By Banyan –
Nearly four years after its civil war ended, Sri Lanka is far from at peace over its recent history. Despite denials by the country’s leaders, notably its powerful defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that Sri Lanka’s army committed war crimes in the final weeks of fighting, in 2009, troubling new evidence keeps on appearing.
In March the United Nations’ human-rights council is expected to renew an American-led resolution calling on Sri Lanka’s government to report on its efforts to investigate war crimes, and on relations with Tamils in the country. India and European Union countries look set to back the resolution, as they did with the original a year ago.
In preparation, activists and journalists have been providing disturbing new proof that forces under Mr Rajapaksa (and so also under the control of his brother, Mahinda, the president), committed violent crimes with impunity. Worse, convincing evidence is also appearing that state-security forces have continued to torture, rape and otherwise violently abuse Tamils, even after the war.
A British television broadcaster, Channel 4, previously showed images of Sri Lankan soldiers executing several naked, presumably Tamil, prisoners. These were recorded at the end of the war, in 2009. Asked by your correspondent a year ago about the images, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary called them “fake”, angrily denied ever having ordered a civilian or a prisoner killed, and (unprompted) said his forces had not committed “genocide”.
By contrast Tamil political leaders suggested 10,000 Tamils had been killed in the closing stages of the war, and that over 1,000 survivors remained missing. They spoke of mass graves hidden in the north of Sri Lanka and of the murder of many civilians.
This month, ahead of the UN vote, Channel 4 broadcast a new documentary showing a 12-year-old, Balachandran Prabhakaran, the son of the feared Tamil rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in the custody of Sri Lankan forces at the end of the war. In the first pictures he looks nervous, but is seen eating while under guard. A subsequent photo shows his bullet-ridden corpse.
The pictures appear to be war trophies snapped with phones by Sri Lankan soldiers themselves. The photos strongly suggest the child was murdered. It is reasonable to ask whether the order to do so would have come from high in the military, or political, hierarchy. The film may be broadcast at the UN meeting in Geneva, though Sri Lanka’s government is trying to block it.
Perhaps equally disturbing is evidence of the Rajapaksas’ authoritarian rule getting entrenched, as is argued in a new report by the International Crisis Group. And the violent crimes continue. A new report by Human Rights Watch, an activist group, released on February 26th, publishes testimony from victims, doctors and others, who describe how Sri Lanka’s security forces—its army, police, intelligence agents—use arbitrary detention, violence, torture and rape against Tamil suspects.
It documents 75 cases—including 31 from 2010 to late last year—of Tamil men and women (including two who had been forcibly deported from Britain to Sri Lanka) who were detained, violently interrogated, threatened with execution, raped, burned with cigarettes, tortured and forced to sign confessions of supporting the former rebel army. Many were snatched by plainclothes figures travelling in white vans, either in the capital, Colombo, or in northern Sri Lanka. It makes for harrowing, convincing reading. The group says it has evidence such practices have continued in the past few months.
Sri Lanka’s official response is angry denial. A version of the UN resolution is doing the rounds in Colombo. The Rajapaksa government may fail to block it, and prefers to talk up its diplomatic ties with China. In any case, foreign criticism has limited impact: domestic critics among the press, activist groups, religious bodies and unions look ever more cowed; the parliamentary opposition is all but silent. Among the Sinhalese majority, the Rajapaksas remain popular for winning the war and delivering strong economic growth. They portray foreign criticism as an international conspiracy to smear Sri Lanka’s reputation.
Thus, one can expect no decisive change. Once the UN has had its vote, the next clash is likely to concern a summit of Commonwealth leaders in November, which is due to be held in Colombo. Various countries, perhaps including India, where local Tamil political parties can influence national policy, may demand better treatment for Sri Lanka’s Tamils (and other domestic opposition) ahead of that meeting. For the Rajapaksa family, the summit is supposed to be a moment of international glory. In the face of clear evidence of atrocities and abuse, that looks ever more tainted.
Courtesy The Economist.
K.A. Sumanasekera / February 26, 2013
Banyan reckons it is so bad that UNHRC will come down harder this time as requested by the US and its supporters in Geneva.
Just going through the last UNHRC record in Geneva in March 2012, evidently the Council endorsed a report that under late Colonel Gaddafi the regime had a good Human Rights Record.
Since his killing by the US ,UK alliance, there are now 40 armed Militias operating in Libya.
20,000 black Libyans have totally disappeared from their base in southern Libya, making it a ghost town now.
At least the UNHRC got it right.
The Human Rights in Iraq since the forced retirement of Saddam is as follows.
There have been over 1800 suicide bombings to end 2010.
Shiites have been abused, and murdered with impunity.
Alaksari,the holiest Shiite Shrine was bombed with over 100 deaths.
Hope the Human Rights Referees in Geneva will consider, these before coming hard on our poor Lankan inhabitants for these inhabitants haven’t had even a improvised explosive device attack let alone a suicide bombing.
No armed gangs roaming the streets calling to join them or forcibly taking them including children.
No villages have been emptied of inhabitants
No Mosque bombings.
