By Mahinda Rajapaka –
On the 19th of May 2019, we mark the tenth anniversary of the decisive defeat of the separatist terrorism that prevailed in this country for nearly four decades. Separatist violence which began in a small and amateurish manner from 1970 onwards, gave rise to the most powerful terrorist movement the world has ever known – the LTTE. The suicide jacket, small explosives laden speedboats manned by suicide cadres, night time aerial attacks using small aircraft are just a few of the innovations that the LTTE introduced to global terrorism. They were well ahead of all other terrorist movements in the world in collecting funds by both legal as well as illegal means. The LTTE was the only terrorist movement in the world that had its own ships deployed in international waters to transport weapons.
The Sri Lankan government bought weapons to combat the LTTE on credit. But the LTTE paid cash on the international market to buy the weapons they used against the Sri Lankan army as well as the Indian army. The LTTE was also the only terrorist organisation in the world to have assassinated two world leaders, – Rajiv Gandhi of India and President Premadasa of Sri Lanka. Those were the reasons why the FBI officially designated the LTTE as the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world in January 2008. Such was the nature of the terrorism that was conclusively brought to an end on the 19th May 2009 with the confirmation that its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead.
This was not a victory that was easily obtained. The number of armed forces personnel and officers of the Police Special Task Force killed during that war was 25,367. Several hundred ordinary policemen, thousands of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim civilians and a number of political leaders also lost their lives. Countless numbers of people were injured. The value of the property that was destroyed during that war has not yet been calculated. We succeeded in winning the war because we resisted the pressure being brought on us by certain countries to halt operations.
The Republican administration in the USA at the time, helped Sri Lanka. It was with American help that we managed to pursuade the EU to name the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in 2006. In 2007, we were able to destroy the LTTE’s arms smuggling ships in international waters off Australia and Indonesia due to specific information provided to us by the USA. However in February 2009, a new Administration took over in the USA and attitudes changed after that. Nevertheless we managed to resist international pressure to halt operations and we won the war.
Sri Lanka is the only country in the recent history of the world to have completely defeated terrorism. After having emerged from a situation of intense conflict, a nation should be able to put all that behind us and to go forward. However though the war ended, certain local and foreign interested parties never allowed things to normalise in this country. From the day the war ended they kept raking up the past in order to keep the conflict going. Some may have been upset that we did not heed their calls to halt operations against the LTTE. They may also have been disturbed by the fact that we were being helped by China.
On the 9th January 2009, a government that dances to the tune of foreign powers was elected to power in this country. The agenda that they started implementing after capturing power was designed to break the back of this nation and to ensure that that we never raise our heads again. From the day the so called yahapalana government came into power, they started relentlessly persecuting the armed forces that amazed the entire world by defeating the terrorist organisation that everyone considered to be undefeatable. In 2015, the present government together with their foreign masters co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 in the UN Human Rights Council agreeing among other things to institute a special war crimes court in Sri Lanka with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators.
They also agreed to remove from service by administrative means, all armed forces personnel suspected of having committed war crimes even if there is insufficient evidence to present in a court of law. The government has already passed several laws in fulfilment of the pledges given in Resolution 30/1. Through the Office of Missing Persons Act No: 14 of 2016, they have created an investigative body that can enter any armed forces or police installation at any time and seize any document or object and which can summon witnesses and carry out investigations even in contraventon of the Official Secrets Act.
Through Act No: 5 of 2018 which makes the provisions of the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances applicable to Sri Lanka, the government has made it possible for foreign countries to request the arrest and extradition to their countries of persons supected of being responsible for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka. The International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances is actually a punutive mechansim. The Mtual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Amendment) Act No: 24 of 2018 passed by this government enables Sri Lanka to provide evidence and other related matters in connection with cases being heard in foreign courts.
These three pieces of legislation are related to one another. The Office of Missing Persons conducts investigations and publishes reports from time to time. Cases can then be filed in foreign courts against members of our armed forces on the basis of those reports. Such cases can then be heard in foreign courts with the help of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. That was the plan.
In the meantime, the Sri Lankan government continues with the relentless persecution of our armed forces. If there is no evidence against a targeted member of the armed forces, he is arrested and remanded on the basis of a statement obtained from somebody else through various means. All officers who gave leadership to the war against the LTTE have been at the very least, brought to a police station and questioned. Even the highest serving military officer in the country, the Chief of Defence Staff spent some time in remand while still holding that position. All this was done to establish the view both in Sri Lanka and overseas that our armed forcers personnel are not war heroes but murderers, extortionists and thieves and to justify handing them over to foreign courts for trial.
Members of the intelligence services were held in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. If members of the armed forces are suspected of some crime, they should be dealt with under the ordinary law of the land. The PTA is meant to be used during a terrorist threat against suspected terrorists. This government deliberately used the PTA against armed forces personnel to bring down the morale of the entire military. What was in operation under this government is a programme for the complete destruction of Sri Lanka.
