Colombo, Foreign Relations, International Relations, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, War Crimes

An Era of Sri Lanka’s President: From Mullivaikal to Oxford Union

[Authors note: Mullivaikal is where the last phase of the war between Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and Liberation Tiger of TamilEelam (LTTE) took place.  According to the Government of Sri Lanka, this was the place war came to an end with the military defeat of LTTE, but for majority Tamils and international human rights activists, this was the place at-least 30000-40000 Tamil civilians were massacred by SLAF. The ‘controversy’ began from here and continues even after 19 months.]

The Diaspora re-emergence

President Rajapakse, the man who tamed the Tamil Tigers faced his first “Political Waterloo” since he came to the power.  Rajapakse and his family have portrayed themselves as an undefeated regime in the region until the President faced the fiasco in London in early December.

This development transpired as outrageous war crimes and crime against humanity evidence have been revealed in the wake of submission to the UN expert panel deadline approached and the president visited to London in order to give a speech at the Oxford Union. From the Tamil Diaspora perspective, it is a platform to hide the mass atrocities and divert the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, which are mounting against the regime. The London trip became vital controversy and a battlefront, President Rajapakse against the UK Tamil Diaspora. In early November, the President Rajapakse’s scheduled visit was forced to cancel due to the fear of his arrest in London or postponed due to his official commitments in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the regime was bit concerned about the Diaspora mounting resistance. The President was advised to give up the visit, but some other officials encouraged him to continue the trip.

A Sri Lanka based news website noted,“[the] trip has been undertaken on advice by Presidential advisors and the Bill Pottinger Group reputed to ‘create, build and protect reputations in the modern age.’[1]

The Tamil Diaspora organized a massive demonstration within a short time with limited resources in London. First phase of their activities came to an end after President was rushed to return to the country after he faced unexpected embracing developments on foreign soil. The Diaspora activists attempted to take an arrest warrant against one of the Sri Lanka’s top army commander, who accused for the massacre of thousands of Tamil people in the last days of the war. However, it didn’t happen as they expected, according to the Tamil Diaspora Circle in London.

As an activist told a journalist, “He [Rajapakse] thought to teach a lesson for us, but finally we taught and he learnt a lesson from us. This is a beginning of our democratic struggle and more to come”.

This is not the Tiger Diaspora or ghost of late Balasingham, but the people power where they can demonstrate their nonviolent struggle under the democratic atmosphere or it may be the ghosts of nearly forty thousand massacred Tamil people in Mullivaikal in the last phase of the war. In  developed countries not only Freedom of Speech, but Freedom of Association are allowed, as long as it does not disturb the public or violate their respective constitution. The United Kingdom is respecting democratic values and principles and it’s not like Sri Lanka to detain anyone, who opposes anti-democratic activities in the country.

It is obvious that volatile environment between Rajapakse regime and the Tamil Diaspora is widening further and further as no genuine efforts have been taken by the regime to heal the wounds of Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Therefore, if Rajapakse regime is keen and genuine on post-war reconciliation, they should learn a lesson from the “London Fiasco” rather than taking revenge activities against Tamil Diaspora and Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

A Multi-Polar Constructive Engagement

In a statement issued by the Secretary to the President said “I will also continue in my efforts to unite all the people of our country whether they live in Sri Lanka or overseas. As a united country we have a great future. If we allow divisions to dominate we will not realise our true potential.”[2] From an academic point of view it is a good statement, but the question is how much willingness the President will show to practice it.

The international independent engagement on “alleged” war crimes and crimes against humanity is just an investigation. This body is not a prejudiced body like Sri Lanka’s Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). According to international rights groups, “the LLRC not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses and they believe that the persistence of these and other destructive trends indicates that currently Sri Lanka’s government and justice system cannot or will not uphold the rule of law and respect basic rights.” [3]

Right now, stronger war crimes evidences are coming to the surface, including a confidential message of the US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis. She said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible.

“There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power,” Butenis noted. “In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.”[4]

The Rajapakse regime has a huge responsibility to respond constructively to the international allegations regarding war crimes and crimes against humanity. They cannot just say those photographs and videos are fake. Even after the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions said the evidence was authentic and Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and now the President of the International Crisis Group told Channel 4 News earlier this year she believed that it was “not implausible” that more than 30,000 civilians had been killed.[5] The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Heyns, said: “It is shocking indeed, and clearly deserves more investigation he said. Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA), told Channel 4 News the video was prima facie evidence of war crimes being committed. “This is a very disturbing video and clearly, on the face of it, shows war crimes have been committed and perhaps crimes against humanity, depending on who the group targeted was.[6]

If the Rajapakse regime strongly believes that they and their forces were not involved in any terrible act, then they have nothing to fear from the International Independent Investigation (III). The International Independent Investigations on War Crimes Charges and Crimes against Humanity will lead towards justice for the people, who have been deprived by Sri Lanka’s system in the past.[7] The complete absence of accountability and culture of high level impunity will not bring justice or create genuine reconciliation atmosphere in the island nation. Rather it gives courage to human rights abusers not only in Sri Lanka, but in other undemocratic countries as well.   Allowing International Independent Investigations is an opportunity to the Government of Sri Lanka to show beyond doubt that they are really committed.

That is of course if the President truly means what he said in London.