Colombo, Politics and Governance, Post-War, War Crimes

Don’t mix up war crimes investigations with political issues in Sri Lanka

Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, in an interview published on 13 December, asserted that he had information that persons coming forward to surrender with white flags raised were shot dead, in cold blood, by the army, pursuant to a premeditated decision by government leaders. This is the then army commander speaking, so it warrants the utmost attention.  The next day he tried his darndest to backtrack on this statement since there was a storm of protest from several quarters; “You are a traitor letting the side down by exposing these things” was the gist of the protests – apparently even war crimes are military secrets!  During his capitulation he went on to say that that there were no violations of international law and that as army commander at the time he would take full responsibility for the behaviour of the army.

Let us take this matter in two distinct steps. Is the assertion of cold-blooded murder true or false? This and this alone is the primary factual issue that overrides everything else in importance. The conflict between Fonseka and the Rajapakse brothers, electioneering, these are all ethically and legally irrelevant; first we must ascertain the factual truth. To repeat, the truth or falsity of the alleged cold-blooded shooting is the all-important priority to which everything else is subordinate in importance. This is so serious a matter, and emotions have become so charged up, that there has to be an investigation with international participation. The findings have to be made public, in full. Presidential Commissions in this country have become such shams that only unimpeachably respected international participation can restore even a modicum of credibility.

The second step follows only after that. Fonseka’s opinion that no international law was violated is tendentious; he is a party with direct personal involvement in the events and an interest in the outcome. Once a thoroughly credible independent investigation is completed, if it is found that there is a prima face case of an indictable offence, then there must be prosecution, in a local or international court. None of this should be prejudged, that would be wrong. All persons held indictable, if any, must be prosecuted – Generals, Defence Secretaries, even Heads of State; there is no indemnity for war crimes.

Let us take a cool-headed, mature, unemotional approach to the matter; it does not matter which political party or presidential candidate we support. There is no alternative if we want to be a civilised nation.

  • Asanka

    but who said anyone wants a civilized nation! haha its either kill or be killed. We must attack allout against our opponent.

  • Ravi Shankar

    On Fonseka’s allegation, either he is speaking the truth or cooking up the story to blame the Rajapakse brothers. But looking at the statements come from the Rajapakse side, they are calling Fonseka as a traitor for revealing the so called military secrets. It implicitly state that Fonseka is right but he can’t reveal these stories.

    Hopeless Sri Lankans are going to choose one of the two to rule them for another 6 years. What a pathetic situation!

  • Dr C P Thiagarajah

    David cannot expect a war crime investigation against a Sinhalese. Their view is that Sri-Lanka is for the Sinhalese and that they can do anything with Tamil’s life. See how the Tamils form LTTE who committed war cimes were summarily executed by the Sri-Lankan army. There were no captives. Wonderful war. UN secretary general and UN approved it as we hear. Minorities of the world be warned.

  • siva

    Human rights violations! We have done it in 1970 (JVP) 1989 JVP and several other times 1956,1958,1977,1979,and 1983 and also 2009(LTTE) . It looks like Standard Procedure in Sri lanka as we all beleive in re-birth and a life lost is one other re-born

  • There are a allegations regarding the intelligence available to the Government of Sri Lanka, the nature of the war and the conduct of the war amounting to genocide. There is sufficient material both circumstantial and from the actors involved to raise the issue of some violation of Geneva conventions during the final phase of the war. First and foremost it is important to establish the facts, at least to exonerate the state of complicity in genocidal activities and protect the integrity of the officers involved. Carrying out proper investigations and establishing the facts cannot be entrusted in the hands of a corrupt Sri Lankan Establishment. It is best undertaken by an independant international Commisssion. Then the law can follow. This will help reconcilliation.

  • Groundtruth

    Groundviews has said it beautifully in logical intelligent manner. Entrusting such an important investigation to a national body will be a sure repeat of the IIEE Presidential Commission. It ihad become an international joke with zero credibilty. Only two days ago the recently retired Chief Justice had assailed the President with acting arbitarily against several chapters of the constitution! Can there be any better proof of more heinous crime against the state? Only despots do that.

    The right international body to investigate such crimes is the Investigator of the International Criminal Court. It is better to fall in line with international best practice rather than wriggle out of a dilemma by tendentious arguments and very dubious methods which has done enough damage to country and its citizens.

