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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Sri Lanka and the death of Muammar Gaddafi

Sunanda Deshapriya
Muammar Gaddafi was captured alive and killed thereafter. This is a fact that no one contests today. Even the killer himself accepted the responsibility in front of a mobile camera.  Once any individual is captured, in spite of the crimes allegedly committed by the person, whether victim or perpetrator,  due process and the rule of law has to be followed.  That is what makes us civilised people.

  An open and transparent inquiry and judicial process based on natural justice is needed in order to establish the crimes committed by the individual, and it is only then that any punishment can be carried out. None of these procedures were followed in the case of former Libyan leader Gaddafi.

Gaddafi was a close friend of the government of Sri Lanka and of President Rajapaksha. One of the last politicians to have a photo opportunity with Colonel Gaddafi was President Rajapaksha’s heir apparent, his son and M.P. Namal Rajapaksha.  
Only a few countries condemned the killing of Gaddafi in such a cold blooded manner. The government of Sri Lanka, although it did not condemn the killing, called for an explanation of his death. A number of government ministers have condemned the killing. Issuing a statement consisting of 21 words in one sentence, the government of Sri Lanka said: ” “The Government of Sri Lanka is of the opinion that the circumstances surrounding the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi require an explanation.” 

This statement is commendable especially in the context when even a country like China, which has been a stronger supporter of Gaddafi and his government, issued a more muted statement. The statement by China’s foreign ministry said: ‘Gaddafi’s death marks the turning of a page in Libya’s history.’ China also called for a rapid launch of an inclusive political process to find unity in the country, and the launch of economic restructure, to make its people live peacefully and happily.
The statement of the GOSL is indirectly calling for an inquiry into the incidents which led to the death of Gaddafi. A proper explanation can only be possible after an impartial inquiry. Here we can see that the GoSL is of the same opinion as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Both organisations issued strong condemnations of the killing and called for a proper investigation and justice.
Both these organisations have called for such investigations regarding the alleged killings that had taken place in the last phase of the war with the LTTE in Sri Lanka. They have provided evidence of individuals killed while in detention. One such case is that of the Eastern province LTTE leader Colonel Ramesh. The video footage of Ramesh being questioned by Sri Lankan military personnel, and of his dead body, is available even on the internet. A number of wives of former LTTE leaders came before the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission of the government and said that their husbands surrendered themselves to the military; their whereabouts are unknown after that.  The Sinhala language newspaper Divaina reported that a number of LTTE leaders were in military custody and printed their names. (The newspaper later retracted the story.)
As a response to the allegation of killing of Ramesh, the Defence Secretary told the media that Ramesh was a mass killer and was responsible for hundreds of deaths. The film Lies Agreed Upon, which is the response of the GOSL  to the film Sri Lanka Killing Fields of Channel 4 TV uses the same logic to justify  the death of LTTE TV Nidarshanam journalist Shoba alias Isaippriya.
We may well hear the same argument form Libyan rebels. They may say that Gaddafi was a brutal dictator, a mass killer and responsible for thousands of deaths. The 22-year old rebel, Sanad al-Sadek al-Ureibi, who claimed that he shot and killed Gaddafi, came from the town Misrata where hundreds of innocent civilians died at the hands of Gaddafi forces. The people in Misrata are openly opposing any legal action against Sanad al Sadek.
But the fact remains that Gaddafi was captured alive and was killed while in captivity. That is a crime. It is a crime against humanity. As it happened during a war, it could even be defined as a war crime. Such a crime must be punished.
Gaddafi’s death and the statement of the GoSL regarding his death bring us to another important aspect of war. That is regarding media access to the theatre of war. The world came to know of the arrest and subsequent killing of Gaddafi and his followers just because there were diverse group of media personnel covering the war in Libya.  Even the GoSL and its ministers who condemned the killing of Gaddafi came to know of the incident through the international media covering the war from the battlefield.
We have seen Aljazeera and CNN correspondents commenting on the human rights violations committed by both sides of at he conflict in Libya, from the battlefields. Reporting from the vicinity of the rebels CNN senior correspondent Dan Rivers showed and commented on the bodies of the Gaddafi supports killed by the rebels after their capture.  Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch spoke to the media on the deaths of Gaddafi and his followers as a violation of human rights from Libya itself.  The human rights violations committed by the rebels came to light mainly because of the presence of the international media, which were covering the war. Without media access these atrocities would not have come to light.
The war in Sri Lanka presents a complete contrast to this situation. Instead of media access to war, nearly 40 media workers including journalists have been killed since 2005. The local and international media were not allowed access to the theatre of war by both sides of the conflict. Reporting war came under strict censorship, direct and indirect. The war in Sri Lanka became a war without witness. Even two and half years after the so-called end of the  war,  media persons have not been able to investigate  the last phase of war and expose the truth of what took place on the battlefields. There is still no open and safe access to the war affected areas and to the civilian population there. 
The GoSL is right in saying that ‘the circumstances surrounding the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi require an explanation”
What about the dozens of media workers killed in Sri Lanka? And the thousands – most probably tens of thousands – of civilian lives lost in the war in Sri Lanka? Do the people of Sri Lanka, and especially those of the Vanni, need no such explanation?


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