By Emil van der Poorten –
I believe that my descent into a, hopefully, “respectable”, version of popular slang in the title of this piece is more than justified given the conduct of the bunch we supported and elected to SERVE US, often at significant personal risk.
The Aiyo Sirisena (AS) government is providing ample proof of its deliberate approach to the slippery slope of equivocation of a kind that will take us back to the days of the Rajapaksa hegemony.
The recent allegation of the President that Commissions and Committees appointed by the government he heads were targeting and victimizing a very prominent member of the past president’s family and the clear statement that “war heroes” should not be investigated, leave alone prosecuted, speaks volumes in the matter of the gap between pious utterances and their connection to the sometimes-ugly reality of day-to-day Sri Lankan politics.
To begin with, let’s get one thing straight: donning an armed force’s uniform does not, in and of itself, immediately, make one a hero of any description. While the vast majority of service personnel did their uniforms proud, there were a minority that should be prosecuted for rape, pillage and other heinous crimes. THAT is the only manner in which the integrity and honour of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and policemen can be ensured. Nothing less. Certainly not by the utterance of pious platitudes, preceded or followed by a plaintive “Aiyo.”
I make no apology for stating that some of the dregs of society were welcomed into the services, particularly when the bottom of the recruitment barrel was being scraped in the latter days of the war. Many of those recruited were guilty of offences under the criminal code of this country. They and any others found to have been guilty of behaviour prohibited by international conventions governing conflict MUST be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. If their behaviour was criminal, it must be accorded an appropriate response.
I have personal knowledge of some of the unemployables and village no-good-niks that ended up receiving training in the use of assault weapons, among other things. These were men who would never even have been legally permitted the use of a single-barrelled shotgun in the normal course of events. They were recruited, trained and when some of them deserted because they couldn’t abide the discipline required of them, were arrested and returned via the stockade to more training in the use of assault weapons and the arts of war. Their conditions of employment? Superior to those who’d burned the midnight oil in pursuit of a university degree that would qualify them for employment as a modestly-paid government servant. It amounted to absolute luxury compared to what their daily reality was at home. I am personally aware of one individual who regularly beat his widowed mother to the point when she suffered a mental disability which resulted in very irrational behaviour. Why? Because she wouldn’t give him money to go buy ganja or get drunk! He was not only recruited into the army but trained and brought back and re-trained each time the routine/discipline became too much for him and he deserted!
On another occasion, I was in the local police station when one of the officers who limped from an actual battle-field injury berated a local “tough guy” who had been summoned there for harassing people in his village because he had served in the army and, up to that point, had got away with all kinds of thuggery because his self-designated status as a hero provided him with immunity from corrective action. What struck me most was the demeanour of this miscreant who displayed what could accurately be called disdain at the “lecture” he was being given.
The most poignant and tragic story was that of an older woman whose son was killed in action and due to which she and her husband received the ongoing pension usual in such circumstances. She told me, with great sadness in her voice, that her son’s demise was a blessing because he had been a burden to her and had shown no affection for his family, leading a completely selfish existence and indulging himself to the exclusion of those who should have been at least partial beneficiaries of his relative affluence. At least, in death, he was being of assistance to his aged parents, one of whom had a serious hip problem that made it almost impossible for her to walk. I learned that, even earlier in our thirty year war, it wasn’t unusual for members of Seva Vanitha organizations visiting the survivors of servicemen killed in combat to be told by their wives and children that they would now be spared the drunkenness and physical abuse that was more the rule than the exception when their spouses came home on leave. Not to mention the dalliances with the local floozies that they felt was their due because of their recent exposure to danger!
Let me repeat that, while the foregoing was not the rule, there were many exceptions to the basic code of conduct expected of ordinary citizens leave alone “war heroes.”
The individuals I have described did not have the capacity to lead some kind of Jekyll and Hyde existence in which their conduct was exemplary on the battle-field and little short of bestial when they returned home from time to time. That is the reality in society and I would submit that, given the realities of the time, the scale would be tipped even further when there was a desperate quest for warm bodies to fill uniforms.
Baldly put, the simple law of averages would more than suggest that there were soldiers, sailors, airmen, policemen and “auxiliaries” of various kinds who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. To suggest that a nation with the equivalent of the Russian army in uniforms that they believed gave them rights that went beyond the normal rule of law, did not have some “bad eggs” in its ranks is nothing short of ludicrous.
Let the law be applied fairly and justly in the matter of investigating and, if necessary, prosecuting and punishing those who have contravened internationally-accepted statutes, to most if not all of which Sri Lanka has subscribed.
Given the hysteria that has accompanied any suggestion of international intervention in this process, it becomes imperative that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done and that jurists without a vested interest in political success and/or advancement in Sri Lanka should sit on such tribunals.
The Sri Lankan government has succeeded in employing one strategy after another to avoid living up to the undertakings provided by such as the Rajapaksa administration to United Nations agencies, specifically to Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of that organization. This is a matter of simple fact and all the bleating about “interference” is simply bluff and bluster intended to obfuscate that fact.
Further, anyone with even a tiny knowledge of history over the last couple of hundred years would remember that the bestiality to which the Armenian people were subjected never went away despite the passage of time as is the case with the Nazis’ anti-Semitic holocaust of more recent origin.
The only way that we can save our civilization of which we claim to be so proud is to cleanse ourselves of this blot on our history, by ensuring the conduct of an impartial inquiry with the participation of internationally-accepted experts in the field.
Recent events in post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka where the integrity of impartial Commissions and Committees is being questioned to the point where Commission-members of decency and self-respect are beginning to resign proves, if proof be needed, that our political culture – be it dictated by a Rajapaksa or a Sirisena – has proven that it does not have the capacity to investigate what occurred during and after the conflict. After all, if senior members of the current government publicize the fact that they will not let any harm (read “justice”) be visited upon prominent members of a family that shall remain nameless, does it even suggest the possibility of an objective investigatory process under the same watch? Screaming that the likes of Desmond Tutu and the late Nelson Mandela were “out to get us” provides proof, if proof be needed, that justice will not prevail if it is left to a bunch of political appointees to administer it.
To repeat, while it is a small minority of those involved in the conflict and subsequently that committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is essential for the sake of our history and national integrity that we cleanse ourselves and ensure a country where civility, justice and decency prevail again. Nothing less will suffice. Certainly not the paranoid ranting of those who have a great deal to hide and are parroting the “2500 Years of Sinhala Buddhist Civilization” slogan as a cloak to hide their guilt. The very fact that they use such a slogan as a shield against the accusations of criminality is nothing short of obscene but contains a kernel of logic. After all, one time-tested way of covering up embarrassing facts, at least in the short term, is with broad, sweeping generalities that contain a minimum of fact and a huge volume of empty platitudes!