Colombo Telegraph

From Gota’s War To Gota’s Crimes

By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah –

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Learning from the Gotabaya Rajapaksa experience

As Gotabaya Rajapaksa lectures on “counter-terrorism,” to the people listening, the truth behind this man won’t hurt them. But to numerous others ‘hurting’ by this man, his speech at the Defence Services Asia Conference in Malaysia this last week would be most revolting.

Talk about illegal evictions, to ‘White Van’ abductions, to disappearances, to Matale ‘mass graves’, to Budu Bala Sena terrorism, to torture and sexual violence by the armed forces, to unwarranted militarisation, to land grab, to illegal military occupation, to detentions without charge, to extra-judicial executions, to mass killings, to violations of international law, to war crimes, to mass atrocities – the one name and the one family that is synonymous and inextricably linked to these and other multitude of human rights abuses and heinous crimes in Sri Lanka is none other than Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksa family regime.

This man Gotabaya has the impudence to talk about counter- terrorism whilst him and his brothers, lording  over their subjects, are actually presiding over a reign of terror in Sri Lanka after having allegedly wiped out 40,000 – 70,000 Tamil civilians and  more than 146,000 unaccounted for after the war. They rule with an iron fist, these brothers one of whom is the president. They act as men above the law.  To be more precise, these brothers and their henchmen think they are the law, having illegally impeached the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and put a puppet in her place.

If justice prevails, there is every likelihood Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his officers would be hauled for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide before an international tribunal as the international investigation, called for by the UN Human Rights Council, gets underway and reaches its conclusions.

It is ironic that whilst Gotabaya projects himself as Sri Lanka’s terrorism busting Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the world thinks otherwise of this man, his regime and his troops:

Stewart Bell a veteran Canadian journalist writes:[1]

“..since defeating the Tamil Tigers rebels in 2009, Sri Lanka has faced mounting allegations its forces committed war crimes during the final months of the separatist conflict. The United Nations launched a formal investigation last month.”

And typically one of the ugly faces, tied to these war crimes allegations and of  this “increasingly authoritarian” Sri Lankan government of Rajapaksa, referred to as such by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Talking to the press in August 2013 on what she saw in Sri Lanka, Navi Pillay did not mince words. “The war may have ended but in the mean time democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded,” she said. [2]

Gotabaya Rajapaksa who claims to have defeated terrorism has actually put Sri Lanka on the ‘abuse watch list’ as it were, now more prominently for its infamous human rights record.

Citing human rights abuses, the Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird says he is, “suspending Canada’s $10 million contribution to the Commonwealth Secretariat,” that’s $20 million for the next two years as long as Sri Lanka is Chair.

Stewart Bell quotes Baird as saying “funding can longer be justified to the Commonwealth which “turns a blind eye” to human rights abuses in breach of its charter:

“Canada remains deeply concerned about the absence of accountability for alleged serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards in Sri Lanka,” that “Ottawa could no longer justify funding “an organization that turns a blind eye to human rights abuses, anti-democratic behavior and religious intolerance in its member states,” and that, ” The money will be directed elsewhere.”

Hugo Swire, UK Foreign Office Minister has expressed similar concerns on Sri Lanka as Chair of the Commonwealth, in an article,  A Commonwealth for the 21st Century: [3]

Let us take values first. The Commonwealth Charter, agreed in 2012, is historic: the first ever declaration of our common values in a single document. But, frankly, implementation is patchy. We have real concerns in Sri Lanka, the Commonwealth’s Chair in Office, where there has been very little progress in investigating the terrible atrocities in the civil war that ended five years ago. The Prime Minister has shown great leadership in securing an international inquiry into this through the UN Human Rights Council,” writes Hugo Swire.

It would seem if the two giants, Canada and the UK had their way, the Commonwealth would be fast moving toward removing Sri Lanka as Chair.

