Sri Lanka May Face Economic Sanctions Not to Speak of Irreparable Damage to its Democratic Image
The official announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka that it will withdraw from co-sponsorship of UNHRC resolution 30/1 comes as no surprise. During the presidential election campaign, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had pledged he would not honour the previous government’s commitments to the UN. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now president, was defence secretary from 2005 to January 2015.
The UN rights body resolution had blamed Government forces, notably the 58th Division commanded by Shavendra Silva of committing rights abuses during the final phase of the battle which ended in 18th May 2009. Both government troops and the LTTE were accused of rights violations, but the Sri Lanka Army has denied the alleged rights abuses.
The resolution 30/1 adopted unanimously by all 47 members of the UNHRC called for an independent investigation with foreign judges and prosecutors to probe war crimes allegation. Former Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister co-sponsored the resolution along with 11 other countries, including the US and Britain, calling for an investigation into alleged human rights violations during the island nation’s civil war, which ended in May 2009.
According to a United Nations report, some 45,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last phases of the war alone.
Human Rights groups have long called for investigations into alleged rights abuses committed during the Rajapaksas’ previous terms in power. Mahinda Rajapaksa was president when Sri Lankan troops defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 but rights groups accused the army of killing at least 40,000 civilians in the final months of the conflict.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council along with 11 other countries calling for the investigation of allegations of wartime atrocities by both government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamils.
In March 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council authorised an international investigation into the alleged war crimes.
The UN has found evidence “strongly indicating” that war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka in the closing phases of its civil war and called for the establishment of a special “hybrid” international court to investigate individuals responsible for the worst atrocities.
Unveiling a 220 – page report in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said it described horrific abuses including torture, executions, forced disappearances, sexual abuse by security forces as well as suicide attacks, assassinations and recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE.
In announcing the Government’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of UNHRC resolution 30/1 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said “the government would no longer abide by a 2015 resolution calling for accountability for alleged excesses carried out by Sri Lankan troops and reparations for victims. Washington’s recent decision to ban the army chief was because the previous government had signed up to the resolution. It is because of the historic betrayal … in co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in 2015 that other countries are able to name members of our armed forces as violators of human rights,” in a statement.”
The Prime Minister added “Even though this collective punishment has been meted out on the grounds that the Army Commander had committed violations of human rights, no one knows what these allegations are. Whilst the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that until a person accused of a crime is proved guilty according to law, he should be deemed innocent; this principle does not seem to apply to Sri Lanka’s Army Commander or even to members of his family.” Rajapaksa says the
government’s displeasure has been communicated to the government of the United States in the “strongest possible terms”.
Mahinda’s statement came after the US State Department imposed a travel ban on Sri Lanka’s army commander, Shavendra Silva and his family over alleged human rights violations in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will officially announce Colombo’s withdrawal from co-sponsoring a 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution on accountability for war crimes during his address at the council’s session on 27 February (Wednesday) according to his office.
It will be recalled Mahinda Rajapaksa has consistently denied any human rights abuses by the armed forces. Speaking at a huge military festival in Colombo in 2011 to mark the two-year anniversary of the government’s defeat of the LTTE, he rejected calls for an independent international inquiry. Thousands of military personnel took part in a march-past and military hardware display which became a regular ritual till he lost the elections in 2015.
“Our forces carried the firearm in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. Our forces never harboured hatred towards any community or individual,” he said. “Looking at how other countries fight wars, we are proud of the humanitarian nature of our operation. Therefore, when we see how some countries carry out operations against enemies today, we are proud. I pay tribute to the skill of his armed forces at the parade and that he would stand by them. We were with you on the battlefield. It is same today; we will not betray you before the world. Our forces never harboured hatred towards any community or individual.”
The BBC’s Charles Havilland in Colombo at that time described Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech as ”defiant” and reflected the great public support he enjoyed from the war victory. However, such rhetoric does not reflect the reality on the ground.
