, hence the reason for Sri Lanka abstaining from signing the Rome Statute.
Therefore it is evident that the ICC is not in any position to conduct an investigation into matters pertaining to Sri Lanka. Furthermore the motion adopted by the International Human Rights Commission too does not facilitate such an investigation.
Allegations undermine credibility of ICC and UN
We are currently facing accusations with regard to the violation of human rights. It is imperative that we get to the core of this issue in order to find a solution. Within Sri Lanka the Sinhalese constitute a majority, but that is not the case in a worldwide context. The Sinhalese are a minority in terms of the total global population. Likewise, even though the Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka, in comparison with the Sinhala population, they constitute a higher percentage of the global population. The number of Tamils living in the world amounts to over 95 million people.
While reiterating that the 15 million Sinhalese are a minority of the global population, I wish to state that according to the principles laid out by the United Nations, they are required to provide protection and security to the minority Sinhalese. Sadly the situation is quite the reverse.
It is indeed regrettable and unjust that the United Nations has deemed it fit to yield to pressure from the globally-dominant Tamil population and use the weapon of human rights against the Sinhalese. Your Honour, as President of the International Criminal Court I am sure you will understand my sentiments.
These allegations against Sri Lanka have regrettably undermined the credibility and reputation of both the International Criminal Courts and the United Nations.
Sri Lanka stands tall as a nation. However certain groups are striving to bring disrepute to our country in a most unjust manner. We strongly condemn these actions.
It is our duty to maintain the territorial integrity of our country for generations to come. And as members of Parliament elected by the citizens, our responsibility in this regard is far greater. As mentioned earlier the UN is on the verge of conducting an investigation into Sri Lanka’s affairs. I hereby wish to state that this action has no opportunity for success and the Government of Sri Lanka will not be lending its support for same.
If the UN persists in taking action against Sri Lanka, a turbulent environment is likely to prevail once again within our country. Furthermore this could affect the entire Asian region, with a rapid spread of unrest and violence between ethnic groups.
What is the International Criminal Court?
The International Criminal Court (ICC), governed by the Rome Statute (adopted on 17 July 1998), is the first permanent, treaty based judicial system. It addresses cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002 after ratification by 60 countries.
The ICC has its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. Although not affiliated to the United Nations, the two organisations work closely in solving international issues.
A further study into the workings of the ICC will reveal more details. One such feature is the ICC’s power to conduct an investigation directed against a single individual.
Unlike the tribunals that investigated crimes that took place in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the ICC is an independent and permanent criminal court. Therefore crimes that take place anywhere in the world can be investigated and prompt action taken by this court. Moreover, the ICC’s judicial system is based on international law and not on the laws governing individual countries.