In a most welcome move, UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrama announced:
“The UNP welcomes the statement of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prime Minister and the President to use the full force of the law against those causing religious tensions, racial hatred and undermining the efforts at reconciliation since the new government came to power.”
However, it was an empty boast. It was only on 05.03.2017 that The Hindu wrote that the Sri Lankan government had rejected a fresh appeal from the UN to allow international judges to investigate alleged war crimes committed during the conflict with the LTTE. Worse, at that time, President Maithripala Sirisena had vowed not to prosecute soldiers, saying he “would not subject the Sri Lankan military personnel to any probe. […] I have clearly said that I am not prepared to serve charge sheets to our soldiers or to have foreign judges to try our security forces … It is my duty to protect the troops.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said similar things against the prosecution of soldiers who allegedly murdered Tamil civilians. For example, Ceylon News of 31.05.2017 reported
“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the process of setting up an Office on Missing Persons obtained approval from the cabinet of ministers not to take legal actions against those who made thousands of the people disappear during and after the war.”
He has also joined the President in rejecting government’s commitment to the world to have foreign judges probing into violations by the troops. Instead, he has expressed confidence in the domestic judiciary which has repeatedly proven itself communally biased. This came mere months after his statement that “his government was not against an international participation in carrying out investigations into alleged war crimes during the last stages of the conflict between the military and the LTTE” (Cochin, India; 13 February 2017).
When our leaders say one thing to us and another abroad, what are we to believe? They are simply purveyors of falsehoods, undeserving of our trust.
These statements are of great concern. The inexorable application of the law is intrinsic to a democracy. This protection of lawless armed forces challenges democracy. In protecting murderers, the government encourages anarchy.
Hate speech as I have written before, “insults and threatens the targeted group, makes them live in fear or shames them, making them hide who they are.” The ensuing fear and shame make victims withdraw into their ghettoes. For Tamils, rather dangerously, this withdrawal in fear of a murderous state that makes heroes out of our decapitators, increasingly becomes a passive wish to separate from Sri Lanka.
The PM and President are tearing the Sri Lankan nation apart. In protecting troops who engaged in the murder and carnage of Tamils, they are indulging in hate speech and promoting the murder of minorities. By letting down Tamils who trustingly voted for them, they risk instability and foreign interference. By refusing victims the protection of the law and justice for the families of civilians who were murdered and disappeared, they are fostering separation and a potential insurrection through a call to arms by Tamil extremists who would see democracy failing us all, Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims.
Consider Eeswary of Anandapuram in Pudukudiyiruppu. She surrendered her son Thuraisingam to the army at the end of the war in May 2009. He has been disappeared. Eeswary had gone from one army camp to another and finally settled into a prolonged protest in Kilinochchi with other mothers and wives whom a similar fate had befallen. Worn out and exhausted, she died on 23.06.2017, yesterday. Or consider Thayalini of Mallakam. She had surrendered her husband, EROS’s Pararajasingham, to the army. The army denies having him. Her three children of whom the two girls married recently are moving on. But her grief sees no respite. Then there is Sasika, aged about 40. Her husband disappeared after being taken in by the army.
To Eeswary, Thayalini and Sasika and the thousands more like them, could there be anything more insensitive or vulgar than Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena saying their family’s killers are war heroes and must never be prosecuted? Is it not saying their lost relatives are unworthy souls who can be freely murdered? Theirs surely is speech!
In 2015 Tamils voted overwhelmingly for Wickremeshinghe and for Sirisena. This sparked renewed hope for a badly bruised nation, a chance to heal. But the government delayed until trust faded – the promised hundred-point programme for the first one hundred days was ignored, with little to show for the customary honeymoon period of new governments. Instead, we were told that our killers are heroes.
Consequent to the Ranil-Maithripala cold-hearted hate speech on the unworthiness of Tamils killed to receive justice, sections of the Tamil polity with a bloody past (unlikely to win a seat on their own and accommodated in the TNA for the sake of unity) are now flexing their muscles. The result is the calamity at the Northern Provincial Council now only temporarily resolved. Meanwhile, doubts have been sown about the wisdom of the TNA working with the government. We are all losers. Our loss is immeasurable.