It is obvious Mahinda Rajapaksa was off the mark and was trying to hide a whole pumpkin inside a plate of rice. UNHRC’s resolution 30/1, inter-alia, only alleged that government forces of committing war crimes. The Experts Committee Report on Accountability claimed ”credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”. The report also claimed tens of thousands of civilians were killed, most of them in shelling by government forces.
A committee appointed by Sri Lanka’s government in 2017 recommended both local and international judges be appointed to the court that will investigate allegations of war crimes from the country’s civil war.
The UNHRC’s resolution 30/1 on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka commits Sri Lanka to ‘establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.’ The investigation is against both the government forces and LTTE.
In 2017 Sri Lanka received a two-year extension to implement its own commitments. At its fortieth session, the UNHRC adopted a new resolution on 21 March 2019 co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka, giving it a further two years to implement outstanding promises in full. UNHRC resolution 30/1.
Also in 2015, the then UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain called for the establishment of a hybrid special court adding, “a purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises.”
However, the Government of Ranil Wickremesinghe for obvious reasons dragged its feet since the implementation of resolutions 30/1 and 40/1 will spell electoral disaster as the outcome of presidential poll results. Gotabaya Rajapaksa romped home garnering Sinhala – Buddhist votes only. The assumption that minority community votes are a deciding factor in an Island-wide poll was proved wrong.
Having tasted victory at the presidential poll Mahinda Rajapaksa and his SLPP hope for a repeat performance at the forthcoming parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on April 26, 2020. They are aiming at a 2/3 majority in order to do away with 19A that has curtailed the powers of the executive president. Presently, there is a Defence Secretary and State Defence Minister but no Defence Minister. 19A says that the president shall not hold any portfolios. However, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is issuing instructions to the armed forces in his capacity as the Commander – in – Chief of the Armed Forces. He is militarising the public service by appointing ex-army officers to key posts. The latest is the appointment of retired Major General Vijitha Ravipriya as the Director-General of Customs. He held the office of the Commander Security Forces – Kilinochchi as his last appointment, prior to his retirement.
The Cabinet of Ministers has approved the Government’s decision to withdraw from UNHRC resolutions 30/1 and 40/1. The decision was announced during the Cabinet media briefing held on 20th February morning.
Cabinet co-spokesperson Minister Bandula Gunawardene addressing the briefing informed that the proposal to withdraw from cosponsoring UNHRC resolutions 30/1 and 40/1 was presented by Minister of Foreign relations Dinesh Gunawardene. While noting that this controversial agreement has been opposed by a large population of the country, Minister Gunawardene noted that the decision to withdraw from the resolutions was unanimously approved by the Cabinet.
The Federal Party (ITAK) said that it would urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to pressurise the Government to implement the resolutions despite the Government’s announcement that it was going to pull-out from the proposals. Even if the Sri Lanka Government exited from the UN resolution, the United Nations should urge the Sri Lanka Government to implement the decisions taken at the UNHRC, Parliamentarian M.A Sumanthiran said addressing the media after the Federal party (ITAK) Central Committee Meeting held at Kilinochchi yesterday.
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in his speech at the UNHRC’s 43rd Sessions held in Geneva has officially announced the decision of his government withdrawing from sponsorship of resolutions 30/1 and 40/1 by the previous government. He has cited many reasons for the withdrawal chief among them are the infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
– it declared support for the resolution even before the draft text was presented
– it sought no Cabinet approval to bind the country to deliver on the dictates of an international body.
– there was no reference to the Parliament on the process, undertakings and repercussions of such co-sponsorship.
– more importantly, the Resolution itself included provisions which are undeliverable due to its inherent illegality, being in violation of the constitution the supreme law of the country.
– it also overruled the reservations expressed by professional diplomats, academia, media and the general public.
– the then President Maithripala Sirisena also stated that he was not consulted on the matter at that time.
– It remains to date a blot on the sovereignty and dignity of Sri Lanka.
Obviously, the Minister has taken refuge under sovereignty like the Church depending as a last resort on the infallibility of Pope.
