By Brian Senewiratne –
It has been erroneously claimed that there has been an ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka. There has been no ethnic conflict since 1915, and that was between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. What there has been for six decades, are a series of increasingly virulent pogroms against the Tamil people by a succession of Sinhalese-dominated government, assisted by Sinhalese political opportunists and ethno-religious chauvinists, and conducted by the Sinhalese Armed Forces (99% Sinhalese), with a degeneracy of Sinhala society and its rapid descent to barbarism. These anti-Tamil pogroms have been to crush the Tamil people into submission to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
I have maintained that unless/until the Sinhalese apologise to the Tamils for what has been done to them, there can neither be peace nor normalcy, and certainly no reconciliation.
The only Sinhalese ever to apologise to the Tamils was the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe.
In his final Pastoral Letter (15 November 1983), deeply disturbed by the 1983 massacre of Tamils he wrote:-
“Shame and apology
The massive retaliation mainly by Sinhalese against defenceless Tamils in July 1983 cannot be justified on moral grounds. We must admit this and acknowledge our shame. We must be ashamed because what took place was a moral crime. We are ashamed as Sinhalese for the moral crime which other Sinhalese committed. We must not only acknowledge our shame, we must also make our apology to those Tamils who were unjustified victims of this massive retaliation.”
He goes on to state why this should be done.
“When a section of the Sinhalese does what is morally wrong or bad, we share in it. As members of the whole group we share in the evil they have done. It is a mark of moral maturity to acknowledge a moral crime on behalf of those closely knit to us who do not realize that they have done this and an apology on their behalf.
It is only by an apology of this kind that we shall recover our proper moral and religious values. Then we can begin the process of what went wrong with our relationship with the Tamils. The true basis of reconciliation is admission of wrong and an appeal for forgiveness”
That was written after the murder of some 3,000 Tamils just before his untimely death. I am not sure what he would have written today after the murder of some 70,000 Tamils.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom I met in Cape Town two years ago, should know all about reconciliation. He chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, at a time when there was an absolute need for reconciliation. He will testify that it is mandatory to have an open, honest and transparent process to deal with the past if there is to be national reconciliation.
Not to have such a process is to throw away any possibility of moving forward. Unfortunately, the Sinhalese people, much less their politicians, are unable or unwilling to appreciate this. As such, the window of opportunity will close, if it has not done so already.
I, a Sinhalese, did not slit any Tamil throats, but I have a sense of collective responsibility for the insensitive and barbaric behaviour of my people the Sinhalese, in military uniform and not in uniform.
If to be critical of what is going on in Sri Lanka, makes me a traitor, so be it. I will not let my patriotism to Sri Lanka to be defined by how close I stand to the Sri Lankan flag, drenched with the blood and tears of hundreds of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims – all of them my people.
At one of the anniversaries of the 1983 Tamil massacre in Colombo, Chandrika Kumaratunga, then the President, was asked about an apology to the Tamils. She said, “We should all apologise to each other”. I could not figure this out. Why should the Tamils apologise to the Sinhalese? For what? For the crime they have committed being born Tamil so that the Sinhalese could murder them?
As for the Rajapaksa regime that followed Kumaratunga, let alone an apology, there was obscene rejoicing at the dreadful mass slaughter of people whose only crime was that they were born Tamil, and had a right to be where they were, the North and East of the island.
The triumphalist tone and tenor of Rajapaksa’s speech made no allowance for the collective human and material losses of the Tamil people, their present abysmal existence and their future uncertainties and fears.
Sirisena’s address on Independence Day was no different – in fact, worse.
President Sirisena’s The ‘Independence Day address – 4 February 2015
President Sirisena’s Independence Day address was, from the Tamil point of view, one of the most traumatic addresses ever given by any Sri Lankan ‘leader’.
Given that Sirisena is the President entirely due to the mass electoral support he got from the Tamil people in the North and East, one would have expected at least a word of sympathy for the terrible violence – crimes against humanity and even Genocide – unleashed on them. There was not a word of sympathy, indeed the opposite. Here is what he said:
“As we celebrate the gaining of Independence, today, we recognize our bounden duty to give all honour and respect to the members of the Security Forces who made great sacrifices to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity in the battle against terrorism”.
