By Thambu Kanagasabai –
Sri Lankan President’s opening speech on January 18, 2022 detailing his commitments and acceptance of current volatile situations is welcome in paper and words but whether they would be put into practice and make them a reality is far from certain viewing the past track record of most of the Presidents including Prime Ministers.
The President’s acceptance of accountability to all the people is a flagrant lie like hiding a pumpkin in a pot of rice. His accountability for the alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed during his tenure as Defence Secretary under his brother Mahinda Rajapakasa who was the former President have been already exposed and recorded by UN, UNHRC, International community and Human Rights Organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Truth and Justice Project, and International Community. His accountability for Tamils and even for Muslims will always hang as a sword forever until and unless properly remedied through independent investigations and other punitive measures.
His long term development is focused on promises endorsed by the majority Sinhala/Buddhist voters and his prioritization over the dire needs of other people particularly the Tamils and Muslims who voted against him.
His statement that Sri Lanka is a nation that respects International Laws and Conventions is a blatant lie and distortion of truth as Sri Lanka has declared its withdrawal from UN and UNHRC Resolutions calling them as interference in the internal affairs of the country. As Sri Lanka is a member of the UN, UNHRC and other International Organizations, it is nothing but a baseless statement to say we are seriously considering to implement those Resolutions.
The statement alleging misconceptions of the International Community flies in the face of several UN, UNHRC and Human Rights Organization’s Reports which have recorded the numerous human rights violations against the Tamils for the last 72 years. The statement that “Sri Lanka does not support any form of human rights violations” is another diabolical lie when one recalls the arbitrary arrests of MP Rishad Bathiudeen and Hejaaz Hizbullah including the ban on burial of the Muslims affected by Covid-19. After protests and outcry from all over the world, it was later revoked.
The statement that “Sri Lanka suffered terrorism for the last 30 years” is partially correct as Sri Lankan citizens particularly Tamils and Muslims suffered the long arm of state terrorism with several pogroms, massacres and genocidal killings of thousands of innocent civilians.
The President’s “Request to set aside the dark memories of the past” is one which inflicts pain and anguish to the victims of the war crimes etc..who have been crying for accountability and clamoring for justice which has been rendered with no value to the hollowed human rights primary obligation of accountability which is a SINE QUA NON for recommendation to succeed.
The statement of having liberated 90% of lands” is without any proof or supported by evidence as still 4000 acres of land are under occupation by the security forces with more seizures is currently underway, The recent seizure of land at Kadduvan – Myliddy road by the Army on January 18, 2022 belies this statement.
The agonizing issue of the missing persons, most of them disappeared after surrendering or arrested by the security personnel have been casually and lightly dismissed by the President by hinting that this is normal and can happen anywhere No one can deny that justice for the relatives of the disappeared has been shutout for 15 years or more and any hope for justice in the future is like chasing a mirage in the desert as water.
The President stated that “He rejected racism“ is welcome but it is more than welcome if he applies this in practice. The President’s earlier statement that he is a Sinhala Buddhist President belies his assertion and saying that he will work to fulfill the aspirations of the majority. Sinhalese His recent honouring a Sinhalese girl Yohani Diloka de Silva who won the singing contest in India has been accorded with official welcome and rewards with gifts of land and cash while a Tamil girl from Vavuniya Indugadevi Ganesh who won GOLD MEDAL in the Boxing competition is yet to be congratulated officially. Thus, the government has demonstrated its policy of racism with this incident.
The statement that “He is preparing to make several Amendments to the: Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] of 1978” is a decade old promise by earlier Presidents to suit the occasion and audience without any deep and sincere commitments with political determination to carry out same. Hope this will materialize soon this time.
The President has promised to respond positively to the observations made by the International Community, but without promising any response to the commitments made by Sri Lanka in the UNHRC Resolutions which it has rejected as interference to the sovereignty and national security, a hollow defence to shut out the UN and UNHRC’s involvements in the human rights violations of Sri Lanka.
The President’s conclusion that the North and East people wanted economic security is another flagrant lie as the people in the North and East in fact have been waging violent and non violent struggles to ensure their existence, safety and security which was always threatened by the Security Forces and the threat is still existing. Political security is a pre-requisite for the full enjoyment of economic security and they are not prepared to embrace and accept impunity for the security forces who allegedly committed genocidal crimes against the Tamil people.
The President believes that reconciliation will succeed if and when “Facilities for roads, houses and other intra-fractions are provided to the people”. However without curing the ills of majoritarianism, racism and communalism coupled with the wounds of war inflicted on them during the last 20 years, reconciliation will remain on paper without winning the hearts and minds of the people in the North and East.
The President’s speech has ominously omitted the burning unsolved 72 years old issues of Tamils and failed to outline any recommendations, proposals, like meaningful devolution. release of all political prisoners including the holding of long delayed Provincial Council elections.
President’s commitments and his statements including promises reveal his proposed plan of action but sadly to say they are simply calls without any deep political commitments, determination and credibility to rely on as the blotted past dark records and decisions would show and prove the opposite.
In this respect, statements of James Baldwin are worth quoting “I cannot believe what you say because I see what you do and the defence of security does not hold water because the world is interconnected.
It is to be noted that Sri Lanka deliberately ignored and avoided signing the Rome Treaty of 1992 which deals with the state’s liability for war crimes, crimes against humanity etc. and the obligations of the state to prosecute the offenders.
*Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo.