Sri Lanka is at a precipice and the Rajapaksa administration bears full responsibility for our country’s current plight.
After years of insisting that the Sri Lankan government carryout a credible internal investigation into the alleged human rights violations, especially in the final phase of the war, the international community seems poised to demand an international investigation. This is a situation which could have been easily avoided had the ruling regime heeded the calls of the UNP and many others who have been insisting that the rulers respect the rights of its citizens, irrespective of race religion or place of origin and address the serious allegations levelled against them in a manner that is acceptable to the people of this country. Instead we have witnessed further deterioration in the rule of law, accountability and credibility of the Sri Lankan State.
President Rajapaksa himself pledged to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May 2009 that he will under take an internal investigation to look into the alleged incidents in the last phase of the war. This pledge has been repeated for the consumption of the international community. However the international community is now realising a blatant truth that the people of this country knew for a long time; the word of the Rajapaksa Administration means next to nothing.
The present administration has done itself no favours by eroding the legitimacy of the judiciary, weakening of democratic institutions, repealing the 17th Amendment to the constitution and increasingly hounding the media and dissent. By the illegal impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, the ruling regime has amply demonstrated to the people of Sri Lanka and to the international community that it is impossible for us to claim that there could be a credible internal investigation into the alleged crimes.
The increasing acts of violence against religious and ethnic minorities which are clearly orchestrated by groups with the backing of the ruling regime further casts doubts on the genuine commitment to reconciliation. The continuing abductions, torture, intimidation of the media, militarisation of every aspect of social and economic spaces, blatant corruption, nepotism and the glaring impunity with which the ruling elite flout the norms and laws of human rights have all contributed to bring Sri Lanka to where we are sadly placed. Once a respected country among a community of civilised nations today our government is facing increasing isolation in the democratic world. It has isolated itself to such a degree that it is compelled to seek company among ‘like minded’ authoritarian regimes.
It has been the position of the United National Party for years even at the cost of populist sentiment and irrespective of what the regime projects, human rights is not an alien concept for the people of this country. It is in our collective interest that our government protects our inalienable rights. The right to education, right to dignity, right to justice and a fair trial are all human rights just as the right to life and the right against torture and arbitrary arrest.
The people of the South witnessed horrific scenes at Weliweriya, when the ruling regime unleashed the army on innocent people whose only crime was to demand safe drinking water. The cold blooded killings at Weliweriya was a wake-up call that demonstrated how excesses by a regime that goes repeatedly unchecked could reach alarming proportions that cut across ethnicities and religions. To this day, the Rajapaksa regime has failed to hold a single person accountable for the Weliweriya massacre.
Recently mass graves have been unearthed in Matale and in Mannar. So far 154 skeletons have been exhumed in Matale while the gravesite in Mannar has revealed remains of over 50 individuals. How is it an act of treason to demand answers about which of our citizens are buried in those gravesites? Is it an unpatriotic act to ask the Government who killed them? Is it a conspiracy to demand that those responsible for the mass killings are brought to justice?
The time has come to change the discourse about human rights. This discourse changed instinctively in Weliweriya on August 2, 2013. But we do not need to see our countrymen being shot and killed before our eyes by forces entrusted to protect the citizenry again, in order to realise that human rights is about the rights of every citizen of Sri Lanka to live free and with dignity?
It is indeed ironic and tragically comical that recently a leading mouthpiece of the administration had asked for a further five years to fully implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). For a regime that had the eagerness to repeal the 17th amendment and introduce the draconian 18th amendment virtually over night, for a regime that impeached the Chief Justice through a process that lasted less than two weeks and for a regime that grants approval to any multi billion dollar deal over the counter it is nothing short of ridiculous to ask for five more years to implement recommendations that were made by a Sri Lankan commission tasked with looking into bringing about peace and reconciliation in our country. These absurdities once again demonstrate the insincerity of the ruling regime.
It is time to say we no longer believe the propaganda and narrow racist narratives of the government. Whether Tamils are buried in the Mannar mass grave or Sinhalese at the Matale site, these are all Sri Lanka’s people. Those skeletons were someone’s brother sister, son or daughter. Their families deserve to know the truth. As a nation we deserve to know the truth. The UNP stands ready to face any of its historic demons and learn from those mistakes, for we believe we will all have to confront our past in order to build our future.
Even at this very late hour the UNP calls on the ruling regime to address the serious allegations levelled against it. A mature state does not engage in blanket denial when allegations and aspersions are cast at it. It listens to those accusations, reflects introspectively, and attempts to set the record right as much for its own people, as for international consumption. The UNP calls on the Rajapaksa administration to stop seeing enemies and conspirators where there are none and learn, even at this late stage to listen to what our friends in the international community are telling us. This country stands, as never before, on a razor’s edge of devastating international action. It cannot afford to have this challenge led by a group of petulant schoolchildren who insist on pointing fingers of blame and everyone else without once looking inward. Sri Lanka now more than ever, needs mature, even-handed and truthful political leadership.
The people of this country need not pay for the actions of a few politicians.
As a responsible opposition, the UNP stands willing, to extend its fullest support to conduct a domestic investigation into the allegations about the final phase of the war. It is our belief that an investigation should span not only the months from January-May 2009, but go deeper and investigate the atrocities committed by the LTTE. If the findings of such an investigation reveal that guilt can be attributed, we call on the Government to prosecute any persons who may have been a member of the LTTE at a senior level and ensure they are held accountable for the crimes.
The UNP stands prepared to support the regime to restore the systems and institutions of democratic governance, if it will pledge to restore the 17th Amendment and prioritise a return to civilised values and the rule of law. This is not a moment for partisanship. It is a moment of national crisis. The UNP believes in a Sri Lanka that is unified, democratic and truly free. We have no interest in seeing our nation relegated to the lunatic fringe of the international community, disrespected and looked down upon because of our intractability and refusal to do what needs to be done. After 30 years of brutal conflict, reparation must be made. That is the nature of peace building. We did not need the international community to tell us that. It is something Sri Lanka should have realised for itself, as a nation that understands the brutality and brokenness of conflict and the need for all its citizens, in the North and the South of this island, to heal those wounds.
*Statement issued by United National Party – 2014.02.13