The UNHRC was created to ensure that people living in member states suffer discrimination and abuses and who are failed by their state justice systems have an additional avenue to seek justice and reparations.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised a number of concerns in a report on Sri Lanka which will be formally presented to the Council on 27th February.
In an advanced version of the report, Bachelet noted some progress has been made by Sri Lanka in promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in line with resolution 30/1, but the inability of the Government to deal comprehensively with impunity and to reform institutions may trigger the recurrence of human rights violations.
The High Commissioner is concerned by various signs indicating a possible reversal of past commitments by the Government which would setback the promotion of reconciliation, accountability and human rights reduce civic space and erode important institutional safeguards.
The report adds the overall goals of resolution 30/1 must be protected and built upon to provide justice and redress to victims, guarantee the non-recurrence of past patterns of human rights violations, and promote peaceful, inclusive and sustainable development.
The High Commissioner encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to fully implement resolution 30/1 and continue to engage positively with OHCHR and United Nations human rights mechanisms to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights as critical elements for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Now, the OHCHR and member countries of the UNHRC will solely be disappointed over the withdrawal of Sri Lanka from the process of co-sponsorship.
Pitting national sovereignty against human rights is a false contradiction and it is counterproductive. Sri Lanka will realise its folly sooner than later. No country is an island by itself and Sri Lankan government economically at the doldrums cannot dismiss the concerns of countries like the USA, UK, EU and India with a wave of a hand. Sri Lanka advancement depends on progress on human rights and the rule of law.
Human rights are the cornerstone underpinning the rule of law and state sovereignty. They are an essential tool enabling states to ensure that every person can live with dignity, whatever their gender, race, nationality or another status.
Sri Lankan constitution itself declares that ” Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a Free, Sovereign, Independent and the Democratic Socialist Republic and shall be known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and in the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable.
In his speech, the Minister refers to ‘people’ and that ’people’ is exclusively Sinhalese. The Tamils and Muslims are excluded altogether. Both the President and his Ministers have declared ad nauseam that the government was elected by the majority Sinhala – Buddhist people and they will act according to the wishes of the Sinhala – Buddhists people only!
During the last phases of the war, the Tamils were deliberately targeted by the Sri Lankan armed forces. President Gotabaya, then Defence Secretary, bragged that hospitals, schools, food distribution lines and Red Cross ships carrying the wounded are legitimate military targets!
Hundreds of LTTE cadres who surrendered to the army on May 18, 2009, have been summarily executed by the army. There is irrefutable photographic evidence, including eyewitness, to vouch for the fact that the army loaded them and took them away in CTB buses for a ‘short inquiry’ but never sighted afterwards. Below is the list of LTTE cadres taken by the army on that fateful day!
Here is a list of those LTTE cadres who surrendered to the armed forces on 17/18 May 2009 but their whereabouts unknown.
(1) K.V. Balakumar and his son Sooriyatheepan
(2) V. Ilankumaran (alias Baby Subramanian) Head of the Thamil Eelam Education Department. His wife Vettrichchelvi and daughter Arivumathy.
