30 September, 2020

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Roads Not Taken And Their Destinations

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Not only our actions, but also our inactions, become our destiny.” ~ Heinrich Zimmer (The King and the Corpse)

On the night of January 2nd, 2006, five students were killed in Trincomalee. Shanmugarajah Gajendran, Lohitharaja Rohan, Thangathurai Sivanantha, Yogarajah Hemachandran and Manoharan Rajihar, all of them either engaged in or about to engage in higher studies, had gathered near the sea front to celebrate the New Year. A bomb was thrown at them from a passing three-wheeler, and the injured youth were gunned down, allegedly execution style, about 20 minutes later. 

The authorities claimed that the young men were LTTE operatives, and died when the bomb they were carrying exploded. The truth came out to thanks to the courage of the District Medical Officer, Dr. Gamini Gunatunga. Dr. Gunatunga, a Sinhalese, did the post-mortem and testified that the victims had been shot to death. 

At that point, the Rajapaksa administration had a choice – ensure an impartial investigation, protect the witnesses, allow the courts to do their job. It wasn’t as if the political authorities were unaware of the truth. According to a WikiLeaks cable, in a conversation with the then American Ambassador, Basil Rajapaksa said, “We know the STF did it, but the bullet and gun evidence show that they did not. They must have separate guns when they want to kill someone.” 

The government had nothing to do with the murder. But it had everything to do with the subversion of justice. The political authorities took a political decision to banish law and install impunity in its stead. As a result, the suspected killers, after a brief stint in remand, roamed free while the families of the victims faced harassment and threats. 

Trinco-5 case was an early warning of what was to come, the myth of a humanitarian operation with zero-civilian casualties. That myth was enabled by a consistent policy of banding every dead or injured Tamil a Tiger-victim or a Tiger. That policy began in earnest with Trinco-5. From then on, impunity would be not partial (as it was previously) but absolute. The result was a permissive environment in which even preventable crimes and avoidable mistakes became inevitable. When the aid workers massacre in Muttur happened in a few months later, the UTHR pointed out the connection. “One thing is certain about the ACF killings. They would not have happened if minimally, timely disciplinary action had been taken against SP Kapila Jayasekere once his role in the Five Students outrage became widely known. Instead he was promoted to SSP in July 2006.” (Special Report No. 30: Unfinished Business of the Five Students and the ACF Cases – 1.4.2008)

Ending impunity and bringing about justice was a key promise of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. But the steps taken in this regard were small and hesitant. Instead of prosecuting at least some of the crimes vigorously, the government dragged its feet, sent mixed signals, and allowed a section of the defence establishment to blatantly ignore court orders. As a result, justice remains undone, killers roam free, and the foundation of future crimes are laid.

One of the most pernicious myths peddled by populist leaders is that justice can be compartmentalised, that injustice can be rendered non-contiguous. The Sinhala majority believed that the carte blanche given to ‘war heroes’ would pose no threat to their own safety. Under Rajapaksa rule, indifference to injustice in the North and the East was turned into a patriotic duty. But impunity cannot be dammed or guided, as the abduction-murder of two businessmen in Ratgama demonstrates yet again. Had the victims been Tamil, they could have been called Tigers; had they been Muslim, they could have been called Islamic fundamentalists. Since they were Sinhala, there are attempts to claim that they were members of the underworld, a euphemism used during the Rajapaksa years to justify extra-judicial killing of Sinhalese.  

Had the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration acted decisively to bring justice to at least some victims of uniformed killers – such as the 12 young men suspected to have been abducted and murdered by a for-profit Navy gang – the Ratgama crime might not have happened. The lesson is clear; so long as members of the armed forces and the police are placed above the law, and attempts to prosecute them for crimes committed is depicted as acts of anti-patriotism, impunity will survive, and claim its victims from anywhere in Sri Lanka, from any ethnic or religious group, any walk of life, any profession, including the military and the police.

The indivisibility of Injustice

During the Fourth Eelam War, General Parakrama Pannipitiya headed the victorious Eastern offensive against the LTTE. In early 2009, he was arrested by the police on a charge of treasure-hunting. The real reason for the arrest was his ongoing conflict with Gen. Sarath Fonseka. In 2008, Gen. Pannipitiya’s security was withdrawn suddenly, and he was forced to seek judicial intervention. The Supreme Court, overruling the objections of the AG, issued an interim order allowing General Pannipitiya to use his staff quarters and retain vehicles and escorts he was entitled to as Commander of the Security Forces (East). In delivering the order, Justice Nimal Gamini Amaratunga said, “Over the media, Api Wenuwen Api is aired every half an hour but people like the petitioner don’t even have themselves.” (Daily Mirror – 1.3.2008)

That was 2008, when the Mahinda-Gotabaya-Fonseka triumvirate ruled the roost. Post-war, the triumvirate fell apart, reportedly for the same reasons Gen. Fonseka developed an enmity towards Gen. Pannipitya, the division of spoils. Gen. Fonskea wanted his share of the glory, and the Rajapaksas were not in a sharing mood. With himself out of favour, Gen. Fonskea was unable to keep Gen. Pannipitiya incarcerated. After all, it was not he but the Rajapaksa brothers who controlled the police and the AG’s Department. In mid-2008, charges against Gen. Pannipitiya were dropped, and he was freed. In a few months, Gen. Fonseka himself was jailed on spurious charges. 

In February 2010, Gen. Pannipitiya’s wife, in an interview with the state owned Daily News, revealed how her husband was persecuted by Gen. Fonseka, and called Gen. Fonseka’s own incarceration a “retribution of Kamma.” The real reason for both miscarriages of justice was impunity. If the rule of law prevailed, neither general would have been arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Sarath Fonseka could persecute Parakrama Pannipity because the rule of law had been replaced by the law of the rulers; the Rajapaksa brothers could persecute Sarath Fonseka for the same reason. 

Lord Acton’s in his famous letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton argued against bestowing immunity on men in power: “You say that people in authority are not to be snubbed or sneezed at…. I cannot accept your cannon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong.” The argument remains more valid than ever today, especially in places in Sri Lanka beset by all too many sacred cows. 

Impunity corrodes morality and encourages crime. Eventually, impunity saves none and can endanger all, including those who once enjoyed its protection. In 2012, Minister Mervyn Silva’s son, Malaka Silva and his friend Rehan Wijeratne assaulted Major Chandana Pradeep of the Military Intelligence. Eventually the major was forced to take the blame on himself, because the Rajapaksa brothers, those crusaders for the safety and honour of war-heroes, opted not to back this particular war-hero. Malaka Silva’s father was a favoured stooge; and Rehan Wijeratne’s mother was the chairperson of the Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation which funded the book, Gota’s War. 

A similar outcome might be in the making today, concerning the killing of a police inspector in Borealla. The suspects are all politically-connected brats, driving at breakneck speed. When the case was taken up, journalists were not allowed to enter the court, an indication of political interference. The President, who has appointed himself as the guardian of the military and the police, is yet to condemn this incident, or to visit the bereaved family. A similar silence prevails in the UNP and the SLPP. In the end, the family members of the inspector might find themselves in the same company as the family members of Trinco-5 and innumerable other victims of impunity and injustice. 

Economic injustice lives on

Almost a decade after the war, defence continues to claim the largest chunk of government expenditure. For the year of 2019, defence has been allocated Rs. 393 billion, while health gets 187.4 billion and primary and secondary education 105 billion. 

To prevent a new Southern insurgency, Sri Lanka needs lower living costs and higher living standards, better paying jobs and greater hope, not more warships. To prevent a new outburst of separatism, Sri Lanka needs reconciliation and reconstruction and a workable political solution, not more military helicopters. Spending more on defence when the priorities are clearly otherwise, will not make us safer; it will make us more unsafe.  

Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government could have explained the reality to the people – more money for guns means less money for everything else – education, health, a decent system of public transportation, better roads and other basic infrastructure, more research and development…. In a war situation, such a trade-off makes sense; it is necessary. In a time of peace it is criminally stupid. 

In Sri Lanka, there’s no military-industrial complex. What is there is a military-commercial complex. That military-commercial complex is as much of a bar to reducing military expenditure as the military industrial complex is in a country like the US. When expensive military hardware is imported, local agents and their political backers benefit, and benefit enormously. No wonder that we are buying helicopters instead of building houses in the North, buying warships instead of upgrading education in the Deep South. 

Economic justice was a top promise of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. The leaders spoke about the iniquitous system of taxation prevalent in Sri Lanka, blamed the Rajapaksas for imposing a proportionately greater tax burden on the poor and the middle classes than on the rich, and promised to correct the imbalance. Under Rajapaksa rule, the ratio between indirect to direct taxes was a morally unacceptable and economically damaging 80:20. By reducing the purchasing power of a majority/plurality of people, such extreme levels of taxation undermines the prospects of small and medium scale enterprises, and thereby economic growth, and income and employment generation.  

