A fuming President Sirisena summoned a special cabinet meeting just two days after the regular cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, September 11, 2018. On that day the Cabinet adopted a 77-page draft Counter-Terrorism Law presented by Foreign Affairs and Development Assignments Minister Tilak Marapana. This Bill, when passed by parliament, will replace the current Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1978 which vests the police with broad powers to search, arrest, and detain suspects. It was first enacted as a temporary law in 1979 under J. R. Jayewardene presidency, and then made permanent in 1982.
This is one of the assurances Sri Lanka gave to UNHRC in terms of Resolution 30/1 of October 01, 2015 titled Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The following are some of the key commitments the Government of Sri Lanka undertook to implement within a time frame.
(1) To undertake a comprehensive approach to dealing with the past, incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures; also the proposal by the Government to establish a commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence, an office of missing persons and an office for reparations;
(2) To uphold the rule of law and to build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, notes with appreciation the proposal of the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.
(3) To accelerate the return of land to its rightful civilian owners, and to undertake further efforts to tackle the considerable work that lies ahead in the areas of land use and ownership, in particular the ending of military involvement in civilian activities, the resumption of livelihoods and the restoration of normality to civilian life, and stresses the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts;
(4) To a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures, encourages the Government’s efforts to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population; and also encourages the Government to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka;
(5) To sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances without delay, to criminalise enforced disappearances and to begin issuing Certificates of Absence to the families of the missing as a temporary measure of relief.
Although some progress has been made to comply with Resolution 30/1, the Government has been dragging its feet over the above commitments. The Government has not done anything about (2) above. An independent investigation into war crimes committed during the war is a pre-requisite for genuine reconciliation. However, the President has taken the stand that the army has not committed war crimes and no member of the armed forces will be put on trial courts with foreign judges.
The Ministers were instructed over the telephone to attend the Special Cabinet meeting without fail. The clueless Ministers telephoned each other to find out exactly why the President has called for a special Cabinet meeting just two days after the usual Tuesday meeting.
The President and Ministers met at noon on September 13, but Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was away in Viet Nam attending the ASEAN’s World Economic Conference. Yet, President Sirisena thought it fit to carry on with the meeting. Suggestion by some UNP Ministers to postpone discuss till the arrival of the Prime Minister was over-ruled.
President Sirisena told the Cabinet Ministers that at the UN General Assembly meeting he will urge the United Nations to drop its demand for state accountability over the alleged killing of about 40,000 civilians during the brutal civil war.
“I will also make a written request to the UNO and UNHRC to settle the allegations against our troops,” President Sirisena said. “I want to tell them to remove these charges. We can amicably resolve this issue.” He further said he expected “concessions” in implementing the 30/1 Resolution. He will urge an amicable manner that the resolution on Sri Lanka co-sponsored by the government should be amended. The Resolution had led to the perception that the Sri Lankan security forces were being unfairly targeted for punitive action. He will submit his proposals to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres as well as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
Like President Sirisena, the former President Rajapaksa had also resisted any investigation involving foreign judges into the killing of civilians by the armed forces an independent probe. He has consistently denied troops killed any civilians during the final stages of the war. According to him, the armed forces mounted a humanitarian rescue operation with zero civilian casualties. However, while in India recently Mahinda Rajapaksa has put the civilian casualties to about 8,000.
Not to be left out, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been saying that Sri Lanka’s constitution does not allow foreign judges participation. He also claimed that because of his foresight in not signing the Rome Treaty which created the International Criminal Court would have been sent to the eclectic chairs at Hague!
Sarath Fonseka who commanded the army during the war once said he did not fight the war according to rules and regulations are now singing a different tune. He says the armed forces committed no crimes during the war!
The President will be addressing the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018.
It may be of interest to know that resolutions passed at the UNGA are merely recommendations, not laws and thus not binding on member states.
Last year, Sri Lankan government sought and received a two-year extension of a deadline to implement the 2015 resolution and the new deadline expires in March next year.
At the Special Cabinet meeting, the President also expressed his concern and displeasure at the arrest and detention of top brasses of the armed forces and the long delay in filing charges in the courts. After all, they are “war heroes” who won the war against a brutal enemy LTTE.
There are some top-ranking officers either in detention or on bail for alleged crimes committed during the war. One such crime was the killing of 11 Tamil youths abducted for ransom in Colombo and suburbs between 2008 and 2009. Although, some families paid the ransom demanded abductors no youth was released. It transpired during investigation that after extortion of money, the youths were subjected to torture at the Navy in Trincomalee. The bodies of the victims were disposed of by dumping them in the seas.
The second crime was in respect of the foul murder of TNA MP and lawyer Raviraj and his bodyguard Sgt.Lakshman Lokuwella in Colombo on November 10, 2006. No proper investigation was carried out regarding the abduction of the youths as well as the murder of Raviraj during the previous Government. Only after the change of government in January 2015, the CID commenced investigations.
During the investigation, it transpired those high ranking intelligent officers from the Navy and two cadres belonging to Karuna group carried out the abductions and the killing of the 11 Tamil youths as well as the murder of Ravi raj, MP and his bodyguard.
