A Liberal Civic-Minded Army Commander
The argument from the top of the Sri Lankan government that war crimes against Tamil civilians need not be prosecuted puts our government’s pronouncements in the same category as Gnanasara Thero’s. While Gnanasara’s rowdy tirades are against Muslims, the Prime Minister’s and President’s dehumanize Tamil civilians murdered in Mullivaikal.
In this backdrop, it is refreshing that our new Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake (Colombo page, 5 July, 2017), says that he rejects the war crime allegations against the Sri Lanka Army but supports the investigations. He said he will not protect the guilty parties: “No one can commit a crime, especially a soldier. […] If anyone has committed any crime, he should be brought before law.”
Our PM and President should understudy him on the rule of law. It is rarely that the military does better than civilians. Thank you, Lieutenant General Senanayake.
Liberal, Trotskyite Tissa Vitarana
In Jaffna on Saturday 8 July 2017, former Minister and Joint opposition big-gun Mr. Tissa Vitarana, at a discussion at the Jaffna Managers’ Forum, practically admitted that war crimes had occurred. He argued that even the West never prosecutes its criminal soldiers at war and Sri Lanka should never be held to a higher standard.
How absolutely wrong he is! Western powers may cover up when they are wrong but will never make the right-wing argument that soldiers who kill civilians in war are heroes who must never be charged as our PM and President have done. Once evidence of crime is presented, however reluctantly, soldiers are prosecuted in western democracies. For example, US troops were arrested in Afghanistan in 2010 in what prosecutors described as a conspiracy to kill civilians for fun. Andrew Holmes was among those convicted. He just finished his reduced term for turning state witness. Corporal Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was sentenced to life in prison.
We have several other examples. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes, was sentenced by a military jury in August 2013 to spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the 2007 massacre of civilians, Blackwater security contractors in Iraq were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in what prosecutors called a wartime atrocity. Another convicted war criminal, former Pfc. Steven Dale Green, received a life sentence without parole for raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and then leading a group of soldiers in killing her family in 2006.
This is all stuff I teach my engineering ethics class in a US classroom to US students for lessons on managing disasters. That I can do so, is evidence of how mistaken Mr. Vitharana is about the West, despite all its faults. We must learn that testimony from lower level offenders is the way to nail the big chaps.
One American fault is mentioned by a US Death Penalty Information Centre information brief. Quoting Gary D. Solis who teaches military law at Georgetown University, it says
“History and experience would seem to indicate that (court-martial) convening authorities will more readily send a case to trial as a death-penalty case if the victims are Americans than they would if the victims are [foreign] civilian noncombatants.”
If our President and PM are true Sri Lankans, they should be offended that Sri Lankan citizens were massacred in Mullivaikal. All we are asking for is a credible investigation. Why fear one if there was no crime? When American soldier-jurors can send their colleagues to prison for life, I expect better from our civilian leaders.
Vitarana’s About Turn
After arguing at the Managers’ Forum that soldiers killing civilians in battle must be accepted as it is everywhere, on Sunday 9 July, Tissa Vitarana did a volte face. Facing Jaffna journalists at a press conference, he denied the truthfulness of the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (the Darusman Report). He argued that for 40,000 civilians to die as alleged in the report, 2 lacs must have been injured. He was fudging casualty figures for collateral killings during war with deliberate carpet-bombing of civilians in Mullivaikal.
We have in Lieutenant General Senanayaka, a rare instance where the military has a kindlier, more rational, civilised face that our civilian leaders lack. It is good to note that in the American murders, the convictions were by military juries. We have a lot to learn.
Layman Versus Clergyman
As the military showed itself to be capable of higher thought than civilians, in Jaffna a layman showed he can do better than clergymen.
