By Laksiri Fernando –
An Open Letter by Laksiri Fernando
If the Island report today (18 November 2013), by Zacki Jabbar, is correct you have said that “time was of essence and the allegation of war crimes could not be investigated at the speed Britain wanted.” You may or may not be correct in respect of the time constraints, given the fact that the country and your support base are not being prepared for the necessity of conducting such investigations aftermath of the ‘war against terrorism.’ But the important fact is that you have not denied the need for such an investigation on an independent basis. I commend you on that.
The information regarding the alleged war crimes during the last stages of the war obviously by some security personnel is undeniable. I in particular would highlight the killings of Prabharakan’s son, ‘Colonel’ Ramesh and the LTTE TV announcer Isaipriya. They were all in custody when they were killed. There are more accusations on indiscriminate shelling into civilian areas or no fire zones, the denial of food and medical supplies etc. There are some numbers given and incidents recorded in the UN Specialist Report based on the evidence available to them and it is high time to investigate all side/s of the stories and allegations and establish the truth as much as possible.
You have also said at the same media briefing that “anyone found guilty, no matter who it was, would be dealt with under Sri Lankan laws.” I also commend you on that. It is good that you prepare the country for such an investigation. During the war against terrorism, you had an announced policy of ‘zero civilian casualties’ and upholding human rights. Therefore, it is high time that if there had been any deviation from those instructions and policies that they should be investigated. It is obvious from the information available (i.e. Channel 4 videos etc.), that those are given by some army personnel themselves. Most of them might be the same people who might have indulged in the atrocities. I am only highlighting a possibility. Punishing the perpetrators is necessary for disciplined armed forces. I also recollect the Secretary of Defence once admitting the possibility of deviations or violations given the large number of new recruits etc.
You have expressed the opinion that the whole of 30 years should be investigated. I have no objection for that. But we have to realize that for the purposes of reconciliation, particularly on the grief and the grievances of the Tamil community, that the last stages of the war should take priority. What could be done is somewhat the South African model where various sub-committees looking into various aspects and in this case various periods as well. The report on the last stages of the war could come as early as possible. Otherwise the whole investigation could be perceived as a delaying tactic.
It is high time that more is done for reconciliation. It is high time that as the President of the country that you make a public apology to the Tamil community and also to the Muslim community for whatever hardships and injustices that they have had to undergo in the past. A particular apology is in order to the families of the disappeared and the missing people of all communities.
It is also correct on your part to highlight that you alone cannot move in the direction of reconciliation. The leaders of the Tamil community in particular should extend their cooperation and assistance. To the credit of the TNA, I must say, that their responsible behaviour during the CHOGM is an indication of their moderation and possible cooperation. You have done the right thing by holding the elections to the NPC. The NPC deserves more funds and initiative within and beyond the 13th Amendment.
Sri Lanka has now become the Chair of CHOGM, you at the helm. Therefore, the responsibilities are to uphold democracy, human rights, rule of law and independence of the judiciary among other core values of the Commonwealth, of course eradicating the common poverty as you have already emphasised.
To come back to the issue of war crime investigations, it might be unreasonable to say that the British Prime Minister was asking Sri Lanka or you to complete the investigations before March 2014. The request was in my opinion was to initiate or appoint an independent commission before March. While it could be a national investigation, it could also incorporate at least few members from the international community at least from the region. It might also be possible to conduct immediate investigations into the alleged killings of Praphakaran’ son, Ramesh and Isaipriya and punish the perpetrators even before March 2013.