It transpired that Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda directly implicated in these killings. It is none other than Felix Perera who was the Minister of Fisheries in the Rajapakse government who provided written evidence testifying that a child of a very close friend of him was also abducted and made a victim of extortion at the hands of the Navy murder squad.
While one of the children was in the torture chamber, an individual gave a call to the parents and informed them of the dire predicament of all of them and gave details. When the parents met Felix Perera and apprised him of it, the latter had asked from Wasantha about it via phone.
Wasantha has thereupon told him the children were in the Trincomalee camp and had promised they will be released the following day. They were not released for the reason they will be used as witnesses later. So the children were killed and their bodies dumped into the sea. In this regard, Felix Perera himself has given evidence orally and in writing to the CID.
The CID investigation into the crime found the present Chief of Staff and former Navy commander Ravindra Wijegunaratne had harboured the prime suspect. He is accused of protecting, harbouring, hiding and helping the prime suspect Hettiarachi Mudiyansalage Prasad Chandana Hettiarachi alias ‘Navy Sampath to flee the country.
Ravindra Wijegunaratne has given Navy Sampath Rs. 500,000.00 and smuggled him to Malaysia. This payment is not out of his pocket but from government funds. A Fast Attack Navy boat was used to ferry Navy Sampath to a ship waiting in the high seas. Navy Sampath who is now in custody had confirmed that it was Ravindra Wijegunaratne who helped him to escape to Malaysia.
The CID notified Wijegunaratne of their intention to record his statement on September 10, 2018, regarding his connection with the crime. However, on the morning of the day Ravindra Wijegunaratne is to be questioned, he took a flight to Mexico to attend the 208th National Day celebrations in Mexico.
Obviously, Wijegunaratne has left Ceylon with the knowledge of President Sirisena who is the Defence Minister and Commander -in- Chief of the armed forces. Sumanthiran, Jaffna District MP and TNA spokesman told The Island that President Maithripala Sirisena’s direct intervention in the matter left the TNA with no alternative but to call for international help. Sumanthiran emphasised that interference by ‘highest authorities in the country’ meant that the victims couldn’t expect justice through a domestic judicial process. He demanded that the entire range of accountability issues here should be subjected to the international judicial process.
It is a fact that top brasses of the armed forces are not cooperating with the investigation by the CID. It is claimed that President Sirisena has instructed them not to divulge any information that incriminates members of the armed forces. Simultaneously, President seems to have instructed the IGP not to disclose information to the courts! If this is true, President Sirisena is acting in a rash manner. He should, Better than anyone else President Sirisena should know that he has no powers to interfere with judicial process. President Sirisena might have committed contempt of court. This government came to power promising to install a good governance government by upholding the rule of law, that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and no one above it.
Ravindra Wijegunaratne has committed a criminal offence, not a war crime, by aiding and abetting the prime suspect Hettiarachi Mudiyansalage Prasad Chandana Hettiarachi alias ‘Navy Sampath to flee the country. Why then President Sirisena is hell bent to shield a common criminal? Does this not amount to abuse of power and an assault on democracy?
It is time someone tells President Sirisena that his popularity is sharply spiralling downward by the day?
During the war, both sides committed human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only an independent investigation by a court with foreign judges will deliver justice.
Over one-hundred LTTE cadres, including Elilan, Balakumar, Thilakar, Yogi, who surrendered at Vadduvaakal have been summarily executed. So is Nadesan, his wife, Pulithevan, Col. Ramesh and 300 odd LTTE cadres who surrendered carrying white flags were shot to death after torture. There is video evidence of Ramesh being interrogated inside an army bunker and his body subsequently lying on the ground. Victims’ father, mother, spouses, relatives and the public should know who gave the orders to kill and who pulled the trigger.
Two Ministers under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa regime have admitted that LTTE members including Tamils who surrendered to the Army had been killed. The admission came at the media briefing at former Deputy Speaker Tilanga Sumathipala’s residence at Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha last week. D.B.Dissanayake who in a lighter vein admitted to the killing at a press conference. Dissanayake said that he was sure of what befell Ramesh as the LTTEer gave him a call ten minutes before surrendering to the Army. This is a startling disclosure by two senior Ministers that the armed forces did, in fact, kill both LTTE cadres and civilians after the surrender. It is damning evidence against the army that it indeed committed war crimes.
The second former Minister Dilan Perera told the media that at the time Sarath Fonseka was the Army Commander, not only journalists were killed and media institutions attacked, innocent Tamil civilians too were killed.
Sarath Fonseka had said that he was prepared to give evidence before an international tribunal about war crimes committed by the army.
The cat is now out of the bag. There is no necessity for these Ministers to lie or accuse the army of killing LTTE cadres well as civilians who surrendered on May 18.19th 2009. All these donkey years the government dismissed the Channel 4 video footage of Col. Ramesh while alive being questioned by the Army and later his dead body lying on the ground as fake.
If the former Minister Dissanayake is a privy to the murder of Col. Ramesh and others, then it is reasonable to conclude the then Minister of Health and acting Minister of Defence during the first 3 weeks of May 2009 also should know the truth.
In the face of the damning confessional statements by two ex-Ministers, it is futile and counter-productive for President Sirisena to continue to claim that “Sri Lanka’s armed forces have not committed war crimes and those making such allegations were linked to the LTTE”
The international community will not simply believe him.