  • Velu Balendran

    During the height of the war the policemen of the world pretended not to see the atrocities that took place. In fact they tacitly supported and covertly assisted the govt to defeat the Tigers (e.g. in providing satellite intelligence on the floating warehouses of the Tigers). I do not think they have any desire to investigate these allegations now. Except for Tamils and freethinking people of the world, who else will be interested in establishing the truth? Though Sinhalese people are in denial, the fact that the govt was considering bringing charges against SF for divulging military “secrets” without authority only suggests where the truth lies. I suspect this issue will keep on simmering for a while to divert the Tamil votes to SF before being pushed under the carpet to rest in the history of Tamils of SL.

    On the issue of Tamil votes, there is no point in re-enacting the old play of Tamils being kingmakers of the Sinhalese only to be ignored and humiliated subsequently. If the Tamils vote for MR or SF, I wonder why they should not be seen as a laughing stock like Douglas, Karuna, Pillian etc. when they went behind MR for the crumbs! I would urge the Tamils to show their political maturity to the world by voting for Dr Bahu the true champion for the rights of the Tamil people – especially the right of self-determination – and use this election as a referendum amongst Tamils on that issue.

  • jansee


    You must be day-dreaming. When Ban Ki Moon requested SL to investigate its own alleged war crimes, any decent human being would have known and realised that he was as complicit in these crimes as India is but the Tamils have become a forsaken race. On its own conservative estimate the UN believes that at least 7000 ordinary people were brutally killed. Ban had even exclaimed that he had never seen such a devastation ever when he flew over the war zone weeks after the war. The SL rep in UN at that time (DJ) had the gall to argue that such a war of undignified proportion was just, as if human lives and limbs matter nothing, nothing at all. While we all abhor terrorism, the extent to which innocent civilians were bombed and massacred is a horrible stain on humanity. In all these, India stands accused that it actively abetted in the commission of such heinous crimes by the SL state and had thereby damaged its reputation forever. Only time will tell whether India will be in one piece after this.

  • War crimes ARE war crimes and they NEED to be investigated. If there is innocence, why fear the outcome? Over thirty thousand human lives cannot be treated as chicken feed!

  • Sri Lanka was and is not a civilised nation! Can anybody count with their ten fingers that any civilised Singhalese who even protested against the mass killings of Tamils by the Singhala armed forces? I have only seen hatred and sacarstic comments by most Singhalese. Reconcilliation can never been achieved not in fifty years. Budhist monks are the first obstacle to be overcome.

  • Ram Mohan

    The subject is of immense political importance and war crimes is a political issue. Hence I cannot understand why war crimes investigation should be separated from political issues. Is it because both the main presidential candidates are involved in war crimes and yet we have to choose one of them? The gist of the protests as reported by the author, ” You are a traitor letting the side down by exposing these things” IS THE CLEAREST ADMISSION OF EXISTENCE OF WAR CRIMES but only thing is that the protestors are angry at the crimes being exposed. You do not need an inquiry on top of this admission. After all, what happened to the COMMITTEE OF EMINENT (international) PERSONS appointed to inquire into the murder of 17 aid workers of the French Acton Farm? One by one, the eminent persons and finally the (Indian) Chairman himself resigned due to government interference and indifference. So international persons of emminence are also useless if they do not have power. They all become paper tigers! Again where do we prosecute when the United Nations itself has become a puppet in the hands of the VETO POWERS who these days operate more by COLLUSION THAN COLLISION. What was gained by prosecuting the President of Sudan in the ICC? Has the life if the people of Sudan, particularly the Rebels improved a wee bit? Apart from all these, a fundamental question is being overlooked. Everybody from UN to Norway to Kumar are speaking of the three LTTE leaders who went with white flags as the only people who surrendered. While I respect abso;utely the contribution of these leaders to the cause of Tamil Liberation in particular and the cause of liberation in a more fundamental sense (at least Nadesan married to a Sinhalese comrade was a member of the NSSP for 10 yeas), I feel sorry for their foolishness in trusting the GOSL or the IC or both. But these are not the only people who surrendered. THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF WANNI, numbering to 470000 according to the MP Mr Kanagaratnam who is now in Jail (forgotten even by TNA), who moved into the SAFETY ZONE ncreated by the GOSL are people who surrendered. Is bombimg the very same safety zone NOT THE BIGGEST WAR CRIME? IF THE 20 POWERFUL GOVERNMENTS WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THE VICTORY OF GOSL, COULD NOT CONTAIN THESE PEOPLE IN THE SAFETY ZONE WITHOUT BOMBING ISIDE THE ZONE and deliver justice, then what is the point in talking of Human Rights or of Civilisation? Kumar, I feel sorry for you when you conclude that we should rise above “Party Politics” to defend civilisation when apolitics is also a part of politics. All of us know what happened when only 300000 of the 470000 ended up in the concentration camps. Surely there must be record of the 470000 people as Mr Kanagaratnam arrived at this figure from “official statistics”. It is not a difficult thing to trace them at least in the way the GOSL gave the Death Certificate of VP to SONIA so that she can Rest in Peace. I never believed in running away from politics. It was Mao who said that Politics determine everything and therefore put politics in command of everything. Everyone including the hardcore chauvinists know the truth and that is why they are protesting at the exposure of the truth. The only way to advance in these c ircumstances is not to run away from politics but to engage actively in it and campaign for BAHU who has never contributed to ANY WAR CRIME (against LTTE as well as JVP) or to any political crime. Whether he will win or lose is not the question but at least we will move in the right direction. AND DIRECTION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVEN ACTION IN CIVILISATION.

