Sri Lanka: Sirisena’s double-mind on justice for Tamils and also saving Rajapaksa from punishment!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
One painfully doubts if Sri Lankan president Sirisena would ever keep his pledge made to Lankan Tamil population, targeted by the previous Rajapaksa regime for their collective blood, to provide them due justice as he does not seem to be keen to get the guilty war criminals punished. This would make sense only if Sri Lanka decides to go punishment–free nation by doing away with the land’s punishment system for crimes.
Proper investigation on war crimes would reveal all facts about state sponsored crimes against humanity and help punish the guilty and also pave way for a better future for the nation. Credible investigation cum punishment would alert all rulers around world to beware of war crimes.
None requires a crash course on the consequences at global level of not punishing the war criminals in Sri Lanka. The UN report called for suspects to be prosecuted by a hybrid court with international judges. The international community believed such crimes were committed in Sri Lanka. Now there is credible evidence of war crimes by the Rajapaksa regime.
As speculated, former SL president Mahendra “Mahinda” Rajapaksa, MP, fearing punishment for his role in deliberate war crimes against Lankan Tamils, today opposed international war crimes apparatus and urged all parties in the island nation not to allow the passage of new laws aimed at persecuting members of its armed forces.
There are proven allegations that war crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan military of Rajapaksa during the Sri Lankan Civil War, particularly during the final months of the conflict in 2009. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings; executions of combatants and prisoners; enforced disappearances by the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them; acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone.
Rajapakse disowns any allegation of crimes, let alone war crimes. In a speech delivered at a Buddhist temple in the capital Colombo, Rajapakse said he opposed a resolution passed against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, and warned that such a resolution would put the country at risk.
A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the civil war found “credible allegations” which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military. The panel has called on the UNSG to conduct an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law. The Sri Lankan government has denied that its forces committed any war crimes and has strongly opposed any international investigation. In March 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council authorised an international investigation into the alleged war crimes.
War crimes are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, of which Sri Lanka is a signatory. In 2002 the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created by the Rome Statute to prosecute individuals for serious crimes, such as war crimes. Sri Lanka is not a signatory of the Rome Statute. Therefore it is only possible for the ICC to investigate and prosecute war crimes in Sri Lanka if the UN Security Council was to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC.
Rajapaksa, who was defeated in a January poll, said his government did not cooperate with the probe mainly because it was instituted outside the established procedure of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Apparently, Rajapakse used the new Sirisena government to block the UN investigation on war crimes but failed. Recently the UN passed a resolution condemning on war crimes in Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. Rajapakse said the government has co-sponsored the Geneva resolution without considering its implications and without informing parliament and appraising the people about it. If a separate criminal justice apparatus is to be set up with foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators, our ordinary law as well as the constitution itself will have to be amended,” he added.
Rajapaksa won the 26-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009, but his military was accused of killing thousands of civilians during the final weeks of the conflict. The UN report found “patterns of grave violations” between 2002 and 2011 and said it was likely that tens of thousands lost their lives in the final stages of the war.
The investigation on Sri Lanka was not carried out by an independent Commission of Inquiry, but for the very first time, by the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights),” he said in a statement. “Neither the OHCHR nor the UNHRC has the authority to set up an international war crimes tribunal. The only body with the authority to do so is the UN Security Council where the veto power of China and Russia will be a factor to contend with.” He criticized the UNHRC’s recommendation to set up hybrid court with international judges to prosecute the war criminals.
Former strong man of Lanka, who in fact had sought a dynasty rule in the island nation of South Asia and even introduced his family rule, believed that if any members of the armed forces were involved in any wrong-doing, they should be tried under the local laws and in local courts. “The present attempt being made in this country is to introduce these faulty laws and procedures to Sri Lanka and to jail our war heroes expeditiously. No self-respecting citizen should allow this to happen,” he said.
However, the Sri Lankan government last week maintained that the process to fix accountability as mandated by the latest UNHRC resolution will be purely domestic and dismissed claims by the opposition that it would be a hybrid mechanism. “I wish to stress that this would be a Sri Lankan process, not a hybrid process. It will be the Sri Lankan institutions and systems who will be implementing the process,” Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.
Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels after a 40-year civil war in May 2009. International agencies, including the UNHRC, however, have been calling for a war crimes probe in the island nation, stating that the rebels and government troops may have committed rights violations in the final months of the war.
Rajapaksa, as the head of state and commander in chief of the military, stands accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some people even accuse him of committing genocidal crimes against the Tamil community. However, Rajapaksa, as head of state, has immunity against international law. It was said after the war that he would be tried the day he is beaten in an election and is no more head of state. Just has what happened to Charles Taylor or Milosevic who committed genocidal crimes and breached international law, Rajapaksa will also be taken by the International Criminal Court and will be charged with committing war crimes.
President Maithripala Sirisena should be careful not to get into the trap of Rajapaksha who wants to escape punishment for the crimes he committed as president and, therefore, he is eager to cancel all investigations on his war crimes especially by the UN or USA saying he performed a national duty and he should not be punished for “defending” the nation.
The Sri Lankan army fought a bloody war against the Tamils as it focused on the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), 140,000 Tamils dead, white flag surrenders also murdered, pictures and videos showing handcuffed men and women that have been sexually abused and killed and evidence of 8-11 year old children being killed.
President Maithripala Sirisena has pledged a credible domestic mechanism under an independent local judicial system, but the UN has said Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready for the task. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government would set up commissions for truth seeking, justice, reconciliation and preventing conflict, saying all the mechanisms will be domestically-drafted.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on a visit to Colombo recently said implementation of the UN recommendations should be a largely “national task”.
If Rajapaksha is allowed to escape punishment that would impact negatively the future wars and war crimes.
Sirisena has promised to deliver justice for the Lankan Tamils but leaving Rajapaksha responsible for the cruel onslaught on minorities in the island nation unpunished would defeat that mission.
UN should go ahead with the investigations and punish the war criminals, howsoever strong they may today in the country and backed by military establishment, so that the humanity and saved from autocracies that target minority populations, killing them, if possible, stock and barrel in order to keep the majority people in good humors. Rajapaksa terrorized Tamils and made the Singhalese populations and the military happy.