On the one hand, members of the armed forces are relentlessly persecuted and neutralised. Then a new constitiution is introduced to weaken the central government and to divide Sri lanka into nine provincial governments. Under the new constitution, provisions were to be introduced to enable anybody to go to courts and obtain a stay order against a declaration of emergency. If by some mischance that constitution had been passed into law, the situation that would have arisen in this country after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks would have been unimaginable.
Another part of the same programme was to replace the Prevention of Terrosim Act of 1979 with the counter terrorism law that is under discussion today. That was yet another pledge made in UNHRC Resolution number 30/1. The main purpose of any anti-terrorism law is to suppress terrorism. Punishing terrorists is a secondary matter. One of the most important aspects of all anti-terrorism laws is the extended period of detention of suspects over and above what is allowed by the ordinary law. All anti-terroist operations depend on such provisions. Under the provisions of the present Prevention of Terrosim Act, terrorist suspects can be held in detention for 18 months and then kept in remand until the end of legal proceedings.
However under the proposed counter terrorism law, a terrorist suspect can be held in detention and remand only for a maximum period of one year, even on the orders of the High Court. After that suspects have to be mandatorily released on bail. If a case filed against a suspect cannot be completed in one year, the High Court is required to release the suspect on bail. No one can prevail against terrorism with such laws. After the London bombings of 2005, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to get a law passed to enable the detention of terrorism suspects for 90 days.
At that time, senior police offices had requested the British government to introduce laws to enable the detention of terrorist suspects for as long as it takes to complete the investigations. However, because some of Tony Blair’s MPs dependended on the votes of certain communities they did not allow that law to go through. The maximum period of detention was fixed at 28 days. Senior British police officers have consistently pointed out that this period is not adequate.
The Americans however did things differently. In 2011, President Barrack Obama signed the National Defence Authorisation Act which in Section 1021 specifically allowed for the indefintite detention of terrorist suspects until the end of hostilities. NGOs like Amnesty International have pointed out that this law applies equally to foreigners as well as suspect US citizens.
Apart from the period of detention, enhanced punishments also play a role in deterring terrorism. By the 2015 Criminal Justice and Courts Act, the British government amended several of their laws to enhance punishments for terrorism related offences. Thus the production or possession of explosives or training to become a terrorist were made offences carrying life sentences. If any crime is committed in pursuence of a terrorism related objective, British law has enhanced punishments for terrorists which are not meted out to ordianry criminals.
However the counter terrorism law that has been proposed by the present government actually has reduced penalties for terrorists when compared to ordinary criminals committing the same offences. Even those reduced sentences can be done away with altogether if the accused terrorist agrees to fulfil certain conditions. What we have now is a government that persecutes the armed forces while at the same time providing the maximum leeway for terrorists.
In Contrast to this the USA gives top priority to national defence. In 2002, President George Bush signed into law the American Service Members Protection Act which expressly authorised the President to use force if necessary to obatin the release of any American citizen or a friend of America arrested on the orders of the International Criminal Court. The same law also forbade all American courts and governmental bodies from maintaining any connection or communication with the International Criminal Court. That is how a self-respecting country protects its armed forces.
As we mark the tenth anniversary of the end of separatist terrorism, we are once again confronted with a different terrorist threat. What we now have are local terrorists affiliated with international terrorist groups. The 2008 Mumbai attack was not carried out by Indian terrorists. But the Easter Sunday suicide bombers were all Sri Lankans. With their very first coordinated attack, they managed to cause a much higher number of civilian deaths than what even the LTTE was able to achieve with such attacks.
On the tenth anniversary of the victory against the LTTE, I would like to state publicly that no war crimes were committed during the last phase of that war. The law of armed conflict has been formulated in such a way, as to enable a war to be fought. It must also be said that it is the Western powers led by America which has been instrumental in keeping the law of armed conflict within those bounds. I state most emphatically that according to the law of armed conflict accepted and upheld by the Western powers, no war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka.
Some of the world’s foremost experts in the law of armed conflict and the practice of war including Professor Michael Newton, Professor David Crane, Sir Desmond de Silva, Sir Geoffery Nice, Rodney Dixon QC, and Major General John Holmes had provided written statements to the government of Sri Lanka confirming this. The war crimes allegations being made against the Sri Lankan armed forces are politically orchestrated. We will have to respond politically to such allegations.
On this occasion I would like to remember with the utmost respect all members of the armed forces who laid down their lives or were rendered disabled in the effort to win the war against terror and to restore peace to this country.
May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon you. God bless you.
*Translation of the text of a speech made by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaka at his official residence on Wijerama Mawatha to mark the tenth anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE.