22 October, 2019

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U-Turn On Wartime Accountability Will Be Disastrous For Sri Lanka & The World

By K. Mukunthan

Dr. K. Mukunthan

President Sirisena’s recent public statement that he will make a special request to the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to drop war crimes charges against his troops to ‘settle’ the issue of accountability is outrageous and must be censured. It is also feared that President Sirisena’s calculated plan is to link the release of the long-held Tamil political prisoners who are yet to be charged, to a general amnesty for all including those from the military responsible for brutality, mass killings and war crimes. All those who want to see Sri Lanka transformed to a reconciled, peaceful and prosperous country, overcoming its tragedies of the past, need to condemn such approach to accountability and call on the international community to thwart any such misplaced and short-sighted attempt at its infancy. 

The national conflict in Sri Lanka is replete with instances of Sri Lankan governments making commitments to address minority communities’ concerns, and then abandoning them at the slightest of opposition from the hard-line elements of the majority community. The difference this time being the commitments were made to the international community to administer justice, but its untrustworthiness is receiving world-wide publicity. Concerns about trust were raised when Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 UNHRC resolution, but this was famously countered by the then Foreign Minister saying, “Don’t judge us by the broken promises, experiences and U-turns of the past.’ Alas, the country appears to have not moved away from its past, irrespective of all the promises made by the new coalition government that came to power the same year.

Despite Sri Lanka’s attempt to conduct the last stages of the war without witnesses, including by ordering the withdrawal of the UN and other international aid agencies in war zones, evidence of brutality came to light in the form of videos and photographs and victim statements after the conclusion of the war. The systematic violence – sexual abuse and cold-blooded execution of war surrendees, indiscriminate shelling of hospitals and safe zones, and denial of desperately needed humanitarian assistance – pricked the conscience of the world, and made to realise its failure to prevent tens of thousands of deaths, mostly Tamil citizens, in the hands of the country’s security forces. Sri Lanka’s continual denial, intransigence, as well as its refusal to honour the agreement with the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to address war time accountability issues, triggered a series of international and UN initiatives. 

The UN Secretary General appointed a Panel of Experts (2011) to address accountability issues related to alleged war time abuses, and an Internal Review Panel (2012) to prevent the repetition of the Sri Lanka-type failure. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillai, was instrumental in setting up the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), in 2014, under the guidance of eminent international jurists. The conclusions of these investigations were unambiguous – “…. there is credible evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by all parties to the armed conflict that need to be tried by internationalised special court.”  

A core group of countries consisting of US, UK, Macedonia and Montenegro provided leadership at the UNHRC to help Sri Lanka deal with its painful past. The UNHRC resolutions of 2013 and 2014 urging the government to take steps to promote accountability and reconciliation were passed without Sri Lanka’s consent. However, with the formation of the new government in 2015 – mandated for Good Governance – Sri Lanka adopted a different approach by co-sponsoring UNHRC resolutions (2015 and 2017) extending cooperation, albeit slowly. These resolutions on ‘promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights’ (30/1 and 34/1) were in fact compromised outcomes, with the adoption of establishing a Sri Lanka based judicial mechanism – including participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, consistently argued for the establishment of such a specialized court supported by international practitioners. Firmly convinced that progress has virtually stalled, in 2017 he called on the member states to explore other avenues, including the application of universal jurisdiction, to press for accountability. 

The commitment and conviction of the Sri Lankan government to implement the UNHRC resolutions have been lacking, despite the veneer of civility. Every notable step, such as operationalising the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), was taken after years of delay but invariably days before the commencement of a UNHRC session, aiming mainly at managing international expectations for the moment. With regards to the crucial aspect of asserting criminal culpability, three years after sponsoring the 2015 resolution, no court has been set-up, not a single indictment served, and no one brought to justice. Even in the emblematic cases – the killings of 5 students in Trincomalee; the massacre of 17 aid workers of the French charity ‘Action Against Hunger’ in Muttur (both in 2006); and the execution-style murder of the high-profile journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge (2009) – the progress is almost zero and in essence for ‘show’. Those responsible for these dastardly crimes remain free; some indictable offenders continue to occupy high government positions and some others with ambitions for higher offices. It is in this context that President Sirisena is making attempts to drop war crimes charges against Sri Lankan armed forces, apparently as a concession for the ‘progress’ his government has made!

