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Friday, July 12, 2024

Sri Lanka and accountability: Crime is crime; no matter who you are

by Needhiyin Kural’ Krishna.

The day a war hero goes and commits murder, he is no longer a war hero. He is then only a murderer. He has to be brought before Sri Lankan law and given maximum punishment in Sri Lankan courts” – Defence Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando (21 January 2019)

While demand for accountability for war crimes is made repeatedly still it is resisted by extremist groups and establishments—this remains a deeply polarising issue. In fact, those extremists failed to see or purposefully hide the distinction between a war hero and a murderer which resulted in a false campaign that war heroes are being targeted and hunted down. However, the statement of Defence Secretary Fernando refutes the allegation of “hunting down the war heroes.” Some politicians of this nation tend to maintain the prevailing impunity by defending alleged war criminals who have committed crimes, some of whom have shocked the nation, under the guise of the “war hero” notion. Defending alleged war criminals is used as a powerful tool by some politicians to achieve personal petty political gains.

30/1 resolution has been excessively coloured dark by extremists and their opinions on it may lead a person who is ignorant of the 30/1 resolution to think that the resolution indeed targets military personnel. The uproar over the passage of 30/1 resolution which requires the prosecution of LTTE cadres has disappeared amidst the outcry over purported hunting down of the military. The Opposition party tries to acquire the diadem of ‘Defenders of Sinhalese race’ by criticising the government or persons who advocate for accountability as traitors of the country. Such persons who tend to maintain the identity of “defenders of Sinhalese race,’’ claim that the Government of Sri Lanka committed an irrefutable mistake by cosponsoring 30/1 resolution which requires international investigation into war crimes. Reading the resolution carefully, one could understand that it does not mandatorily require international investigations, but it requires the participation of foreign judges in domestic investigation.

That the question arises is whether Former President and the Current Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa stood stable in his position of defending the war criminals. It is true that Rajapaksa had consistently maintained that no war crime probes were necessary, since Sri Lankan troops have not committed any of them. “Our forces carried the firearm in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. Our forces never harboured hatred towards any community or individual” Rajapaksa stated in his own words in 2011. However, the time came in 2014 for Rajapaksa to take a U turn on his position. Deviating from his earlier stance, Rajapaksa expanded the mandate of the Paranagama commission to probe war crimes in 2014. In his own words, Rajapaksa stated in the gazette issued to expand the mandate of the Paranagama Commission that, “WHEREAS, I am of the opinion that it is in the interest of public welfare to make further inquiries into several other matters specifically and generally referred to in the Report of the LLRC which require further inquiry… NOW THEREFORE I, Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,…extend the scope of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on the principal facts and circumstances that led to the loss of civilian life during the internal armed conflict that ended on the 19th May 2009, and whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility in this regard by reason of a violation or violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law, etc…”

The specific matter to be highlighted in this regard is that then President Rajapaksa who completely opposes foreign involvement in the transitional justice process in Sri Lanka saying that the sovereignty of Sri Lanka would be impeded, stated in the same gazette that, “AND WHEREAS, I am of the opinion that it is expedient that the said Commission of Inquiry should have the benefit of the advice of distinguished international experts, whose internationally recognized expertise and experience encompasses legal and other relevant dimensions of the matters set out above…” Going a step beyond, he appointed three foreign experts to oversee and monitor the actions of the Paranagama Commission namely, Right Honourable Sir Desmond de Silva, QC (Chairman), Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC and Professor. David Crane. Nevertheless, the reason for such a sudden policy change in the Rajapaksa regime was not made public.

The story of Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman

The criticism levelled by opposition MP Wimal Weerwansa against the recently approved legislation for reparations is that the government tries to support the LTTE ex-cadres by paying them compensation. He claimed that the government was planning to pay compensation to LTTE ex-cadres who have killed many Sri Lankan politicians by carrying out mass massacres and suicide bombings. The question raises here as to why the said MP remained silent when the current Leader of Opposition went to great lengths to rehabilitate the LTTE ex-cadres. Similarly, a question remains as to why such criticism was not levelled by the likes of Weerawansa when Rajapaksa appointed a former LTTE leader Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman as vice president of Sri Lanka Freedom Party and then later as a deputy minister, who is accused of killing many civilians and attacking places of religious worship.

Working for their personal gain, politicians constantly change their policies from time to time. As the politicians are concerned with what we will enable them to remain in power or continue in government, instead of what will work in the best interest of the country or the people of the country, they are able to oppose a matter which they have previously supported. It is paramount to be aware of such political deception and to accordingly make wise decisions.

Above image by Kuanan,/social media


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