  • Canaga

    David, The Tamils have gone through so much since independence – is there any point in the local politicians investigating anything? Can you indicate a single investigation – successful or meaningful?

    If there was to have been peace and success in the country – it should have been followed up in the fifties and sixties – Ceylon was strong and well respected. Since then SriLanka had deteriorated immensely – now almost at the bottom of the world.

    I could see the unfortunate situation in the country, that I left it in 72, thank god for that – otherwise I would not be here to say this! I worked in absolute honesty and free of corruption – but I could get no where! Unless corruption and racial politics are – at least minimally changed, the country can not improve.

  • niranjan


    The major political changes came into this country in 1970 when Mrs. B came into power. This country was liveable from 1948-1970 even though it had its problems.

  • Groundtruth

    Without restoration of justice no amount of politicking or talking about this, that and other things will work. It is well known that left to national level, justice has become a dead letter. Governments do not even implemnt theri pown constitution! How worse can it get? That is why the clamour for justice should get louder and louder.

    Governments think that they can hoodwink the outside world by holding elections, a purely mechanical process! Even that is often flawed with violence and cheating. It is not only justice but democracy itself is dead no matter the number of elections held.

    And purely majoritarian democracy along lines of language, race and religion in a plural society is certainly NOT democracy. Sri Lanka is a classical example of a murderocracy!

    And for democracy there has to be trained political scientists in power at the helm at the prsent day. If you have just anyone just because they can rabble rouse, play on emotiions down to base instincts and riot organisers and pistol gang mangaers in power we have what Sri Lanka has been through since 1956 to the present day.

    The burning question: can Sri lanka re-invent itself for a better future for ALL citizens based on past experiences? Better late than never.

  • Kumar David

    Thank you all you people, some angry some thoughtful for your comments.
    To those of you who said “What’s the bloody use of an investigation?” are you actually saying, ‘Don’t hold an international inquiry’? I think not, you are just expressing you anger at these horrible crimes; fair enough.

    One point I need to add. The alleged war crimes of the government and its armed forces as well as those of the LTTE, need to be included in the terms of reference of an inquiry. Anyone who has even glimpsed at the UTHR(J) December 13 2009 report can have no doubts about the incredible evil of both parties.

  • Fonseka merely divulged what was conveyed to him by a journalist embedded with the army during the last few days of the war. The government would know the identities of all such journalists. Instead of interrogating them, Fonseka is being blamed. Foreign journalist Marie Colvin has related what had happened. Kohona,Nambiyar and others were involved in trying to get the LTTE leaders to surrender. In fact, there were calls earlier by the army to the LTTE to surrender.
    The fact remains that they were shot dead when walking up to the army’s line, unarmed. Further, their families, who were also were unarmed, were also shot dead.Why?