(3) Yogaratnam Yogi in charge of ’Institute for Conflict Research’ in Vanni
(4) Poet Puthuvai Ratnadurai, Coordinator of LTTE Arts and Cultural Department
(5) K. Paappa, Coordinator of LTTE Sports Department
(6) Rajah (Chempiyan) Assistant Coordinator LTTE Sports Department and his 3 children
(7) Ilanthirayan, LTTE Military spokesman
(8) Veerathevan, Coordinator LTTE Bank
(9) S.Thangkan, Political Wing Deputy Chief
(10) Aruna, Thamil Eela Education Department
(11) S. Naren, Asst. Executive Head of TRO
(12) Kuddy, Head of the LTTE Transport Department
(12) Piriyan, Head of Administrative Service Department and his family
(13) V. Poovannan, Head of the Administrative Service Division of the LTTE
(14) Thangaiah, Administrative Service Department
(15) Malaravan, Administrative Service Department
(16) Pakirathan, Administrative Service Department
(17) Reha, Head of LTTE Medical Division
(18) Selvarajah, Commander Manal Aru Head Quarters
(19) Bhaskaran, Commander Manal Aru Head Quarters
(20) Major Lawrance
(21) Major Kumaran
(22) Prabha, Batticaloa District Commander
(24) Rupan, Coordinator of Supplies
(25) Babu, Coordinator of Jewellery Business
(26) Ilamparithy, Executive Head of Political Wing
(27) Elilan, Head of Trincomalee Political Wing
(28) Vijitharan, Executive Secretary, Political Wing
(29) Major Veeman
(30) Sakthy, Coordinator Forestry Division and his family
(31) E.Ravi, Charge of Houses
(32) Sanjai, Mulliyavalai Divisional Political Wing Coordinator
(33) Para Ratha, Coordinator Justice Department
(34) Kumaravel, Coordinator Air Force Security
(35) Chithrankan Malathy, Commander Manal Aru District
(36) Suhi, Commander
(37) Arunan, Major Sea Tigers
(38) Manoj – Medical Department
(39) Lawrance, Finance Department
(40) Lawrance Thilakar, Coordinator TRO Planning Department
(41) Karikalan, former Commander, Eastern Province
A longer list containing the names of over a hundred LTTE cadres who were killed after surrendering to the army has been compiled by Yasmin Sooka, executive secretary of the International Truth and Justice Project(ITJP) is available at (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/disappearances-in-custody-six-years-ago-today/)
On May 18 at Mullivaikkal B.Nadesan (Political Department), Seevaratnam Pulithevan (Peace Secretariat), Col. Ramesh (Police), LTTE fighters and civilians surrendered to the army carrying white flags. They were all gunned down by the army after torture. One of the victims is 12 years old Balachandran, son of LTTE leader. The Channel 4 television has given a horrific account in a video (deos/search?q=killing+fields+sri+lanka&view=detail&mid=9BB0E6B55594CC75B50E9BB0E6B55594CC75B50E&FORM=VIREs). There are numerous other videos available on websites.
Mahinda Rajapaksa who is demanding evidence to prove the brutal killings must watch these gruesome videos in his spare time!
In the face of all these damning evidence, President and his Ministers are in denial mode. They categorically deny any knowledge of the slaughter of LTTE surrendees.
Gotabaya confessed that all those missing are dead, but who killed them? The mothers and relatives of enforced mission persons are demonstrating on roadsides for the last 3 years or more demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones.
They are not concerned about those who died on the battlefield; they are demanding to know the fate of those who were handed over to the 58th Division army and Joseph camp on May 18, 2009.
Ananthy Sasitharan, a former Minister in the Northern Province Council told BBC “If my husband has disappeared during the war, then there will be reason to think that he may have been killed during the heat of the battle, but having seen him surrender after the fighting has stopped, there is absolutely no reason for me to believe that he is dead.”
Ananthi is not alone there are hundreds of others like her anxious to find the fate of their loved ones. These families are entitled to the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their kith and kin.
On January 20, President Gotabaya acknowledged for the first time that more than 20,000 people, mostly Tamils, who disappeared during the country’s civil war are dead. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51184085)
Simply saying they are dead and buried five feet deep will not suffice. The government must be more specific and publish the names of the missing persons.
The Amnesty International commenting on enforced disappearances said “The mass disappearance of those who surrendered at the end of the war is a clear indication of the institutionalization of the practice of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka. The State’s concealment of the fate, whereabouts and information of the disappeared person triggers criminal responsibility. (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2018/05/sri-lanka-release-lists-of-the-forcibly-disappeared/)
The High Commissioner for UNHRC has already expressed concerns by various signs indicating a possible reversal of past commitments by the Government which would setback the promotion of reconciliation, accountability and human rights reduce civic space and erode important institutional safeguards.
The travel ban clamped down on Army Chief Sarvendira Silva and family by the US is possibly the beginning. After Sri Lanka pulls out of the sponsorship of Regulations 30/1 and 40/1, it may face economic sanctions not to speak of the irreparable damage to its democratic image.