Further to the concerns raised by Canada and UK, Sri Lanka has been ranked 4th as the country most dangerous for journalists, ” in a newly updated Impunity Index after Iraq, Somalia, and the Philippines,” published by the Committee to Protect Journalists : [4]

Elisabeth Witchel, Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Campaign Consultant had this to say about the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa:

“Though Sri Lanka’s civil war ended nearly five years ago, the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has shown no political will to address its record of perfect impunity in the nine murders of journalists that have taken place under his leadership, first as prime minister and then as president. Government and military officials are suspected to be behind several of the murders, including the 2009 assassination of prominent editor Lasantha Wikramatunga, known for his critical reporting, and the nearly 10-year-old shooting of Aiyathurai Nadesan, penname Nellai G. Nadesan, an award-winning journalist who was threatened before his death in response to his reporting about the army. Impunity in Sri Lanka is a major factor behind high numbers of journalists going into exile, according to CPJ research.”

Fergal Keane, BBC reporter who was investigating disappearances in Sri Lanka in October 2013 was told how journalist can’t speak the truth, how seven Tamils from drivers to journalists have been killed, how dissent is stifled and or journalists are made to disappear. Speaking to cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s wife, Fergal Keane was told how she had no doubts that her husband was taken in a “white van” and forcibly disappeared by the “Rajapaksa regime”. [5]

Only recently Journalists Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka condemned an attack on a Tamil journalist Sivagnanam Selvatheepan who at the time of writing is “badly injured and has been admitted to the Jaffna Hospital.” [6]

UK’s Channel 4, in a video documentary “the White Van Stories: Sri Lanka’s Disappeared” investigates Sri Lanka’s ‘White Van’ phenomenon and reports that “After Iraq, Sri Lanka has the highest number of enforced disappearances in the world,” this according to the UN and lists some of the abductees and the stories behind these abductions.”

“They come in unmarked white vans. The people they take are never seen again. Activists say one person is taken this way every 5 days.” [7]

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s armed forces are the worst offenders of torture and sexual violence:  Human Rights Watch has documented, “75 cases of rape – 31 men, 41 of women and 3 boys under 18 for which the evidence strongly suggests were perpetrated by members of the security forces.” [8]

Another damning report released on 21st March 2014 titled, An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka , May 2009 – March 2014, written by Yasmin Sooka, an international human rights lawyer and member of the UN Panel of Experts, documents the testimony of 40 victims of torture and sexual violence based on evidence, “collected by the UK Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the International Truth & Justice Project, Sri Lanka..establishing a prima facie case for post-war crimes against humanity.”

Ramanan Veerasingham writes of the report produced by Yasmin Sooka:

“A new report based on investigation into worsening post-war human rights situation in Sri Lanka, has credibly found that the country’s military “is still waging a campaign of persecution using abduction, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual violence”, thus establishing a prima facie case to answer for post-war crimes against humanity by its military.”[9]

As to Gotabaya’ Rajapaksa’s culpability for war crimes and his involvement in the ‘white flag incident’,  there is enough incriminating evidence out there that he ordered the extra-judicial executions.  It’s well known that, “Washington has intelligence excerpts of Gotabaya Rajapaksa allegedly ordering the gunning down of surrendered LTTE cadres.”

Hamish MacDonald, Asia-Pacific Editor of “Sydney Morning Herald” writes in his opinion piece that “Washington officials have let it be known to the Sri Lankan Government that they have intelligence intercepts of the conversation in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa is alleged to have ordered the surrendering Tiger cadres to be gunned down.”

“…On learning about the negotiated surrender, the President’s brother, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had called the military commander in the sector concerned, the 58th Division’s Brigadier Shavendra Silva, and ordered him not to accept any Tiger leaders trying to surrender. ”They must all be killed,” Gotabaya Rajapaksa was alleged to have said. Fonseka later backtracked on his interview, saying he’d been quoted out of context, as denials flew around the government. Fonseka lost the election and was hit with charges of corruption, sedition and so on. According to British magazine The Economist, he now sits in a cell wearing shorts, under a portrait of the Boy Scouts founder, Lord Baden-Powell. Yet his story still has legs. According to reports circulating around Sri Lanka and its diaspora, Washington officials have let it be known to the Sri Lankan government they have intelligence intercepts of the conversation in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa is alleged to have ordered the surrendering Tiger cadres be gunned down,” Hamish MacDonald writes.