In dealing with international crimes the world has made leaps of progress during the last seven decades – International Military Tribunal, International Criminal Court, ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals and Hybrid Special Courts. For serious international crimes, such as crimes against humanity and genocide, states can no longer use sovereignty as a defence and individuals can’t hide behind state responsibility. It is precisely crimes of this nature that were committed in Sri Lanka and the country appears to have wasted an opportunity to address the problem on its own or with international support and participation. 

Even the thought of President Sirisena receiving UN consent to abandon Sri Lanka’s international commitments is unconscionable and can lead to irreparable damage to peace and justice in the country, with unforeseen outcomes for the world at large. No doubt it will lead to the alienation of the Tamil community and its political leaders, effectively extinguishing the prospect of reconciliation. International efforts will intensify to apply universal jurisdiction and economically isolate Sri Lanka. Its rehabilitation into respectability that began after 2015 will start to recede, leading to long-term damage to peace and prosperity. 

More importantly, any success by the Sri Lankan president in this regard will convey a wrong message to other budding dictators and military regimes with despicable human rights record that they can live out international focus and resolutions without serious consequences. In other words, despite the progress in universalising human rights and rule of law, enough holes exist for bad behaviour and inhumanity – a dangerous precedent indeed.

Outright rejection of President Sirisena’s ill-conceived initiative will indeed be a victory for decency, justice and humanity of the world, in particular for the citizens of Sri Lanka.

Dr K. Mukunthan is one of the Executive Directors of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC). He is also a Director of Global Tamil Forum (GTF) where he is a Senior Member of the Strategic Initiatives Team.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    17

    Mr Mukundan
    “It is also feared that President Sirisena’s calculated plan is to link the release of the long-held Tamil political prisoners who are yet to be charged, to a general amnesty for all including those….”
    There is also the issue of rearresting the 12,000+ LTTE terrorists released by Rajapaksa without trial for which Rajapaksa should be held accountable. International community will be compelled to correct this asymmetry at the start of the war crime trials. We Sinhalese will be out on the street demanding that.

    Soma

    • 11
      3

      Soma
      Dint you Sinhalese say that you would be no the street if Ganasara was arrested let alone arrested, charged and jailed.

      What’s stopping you getting unto the street even at the late stage, I heard you guys tried this with “Janabalaya” but seeing how small the crowd was started to get lose motions.

    • 12
      4

      You also should be locked up you racist genocidal Sinhalese woman. Only thing sad is 99% of the Sinhalese are as mad racist genocidal like you .steeped in your Mahavamsa fairy tale and lies and cannot reason. Dragging the country down . The Germans and the Japannese realised and admitted to what they had done during world war two and moved on. However you Sinhalese racists will never. 12000 LTTE terrorist! Most of them were innocent children who were forcibly recruited in the last days against their will and made to fight. They did not commit large scale atrocities like what the then Sinhalese Sri Lankan government and the Sinhalese armed forces did to the Tamils. Large scale chemical warfare , deliberate aerial bombing , rape torture starving humiliation the list goes on . All these people were selectively targeted and around 145000 deliberately killed the remaining 300000 kept in Nazi slave labour like concentration camps for almost a year. The plan was to keep these Vanni Tamils here permanently as slave labour. just like the what the Nazis did to the Jews and others but did not work, due to international pressure and outcry. All these done on their own fellow citizens, by their own government and armed forces just because they were Tamils and them Sinhalese racists like you ( 99% ) of the present day Sinhalese largely descended from recently migrated low caste Indian Tamils and Muslim backstabbers and traitors again another community largely descended from low caste Indian Tamil immigrants and still speaking Tamil ,were coming out in the street and openly celebrating and dancing on the death bed of these Tamils and invited creatures from Bollywood also to celebrate with them. Now cunningly trying to compare these little children with Sinhalese war criminals and trying to get away with your war crimes and accountability.