The truce between Mr. R. Sampanthan and C.V. Wigneswaran is coming unglued. The Rev. Fr. SVB Mangalarajah (Chairman, Jaffna Diocese’s Peace and Justice Commission) had distributed an anti-FP letter dated 16 June, 2017 at various parishes saying the action to remove CVW was anti-democratic because CVW had the people’s mandate. Mangalarajah argued that after the presence of corruption in the Northern Provincial Council had been demonstrated, de-weeding was necessary. He called on the people to support CVW’s efforts at cleaning up. He ignored CVW’s attempt to be rid of those cleared by the inquiry.
Responding to Mangalarajah was a letter from the Administrative Secretary of the FP, S. Xavier Kulanayagam, who was once the Secretary of the Commission. His letter of 5 July 2017, was to the Rt. Rev. Justin Gnanpragasam, Bishop of Jaffna, who had negotiated the truce between Sampanthan and CVW (although others had their names added to give religious balance and make the truce less Christian-influenced).
Kulanayagam argued that any standing CVW has is because of the FP and CVW’s votes were because the FP and the TNA backed him. He argued that it is wrong for CVW to go on a path of vengeance against the FP taking action beyond the recommendations of CVW’s own inquiry. He said that Wigneswaran’s mandate is to work with the TNA. He regretted that neither Mangalarajah nor the Church’s Paathukaavalan newspaper had given any attention to CVW’s anti-Christian positions and that it is the need to keep civilized discourse that prevents his elaborating on CVW’s anti-Christian attitudes. Kulanayagam condemned the Paathukaavalan newspaper for its articles, as he put it, for hiding the truth in the Sampanthan-CVW dispute. He called on the Church to be politically neutral and for the Peace and Justice Commission to be “truly for the truth.”
Supreme Court Judge’s Followers
That same Sunday 9 July, Mannar Ondriyam organized its Jaffna seminar at a Roman Catholic Church’s Kalaikoothu Mandapam (Jaffna) calling for over-turning the Tamil leadership. Mr. Sampanthan came under severe attack for, in their words, giving up on Theseeyam (nationhood) and pursuing cooperation with the Sinhalese. Father Ravichandran opened the meeting with his blessings. Speaker after speaker lambasted Sampanthan even for not thanking UNHRC for its resolution, although there is no evidence he has not. As always at meetings for CVW, one of the keynotes was by a Jaffna academic who was detained by the police for using a child servant for his sexual pleasure. He was, at the time, saved by the LTTE because its own reputation was being tarnished because he was one of the main movers of its Pongu Thamil Meetings.
The only two soft-spoken, balanced speakers were Prof. R. Sivachandran and Prof. VP Sivanathan. Sivachandran was physically threatened by a member of the audience who went up to him shouting and shaking his fist asking why he had not come out of the FP. The day was saved only by Sivachandran’s calm response that he only wanted more democracy in the FP. The seemingly violent man who was seated next to sacked Minister Ainkaranesan, returned to his seat to be congratulated through a massage on his upper back and a hand shake from Ainkaranesan.
Sivanathan quietly wanted the FP to move away from “stage-speeches” to economic policies. At comment time, a speaker emotionally declared that Tamils worldwide earn billions more and can easily put the Sinhalese down.
One speaker invited from Batticaloa said Tamils vote for an alliance so they must all get together against the FP as a new alliance. An elderly gentleman next to me whispered in support of the FP,
“They are united against Sampanthan. But if they stand for elections, they will have no policy. They can only make noise. They cannot command support. Next time, we must all contest separately. Then after elections, we should talk about an alliance. Remember – GG Ponnambalam wanted a no-contest pact with Chelvanayakam. Thanthai Cheva wisely replied, ‘Let’s do a pact after the elections.’ The need never arose because GG was wiped out. Today’s Bicycle fellow [i.e., Gajendrakumar] knows all this. They will never leave the TNA. The TNA must be rid of this unholy lot. Wigneswaran should have been sacked the moment he refused to campaign for the TNA in Aug 2015.”
If we Tamils are serious about more devolution, we need to get our act together and show that we can run what we have, the NPC and the university, free of their rampant corruption. Not that the Sri Lankan state is any better!