The ‘honour and respect’ is for people who committed acts which the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been asked to conduct an Inquiry.
Just before praising the barbaric Armed Forces whose cruelty has no parallel in Sri Lanka, he praised the previous Government in which he was a senior member for nearly a decade:
“The light of freedom, which remained covered under the shadow of terrorism, began to shine again after the eradication of the brutality of terrorism by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Year 2009”.
He ended this dreadful address with:
“On this commemoration of independence, let us make a joint commitment to provide a truly good, ethical, virtuous, wise and fair service to all, living in brotherhood and reconciliation, and thus raise our country and State to one that is second to none other in this world.”
To talk of ‘national reconciliation’ from these rabid anti-Tamil Sinhala chauvinists, is a joke.
Sri Lankan politicians
Four days before the 2010 General Election, an editorial in the Sunday Leader, set out the options facing Sri Lankan voters. In one of the most accurate descriptions of the vast majority of Sri Lankan politicians, the editorial was blunt:-
“None of the individual contenders, political parties or opportunistic coalitions are worthy of our respect or our vote. Together they comprise the most mind-boggling array of crooks, thugs, conmen, hypocrites, unprincipled racists, rapists, drug dealers, money launderers, and general all-round scum that is without parallel elsewhere in the world. Other nations have their share of such undesirables, no doubt, but among them are a handful of honest, sincere, principled folk who have distanced themselves from the corrupt majority. Not so in miserable Sri Lanka.”
The Sinhalese people
Of concern to me is whether the Sinhalese people in the South know what has gone on in the North and East, and what is still going on under the military regime that runs the area. I suspect that they do not have the necessary information.
On 21 July2017, I wrote an article “What the majority of Sinhalese must know”. It is in the Colombo Telegraph:
I have just published the 2nd Edition of my book: Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”. With the Sri Lankan government allow this book to be translated into Sinhalese and distributed in Sri Lanka? I doubt it.
The recent experience of Lakshan Dias, an outstanding Sinhalese lawyer, is proof positive that nothing has changed. The outspoken lawyer was threatened by President Sirisena’s Justice Minister, after stating in a TV forum that over a 190 incidents of violence, harassment and intimidation against Christians and Christian places of worship have occurred in Sri Lanka in the past two years since the election of President Sirisena on January 8th 2015.
Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe threatened to remove Mr. Dias from practicing law unless he apologises to the nation within 24 hours.
A Justice Minister is not empowered to debar a lawyer. Furthermore at a time when there is a world-wide negative opinion about the Sri Lankan judiciary and the legal profession, Rajapakshe’s threat has damaged the image of Sri Lanka further.
The criticism of Mr Dias came not only from the arrogant Justice Minister but also from the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) issued a statement setting the record straight about the comments made by Mr. Dias and the context within which they were stated. The NCEASL statement released on June 19th 2017 calling for the safety of Mr. Dias was endorsed by 180 individuals and 20 organizations from different ethnicities and religions.
Apart from the NCEASL several other organizations such as the Human Rights Watch, National Christian Council and Free Media Movement issued statements critical of the Justice Minister.
Despite widespread criticism, the Justice Minister was adamant in his determination to “Take action” against Lakshan Dias. Those concerned about his safety, advised him to leave the country, which he sensibly did.
In order to appreciate the loss of Lakshan Dias, it is important to appreciate that he is no ordinary lawyer. I will let LAWASIA to describe him. LAWASIA is the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific. It is the peak bodies representing lawyers in the Asia and Pacific region, and individual members of the legal community from around the world. Through its linkage to over 40 member organisations, LAWASIA has exposure to a collective membership of over 1 million lawyers across the world.