    • 8
      0

      Soima,
      What a pathetic cry? If you are a true Sinhalese tell us what is important? whether it is law and order or a Race!
      A Sinhala murdered (Eg. John) another Sinhala (Percy)
      In another example, Mr. Kandiah (Tamil) murdered by Mr.Percy (Sinhala)
      In another example Mr. Percy (Sinhala) murdered by Mr. Kandia (Tamil)
      Do you think the law and order should be equal to all three cases or not?

    • 10
      2

      Soma, in which case you have to arrest everyone who had committed crimes such as those who killed Tamils and burnt their properties in several riots. Do not try to cover up war crimes committed by Sri Lanka security forces on Tamils. To grant amnesty first you have to arrest the criminals and have a fair trial to convict or release them. All the Tamils who were released by Rajapakse regime, were not found guilty of any crime on humanity. Fighting for liberation from a terrorist state is not a crime.

  • 5
    11

    Mr Mukundan
    “Despite Sri Lanka’s attempt to conduct the last stages of the war without witnesses, including by ordering the withdrawal of …”
    There was a RAW agent under every other tree in the Wanni and under every other lamppost in Jaffna and to imply that India was a silent bystander to a genocide is a very serious indictment against a neighbouring superpower.

    Soma

  • 4
    9

    “International efforts will intensify to apply universal jurisdiction and economically isolate Sri Lanka.”
    We will ensure that burden of economic sanctions will be equally shared by Tamil brothers and sisters.

    Soma

    • 8
      4

      We will also ensure that Sinhalese racists like you Shenal/Shenali,Ramona, Eagle Blind and all the rest are locked up in a dungeon and the key thrown away or given as trophy to your so called perverted army war heroes to as what they please with you racists. You should enjoy all this perversions from your Rana Weerayo. Including all your racist politicians. Trying to threaten the Tamils and India to keep quiet. Racist perverted woman? The Tamils are already suffering so there is nothing more to add to their burden. Their homes lands farms fishing grounds, already taken over by a racist Sinhalese armed forces settlers and fishermen. The Indian government is not going to fall yours the Rajapakse’s threat. They may have aided you Sinhalese by provided all sorts of aid and logistical support but it was the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan government and their Sinhalese armed forces who committed the war crimes and the killing. You did not have to but did it.

      • 7
        13

        Your racist talk won’t get you anywhere but will ensure more suffering to the poor, innocent Tamils. Your tough talk won’t help either. You have lost the war you started against innocent Sinhala women and children who were slaughtered by barbaric Tamil Terrorists. Your Tamil Terrorist outfit have been handed a humiliating defeat by the Sri Lankan military. In spite of Tamil Terrorist barbarism the Sri Lankan forces saved 300,000 poor, innocent Tamils held in hostage by barbaric Tamil Terrorists. Free education and free heath care you get in Sri Lanka you don’t get in your squalid homeland of Tamil Nadu. Be grateful to Sri Lanka and learn not to bite the hand that feeds you. Or, leave for your dirty homeland across the Palk Straits. Soon! And, rot there.

        • 6
          2

          Only thing racist and barbaric is you lollu. An idiotic titwit constantly spewing out anti Tamil venom here like a viper. Nothing intelligent, informative or constructive comes out of your comments. Just pure anti Tamil venom.

        • 6
          1

          laloooo racist talk? you are a racist and you are calling others racists is quite comical.

        • 5
          0

          lal, if as you say Sri Lankan forces saved poor innocent Tamils held in hostage by barbaric Tamil terrorists, then the time has come now to save 3 million poor innocent Tamils being held hostage by barbaric Sinhala terrorists. It is your racist talk that is not bringing about justice to Tamils. It is your tough talk that is not helping to bring about reconciliation. Pleas remember it is the LTTE that lost the war and not Tamils. Very soon divine intervention will take place to teach Sinhala terrorist state the lesson. Leave for your dirty homeland in Bangladesh.

