By Emil van der Poorten –
Even the fact that it is our totally discredited President who continues to mouth a litany of unbelievable nonsense doesn’t seem to discredit it.
I speak here of his consistently defending Sri Lanka’s security forces against any allegation of so much as “unacceptable conduct” by them during the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/Tamil Tigers).
So much as a mention of anything resembling less than pristine conduct by a security force of half a million (the same as the Russian army in numbers, as I shall never tire of repeating) brings forth a platitudinous torrent from this man whose experience of combat was his participation in the abortive 1971 “Che Guevara” insurrection for which he was incarcerated until his father “pulled the strings” that enabled his release.
In fact, if he had anything other than total amnesia, he should remember the brutality displayed, particularly by the Sri Lanka police who were given carte blanche by Mrs. Bandaranaike to quell that very rebellion, with bodies floating down rivers, being burned above Trinity College’s Asgiriya playing field, and hotel beaches near where the Maha Oya enters the sea being cleared of dead bodies first thing in the morning so that tourists wouldn’t see the “decorations.” He was part of that insurrection and it was his fellow-combatants who were massacred.
That there are in any grouping of people anti-social elements is something beyond argument. To swear up and down that nothing untoward happens within those groups is absolute piffle. Also, very important, this blanket benediction that our President seeks to give everyone in uniform does a very serious disservice to those who discharged their duties within the Geneva Convention and were, in fact, genuine heroes.
In our own neighbourhood, three of the most reprehensible “colonists” that no one would allow in their compounds, leave alone into their homes, enlisted, were given training in the use of sophisticated combat weapons and proceeded to desert, were arrested and proceeded to repeat the same pattern of behaviour. One of these individuals is currently confined to an institution reserved for the mentally ill, prior to which he regularly assaulted the mother who supported him so severely and regularly that she is incapable of maintaining anything resembling a stable relationship with her friends or family.
Some of the others in that same community have a reputation of being the biggest thieves and parasites around.
To rank people like those I’ve just described with others who served honourably and bravely is nothing less than criminal when, in the court of world opinion there is a general tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater once serious flaws are found in any statement, particularly from a head of state.
I have recently had the privilege of reading the first volume of Ben Bavinck’s memoirs of the conflict with the Tigers as well as a collection of interviews of combatants and others edited to form, “They were just like us.” While the two books cover, in whole or part, the most violent portion of Sri Lanka’s recent history, they prove, if proof be needed, that there is an ample store of “good guys” and “bad guys” on both sides of any conflict.
To seek to over-simplify the war with the Tigers, or any other conflict, particularly the two youth uprisings – one in 1971 and the other in the late 1980’s – is stupid and the results can be nothing short, insofar as this particular issue is concerned, of counter-productive.
Bavinck’s book, particularly given the fact that he was meticulous in his efforts to play the part he was designated for – delivering relief supplies to beleaguered communities – is chilling in its descriptions of gratuitous cruelty, the most terrorist of acts while still giving credit to those, particularly in Sri Lanka’s combat units who were humane and even kind to those perceived as “the enemy” or part thereof.
“They were just like us” tends to ramble and display a certain lack of focus but, nevertheless, provides an overall sense of the disorganization prevailing, juxtaposing it against the gratuitous cruelty leading to acts deliberately intended to sow terror in “the other,” such acts displayed by all and sundry in the conflict – security forces, Tigers, other Tamil separatist groups, the Indian Peace-Keeping force, Muslim militias and others.
What comes to any mind with even a pretense to civilized and humane behaviour is the total lack of acceptability of some of the conduct of the kind observed and described in the two books.
To not only deny the fact that unspeakable acts were committed during our better-than-quarter-century conflict is bad enough, but to abuse and denigrate people with a documented record of defending human rights under the riskiest of circumstances – such as South African Yasmin Sooka – is disgraceful, to put it mildly.
Let me close with what is going to be the most provocative sentence in this essay: an inquiry into and judgement of the conduct of all those involved in our conflict will only be valid and credible if conducted by an international panel of jurists without connections of any description to those who were involved in that conflict.
“One swallow doth not a summer make” and the fact that a senior part of our judiciary prevented the re-imposition of Fascism on this country at the time of Sirisena’s effort to establish the “fake government” does not provide validity for the constant cry for a “local” inquiry into the events that ended with the holocaust at Nanthikadal.