One of the ironies of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passing strictures this week on the way the Government of Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces conducted a military campaign to liquidate a heavily armed, most dangerous, fascist, racist terrorist organisation and accusing the Armed Forces of being responsible for varying acts of broadly [...]


Time bomb for Govt.


One of the ironies of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passing strictures this week on the way the Government of Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces conducted a military campaign to liquidate a heavily armed, most dangerous, fascist, racist terrorist organisation and accusing the Armed Forces of being responsible for varying acts of broadly defined war crimes is that the Sri Lanka Army plays a key role in the same organisation’s Peace Keeping Forces in the world’s hotspots.

The other irony is that a post-mortem examination on how Sri Lanka won the war against terrorism is being discussed in the backdrop of the very sponsors of the indictment bombing the daylights out of an equally repugnant terrorist organisation in West Asia (the Middle East), triggering a massive exodus of refugees not too far from the council’s headquarters in Geneva.

Europe is seeing the greatest surge of refugees since World War II. The human rights morality of these Western countries, and the US, is being severely tested. Syria, Iraq and Libya have been ravaged into chaotic states due to Western policies and now the West is getting hoist on their own petard, so to speak. US President Barack Obama calls this “someone else’s civil war”.

And so, let’s come back to someone else’s ‘civil war’; Sri Lanka’s. On Wednesday, the UNHRC issued a report on evidence largely based on a “reasonable grounds to believe” standard of proof by its own admission. It is proof that “maybe” (their words) there is sufficient evidence to call for a judicial investigation. It suggests that inquiry must have an international flavour because the Sri Lankan legal system cannot be trusted.

One of the more serious allegations is accusing Sri Lankan troops of sexual violence, including rape. These allegations are based largely on Witness Statements by persons now living in the West. They could have been coached by interested parties. Not even the staunchest pro-Eelamist persisted with this allegation all these years. These allegations must surely be investigated with the sensitivity due to the complainants, but so too must the panel of experts be questioned on how they weighed the evidence before committing these Witness Statements to their report and thereby, the public domain.

While the UNHRC report states that non-state actors like the LTTE who exercised de facto control over a certain portion of the country’s territory must also bear responsibility for crimes such as recruiting child-soldiers and killing fellow Tamils who opposed it, the fact is that there is no one known who will take the responsibility for the LTTE’s actions. The proposed UNHRC investigation will therefore, be an ex-parte inquisition against the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces.

The report presented by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein may have jolted Colombo, because it might have expected the newly amended US draft resolution – which is being jointly worked out by the two countries — to endorse a “domestic mechanism” to investigate these purported ‘war crimes’. Instead, the UN has called for a “hybrid” mechanism which includes foreign judges sitting in Colombo, possibly foreign prosecutors (no one is sure yet), digging up the past. It is an ultimate insult inflicted upon the country and the political leaders who allowed things to slip to this have much to answer for.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is much to blame for his post-war conduct, his cockiness in office and his refusal to nip the cry for accountability in the bud by initiating a “domestic mechanism” until too late by way of an LLRC report that was not properly implemented anyway. His ‘monkeying’ with the judiciary and the legal system is coming back to haunt Sri Lanka now. In a Guest Column published in the Sunday Times four years after the defeat of the LTTE, his friend, a member of the Appellate Court of the Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal, Justice Nihal Jayasinghe, argued the need at the time to adopt a cohesive action plan in the face of demands for a war crimes investigation by the diaspora and Western Governments who had their own agendas. He had written to President Rajapaksa, but did not even get an acknowledgment.

It is an open secret that the US took a direct role in pursuing a resolution against Sri Lanka due to its animosity with the Rajapaksa Administration. The fact that the Rajapaksa Administration made a wholesome mess of its foreign policy is now history. But with the regime change, something the US, the West and India so earnestly wished for becoming a reality, one can see some back-pedalling on their part but the UNHRC report has exploded in their own face.

It is pertinent to note that the UN report does not make any references to the widespread allegation by sections of the diaspora and the Northern Provincial Council of genocide. Genocide is acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, religious group. The report includes allegations of crimes against humanity i.e. systematic attacks directed against a civilian population and war crimes i.e. breaches of the Geneva Convention etc., but they haven’t produced an iota of substantive evidence on genocide charges.

President Maithripala Sirisena was quick to take credit for the report being “better than what was expected” by saying it was due to the work of his nine month-old Government. It was something akin to the old Sinhala saying “watunata ravule wali gavune naa ne” (falling is ok but no sand touched the moustache). Prince Zeid quoted the Rome Statute which provides for an International Criminal Court (Sri Lanka has not signed that treaty) but that very Statute recognises the responsibility of the State to defend its unity and territorial integrity.

At Friday’s meeting with media heads, the Sri Lankan political leadership gave no indication they would challenge the “hybrid” mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes. Stakeholders, including the armed forces will be consulted, we are told on what this “hybrid” mechanism will entail.

The US, the West and the so-called International Community that spearheaded this hot potato in the first place, are now finding it on their own laps. Holding a Government accountable to a “domestic mechanism” with a time-table is one thing, but once you expand it to a quasi-international investigation you are going to open up old wounds. This was not Cambodia. If they think North-South reconciliation is possible while valiant commanding officers who risked their lives for the unity and sovereignty of this country are going to be thrown to ravenous wolves, that is a serious error of judgement on their part.

The UNHRC says it speaks for the victims. There are more than 20 million victims of that bloody insurgency living in this country today reaping the benefits of peace. Neither the UN experts nor Prince Zaid lived through those harrowing times here. For those Governments that support the present Government, the under-currents are not to be underestimated. They are paying for short-sighted policies in West Asia. If they are interested in this Government’s longevity what they have done is placed a time-bomb under its seat.

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