Rajapaksa adviser says majority of the soldiers behaved impeccably.
Sri Lanka can initiate inquiries into allegations that have been levelled against its Army of war crimes in the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009 only if it is provided specific instances with prima facie evidence, a parliamentarian from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling alliance has said.
In an interview to The Hindu in Chennai, Rajiva Wijesinha, who was nominated to Parliament by the ruling alliance following the 2010 elections, said the majority of the soldiers had “behaved impeccably.”
He described as “nonsense” most of the allegations in the documentary aired recently by the U.K.-based Channel 4 and made in the report of the U.N.-empowered Darusman panel. “The one about excessive civilian casualties is nonsense, the one about attacking hospitals is nonsense, the one about trying to starve the civilians is nonsense,” the parliamentarian, who is an adviser to Mr. Rajapaksa on reconciliation issues, said.
But he conceded that there were “a couple of things that I think we must look at further. One of these is the allegation that some people wanted to surrender and came out with a white flag and were killed, because there you have a date and a time… My argument has always been that if there is a specific allegation, we should look into it. But if there are general allegations, while we can argue generally by citing the facts, there is no prima facie case.”
Mr. Wijesinha’s comments come as Sri Lanka gears up for what could be a tough month for it at the United Nations. Both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council meet this month. Following the release of the documentary and the Darusman panel’s report, there have been calls from several quarters for an international inquiry.
The Sri Lankan government’s position, Mr. Wijesinha said, was that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee would make a report. He suggested that the LLRC might also recommend indictments.
Those indicted, he hinted however, might be let off lightly.
“Our line is that while it is important to indict, if there is a guilty plea on matters that are not the type of torture we saw on the [Channel 4] film or executions, a plea will be accepted and there will be a suspended sentence.”
The parliamentarian heads an organisation called the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, and is also the chairman of an international organisation called the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.
“We don’t believe in retributive justice, that’s a very old-fashioned concept,” Mr. Wijesinha said. “But there must be restorative justice. So the people who have suffered must be compensated.”
He said the government should extend this facility to the LTTE cadres who had “confessed” as most of them had been conscripted and had only carried out orders.
Mr. Wijesinha said “not enough attention” was being paid to the suffering that had been caused by the LTTE and by those [among the Tamil diaspora] who had encouraged it to use civilians as human shields.
India’s position, most recently set out by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in the Lok Sabha, is that any inquiry into the war crime allegations must be carried out by Sri Lanka through a “transparent” process. It expresses confidence in the LLRC process.
New Delhi has preferred to emphasise the need for an early political settlement of the Tamil question through “institutional reforms,” building on the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, an outcome of Indian mediation in 1987.
“The sooner Sri Lanka can come to a political arrangement within which all the communities feel comfortable, and which works for all of them, the better. Government of India will do whatever it can to support this process,” Mr. Krishna said in his August 26 statement.
Mr. Wijesinha said India must help Sri Lanka counter pressure from the Western countries that were asking it to open a dialogue with pro-LTTE elements in the Tamil diaspora.
Conceding that “we know the LTTE in Sri Lanka is over,” he said supporters of the LTTE, who while not calling themselves that, were still pursuing an agenda of violent separatism in Sri Lanka, including criminal activities abroad.
“Don’t ask us not to be vigilant for the future,” he said. “We can’t take the risk, we have to remember how much our people suffered.”
It was not fair on the part of the Western nations, the parliamentarian said, “to tell us to talk to the LTTE, to rumps of the LTTE, to the separatist transnational government [set up by LTTE elements in the diaspora], because [by doing so] they encourage people who still have an agenda of separatism and violence and it does not strengthen the democratic Tamil politicians and the Tamil people.”
Mr. Wijesinha said despite some hiccups, his government was still in talks with the Tamil National Alliance, a coalition of Tamil parties that have representatives in Parliament and handsomely won recent local council elections in Northern Sri Lanka.
He suggested that the 13th Amendment would form the basis for a political settlement on the Tamil question, with the province as the unit of devolution.
Despite the “spoilers” among both the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority who saw devolution as a path towards separatism, “the vast majority of moderate people on both sides,” he said, “realise that you need devolution simply in order to have a more efficient structure for the lives of people all over the place, and certainly the Sri Lankan political system for many decades was the Westminster-style democracy which was majoritarian and decisions were taken without any notice about the impact on minorities.”
And, he said, this vast majority “are quite clear that the province should be the unit [of devolution]. After the 13th Amendment, I think now that the province is there, any effort to reduce it even on practical grounds would be counterproductive as it would also be seen as taking away.”
Mr. Wijesinha said two other ideas — empowering smaller units in the province such as the pradehsiya sabhas (local councils) and creating a second chamber in Parliament — that have been controversial among Tamils, were also under consideration.
The second chamber, Mr. Wijesinha argued, was to involve the provinces in decision-making at the Centre, which would work to the advantage of the province. Strengthening the pradeshiya sabhas would give them powers to deliver to the people such important facilities as education and roads, as well as make it more accountable to them.
While the government was pushing these two ideas, the TNA, he said, was concerned about the “concurrent list” and the provision in the 13th Amendment that in cases of dispute between the Centre and the provinces, the former would prevail.
The TNA had also brought up the issues of giving police powers and land rights to the provinces, which is contained in the 13th Amendment but has not been implemented.
Mr. Wijesinha said it was possible to settle both issues through negotiations.