Today in the backdrop of doubts as to the trustworthiness of this government, Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has stirred up hatred to the detriment of Mr. R. Sampanthan. Mr. Wigneswaran was brought in as a moderate by Mr. Sampanthan to help and advise the peace process between the government and the TNA. At the time, Wigneswaran insisted that the Federal Party not expect him to work with armed groups in the TNA, says a party stalwart; adding that at the inaugural ceremony of the NPC, Wigneswaran had remarked in his speech that Tamils are having problems and experiencing suffering because of our sending Mr. Appapillai Amirthalingam to paraloham (heaven).
As doubts surfaced about the government as it played to the Sinhalese gallery for its vote, Mr. Wigneswaran has taken a more ambitious stand, working up the extremists in the TNA and praising V. Prabhakaran openly. The government is to blame by reneging on its commitments and weakening Sampanthan.
As Wigneswaran stokes the coal, as the President and Prime Minister backtrack on their commitments at the UNHRC and Tamil extremists work the crowds against Mr. Sampanthan, what is said in common private Tamil conversation is this: “We should never have trusted the Sinhalese. They always cheated and continue to do so. Prabhakaran was right.”
There is a lot worse that I leave out as even this little I say can be misrepresented as seditious hate speech, and anti-terrorism laws misused to protect those who indulge in hate crimes like the President and PM, and muzzle those of us who protest. We can no longer trust our system to uphold the law if the government persists in its abuse of the law. Judicial asymmetry in applying the law is seen in Gnanasara Thero being released in “a stage managed” process as soon as he surrendered after a long period of absconding from court, while those of other communities charged with far less heinous hate crimes do not receive this kid-glove treatment. A convincing analysis of this soft treatment by our judges may be found in the Colombo Telegraph: a) “Gnanasara Receives Fast Track Bail For A Second Time In A Day” (21 June, 2017) and b) “Gnanasara Withdraws SC Petition As Independence Of Country’s Judiciary Comes Into Question (22 June, 2017).
The only moderate Tamil politician commanding the respect of Tamils who can come to an agreement with this government and convince the Tamil people to accept a potential deal to survive as a united country, is R. Sampanthan. But even he says he is at the end of his tether. He has further said at a meeting in Vavuniya, heralding doom for a government at the next elections if it stays its course of thinking only of the Sinhalese vote, “Our people are yet to receive solutions to their problems. It has been over two years since this government came” (Daily News Analysis, 12.04.2017)
If our government proceeds on its course only thinking of pleasing the Sinhalese electorate, it ensures the loss of the loyal Tamil vote it got in 2015. To continue on this track is a betrayal of all who voted for it, Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim. We need to prove that we truly mean good governance, dispensing justice and fair play equally to all citizens.
We now have a supposedly independent Police Commission. It is time for it to order the Police to charge the President and the Prime minister with hate crimes. It is I think the best way to test Sri Lanka’s resolve, to be a united, law abiding, truth-speaking nation, removing anyone, however powerful, who plays games with the lives of our people and spouts new lies every other day to get the votes of a section of the people.
Author’s Note: I normally get a Sri Lankan print newspaper to publish my articles simultaneously with Colombo Telegraph. It gives me a local defender to go to court with me if any subject of my article tries to harass me.
This is a rare instance where my normal publishers declined or evaded me. Wrote one editor-friend, “Im afraid it is too hot and I cannot use it as it takes on the PM and President.” That captures how afraid we are, for the first time since the changes of 2015 and cannot be critical of our President and PM.
I poignantly recall a statement to the government by “Concerned Human Rights and Democratic Rights Activists and Organizations” dated 27 June 2017. It was titled, “Shrinking Space for Human Rights Voices and Dissent, and concerns over the terms of engagement between government and civil society.”
They are absolutely right and I fully endorse their views about shrinking space for democratic dissent.