      • 6
        7

        Real Siva Sankaran Sharma,
        Why don’t you talk about war crimes and rape committed by Indian Army? Why Demala women who were raped by Indian Army do not make any noise. May be they enjoyed it!

        • 5
          2

          Eagle Eye!
          Despite your’eagle eye’ you fail to see the Truth/Facts properly. IPKF was a foreign army brought in by JR to safe guard himself from the JVP and LTTE. So much have been spoken about the IPKF inhuman activities including the shooting of Jaffna hospital staff, for so long. But no steps were taken by the Indian Government to accept it.. Rajive Ghandi paid with his life for the sins committed by his IPKF it is said?
          ,But Srilankan army killed/raped its own people with impunity with no punishment in sight. WHY?

    • 5
      1

      Soma,
      Tamils are used to economic sanctions used by Srilankan govts many times. Don’t worry about Tamils. First, at least try to get all Sinhalese have treated equally by your masters? Did you get justice to those 60000 buried in the massgraves?

  • 5
    4

    “A core group of countries consisting of US, UK, Macedonia and Montenegro provided leadership at the UNHRC to help Sri Lanka deal with its painful past.”
    British, Dutch and Portuguese are responsible for the painful past of Sri Lanka. There were only a small number of Demalu in Sinhale when Portuguese arrived. They were the remnants of invaders from Hindusthan. Portuguese and Dutch brought a large number of Demala slaves from Hindusthan to work in tobacco plantations and settled in the North. British brought Demala slaves from Hindusthan and settled in the Central part of Sinhale. All these colonial ‘Awajathakayo’ dumped Demalu in Sinhale and left. That is the root cause of the so called ‘Ethnic Problem’.
    Recently, UK has told the Government to pay compensation for war victims forgetting the fact that it was Demala terrorists who started the war by killing soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army. In fact, British, Dutch and Portuguese should be held responsible for dumping Demalu in Sinhale and creating the problem.

  • 2
    1

    We are down to plea bargaining! Are we?
    This plea-bargaining started as a means of closing cases involving criminal outfits and law-and-order enforcers. This never reduced the activities of the criminal outfits.
    At international level, unofficial plea bargain did not dent the Hitler ambitions? The result was the UN-idea. The toothless UN still is still on infant formula. Look at the plight of Rohingyas in the hands of the Burmese Junta.
    .
    To cut a long story short: The latest suggestion (a respectable name for plea-bargaining) is NOT between SL and the UN but between a few privileged Lankans and UN.

    • 2
      0

      By plea bargaining is meant “Let us off on this war crimes thing and in return we will……….?

  • 2
    3

    Mangala Samaraweera has put country in a irreversible position by co _sponsoring the last resolution.
    The situation in Sri Lanka was not a matter for discussion in the human rights council but st at the UN as it a humanitarian issue. So if need a resolution you need approval of UN!
    Which you will never get. Imagine how many time US veto resolutions against Isreal?
    Russia and China will never let it run unchecked.
    Mr. Muthukandan
    What are doing about the LTTE financiers?
    They put innocent people in Sri Lanka for their own terrorists goals!
    $400 million to be recovered for the international LTTE terrorist network who also operate in Australia.
    In the UK Tamil shop owners are well pleased as there is no ransom to be payed to these goons no death threats using relatives back in Sri Lanka.
    Have you ever thought of going after the Pioneer of LTTE child soldiers brigade and Asutralian duel citizen
    Ms.Adele Balasingham for crimes against humanity?

  • 0
    0

    Dear Author and all participants,
    Is it not clear now 8 years after the end of blood shed, Sri Lanka should have gone for the help offered by the International Community for the unbiased inquiry? Why should Sri Lanka keep on repeating the same downtrodden cheating not only its own people but also the International community? Is there no Learned and capable Leaders to understand what is best for the Country? How can all the Learned professionals, Learned Academicians, Learned executives, Learned Journalists allow this embarrassment in front of the world forum? Looks like all of them are under siege by criminals! Please do all you can to stop the Country going down further and getting completely destroyed by opportunists. You are just opening the Country to be exploited even though you have lots of resources, at least 50 times more resources than Singapore has.

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