Today, Thursday 6 October 2022, the UN Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly for a resolution condemning Sri Lanka for its systematic rights violations: 20 for, 7 against. Besides the monitoring of war-time killings by our government and our army, assistance will be provided for efforts at gathering evidence for punishing economic crimes
After lying to the world for well over a decade, few countries are prepared to believe Sri Lanka’s promises about punishing our thieving ministers and our military murderers of Tamils.
Few people outside nationalist Sinhalese circles trust our judiciary. Was it not a Chief Justice who boasted about doing favours to the Rajapakses while two other justices meetikly signed “I agree” in the now infamous Hambantota Tsunamu funds embezzlement judgement? Until the judiciary comes forward on its own to wipe clean the big black blot on its escutcheon, I suggest that courts should suspend all findings of “Contempt of Court.” The fact that Sarath Silva roams free without at least a knock on his kuncles, there can be little respect for the judiciary. My head hangs with shame as a Sri Lankan when I see reports of Mohan Pieris as Gotabaya Rajapakse’s encoy to UNHRC insulting the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of supporting terrorism and trying to effect regime change. Pieris was aptly reminded by Guterres that the involvement of others in Sri Lankan affairs would be drastically reduced if the Sri Lankan Government takes reconciliation and justice seriously.
On October 5, our Foreign Minister, who also is our former Justice Minister, flayed the UNHRC for the resolution to be voted on the next day: “This is heavy lobbying. This is geopolitics. [The] resolution is very dangerous, [as many of its points violated the Sri Lankan constitution and the separation of powers and judicial activities within it.] … We are introducing our own truth-seeking mechanisms.”
The world however gave us a lot of time to put our house in order. We failed badly. As far back as in 2006-2008, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIEGP) established to study our Presidential Commissions constituted using of our most senior and respected judges, resigned en masse citing the shortcoming of our Commissions:
· A lack of political will from the Government of Sri Lanka to support a search for the truth.
· A conflict of interest in the proceedings before the Commission, with officers from the Attorney General playing an inappropriate and impermissible role in the proceedings.
· Lack of effective victim and witness protection
· Lack of transparency and timeliness in the proceedings
· Lack of full cooperation by State bodies
· Lack of financial independence of the Commission
Is this the kind of Sri Lankan instiution that Ali Sabry and Ranil Wickremesinghe think will investigate thoroughly all the crimes of state and of our political leaders? Will the 6.9 million persons who voted for Gotabaya Rajapakse as President, cry foul if there is a domestic investigation that with all the trappings of legal shows, lets off the criminals? Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse’s lawyer Ali Sabry in a video shown in Colombo Telegraph tells the Muslims that GR has practically won the election and Muslims must take ownership of the victory by voting for him. If they do not, they will be smashed up he concluded. Although I raised it as a complaint at the Commission, I am not aware of any action being taken. We are afraid, I am afraid. That is the kind of Commissions we have – afraid to act against politicians and the state.
AP News reported on 5 September 2022 the empty rhetoric of Ali Sabry’s pontifications: [Any] solution should conform with the country’s Constitution. Any external mechanism, external evidence gathering mechanism, charging citizens outside the country, getting hybrid judges to come and hear the cases, all these are against the Constitution. So we can’t agree to that.”
Noted AP, “The statement is a retraction of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s earlier stance when he was prime minister. In 2015 he co-sponsored a resolution agreeing to a joint investigation of alleged abuses with participation by Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defense lawyers, authorized prosecutors and investigators.”
Even though Ranil Wickremesinghe is echoing Ali Sabry’s position now, he has for long been well aware as a politician that this constitutional objection is mere spin. With his thumping big majority in Parliament, if there is a constitutional objection, removing any obstacle is easy.
If we want the world to respect us, our parliament must cooperate and participate in the removal and punishment of criminals amongst us. A hypothetical parallel is this. The US has no extradition treaty with the Vatican. Say Joe Atheist murders the Pope and runs to the US. Is it legitimate for the US to say we have no law allowing the US to extradite Joe Atheist to be tried in the Vatican? Decency requires extraditing Joe Atheist, especially when any trial in the Vatican would be fair unlike in Sri Lanka. Our excuse for refusing to accommodate foreign judges and observers, is just that, an excuse when our judiciary has failed so miserably in prosecuting Sinhalese who murdered Tamils, and politicians who steal our money.
As far back as on 26 Sept. 2015, P.K. Balachandran the well-known reporter, reported what then prime minister Wickremesinghe had just told a gathering of management accountants:
“Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that Sri Lanka will set up a domestic mechanism to try alleged perpetrators of war crimes, but the mechanism will seek the help of foreign judges and lawyers. The Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, which will include an office of a Special Counsel, will certainly have the help of not only Sri Lankan, but also Commonwealth and foreign judges and lawyers. But all this has to be authorized by Sri Lankan law.”
The key operative phrases are “set up” and “authorized by Sri Lankan law.” What was possible in September 2015, a fortiori, is possible today given the parliamentary supermajority behind Rail Wickremesinghe and the Presidency that Wickremesinghe now has but lacked in 2015.
India’s abstention on the UNHRC Resolution is disappointing for a democracy. N. Lohathayalan reported recently that China is making illegal encroachments into Jaffna cultivating Sea cucumbers (Kadal Attai in Tamil). I am reliably informed that the report reveals but the tip of the iceberg and that there is a lot more happening with Chinese shenanigans in the North in the islands as well as Kilinochchi that will soon be reported as soon as investigations are complete. India shares a lot with the Tamil people as a democracy and needs to take up the cause of the over 100,000 Tamils massacred towards the end of the war. I assert that India is fully aware of the death toll but is keeping quiet for fear that it is not mum on the murder of so many Ceylon Tamils, its sympathies will be used by China to make gains in the South.
The silver lining is that India said it would work with Sri Lanka to achieve the aspirations of the Tamil minority as Reuters reported today, 6 Oct. But India’s money is not where its UNHRC abstention was. The 13th Amendment is something that India negotiated and navigated but is totally ignored to India’s shame and not in accordance with India’s aspirations, even claims, as a regional power. Even as I write there is a secret cabinet paper marked confidential that seeks approval for 6000 hectares of land in the Mullaitivu area to be transferred to the Mahaveli authority. It will end up as a part of Welioya (the tamil region of Manal Aaru, now shamelessly Sinhalesized). Such Sinhalese plots of aggrandizement and emasculation of the Tamils are a monument to India’s shame and ignominy because under the passed but ignored 13th amendment to our Constitution land authority is under the Province . To Wickremesinghe to whom the Constitution is important to block prosecution of murderers of Tamils, it is to be ignored when it comes to land grabbing from the Tamils.
We Tamils want to be proud Sri Lankans as we once were. But when our killers are rewarded with high posts, we lose any dignity we have left remaining. About two years ago at an Election Commission event I was seated at the high table next to General Shavendra de Silva. I could not run away. It was presumably some Election Commission Official’s joke. At another Commission event, prior to the function, a few of us were hosted to high tea. A participant was Namal Rajapakse whom many of my officials were sucking up to by surrounding him and gleefully listening to his flowing words of fun, wisdom and whatever I do not know. I kept my distance.
If we Tamils are to participate in the affairs of state as equal citizens, the prosecution of war- and economic- crimes must go ahead forcefully so that Tamils in government can work in true cooperation as Sri Lankans with those who are cleared of criminal activity.
We who truly love Sri Lanka, must sing Hooray to this important resolution by UNHCR and urge Prime Minster Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to work towards the forceful implementation of the resolution, without telling us tales about constitutional problems that are demonstrably untrue and no one believes.
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