WELIWERIYA, GAMPAHA: BLACK THURSDAY 2013

Photo courtesy Colombo Telegraph

Who deployed troops, clad in flak jackets (body armour) and armed with T-56 assault rifles to confront and disperse a crowd of protestors blocking a highway? Who was the ultimate decision-maker? The protestors were not armed, certainly not with lethal weapons. Therefore, no real harm could have come to soldiers in body armour. A ‘clash’ between lethally armed soldiers and protestors with stones and slippers is not a clash that warrants in any way, the use of lethal force.

The crucial question must then be posed: who gave the order for a military unit armed with deadly force to be deployed against an unarmed civic protest, in a situation where the normal law prevails and a state of Emergency has not been declared because it was manifestly not warranted? What was the chain of command responsibility? Why was the task not left to the riot police? The question of who gave the order to shoot and for what reasons is a secondary one.

I find it impossible to believe, that on his first day as Army commander, the able and sophisticated Gen Daya Ratnayake, a thinking soldier, would have made this decision. I find it no less implausible that Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose mode for decades has been to use the strengths of his personality for dialogue and dissembling, to charm Southern constituencies, would have opted for martial methods, at the commencement of an election campaign. So the mystery remains, if mystery it is.

What was the logic of sending in troops? Why were they wearing body armour? Why were they carrying T-56 assault rifles? Since when are troops sent in crowd control situations in which there are men, woman, children and clergymen, none of whom have been spotted as carrying lethal weapons? It is not as if the protestors were tossing Molotov cocktails at the police who could therefore not control the crowd.

What are the implications of the decision to deploy troops with assault rifles, when there is no State of Emergency? Is it that the army will henceforth be used against unarmed demonstrators in the South? In an earlier step on the escalation ladder, the STF had been used, against a protest by fisher-folk. Specialised army units were then used to suppress, with an entirely one sided result and massive casualties, a prison riot. Now the army has been deployed against unarmed demonstrators in the South or shall we say the non-former conflict zones.

Ah, but could it have been a conspiracy against the country? Doesn’t the shooting come just on the first of the very month that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visits Sri Lanka, in fact just three weeks before the visit? Could it not been a force hostile to Sri Lanka that spread the rumour of toxic waste, brainwashed the protestors into excessive concern about the quality of their drinking water and the health of their children, bribed them into protesting on the streets, and armed them lethally with slippers and stones? Perhaps it was all part of an Arab Spring ‘regime change’ strategy—the crucial move of which was to send in the indispensable ingredient for the crime: troops with assault rifles and body armour. Thus we must be unafraid to ask ourselves whether it was the CIA, the NSA, the RAW, the ‘13A Nazis’, the Halal imposing Koran thumpers, Justice Wigneswaran, Karunanidhi and Jeyalalitha, or Fr Emmanuel and Lawrence Rudrakumaran who gave the order.

How will the world view Sri Lanka after the events of yesterday? Having known and sparred successfully in defence of our country’s sovereignty with two, not just one, UN High Commissioners for Human Rights – Louise Arbour and Navi Pillay—I can say with confidence and dismay, that Weliweriya would only substantiate the call for an international inquiry and the demand for the opening of an office of the High Commissioner in Sri Lanka. When I opposed it in 2007-2009, we could credibly claim to hold the moral high ground since we were fighting a fascistic foe. The demonstrators in Weliweriya who faced lethal force hardly fall into the same category as the suicide-terrorist Tigers and therefore our refusal of an office of the High Commissioner to monitor human rights abuses would lack the moral credibility it once had.

The obvious observations will be, if this is how the State authorities treat unarmed Sinhalese, largely Buddhist civilian men, women and children who are protesting against polluted water, how must that state have treated the Tamils in the closing stages of the war? How could authorities who didn’t care about possible casualties when sending in armed troops into unarmed crowds, care enough about Tamil civilians in the last days of and the morning after the war? If Weliweriya demonstrates the policy of the State and how the forces of the state behave towards the Sinhalese, how must they have conducted themselves in the North and East for thirty years and how must they be functioning in the former conflict zones today?