Here is what LAWASIA said:
“Mr. G S Lakshan J S Dias – Attorney At Law, is a member of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN ) and served as Chair and Deputy Chair of the South Asian Working Group and served as a Steering Committee of APRRN for many years. He is also known as a leading refugee Lawyer in Sri Lanka and internationally known for his role for refugees. He has provided his services as an expert in many international refugee cases and internationally strong critique against arbitrary deportation, and arbitrary refoulement and advocate on Non-refoulement. He is also an Award winning Human Rights Defender in Sri Lanka who also played an active role in Lawyers Collective of Sri Lanka which is an advocacy body for the rule of Law.
Mr Lakshan Dias is currant chairperson of the Transparency International- Sri Lankan Chapter, Chairperson of SANRIM (a network for Refugees and Migrants), Chairperson of Rights Now Collective for Democracy, Bureau Member for South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR ). He is also the former peace coordinator for the National Council of Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), Programme Manager for Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), National General Secretary/CEO of The National Council of the YMCAs of Sri Lanka and executive secretary for the Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs based in Hong Kong.
Mr. Dias also known for his role in civil society on Torture prevention and victims’ rights, campaigner against land grabbing, forceful eviction and land rights, gender rights, rights for sexual minorities and commercial sex workers, migrant workers’ rights, religious liberties/violence against minority religions in Sri Lanka specially Christians and Muslims, rights of the tourism small holders, conflict transformation and transitional Justice, rights of the ethnic minorities.
Mr. Dias in his voluntary capacity also played different roles in Student Christian Movement of Sri Lanka and Norway, National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), Scouts movement, Hong Kong refugee aid centre in the past. However, Mr. Dias is happy to introduce himself as a humble but passionate anti-war supporter, peace and human rights activist.
Sri Lanka: Hiding the elephant. Documenting Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes aginst Humanity
Professor Ramu Manivannan, Professor & Chair of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Madras, published this massive 960-page book in March 2014. The Prologue (15 pages) should be translated into Sinhalese and circulated in Sri Lanka.
There is no point in those with the Mahavamsa mind-set reading this book. Their mind-set will not change nor will they change their diabolical lies. The best (of many) of these is (the then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s address to his troops on the 2011 “Victory parade” “I will recall what I said in the past that our troops went to the battlefront carrying a gun in one hand, the Human Rights Charter in the other, food for the innocent displaced on their shoulders and love of their children in their hearts. They did not target any communities or religions, and did not march ahead with hatred towards anyone”.
Today they are not marching anywhere. They are having a whale of a time in the Tamil North and East, plundering Tamil lands, preventing Tamil people from existing, terrorising the Tamil and Muslim people and raping Tamil women and girls.
Sri Lanka’s future
What Sri Lanka needs is another Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe. Unfortunately there is not one, even in the distant horizon.
The result is that the extent of moral debasement and criminal violence demonstrated by the Sri Lankan government and its troops, be it under Rajapaksa or Sirisena, is serious. They have converted the entire country, in the name of chauvinistic nationalism that excused all forms of excess, into a domain of lies, thus forcing the Sinhala polity and civil society to defend something indefensible and unspeakable. This is the moral crisis that will ultimately emerge as the political justification for the need to address the problems faced by the Tamil people, as well as seek reconciliation with justice as an ultimate realty of the ethnic situation in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has failed to look after its people. As such, it is a Failed State.
The people (Tamils and Muslims) in the North and East are not under the Sri Lankan government but under the Sri Lankan military and police who can do what they want with no accountability. The main problems facing the people in this area is fear, the loss of hope and the inability to live. They can only exist.
The Sinhalese and the Muslims in the rest of the country are going the same way as evidenced by what has happened to Lakshan Dias. Extremist Buddhist monks from the BBS (Bodu Bala Sena- Buddhist Power Force) have recently targeted the Muslims. The Sri Lankan government has taken no action.
The politically active Buddhist monks, the curse of Sri Lanka for years, have adopted a virulent anti-Tamil stance. One of them even assassinated a Prime Minister, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike in 1958. Just this year (2017) the Chief Priests of the three major Buddhist sects decided to throw out the recently drafted Constitution which they claim has given too much the Tamils and not enough for Sinhala Buddhists.. They claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country and that is all there is to it. With thousands of these very powerful monks, the outlook for human rights for non-Sinhalese and non-Buddhists is poor.
The international community must understand this reality.