Budget 2019 provided the government with a last chance to deliver a measure of fairness, of justice in the all important realm of economics. It failed. And so long as that fundamental inequity remains unchanged, the government will have no option but to impose more and more indirect taxes on people who are less and less able to absorb the resultant economic shocks. In the fortnight since the budget was presented, the prices of fuel and bread has gone up, and the price of milk powder is slated to follow suit. This is a path to greater inequality, a path which will eventually veer away from democracy and carry Sri Lanka back to the autocratic past, with the freely given consent of a majority of her people.

Inequality is a choice, as Joseph Stiglitz pointed out( New York Times – 13.10.2013). When open democracies fail to address – or even acknowledge the gravity of – inequality, an antithetical narrative gains ground, like now. According to this narrative, the rampant and persistent inequality many countries are afflicted by doesn’t stem from Hayek’s triumph over Keynes, the codification of the Washington Consensus and the transformation of trickle-down economics into an article of faith. Inequality, this narrative claims, is a result of policies which favour the ‘Other,’ over ‘Us,’ The solution is the enthronement of a tough leader who can pack off immigrants, keep minorities in place and return the country to its ‘real owners.’

In Sri Lanka, this trend is evident in the putative presidential campaign of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. His political platform is built on a carefully constructed narrative against liberal democracy. Rights are dismissed as counterproductive, freedoms excoriated as dangerous and democracy ridiculed as soft, flabby and ineffective. Complex problems are simplified, depicted as solvable through the ruthless exercise of Will by a powerful leader. In this narrative, warfare state is what a country needs to stay safe and get ahead. If the war on terror is over, there is always the war on crime, on drugs, on alien influences… And Gotabaya Rajapaksa, reportedly chosen by Brother Mahinda as the SLPP presidential candidate, is definitely the man to drive us to that future of unending wars against eternal enemies.   

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Latest comments

  • 15
    0

    A perfect poem about our folly and the tyranny that threatens us. Thank you.

    • 7
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      If SRILANKA to change its direction from extremist politics to our own progress, these 3 men in above picture should be gone away from our sights. These men have proved not once thousands of times, their close links with religious and extremist forces of varied nature stand on the way of any good moves. This was also seen in UNP politics, but I believe, from what I studied, that Ranil would not want to get close to any kind such forces but he too has been some what weakened by his kind of slow moves.
      :
      Just being out of lanken active politics, we though have the audacity to ask for a straight forward leader, but lanken structures are interdependent as no comparable to that of other like minded countries. We cant compare ours with that of india even if their religious forces are even much higher in their politics and that may the very reason indians to stay permanently poor also in the few more decades to come.
      :
      We need a revolution shifting the paradigm of the society – then only the significant numbers would ever change their biased /gulliable /mindset. People should not have any disinterest for the paying taxes. They should be willingly to work hard blossoming the productivity of the country. They should be open to innovations. And they should treat the bilateral pacts between countries with panics.

    • 1
      4

      Yes Thisaranee dear, economic injustice lives on but the JVP which seems to be now a neoliberal party playing constitutional games now protests about hate crimes in New Zealand, but has not uttered a peed about the US setting up a Naval Logisits Hub i.e. Navel Base in Trincomalee.
      After all it is US citizen Gtabaya who has command responsibility for war crimes. The right wing US Heritage Foundation report on Sri Lanka released last week states:
      A new arrangement was reached in august 2018, the U.S. has begun to supply naval vessels in the Indian Ocean from Sri Lankan facili-ties. In January 2019, the USS John Stennis aircraft carrier was resupplied using the Bandaranaike Inter-national airport (BIa) at colombo. a U.S. military cargo plane from Bahrain delivered the supplies to BIa where they were loaded onto a transport aircraft from the carrier.Similar operations were carried out to resupply U.S. Navy ships from BIa in august 2018 and from the airport in Trincomalee in December 2018.34 The “air logistics hub”35 operates under a Temporary cargo Transport Initiative. according to a report in Sri Lan-k a ’s Sunday Times, there are “plans to develop a stan-dard operations procedure (SOP) or draft a Memo-randum of Understanding to streamline and better process such temporary logistics operations in a more effective manner in the future. Militarization goes hand in hand with the decimation of Economic Justice as well.

    • 0
      0

      Well written.I appreciate all your articles which I never fail to read.Thank you T.G.

  • 15
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    Absolutely brilliant analysis!!

    Hello.. is anybody listening??

  • 13
    1

    All three murderers, rapists, robbers (depicted above) should be given a “Kurakkan” satakaya each to hang themselves. These dogs are a curse to our nation and should be wiped out lock, stock and barrel. Maybe Ranilfucksha (the great pretender) can help! Will these dogs face justice? Will our grass eating voters bring these bastards back to power?

    • 11
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      Tisaranee:
      I have a major bone to pick with you: why did you, so accurately, describe a truly hopeless future for this land, confirming what many of us had more than suspected as the days have gone by.
      The ONLY hope is a Third Force based on principle, morality and ethics and where is that going to come from?

      • 4
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        “The ONLY hope is a Third Force based on principle, morality and ethics and where is that going to come from?”

        Of course from the high-bred, well-educated, principled, disciplined, devout-Buddhist Ranil !

        Why is his brand of politics still hanging around with huge-majority-wins ……… time after time in his constituency in Colombo ……….. after 20 odd years of no results?

        Although never realized ……… hope springs eternal ………….

        If realized there is no need for hope ………. hope keeps us going ……… and we pass “hope” to our children ………….. and them to theirs ……..

        • 1
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          Dear nimal, hope may spring eternal, but our time is limited.
          .
          We’ve got to identify an alternative to the Rajapaksas and to the UNP. Let’s at least force a recount, and a President elected with fewer than 50% of the total turnout so that he lacks the legitimacy to act with impunity.
          .
          I’m voting Naganda No.1 Preference, and JVP as second choice. I hope that all readers will work out the system of voting. I have. What I’ve outlined is possible.

    • 3
      1

      Mike,
      Please replace ‘Grass eaters’ with ‘Poop eaters’. We should not offend the poor grass eaters!

    • 1
      7

      mike,
      “Will our grass eating voters bring these bastards back to power?”
      Demalu are the grass eating voters. Soon after the war ended, Demalu charged Sarath Fonseka for genocide of Demala civilians and wanted to drag him to the ICJ as a war criminal. But when Sarath Fonseka contested as the Presidential candidate in 2015 against Mahinda Rajapakse all the grass eating Demala voters gave their votes to Sarath Fonseka simply because Uncle Sam gave a phone call to Sambanthan.

      • 5
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        Another hateful comment that adds nothing else..

  • 10
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    When will see those smiles being wiped out!!

  • 5
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    When Ex, President, Brother knew who kill the school students, but they wait for next election, because they want out side Tamils Support, to day if you form a Government, with out ( out side Tamils ) support. You cannot run it, for example, Norway ( V.I.P) came to Srilanka, and spoken Goverment and Ex, President , but they don’t want speck with , Ex, Sampanthan, because no Tamils ( out side Tamils) , don’t want, Ex, sampanthan, and Sampanthan never care North Srilanka Tamils, and now he got house in Colombo-7, his story is finished,
    Next example. Americans/ UK government want Trinco, Harbour, but if India start war with parkistan, then it will big problem for Trinco Harbour, so they stoped the fighting, ( what USA, tell Saudi do, if Saudi tell to Parkistan, they fallow it, so there was no war between India and Parkistan, same time U.K. Government had given money to Srilanka Goverment, ( whose money? England Srilankan Tax,, money, ) do you know why England go out of EU ?

  • 4
    0

    “The argument remains more valid than ever today, especially in places like Sri Lanka beset by all too many sacred cows.”

    I am hopping mad about this Sacred Cows business. I was always under the impression that sacred cows were endemic to India. But now we find these pesky animals in this country too. What I find really upsetting is that even the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and the Court of Appeal are overawed and cowed down by this species of cattle.

    • 4
      0

      Not to mention the Attorney General’s department.

  • 2
    2

    “Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government could have explained the reality to the people – more money for guns means less money for everything else – education, health, a decent system of public transportation, better roads and other basic infrastructure, more research and development…. In a war situation, such a trade-off makes sense; it is necessary. In a time of peace it is criminally stupid.”
    ——————–
    When the war was going on UNP Governments did not give enough guns and bullets. Mahinda Rajapakse gave guns and bullets when needed and got rid of the LTTE barbarians who ruined this country for nearly four decades. Ranil must be spending for arms when there is no war because somebody must be getting ‘Something’. Nothing happens in this Government without ‘Something’.

  • 6
    0

    It’s an excellent piece!

    From time to time ……..humans themselves have created gigantic monsters that hold them in bondage ……… the former Soviet Communist system was one and the present American Corporate system is another.

    And in our own way ……. post-war ……… combined monster of “Sinhala-Buddhist-ness” and “Sinhalese-ness” is now slowly taking root. Which has a life of its own beyond Sinhalese race/ethnicity and Buddhism.

    No single man or group can challenge these monsters ………… until all the stars align and a cataclysmic event takes place …….. and they are destroyed ………. until humans create the next monster

    No amount of “military-expenditure” is going to save us if our greatest external threat India attacks; we will be defeated in a day …… probably without even a fight.

