This article began as a comment on the call by Ms. Yasmin Sooka the executive directress of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) and others to cancel training programs to Sri Lankan police. More broadly Ms. Sooka stated: “We urge the UK Government to cancel the programme until Sri Lanka takes serious action to hold alleged perpetrators to account.” I endorse that call but there is a lot more to my comment that will not fit the Colombo Telegraph 200-word limit on comments. So this long piece.
First, the call to exclude those policemen accused of atrocities is very much in line with what Saliya Pieris’ Office of Missing Persons (OMP) recommended to the government in its first Interim Report – that it suspend state officials, police officers, and members of the armed forces who have been named as suspects or have been accused in criminal actions relating to abductions and enforced disappearances, pending the final determination of such cases. By that recommendation we must find some lawful means to suspend even President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
We sometimes oversimplify problems to make them tractable. If we follow the call to boycott our police to its logical conclusion, we need to ostracise the entire Sri Lankan government. The fact is that all relations with the Sri Lankan government need to be cutoff because the government is one of the most savage governments on earth. Surely every Sinhalese knows of what they did in 2009. Those who deny it are party to the savagery of genocide. In the 1980s the military engaged in large-scale killings in the East with Keenie Meenie Mercenaries, killing, looting, and raping girls and cutting off their breasts and genitals, all under British Government funding. Between the two partners, Sri Lanka and Britain, Britain has mended its ways and now calls for the prosecution for war crimes. Keenie-Meenie Associates is already under investigation by the Metropolitan Police in London for engaging in War Crimes in Sri Lanka. Their innovativeness is best known for removing the clip of a grenade without letting it go, putting it in a wine glass with the glass still keeping the clip down and then dropping it on Tamils – the glass breaks, the clip is released and the grenade explodes.
Following the call to boycott the Sri Lankan police to its natural corollary of boycotting the Sri Lankan government in its entirety is not going to happen. Partly it will be costly for business, especially as the vacuum created will be taken up by China. Also partly, it will hurt the common people badly if essential imports like fuel, food and medicine are affected by a trade-boycott of Sri Lanka. So, it is not going to happen except if the world agrees to do so as a Security Council resolution. But then China will not let that happen, what with its baggage in Tibet and its own Muslims, especially the Uyghurs. It has therefore to be approached through the UNHRC with no veto-wielding China. I hope and pray something more will be done at the end of next month at the UNHRC. Evil must be confronted head-on.
The entire Sri Lankan government was complicit in the mass murder of Tamils. The Sinhalese people too are complicit in overwhelmingly voting in as President a man widely and credibly accused of war crimes. To date we have had no inquiry into the numerous riots. We know exactly who organized the 1983 riots. We have it on record in the form of a Daily Telegraph interview that our President J.R. Jayawardene did not care for Tamil lives. The Jaffna Public Library was burnt. We know exactly by whom but no inquiry. Impunity! These our savage leaders are feted to this day as great men with even postage stamps for them. Why focus on the police then?
Former Minister Champika Ranawaka in a press statement following the provincial council election victory of the Tamil National Alliance on 23 September 2013 threatened the Tamil people for voting for the TNA. His threat was to visit Nandikadal on us again:
After defeating terrorism, no country in the world had provided space to the political front of terrorism. They have taken legal and political actions to defeat such political fronts. But the Sri Lankan state did not take any such action against the Tamil National Alliance. The consequences of it are now reflected through the results of the Northern Provincial Council election. If the Tamil National Alliance is preparing to challenge the Sri Lankan state, people and its sovereignty nationally and internationally using the political victory achieved in Northern Province, the Tamil society and their future generation will have to revisit Nandikadal lagoon. (citing UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic, American University Washington College of Law, Sept. 2014).
It was a tacit admission of the genocide that took place in the lagoon as buttressed by many sources. It is fair to say with so many killers involved that every Sinhalese knows what his or her government does to Tamils. It is deeply embedded in Sinhalese Buddhist culture to treat Tamils like dirt. When King Duttagemunu was sad over killing so many Tamils in battle, the Arahants advised the King not to be despondent since those Tamils he killed were not only barbarians and heretics, but their deaths were like that of cattle, dogs and mice (Citing Gananath Obeyesekere who quotes the Sinhala Saddharmalamkara, The Works of the Culture, Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanlysis and Anthropology, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London: Chapter 2, Symbolic Parricide: The Conscience of Duttagamini Abhaya, pages 168, 170). The Mahavamsa has an equally hate-filled quote from the Sangha on Tamils not to be more esteemed than beasts (Mahavamsa, Chapter. 25: 98, 103, 107-112).
These attitudes from monks who claim to preach love are why, I submit, the Sinhalese conscience is so thick-skinned and nonchalant about the murders of Tamils in the numerous riots including of 1983, Mullivaikal, the Trinco 11, the children killed and skinned in Mirusuvil by the pardoned Staff Sergeant R M Sunil Rathnayake, etc.. That is why the President so easily pardons the most brutal killers, and the Sinhalese people voted for him so overwhelmingly. No wonder our government praises the murderers of Tamils as heroes. President Gotabaya Rajapakse even promised Sri Lanka will not tolerate the targeting of war heroes (as reported in the Hindu, 19 May 2020):
“If any international body or organisation continuously target our country and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organisations,” he said, speaking at the 11th anniversary of the end of the civil war, marked as “Ranaviru [War Heroes] Day”
This of course is for the gullible-minded Sinhalese who will swallow anything from their leaders. The UNHRC will meet next month. Let us see the President withdraw in braggadocio. Our delegation is smore likely to plead for mercy. In this particular case, this vain bravado is necessarily a policy borne of the instinct for self-preservation because the President himself is accused of War Crimes.
There is a long history to every level of the Sri Lankan government conspiring to put down Tamils, and gullible Sinhalese lapping it all up. On 5 Jan 1985 when the army killed The Rev. Fr. Mary Bastian and the (predominantly Sinhalese majority) Catholic Bishops’ Conference testified to there being many eyewitnesses to the event, Oxford educated Athulathmudali of haute Sinhalese couture denied it and said Rev. Bastian had run off to India. The army then planted some female paraphernalia in the vicarage to suggest Fr. Bastian lived with a woman, even as Amnesty International said there was no evidence that Fr. Bastian was in India.
After the Thambiluvil Massacre when Citizens’ Committee Chairman Paul Nallanayagam reported the massacre to the police, he was arrested and charged, and of course the court of those times discharged him, but only after he had been in jail for three and half months. This is why we do not report crimes by the armed forces. In all that the government did to Mr. Nallanayagam, can anyone say that the Attorney General and the government were not conspiring in their dirty tricks? We see the same as many cases against supporters of the Rajapaksas are dismissed even after charges were filed by the Attorney General’s and the detectives punished through charges from the same Attorney General’s Department. I see no credibility in the Attorney General’s Department.
The whole Sinhalese establishment is virulently corrupt and communalist. The massacres were on such a large scale, surely soldiers reported it to their families. All Sinhalese know what goes on. In Sri Lanka there are few secrets.
Putting it all on the police now is for Sinhalese in general to escape culpability. If the Sinhalese people wish to redeem their reputation and take their place in the civilized world, they need to own up. Till then the entire SL government needs to be treated like brutal savages and ostracised.
Self-respecting Sinhalese, like those liberal-minded Sinhalese who condemn human rights violations from wherever they come, had better do something to redeem their terribly sullied reputation. Till then Sri Lankan rulers would be best described in the words of Zephania the son of Cushi, great-great grandson of King Hezekiah, in describing the rulers of Judah in Zephania 3: 3:
Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law.
Does that not fit well our rulers and many of our Buddhist Monks? Good Sinhalese: do something please!
Postscript: Three Strands of Thought
I am presently editing a book on Sri Lankan army atrocities: Noble David and Puspatharan Puthirasigamani, 204 Stages of Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, London, in press. Expected Before the UNHRC sessions. As I read of what the Sinhalese soldiers did, my immediate question is “Are they human?” And my immediate reaction is, “How can we live with the Sinhalese?” The scale of their murder and mayhem is so huge and the complicity of the top military brass and government is so clear that one cannot allow the Sinhalese as a community to escape responsibility. It is a book that every Sri Lankan, everyone who loves humanity, should read.
Three strands of thought emerge in my head. I have lived a life advancing peace (with occasional failures) and, God willing, I will continue to do so based on my faith. The thought that nags me is that when we talk peace, the people who faced these atrocities will be very angry. To ask them to live peaceably with the Sinhalese is truly an absurd proposition if you have lost your entire family to rape and murder by the Sinhalese and the miscreants – killers really – go scot-free and are called Heroes by our President. What peace with such savages! The Sinhalese will never agree to outright severance. We do not have the strength to go to war, however just. That is clear from our experience when we ourselves strayed from the straight and narrow path necessary to be adhered to in a Just War as defined by Saints Augustine and Aquinas. Realistically we need to find a way to live separately through a devolved system of government where we control our own lives and have a say in our own affairs, without treading on each other’s toes. The world has to intervene for that, perhaps through UNHRC.
The second strand of thought was evoked by my friend Shreen Saroor of Mannar who slogs tirelessly for peace. She was elated by the fact that a pauper Christian’s body was carried by a Muslim as a third corpse in a hearse meant for one. She saw it as a silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds, heralding peace in her mind. To have a breakthrough in achieving devolved government, it is important to have a true and noble consensus between Tamils and Muslims. For without that, federalism is not feasible with so many mixed population areas. Indeed when M.A. Sumanthiran rightly apologized for the bad things we Tamils did to Muslims, the angry reaction from persons like K. Sivajilingam was “Are you ignoring the several atrocities by Muslims against us? Has any Muslim apologized to us?” I am sure Shreen Saroor will on behalf of Muslims if she already has not. Indeed, she already has in the ways she works so closely with Tamils, empowering many Tamil women. It is sad that only the less powerful segments of Tamils and Muslims, namely Christians and Women respectively, are more amenable to making overtures to the other side.
The third stream of thought comes from T. Jeyabalan of Thesam Publications who declined to publish the David-Puthirasigamani book. His criticism was that the book does not mention all the vicious things done by the LTTE. In my preface when I briefly mentioned negative things about the LTTE, some rich London doctors funding the book wanted those parts removed and, when I stood my ground, they effectively withdrew funding for the book. The book does not dwell on LTTE atrocities because the LTTE killers are dead and gone. There is no one to prosecute, thanks to our government’s extra-judicial killings. It remains only to punish the LTTE killers’ killers in the Sri Lankan government and military.
I hold no torch for the Tamils who hold up murder and mayhem. Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran praised V. Prabhakaran. He has some support for that, showing that we Tamils too have the likes of the Sinhalese who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is good to recall that Prabhakaran for a small bribe allowed Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the 2005 election by preventing Tamils from voting. And then Prabhakaran made his Nov. 2005 Maaveerar Day Speech, within 10 days after he had installed Mahinda Rajapaksa in power by not letting Tamil people in the North vote. In that speech we hear Prabhakaran praising Mahinda Rajapaksa as “a realist committed to pragmatic politics.” Prabhakaran was neither a realist nor a pragmatist! For that reason, he is dead. Unfortunately, we who live, both Sinhalese and Tamil, are reaping what he and the Rajapaksas sowed together as partners.