An image from the documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.
R. Sampanthan, Leader of the opposition and the TNA reiterated the need for full and expeditious implementation of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution if Sri Lanka wants to stop crimes against humanity taking place in the country again. He was speaking at the parliament on the resolution moved by the Joint Opposition re UNHRC resolutions. He said that what happened in the South in 1988 – 1989 and in the North in 2008 – 2009, are crimes against humanity. No country can continuously disregard such crimes.
“Can the cases pertaining to journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge, cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, five students murdered in Trincomalee when they were standing on the beachfront or the 17 aid workers killed in Muttur be swept under the carpet merely because the persons who are accused of those crimes are members of the armed forces; so called war heroes? If those crimes cannot be swept under the carpet merely for the reason that those acts were committed by war heroes, how can violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law which are crimes against humanity committed in 2008-2009 be swept under the carpet” he further said.
The full speech made by Hon. R. Sampanthan on 06 June in Parliament on UNHRC resolutions follows:
R. Sampanthan .
Mr. Presiding Member, this Resolution has been moved by the Joint Opposition.
The objective of the Resolution is the attempted repudiation of the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and also the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council.
Unfortunately, I do not think such steps are within the competence of this honourable House and I might, perhaps, safely say that it is not the will of the present House. I might say very clearly that the Sri Lankan State is bound by the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council and that it is the bounden duty of the Sri Lankan State to implement that Resolution. We should really work towards how that can be achieved without any harm being done to this country. That should be our objective.
I do not want to approach this matter in a spirit of confrontation. I want to approach it from the perspective of what would be in the best interests of the country and all its people while ensuring truth and justice.
The causes and events that led to this situation, to this Resolution being adopted, occurred during the tenure of the former Government. The present Government took over when conclusions, decisions, had been arrived at by the UN Human Rights Council. Not having been able to contain the situation despite being given every opportunity from 2012, the former Government could not have contained the situation when decisions had been arrived at in 2015 by the UN Human Rights Council.
The former Government was given every opportunity to implement its own LLRC -Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission- recommendations and conduct its own domestic investigations in 2012, 2013 and up to 2014. It was the policy of confrontation and refusal to participate that led to the Resolution adopted in 2015. This is undeniable and the former Government must accept responsibility for that situation.
UNHRC resolution is not against SL
This Resolution is frequently referred to as a Resolution against Sri Lanka. I do not agree with that view. It is a Resolution dealing with violations of human rights laws and humanitarian laws committed by both parties to the conflict, the State and the armed rebel group, the LTTE. It is not a Resolution against Sri Lanka. It is a Resolution pertaining to certain acts, not all acts, committed by the two parties to the conflict.
One must not forget that this whole process commenced when the then President, His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, gave a commitment to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, on the 26th of May 2009 when the Secretary-General visited Sri Lanka, to the effect that His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President, and the Sri Lankan Government would address the question of accountability. That was a commitment very clearly made by the then President to the Secretary-General of the UN when the Secretary-General came here. His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa undoubtedly knew what he was doing because he himself had gone to Geneva in the late 1980s – in 1988 and 1989 – to seek the intervention of the UN Human Rights body when there were grave violations of human rights and humanitarian laws in the South of this country, when Sinhala civilian youth and Sinhala people were being slaughtered in their thousands, indeed tens of thousands, at that point of time. The only difference is that what happened in 2008-2009 happened in the North.
Nobody is complaining on behalf of the armed combatants. His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa did not complain on behalf of armed combatants when he went to Geneva in 1988 and 1989. He only complained about what happened to civilians. The UN Human Rights Council is also dealing with what happened to civilians. In fact, simultaneously investigations have been conducted against the armed combatants about their own violations of human rights laws and humanitarian laws also against civilians. This culture of impunity should not continue. It should come to an end.
What happened to unarmed civilians in violation of human rights and humanitarian laws must not be confused with legitimate actions taken by the State against armed combatants carrying on an armed struggle against the State. The distinction between these two situations is clearly defined in humanitarian laws and human rights laws, and the standards of judgement pertaining to the applicability of the said two laws are clearly recognized internationally. I found my Friends, in the course of the speeches they made earlier the day, referring to war heroes. I do not think all war heroes were engaged in committing violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights laws but some of them undoubtedly committed crimes against both those laws.
Impunity at its zenith
Can the cases pertaining to journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge, cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, five students murdered in Trincomalee when they were standing on the beachfront or the 17 aid workers killed in Muttur be swept under the carpet merely because the persons who are accused of those crimes are members of the armed forces; so called war heroes? If those crimes cannot be swept under the carpet merely for the reason that those acts were committed by war heroes, how can violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law which are crimes against humanity committed in 2008-2009 be swept under the carpet? This was impunity at its zenith.
Sir, no one should be allowed to confuse between the execution of legitimate duties by a government and the wanton killing of unarmed civilians in furtherance of the political agendas of persons holding high office. Unless this culture is brought to an end, it will continue and that must not be allowed.
What happened in the South in 1988 – 1989 and in the North in 2008 – 2009, are crimes against humanity. No country, Sir, can continuously disregard such crimes.
As a result of its short-sighted policies and not being inclusive in exercising powers of governance and not being inclusive in sharing sovereignty that is vested in all the people of this country, our country has faced catastrophic situations. We need to retrieve ourselves from this dire situation.
Full and expeditious implementation of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution will be the first step in that direction. Engaging in devious tactics to delay or deny the process will – I respectfully submit – be positively harmful to the future of this country.
Thank you, Sir.