    There can be only 2 reasons for this great expenditure ………. it’s either to appease the armed-forces or to be prepared for a Sinhalese-uprising ……… or one stone kills both birds.

    I always said …….. and still maintain ………. that our greatest enemy is no one else but our own Sinhalese leaders …….. look around be honest who else have done greater harm to our country …….. Tamils? Muslims? Indians? Colonial-British? Americans? Chinese? NGOs? UNCRH? Geneva? ……….. If we don’t have the courage to look this in the face all our writings amount to zilch ……… we are just pissing in the wind.

  • 5
    0

    continued


    Why dwell on minor enemies when we can’t even identify the biggest?

    Tamils had the “luxury” of depicting the sheer bastardry of our Sinhalese (or ones pretending to be) leaders as racial-discrimination (when our Sinhalese leaders haven’t treated us Sinhalese any better) and demand a separate state (perhaps a separate state where their own Tamil leaders wouldn’t have treated them any better) ……….. but we Sinhalese cant demand a separate state from ourselves ……… We can only leave the country. ……… Count the number of boats.

    Why is this crazy desire to feel good when abused by “your own kind” and not by others? Answer me this honestly (I know you wouldn’t) ……. did the colonial-British abuse us worse than our own Sinhalese leaders? What did independence bring us?

    The countries Lankans escape to ……… didn’t create fair-societies for outsiders …… they created fair-societies for themselves ……… and those encompass outside interlopers like Lankans too

    That’s the best I can do ……… education, language and words fail me; I didn’t study the humanities ……… except “African Slave Trade” for an easy grade …………

  • 0
    3

    Wasn’t this Thisaranee a supporter of war against LTTE terrorism at that time? How does she now talks as if war against LTTE was the worst thing in history? Is it because Rajapaksa actually won the war in which Ranil and CBK failed utterly?

  • 1
    0

    Are’nt there enough educated Sinhalese to teach the masses the skyrocketing Cost of Living, Drug menace,
    all round corruption, breakdown in the judicial process, bad police system, the high cost of transport are mostly due to the thieving by the politicians – inspired largely by the venal Rajapakse family. Isn’t it an
    insult to all decent folks in the country when the poorly educated but highly corrupt Namal R boast his father had arranged for him to meet the rising political stars of the region – Rahul Gandhi of India, Zardari-Benazir’s son in Pakistan. This is as if all Sri Lankans are only waiting to annoint this upstart to take over from the senior Rajapakses. Have we become a Rajapakse kingdom? Why doesn’t the Sinhala media highlight the massive amounts stolen by the Rajapakses in their 10 years. This is surely the cause of the Dollar rising from about Rs.100 to nearly Rs.180 – source of much of our CoL problems. Ranil and the UNP will not do anything here in the “I scratch your back, you mine” kind of low politics.

    Is there a divine curse on the mass of the Sri Lankan people?

    Chris P. Bacon

  • 2
    0

    But when Sarath Fonseka contested as the Presidential candidate in 2015 against Mahinda Rajapakse all the grass eating Demala voters gave their votes to Sarath Fonseka simply because Uncle Sam gave a phone call to Sambanthan” Eagle Eye.

    Between the two devils, the Tamils chose the lesser devil. That is why they backed Sarath Fonseka. Tamils will never vote for Rajapaksas for generations to come. If Gotabaya contests for the post of President he will not get more than 5% of the votes.

  • 1
    0

    Madam, there is no better way to say. The irony some of us are aware of the real menace. But the general public seems oblivious to the real threat right in front of them. They sure are diverted by cunning politicians to look else where. And the voters keeps chasing their shadows for years by believing and picking the same shit heads , pretty much settling between BAD and the UGLY (no good??????). This is the story of our Lanka since independence. Looks like the “shit has hit the fan” and now where ever you turn it stinks in Lanka.

  • 0
    0

    Tisaranee,
    You say, “Had the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration acted decisively to bring justice to at least some victims of uniformed killers – such as the 12 young men suspected to have been abducted and murdered by a for-profit Navy gang – the Ratgama crime might not have happened.”

    But the impunity goes back to the Premadasa era when many, including Richard de Zoysa, were summarily murdered. Had the perpetrators of atrocities of that era faced justice promptly, subsequent atrocities would have been held in check. Weren’t you at the Premadasa center along with Dayan Jayatilleka, trying to whitewash Premadasa’s crimes? I know you have changed a lot from that era in a good way unlike Jayatilleka’s tawdry sycophancy. Still we can’t ignore that era when we speak about truth and justice.

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