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.