Sri Lanka celebrates her 68th anniversary of Independence next Thursday and it seems someone has a twisted sense of humour or timing to have the UN Human Rights chief arrive the next day to discuss purported war crimes of the same Armed Forces that displayed their hardware with a ‘spit and polish’ drill display along [...]


In dependence of our Independence


Sri Lanka celebrates her 68th anniversary of Independence next Thursday and it seems someone has a twisted sense of humour or timing to have the UN Human Rights chief arrive the next day to discuss purported war crimes of the same Armed Forces that displayed their hardware with a ‘spit and polish’ drill display along Colombo’s Galle Face promenade just the day before.

The visiting chief, a pro-West Jordanian Prince, will be here to discuss the UNHRC resolution to investigate the conduct of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces — and the then political leadership during the final stages of the three decade-long armed insurgency, the aim of which was the dismemberment of this nation-state. One might as well have invited the Prince as the chief guest on February 4 to complete the irony.

China is about to have its first transplant of a human head sometime soon. In the case of the over-ambitious Prince, he should at least turn his regal head around to see what is happening on his very doorstep with the influx of refugees in Jordan from the war next door in Syria unleashed by terrorists, the West, and now Russia, triggering also, a massive exodus of refugees to Europe, not seen since World War II seventy years ago. This, in turn, has seen European nations, once the pioneers of international covenants on human rights passing flagrantly anti-human rights laws which include the wicked confiscation of personal valuables of the hapless refugees fleeing the war zones in West Asia. It seems the Prince can paraphrase and say like Speaker Lenthal did hundreds of years ago when Cromwell came with his army to arrest some MPs in the British Parliament: “I have neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear; nor mouth to speak other than what the UNHRC commands me to do”.

And so, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and the UNHRC and its chief must abide by the dictates of the United States that spearheaded a resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva to spite the former anti-West regime in Colombo but now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having the same resolution against a pro-West government.

The Prince may be coming with a brief; to work out, who knows, an exit route for Sri Lanka and the US, both now co-sponsors of the anti-Sri Lanka resolution. The President has put an advance spoke in the Prince’s visit by announcing that there will be no foreign judges in the ‘Sri Lanka judcial mechanism’ that will form a war crimes tribunal, for all intents and purposes. That there is a division within the Government on this issue cannot be ruled out. After the President said what he said, the Prime Minister is on record saying that the Government will stick to what was agreed in Geneva i.e. the “participation” of foreign technical advisers, prosecutors — and judges, in what will go into a painstaking exercise in punishing persons who purportedly committed violations of International Humanitarian Law in the early part of 2009 up untill May that year when the dreaded LTTE was eventually vanquished on the battlefield.

The President is only too aware of the political consequences in questioning the heroic role of the Armed Forces which defeated a terrorist organisation that was no second in brutality and bloodletting to the octopus-like IS (Islamic State) organisation that is creating mayhem around the world. He may have got carried away initially and said those who committed ‘war crimes’ in Sri Lanka need to be punished, but he now (probably) sees the inherent political danger in allowing foreign judges to adjudicate and mete out the punishment to the local Ranaviru (war heroes). With his political opponents waiting to pounce on what will certainly be a nationalistic cause célèbre the question of this country’s sovereignty, integrity and independence and disgruntled soldiery (who feel their comrades have been sacrificed at the altar of neo-colonialism), is a matter on which the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces must think twice.

The PM argues that his Government, by agreeing to a ‘domestic mechanism’ with a foreign input saved the country from a greater ignominy in the form of an International War Crimes Tribunal. He says that in 2002 when the Rome Statute was introduced to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), his government then did not make Sri Lanka a party to it, and that this saved Sri Lankan leaders from being hauled up before it. That is not necessarily so as the UN Security Council can refer countries to the ICC as it has done in the case of Sudan and Libya, both non-States Parties to the Rome Statute. And yet, having foreign judges will not be a popular decision even if, and there’s some truth to it, that the judicial process in Sri Lanka lacks credibility. It is in this context that one needs to see last week’s demonstration outside the Homagama court by a group of monks that raises suspicion that a hidden foreign hand could be at work to discredit the legal process in this country at this very time.

The Indian External Affairs Minister arrives hot on the heels of the UNHRC chief. The Indian VIP comes though as a neighbour, albeit one who has had hot and cold ties with Sri Lanka in recent years. It was India that nursed the separatist insurgency, but having lost an ex-Prime Minister at the hands of a terrorist organisation his mother fostered and her Armed Forces suffered a bloodied nose when they came ostensibly as a peace-keeping force, bilateral relations are today on a separate frequency.

In a message on India’s 68th Republic Day last week, India’s envoy in Colombo referred to his country’s “neighbourhood first policy” where Sri Lanka will have a “first claim on India”, whatever that may mean. India’s growth, he said, is linked to the prosperity of its neighbourhood, but that rings hollow when India looks the other way as its fishing armadas enter Lankan waters thrice a week, every week, to rape its marine resources and inflict a kidney punch on Lankan fishermen and our economy.

This is an ongoing irritant and India’s incessant pressure for Sri Lanka to succumb to that pressure has forced Colombo to adopt a meek ‘catch and release’ policy; where the SL Navy catches the poachers and the government releases them in comical regularity. So, when Sri Lanka wants to forge an agreement with India, any agreement, there is natural suspicion that the Government in Colombo will capitulate on tricky issues. The existing FTA (Free Trade Agreement) is already experiencing such problems that there is no level playing field. Last week, a former Sri Lanka ambassador outlined the pitfalls .

On February 4, 1948, freedom was obtained after an Independence Movement waged alone, but in the shadow of the struggle in India and the aftermath of World War II. In 1972, the remaining ties with Britain were severed as we became a Republic but the seeds of separatism, however, were germinating and a full blown ‘civil war’ ensued. The Armed Forces were called in to end that brutish insurgency. That horrific period is behind us. Reconciliation is the need of the hour. Hate speech must end both in the south and the north. Opening old wounds will not help. We ended 400 years of foreign colonial rule in 1948, not to invite them back in a new avatar. We now have no one to blame for our follies but ourselves. We are now, the masters of our own destiny.

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