Jayantha / February 26, 2013
@Jayantha, we won’t be able to edit your comments in future if continuously violate our comment policy – CT
This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
Jayantha / February 27, 2013
Dear CT Editors,
Thank you for letting me know about your Comment Policy.
You still have my full authority to delete whatever you feel are Controversial against your Comment policy………and DELETE THEM AND PUBLISH THE REST.
YOU HAVE MY FULL AUTHORITY TO DO SO.
Native Vedda / February 26, 2013
Your list of atrocities outside the island is breath taking and I am impressed. Lets deal with the domestic issues first and then go after the USA.
If you really want to take up all those issues at ICC you are rest assured I will be right behind you. You can count on me.
Let me know the time and place so that we can meet up and strategise our approach to name, shame and punish the perpetrators.
The earliest the better.
Chandra / February 26, 2013
What is this this ‘strong economic growth’ that Banyan is talking of? Is he aware of the spiralling cost of living that is eating away the innards of the ordinary people.
The problem is the lack of oppositon, not that Rajapaksa has an unlimited monopoly over the hearts and minds of the Sinhalese as these foreign commentators seem to think and pontificate! Without writing abstract tosh from afar, perhaps Banyan should visit here and talk to ordinary people!
Ajay / February 26, 2013
Here is an economic fact. In Sri Lanka itinerant gram-sellers (chickpea vendors) punctually appear whenever large crowds of people gather at temple festivals and cultural/sports events and then disappear until the next time around.
Lion / February 26, 2013
Rajapaksha is fast loosing his popularity as he has put this country in to a great turmoil after wining the 30 year old war.There too he robbed the greatest contributor of the war disgracing him and putting him in prison.He is a greatest deceiver of all the time.Under his direction from morning to night pump lies after lies through all the TV channel of the government to deceive the people of this country.Private TV channels too have joined the bang wagon through fear of intimidation or due to various perks given to the operators of such channels.While ordinary masses are suffering the family of Rajapaksha and his clan enjoying their life to the maximum.Rajapakshe will decide what people of this country should here and know and even whether they should continue to live.His wrong conduct has brought all these pressure towards this country from international community and now they are struggling to reverse the trend which will definitely end up in total failure.The whole family is obsessed with pride and they have become blind with excessive power which finally lead them to their own destruction as we could find such stories in Greek mythology.Srilanka is doomed.
kautilya / February 28, 2013
Some misguided but well meaning Sri Lankans have suggested that Sri Lanka investigate alleged ‘war crimes’ alleged by none other than the separatist terrorist diaspora tiger lobby and their partners in crime Channel4, HRW, Amnesty International and some politicians in western countries.
However these allegations are all false based in hearsay and innuendo and no real evidence whatsoever. They are in effect made up stories to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka and to ensure that Sri Lanka is sanctioned at the current sessions of the UNHRC.
As someone who has until recently lived a long time in the west I can say with confidence that these separatist terrorist diaspora tiger lobby spreads many lies against Sri Lanka on a regular basis now for well over thirty years.
Their real agenda is definitely to partition Sri Lanka and finally create an Eelam that could not be achieved so far using the LTTEs violence, massacres, mass terrorism and bombings. The diaspora tiger lobby if they even remotely care about human rights should first and foremost apologise for the thousands of sinhala, tamil and muslim civilians who were massacred by the LTTE terrorist leadership and their tacit support of such. Then they should apologise for the civilians massacred by the LTTE using countless bomb blasts. Afterwards they should apologise for the ethnic cleansing of the north carried out by the tigers. Then they should apologise for all the prisoners of war massacred by the tigers. Then they should apologise for the child soldier recruitment. There are too many gross violations of human rights committed by the tigers to list here but they should apologise for all of them unreservedly since they tacitly supported such atrocities without question.
It is very clear that human rights are the furthest from the minds of the diaspora separatist tiger lobby. Additionally what has this lobby done to make the lives of the people in the north better? Nothing. The people of the north are much better off without them trying to use them as pawns in their dubious schemes and plans. The diaspora tiger lobby are actually trying to destabilise Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka should not waste any of its precious time or precious resources investigating gross lies spread by this tiger lobby. Instead Sri Lanka must tell the UNHRC that
(i) do not waste Sri Lanka’s time demanding Sri Lanka investigate made up stories
(ii) Sri Lanka has a massive task ahead in terms of development and peace
(iii) Sri Lanka is doing well and has achieved normalcy during the last four years and is forging ahead with peace and development restored
(iv) point out that the so called accusers i.e. the tiger separatist lobby were not so long ago supporters of a terrorist criminal gang
(iv) if any of these groups want to engage with Sri Lanka they should do so directly and bilaterally and that Sri Lanka does not under any circumstances entertain the idea of investigating unsubstantiated stories, video tapes etc. and that Sri Lanka has better things to do like running a country and taking care of over 20 million people.
Sri Lanka should be very firm and forthright in this reply. Sri Lanka should point out that all these ‘accusers can discuss any issues they have directly and bilaterally with the Sri Lankan Government and that that is it.