The Rajapaksa regime is once again playing politics with the national question and toying with the grave threat that it is posing in the international arena. After the recent announcement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of the establishment of her team to investigate the atrocities committed by both parties to the Sri Lankan conflict, the government, in a blatant attempt to politicize the issue, has placed before parliament the question of whether the Government should allow the team to visit Sri Lanka or not.
The burning question before us today is not the issuance of visas to a few foreigners. Whether they visit Sri Lanka or not, is not going to have any effect on whether the investigation would be held or not; this investigation will go ahead. What we should do and what the United National Party (UNP) has been stressing for many years is the necessity to prevent such international scrutiny into our affairs. It is beyond dispute that we are in this precarious plight today because of the egregious errors committed by and the lackadaisical inaction displayed by the ruling family cabal.
The international community, after offering the Sri Lankan government numerous opportunities to carry out a credible internal investigation into the alleged human rights violations, especially in relation to the final phase of the war, has determined that the Rajapaksa regime is neither willing nor capable of such action. It needs to be recalled that it was President Rajapaksa who himself pledged to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May 2009 that he would undertake an internal investigation to look into the alleged incidents in the last phase of the war. President Rajapaksa also promised that he would implement the 13th Amendment to the full. This pledge has been repeated for the consumption of the international community. After being duped for years, the international wheels of justice have now begun to turn.
The fundamental tenet of international jurisdiction is that the local justice system has failed to deliver a credible remedy to victims. What the Rajapaksa regime has done since the day it assumed power is the systematic destruction of the judicial system in the country. By illegally impeaching the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, the first female Chief Justice in our two hundred year old Supreme Court, and the subsequent appointment of a puppet Chief Justice along with a long line of stooges and political friends to the highest court in the land, the Rajapaksa administration has demonstrated to the people and to the international community that Sri Lanka no longer has a functioning, independent judiciary.
Furthermore, the draconian and dictatorial policies of family rule have also shown that Sri Lanka is no longer a country where the rule of law and good governance-principles are upheld, prerequisites to accountability, in any country. Repealing the 17th Amendment to the constitution and hounding the media and other dissenting voices and forces, increasing acts of violence against religious and ethnic minorities which are clearly orchestrated by groups with aiding and abetting of the ruling regime, further cast doubts on the Government’s genuine commitment to reconciliation. Continuing abductions, torture, intimidation of the media, militarization of every aspect of social and economic spaces, blatant corruption, nepotism and the glaring impunity with which the ruling elite flout the norms and laws of human rights have all contributed to bring Sri Lanka to the brink of an abyss and the international community now has taken notice of that dangerous spectacle.
The UNP has repeatedly asked the ruling regime to address these international challenges head-on. Rather than hiding behind a nationalist, jingoist propaganda veil, the Government should realize that there is a serious issue of human rights in this country. When the Rajapaksa Administration unleashed the Army on innocent people at Weliweriya, whose only crime was to demand safe drinking water and massacred innocent school children, the truth dawned on many in the South as to what this regime had done to our own people in the North. Even at the cost of political expediency the UNP has always stood for the rights of all our citizens and we have continuously offered the Government our support to re-establish the rule of law in this country.
It’s never too late. International challenges can still be effectively faced and resolved. What is required from the regime is the political will. The resolution passed in March this year at the Human Rights Council allows for a window of opportunity for the Sri Lankan government to carry out a credible internal investigation. This would prove that we are capable of handling our own issues. In the meantime, by blanket refusal to engage with the team of investigators appointed by the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Sri Lanka is admitting guilt and depriving itself of an opportunity to make its case. This would not only be an injustice to the valiant soldiers who sacrificed so much for this country but a betrayal of all our people who will have to suffer the consequences of international action.
The UNP calls on the government to cooperate with the UNHRC. The mandate of the team also involves investigating the atrocities carried out by the LTTE. The Government should at least present to the investigators the crimes committed by the Tigers. And it is rather ironic that some members of the LTTE who committed inhuman crimes such as the murder of 42 Buddhist Monks in Aranthalawa are now Cabinet Ministers in this very Government whose catchphrase is patriotism and love for the motherland. In their own midst is the main weapons procurer of the LTTE, the infamous KP, the self-proclaimed leader of the group after the demise of Prabhakaran; one time deputy leader Hon. Vinayagamoorthu Muralidaran alias Karuna Amman (the man responsible for the killing of 42 Buddhist Monks) who sits in Parliament as a member of the government and is also the Vice President of the SLFP. These individuals have been responsible for heinous crimes including the attempted assassination of the then President, Chandrika Kumaratunga and the massacre of hundreds of policemen in the eastern province who had surrendered to the LTTE. Accountability can start now and here. Yet with all real Tigers in the ranks of the cushy Government benches, the Government persists in labelling all other progressive forces in the country as terrorists and traitors.
The UNP stands prepared to support the Government to restore the systems and institutions of democratic governance, provided it will pledge to restore the 17th Amendment and prioritize a return to civilized values and the rule of law. The UNP believes in a Sri Lanka that is unified, democratic and truly free. We have no interest in seeing our nation being relegated to a ‘pariah’ status in the international arena. We were once a respected country among the community of civilized nations. The Rajapaksa regime might want to drag this country to the pits, by force of their own short-sighted racist policies and incompetency in handling foreign affairs. The UNP is not willing to stand idly by and allow all the people of this land to pay for the sins of the ruling clan.
*Statement Issued by the United National Party