27 October, 2020

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Command Responsibility? Yes! But What About The ‘Foot Soldiers?’

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

With the temperature rising around the issues dealt with recently at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva, the matter of “command responsibility” is being bandied about increasingly in connection with any transgressions that might have occurred during the final days of the campaign to annihilate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Since, apart from anything else, that debate has been entered by many commentators, the real kind as well as the “wanna-be” variety, I would like to deal with the issue of denial of human and civic rights by the foot soldiers and apologists acting for and, often, on behalf of the “commanders” in the day-to-day existences of Muniamma, Podi Banda and Cader Saibo. Let those who have already entered the ring in the other dispute continue their arguments and discussions. My focus in this brief submission will be what can and should be done about the destruction of civil and human rights in our collective day-to-day existence since May 2009.

Even here, one might say that the principle of “command responsibility” should be of primary importance and that one needs to go after the “commanders” rather than the “other ranks” that they continue to direct. One reason for not doing that in this presentation is that, in the matter of identifying the “commanders”, the dots (or is it blood-splatters?) are only too obvious and it hardly needs a Sherlock Holmes to lead one to those having command responsibility for them. More often than not, they don’t even bother to deny what they are responsible for and the manner in which such transgressions are committed. In simple terms, the blanket explanation for the ultimate in impunity is simply that the perpetrator was “our man!”

Thanks to the untrammeled authority of those who command them, the “torch-bearers” who act as the extended arm of a violent lawlessness without precedent in this country, escape even identification after committing the most heinous of crimes – rape of children, unprovoked murder, political assassinations etc. These people continue to fade into the shadows and even into the community at large with not so much as identification for what they have done, leave alone being held accountable for deeds that cover the entire gamut of criminality.

To suggest that the rule of law has ceased to exist in this country is to state what has become an inalienable fact. To say that the best that an aggrieved citizen can hope for is either intervention by the President or divine intervention (the same thing?) is to state an even more obvious fact.

But the edicts of They-Who- Occupy-the-Pinnacle-of-Power need to be carried out by lesser minions and these lesser minions cannot escape their culpability by saying “He made me do it” or “It was in my job description.”

While the knee-jerk reaction to this state of affairs might be to bring in legislation creating a whole new bunch of offences to cover the behavior of these men (and women), that is more easily said than done. Also, such definition of criminality after the offence is committed hardly suggests an adherence to the elements of elementary justice. I believe that this was precisely the grounds on which the accused in the first attempted coup in Sri Lanka’s history were exonerated after an initial finding of guilt. Even if such draconian law-making has become common-or-garden in the Debacle of Asia, it should be rejected on ethical and moral grounds.

Instead, I would suggest a twin track approach to the need for justice for those who’ve contributed knowingly and with malice to the destruction of democracy and the establishment of the kleptocracy that is our current “reality.”

One track would be an examination of all financial transactions that these individuals have been engaged in during the time they’ve been active in the ranks of the Rajapaksa Sycophancy. This would include but not be restricted to checking out foreign bank accounts, investments etc. This would be a completely ethical and legal measure.

The other track would be to conduct full and comprehensive public hearings into injustices perpetrated against members of the general public driven by the need to stifle dissent and disagreement. If, during such investigations, it is revealed that acts of blatant criminality have been conducted by the “torch bearers,” they should be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

What I am suggesting is not a witch hunt but an attempt to re-establish justice and decency in this country because what is being trotted out with regard to post-conflict policy – forgive, forget, push the ugly stuff under the rug – is not going to work. We need a cleansing of the filth through which the public has been compelled to navigate these many years. NOTHING LESS will suffice if Sri Lanka is to return to sanity and decency.

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Latest comments

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    What can this country expect from a President who says that, his Astrologer will fix the polls date for the Nothern Elections? Pity why he does not appoint the Astrologer as the Elections Commissioner and pack the EC home?

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      The Astrologer will be Dr Mervin Silva!

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    Admirable sentiments, Emil. But with regard to the implementation of your “twin-track” suggestion – dream on, brother!

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    “But the edicts of They-Who- Occupy-the-Pinnacle-of-Power need to be carried out by lesser minions and these lesser minions cannot escape their culpability by saying “He made me do it” or “It was in my job description.””
    This is why the honourable people who refuse to Kowtow are leaving in search of a better Life, Overseas.

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