By Thambu Kanagasabai –
There is no dearth of promises and undertakings dished out by the successive Sri Lankan Governments and their opportunistic political leaders since 1948 whose sole intention and aim is to capture the political power at any cost to the interests of the nation and its people.
Former President J.R. Jayewardene heralded this practice and habit with the slogan and promise of (Dharmista Rule) in 1977 vowing to follow and practise the principle of (Pancha Seela) which mainly focuses on non-violence, and ahimsa.
It is well known how these holy principles were practised when they were thrown overboard during his rule from 1977 to 1989 when he initiated and guided the genocide and pogroms in 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1987 leaving thousands of Tamils killed and injured with their properties looted and set on fire by the Buddhist Sinhalese mobs.
Thereafter, Sri Lanka plunged into a full-blown civil war from 2006-2009 which harvested more than 100,000 lives with thousands of war widows and orphans. After the brutal war in May 2009, there were pledges, commitments and undertakings from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa followed by Maithiripala Srisena including the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and in addition from the former Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa who made several public promises among them the promise of “To give everything to Tamils except Tamil Eelam” in 1980 is notable.
However, the promises made by the Sri Lankan leaders after the war in 2009 need to be briefly recapitulated as most of them were directly made to UNHRC, United Nations, European Union, International Community and Word Leaders. The life, duration and fate of these promises is the main focus of this article.
Former President Sirisena’s promise in 2010 “to hold a war victims day for all those who killed during the war” was casually abandoned and insultingly changed to as; war heroes day celebrations” confining it to the security forces killed during the war, while discarding the remembrance of more than 100,000 innocent civilians killed during the war as confirmed by UN Special Rapporteurs. Thus, the Tamil civilians’ souls were ignored as being of lesser value which could be the reason for this disrespectful act and omission.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremeinghe and former President Maithiripala Sirisena at first agreed for an international investigative mechanism for the human rights violations committed during the brutal war agreeing to the participation of foreign and Commonwealth judges, but later changed it to allow them as foreign observers. So far there is no sign or word about setting up this or any mechanism and it is as good as dead.
Viewing the current rule of Rajapaksa who are accused of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity etc. as commanders under the Command of Responsibility rule, it is only a wishful thinking if the alleged perpetrators will initiate criminal investigations into the alleged war crimes committed by them donning the role of judge, jury and accused.
Former President Maithiripala Sirisena in 2015 promised to release civilians’ own lands occupied by the Sri Lankan forces in the North and East within six months. This promise still remains a dead letter even with the current leaders. Instead more and more lands are seized by intruding Buddhist Monks and Buddhist Sinhalese chauvinistic civilians with the support of the Buddhist Sinhala security forces.
The promises made by the former foreign minister Mangals Samaraweera in 2018 to hand over all civilian lands before the end of 2018 with complete resettlement was never carried out.
The promises to repeal and replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) made to UNHRC, United Nations, European Union, International Community and other world leaders has become stale and depleted while it’s dreadful provisions are vigorously implemented against critics, journalists, human rights activists and opposition politicians.
All the UNHRC Resolutions passed since 2012 against Sri Lanka including various UN Conventions acceded by Sri Lanka notably the Convention of Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances stands tall among them which remains intact and actionless. The only symbolic step taken is the setting up of the OMP Office which is struggling between life and death and is almost dysfunctional. The Enforced Disappearances Act which was passed in 2018 also remains in cold storage.
The promised release of more than 258 Tamil political prisoners is another one which is tottering and limping and has becoming a farce with only two political prisoners being released on the Budhists’ holy Posan day by the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently.
Besides, the breaches of Agreements, Pacts and Understandings stand above top of the other failings of Sri Lankan Governments. The following are the prominent ones among others:-
* Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957
* Dudly-Chelvanayakam Agreement of 1965
* Chandrika Bandaranayake’s Peace Proposal of 1995
* Ranil Wickremesinghe/LTTE ceasefire Agreement of 2002
* Ranil Wickremesinghe/LTTE Oslo Accord of 2004
* Mahinda Rajapaksa’s promise of 13+ in 2007
* Promise of an Upper House in 2009
The much welcomed “GOOD GOVERNANCE” of Ranil/Mithiripala [2015 – 2019] ended in complete fiasco and smoke being replaced by ‘BAD GOVERNANCE marked with internal strife and power struggle between Ranil and Maithiri including corruption.
The recent promises of the Government crown all of the promises when the President Gotabaya stated in the UN General Assembly on September 22nd 2021 that: “We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders and obtain the support of our international partners and the UN. In this process. Democratic traditions are an integral part of our way of life”.
Earlier on 16th August 2021. The President stated that: “We are committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability and human developments to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation and we are dedicated to resolving the issues within the democratic and legal frame to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutionalized reforms”.
It is to be noted that these statements which were made outside of Sri Lanka ring sweetly for the whole world particularly for the traumatized Tamils but hiding the fake sincerity and commitments underlying these statements.
As usual and expected words or statements do not possess any value unless translated into action They are normally made for the audience at a particular location and time only to be forgotten and ignored after they are made.
The recent actions of the Government belie the promise to ensure accountability.
The blessing and support to the ‘ONE COUNTRY ONE LAW’ promoter, a convicted, jailed and pardoned Gnanasara Thero being appointed to draft suitable provisions to enforce his idea in the proposed constitution is another blow to the minority communities, particularly the Muslims. There is no doubt that this controversial appointment will only achieve a permanent polarization and disharmony among communities making the needed reconciliation a distant dream.
The rewarding of convicted, jailed and later pardoned alleged war criminals is nothing new or surprising in the Sri Lankan system, not to mention the non-prosecution of alleged war criminals. The recent appointment of Wasantha Karannagoda as Governor of North Central province who is suspected for the alleged abductions and alleged disappearances of Tamils between 2008 – 2009 who is armed with full impunity is one example of how accountability and justice have been maimed and trampled with the help of a bi-partisan Attorney General, who is supposed to be the guardian of rule of law and human rights. USA’s recent imposing of travel ban on two officials Chandra Hettiarachchi who is alleged in the disappearances of eleven Tamil civilians and Sunil Ratnayake convicted in the killing of eight civilians in the North has given hopes for the victims of human rights, particularly for the Tamil victims confirmed USA’s long arm of accountability stretching to lay its hands on human rights violators living in any country with freedom and enjoying impunity without any punishment. Hope the UK, and EU will adopt similar sanctions for the human rights violators in Sri Lanka whatever position they hold or held.
Viewing Sri Lanka’s hollow and shallow promises and its cavalier treatment of accountability and justice UN and/or the Security Council owe and undeniable and unavoidable duties and obligations to ensure justice to the victimised Tamils as well as initiating and sponsoring a permanent political settlement guaranteeing its compliance by a dilly-dallying and defaulting Sri Lanka.
*Thambu Kanagasabai – Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.