Channel 4 itself, going by some revelations made by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces has reported that the, “order for the final bloody assault on the Tamil Tigers, which involved the death of thousands of Tamil civilians, had come from Gotabaya.”

Referring to the family rule that exists in Sri Lanka in a report: Rajapaksas: Who are Sri Lanka’s Ruling Dynasty and calling the Mahinda Gotabaya liaison, “Brothers in Arms” Channel 4 has no hesitation in saying Gotabaya Rajapaksa carried out war crimes and ordered soldiers to “finish the job”: [10] [11]

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa, like Mahinda, allegedly carried out war crimes at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war. He was appointed defence secretary following his brother’s election to president in 2005.In July 2011, two years after the end of the civil war, Channel 4 News revealed testimony from two Sri Lankan soldiers who said the order for the final bloody assault on the Tamil Tigers, which involved the death of thousands of Tamil civilians, had come from Gotabaya.It was claimed by one of the soldiers that Gotabaya had ordered the army to end the Sri Lankan civil war by “whatever means necessary”. Another soldier said that Gotabaya ordered the execution of two Tamil rebel leaders who had surrendered.Former Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka, another senior military figure credited with ending the Tamil Tiger rebellion and who has also been accused of having responsibility for war crimes, has also said Gotabaya ordered the war crimes.”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa against whom war crimes allegations have been heaped, based on definitive proof which the Tamil Diaspora say amount to genocide is also the “prime suspect” behind the Matale mass graves which the Sinhalese say also amount to genocide.

The Colombo Telegraph writes the Matale mass graves were of, “victims killed in the JVP insurrection between 1988-90” and the allegations are that “.. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was among the senior officers of the Army commanding the area at the particular time.” [12]

Colombo Telegraph has learnt that after consultation with Secretary to Ministry of Defence, the Attorney General, Chief Justice and the military, the President has decided to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry consisting of retired Supreme Court Judge Imam, retired District Judge and former Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Kitulagoda and Retired High Court Judge Atapattu former Registrar of Supreme Court. However the terms of reference have not yet been released. Legal circles are surprised that the investigation has been taken away from the judiciary which is mandated by the Criminal Procedure Code to oversee such investigations. The legality of investigations by a Presidential Commission which has no powers under the Criminal Procedure Code, needs to be examined, a criminal lawyer told Colombo Telegraph. In the mean time, the Chatirika de Silva, the Magistrate who conducted the investigation into the matter has been suddenly transferred to Colombo.

In anticipation, the Rajapaksa regime has issued a threat to those who may consider testifying at the international investigation. Rumour has it that many in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s army are ready to testify.

It has now become apparent that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a man much wanted for two sets of mass killings amounting  to genocide in both cases. He is able to travel and address international foras but for how long.  At the end of the international investigation what are now simply allegations will become established facts and then it will be time for the man who is Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defense to have to answer for his crimes.

The day will surely come when a postscript will be added to the book Gota’s War under the heading Gota’s Crimes…..


[1] http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/04/14/canada-suspends-10-million-contribution-to-the-commonwealth-secretariat-over-alleged-human-rights-abuses-in-sri-lanka/

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2013/08/201383181556734969.html

[3] http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2014/04/hugo-swire-mp-a-commonwealth-for-the-21st-century.html

[4] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lanka-ranked-fourth-in-newly-updated-impunity-index/

[5] The http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24662898

[6] http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-tamil-journalist-attacked-18-04-2014,46169.html

[7] http://www.channel4.com/news/sri-lanka-disappeared-white-vans-missing-people-war-chogm

[8] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/srilanka0213webwcover_ 0.pdf

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp2EpzjYHto

[10] http://www.channel4.com/news/sri-lanka-mahinda-rajapaksa-commonwealth-meeting-2013

[11] http://www.channel4.com/news/sri-lanka-war-crimes-soldiers-ordered-to-finish-the-job

[12] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/matale-mass-grave-the-investigation-has-been-taken-away-from-the-judiciary/comment-page-1/

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