The argument of national sovereignty as currently deployed by the state and its ideologues, has a hole shot through it after the Gampaha killing. National sovereignty and popular sovereignty are twins. National/state sovereignty refers to external threats, those from outside our borders, and does not confer license to override popular sovereignty, the sovereignty of the citizen, most especially in a state constitutionally defined and designated a democratic Republic since 1972.

Coming in the run-up to the Northern Provincial Council election, the question cannot but be posed as to whether the Establishment which sent lethally armed soldiers to confront a crowd of unarmed civilians in the Gampaha district yesterday, will do otherwise, or deploy less force, if faced with peaceful protests over, let us say, issues of land seizure in the North. What if school-children, nuns, or elected members of the Provincial Council are shot or disappeared? Will that not trigger a surge in Tamil Nadu, followed by a demarche from Delhi in an election year? Will this not open the road to R2P?

30 years after Black July 83, a disturbing thought strikes me: Was Kuttimani right when he said 30 years ago, in his final speech in the Colombo High Court– months before he was slaughtered in Welikada jail– that the brutal methods used in Gurunagar army camp would come home to the south one day?

[Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva 2007-9 and Vice–President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 2007-2008] 

  • Dev

    I wonder….if this is the fate of innocent Sinhalese while in the spotlight of the media…..then what really could have happened in the north away from the media for the “other” people in the middle of a war fighting LTTE terrorists !

    Yet, some ask-what problems do the Tamils face ? NONE they say !

    I find it amusing that you continue to shield MR from any criticism :

    “I find it no less implausible that Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose mode for decades has been to use the strengths of his personality for dialogue and dissembling, to charm Southern constituencies, would have opted for martial methods, at the commencement of an election campaign. So the mystery remains, if mystery it is.”

    He is the EXECUTIVE president with a 2/3 majority -he is untimely responsible for this !

    • M.J.D

      Dayan won’t [edited out]. Please read comment submission guidelines.

      • J Fernando

        Not sure what your comment was but if it was to state (rather crudely) that Dayan won’t criticize the president come hell or high water, you are right :-)
        Mahinda remains the holy grail for Dayan.

  • Mr. Ranjith Wickramaarachchi

    We did a peaceful protest against the factory to solve our water problem in Rathupaswala area. We were protesting in front of the factory against it. We only had placards and boards in our hands.

    For what reason did the people from Weliveriya and Balummahara protested in Kandy road and Weliveriya? Clearly there was an ulterior motive in them. How can protestors carry bottles, Petrol bombs, swords stones, if it is a peaceful protest. Protests done at Balummahara and Weliveriya seem to be organized by an experienced group targeting the government. They were trying to get an advantage from our desperate situation.
    Those Peaceful protestors with petrol bombs and swords got what they deserved. But the pitty was that two 17 year olds lost their lives as the real armed culprits were hiding behind them.
    This is the usual pattern that they always apply as in Katunayake, Negombo, etc.

    The bottomline is that their actions underpinned our real protest. Now the whole country is talking about deaths of Weliweriya & Balummahara and not about the water problem of Rathupaswala residents.

  • James Chance

    Interesting piece. Glad to have Dayan on the side of restraint by the army and the not-so-veiled finger-pointing at the defence secretary. Yet isn’t it rather late to be asking whether the brutality used on Tamils in the north has come back to bite Sinhalese in the south!? This is not the first time the army or the police have shot dead Sinhalese protestors under Mahinda and Gotabaya’s rule. And how can one leave out the brutal crushing of the JVP – done under the direction of Dayan’s hero Premadasa and with the assistance of the young Gotabaya (what WILL happen with the investigation into the Matale mass grave case, I wonder?). And surely there is no reason to WONDER (as opposed to know) what the police and army will do with Tamil protestors in the north in the coming months, since there is so much evidence of what they have done just in the past few years. Does Dayan not remember the treatment that the “security” forces meted out to Jaffna protestors during the “grease yakkas” scare? Surely it’s rather late to be asking “whether the Establishment which sent lethally armed soldiers to confront a crowd of unarmed civilians in the Gampaha district yesterday, will do otherwise, or deploy less force, if faced with peaceful protests over, let us say, issues of land seizure in the North.” Unless there is a major shift in the government’s mode of governance, and Gotabaya’s mind-set, we can almost guarantee that more such incidents are on the way. Dayan, we are glad to see you have woken up, but let’s not pretend that the evidence of the true nature of the Sri Lankan state, and the Rajapaksa government, hasn’t been there for years for those willing to see it.

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      The JVP didn’t exactly consist of unarmed civilian demonstrators. They murdered the finest leftist leader we ever had, Vijaya Kumaratunga. In their Pol Pot incarnation of the late 1980s, they had to be put down. Weliweriya bears no resemblance and the lethal crackdown is therefore quite wrong and immoral. The distinction between terrorism and unarmed protest: is that so darn difficult to comprehend? It was wrong to send in the army against the satyagraha in the north in 1961. it was right to send the army to decimate the Tigers.

      • Sarath Fernando

        Dayan,

        For the allegations on Army brutality at Mullaivaikal, you defended Governments response of internal investigations and LLRC as adequate and appropriate, and spearheaded the move to scuttle any other accountability initiatives.

        Now, the Government has already ordered an Internal investigation by the Army, and who knows, may even follow it up with a mini LLRC for this Gampaha incidence. Would that satisfy you or do you have any views on this?

        • Sarath Fernando

          Hey Dayan,

          Too ashamed and embarassed to answer?

          Now Amnesty International has pointedly challenged the appropriateness of the Army to be the one to be given the responsibility for the investigation.

          Do you support the Amnesty or the Army/State? What is your recommendation to the President on this?

          We would like to see if you have the courage and conviction required of a man to take a stand and defend it, nevermind a political scientist, an academic or a diplomat.

          Or, is all your prolific writing merely reflective of that age-old “vessel that makes the loudest noice?!”

          • Dev

            [Edited out]

            I would like to add another question to Dayan:
            Who is “qualified” to monitor the human rights situation here in Sri Lanka? according to you ……

            “The High Commissioner has once again proven…how unqualified the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is in monitoring and reporting human rights in Sri Lanka as an independent actor,”

            http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1319279&ct=4965643

            Just curious, is the UN high commissioner that was “unqualified” in 2008 now “qualified” to comment?
            If she is still “unqualified” then why worry about her up-coming visit ???
            (I am aware that the then commissioner is not the one visiting (Ms. Pillay) but the office and their mandate has remained the same)

  • georgethebushpig

    Sadly, the chickens come home to roost once again.

    Sadly, we were right.

    Stay safe.

    Regards
    GTBP

  • Aia

    People will have time to exercise their democratic right by casting their votes when the election was due. The mass demonstration is no…no unless it was against the like UN or Halal. Is the message getting out aloud and clear?. We do not want an Arab spring here in a small island.

  • http://gravatar.com/thekillromeoproject paul

    I wonder if the troops in Weliweriya carried the Geneva convention in one hand like they did during the ‘humanitarian’ operation in the North..?? From what I saw it was more like a gun in one hand and a pole in the other… maybe the Geneva rule book was tucked in the back pocket to give them a free hand to better thrash the civilians..!!

    • J Fernando

      This was not a “humanitarian” operation with a ‘zero civilian casualty” policy -so NO Geneva convention in hand.

      • georgethebushpig

        According to the “numbers game” if 40 000 Tamil civilians could be reduced to 2 800, and 2 800 is insignificant for an independent investigation, then none were murdered in Weliweriya!

        “Aney nikan pala yako yande!”
        GTBP

  • Kautilaya

    Is it possible to know the number of page views under this new format ? – Thanks

    • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

      Took that away, and no plans for reintroduction. Popular articles, judged by WordPress on the number of page views and calculated in the backend, displayed on homepage.