Judicial Investigation Of War Crimes
- Sri Lanka Perspectives: January 2016
by Col. R. Hariharan
Sri Lanka government is once again embroiled in a controversy over international participation in the judicial process to inquire into allegations of war crimes perpetrated by both the Sri Lanka army and the LTTE during the Eelam War. President Maithripala Sirisena in an interview with BBC Sinhala Service last week said he would “never agree to international involvement in this matter …We have more than enough specialists, experts and knowledgeable people in our country to solve our internal issues…. This investigation should be internal and indigenous, without violating the laws of the country, and I believe in the judicial system and other relevant authorities in this regard.”
However in a Channel 4 news interview on January 26, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, when asked whether there would not be any foreign involvement as stated by President Sirisena, said the President had not ruled it out. When asked to confirm there would be an international component, the Prime Minister said, “We are standing by our commitment to the Geneva resolution.” He said the government would put together a mechanism for accountability and reconciliation by May.
Sri Lanka had co-sponsored a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council on the subject which affirmed the importance of a credible justice process and international participation in the judicial mechanism. So the seemingly contradictory stand of the President and Prime Minister has caused concern among stakeholders and the UN.
The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesman Suren Surendiran said the Tamil community would not accept any move on the part of Sri Lanka to deviate from the Geneva resolution. The Tamil National Alliance has also voiced similar objection.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman in response to the President’s statement said the Secretary General wanted international participation in the judicial mechanism investigating Sri Lanka war crimes. His comment was obviously in response to Srisena’s negative response to international involvement in the judicial process.
It is obvious the President and Prime Minister are trying to resolve the differences within the coalition while putting together a viable judicial mechanism to satisfy both people at home and the UNHRC as well as international community.
Ultimately, a compromise of sorts allowing involvement of former Sri Lankan judges who had served in international bodies would be evolved. This was indicated by the government spokesman and Minister of Health Rajitha Senaratne who said, “We have clearly stated that the Independent Domestic War Crimes Court which the UNHRC insists should be established before its next session in June would be manned by Sri Lankan judges. The services of persons such as former judge Weeramantry (a Sri Lankan who had a distinguished career as a judge in the international court of justice for nine years) can be obtained.”
A new opposition party
With the United National Party (UNP) as well as most of the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) members participating in the national government, Rajapaksa loyalists in the joint opposition group in parliament are finding themselves marginalized. Twenty such parliament members announced that they were resigning from the SLFP. They said they would join a new political party to be formed soon. In an interview to the Daily Mirror Basil Rajapaksa, former President Rajapaksa’s brother and Minister for Economic Development has also voiced the need for a new political platform as rank and file of both the SLFP and the UNP are disappointed with their leaders in power and there was no political platform for them to express it.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is not averse to the idea of joining such a party perhaps due to frustration in rallying SLFP members within the SLFP to take on the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo. The arrest and remanding of Yositha Rajapaksa, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second son and naval officer on January 30 in connection with a case of money laundering case has imparted a sense of urgency for a political platform for the Rajapaksas. Investigations into many other cases of corruption and misuse of power involving the family members are also likely to come to a closure in the coming months.The former President who was present in the court when his son was sent to prison called it an act of revenge. He told the reporters, “I don’t mind this if my son has done anything, but I know my son is innocent.”
In the same case under Money Laundering Act Nishantha Ranatunga, who was a CEO of Yositha’s Carlton Sports Network (CSN), has also been arrested.
In this context it is interesting to note former additional secretary in the Ministry of Defence Damayanthi Jayaratne who was being questioned in the Avant Garde arms deal case has fled the country without permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs where she is currently working. The Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power (PRECIFAC) is investigating the case in which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, former president Rajapaksa’s brother and former defence secretary has also been questioned.
ETCA with India
Sri Lanka intends to sign the Indo-Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) by mid 2016. Announcing this, the country’s Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Samarawickrema said the agreement would deepen bilateral relations between the two neighbours. He was speaking at the second international investment promotion forum in Colombo.
Explaining the rationale for the agreement, the minister said that as Sri Lanka has already signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India, China, and Pakistan, the ETCA would provide value addition to fully turn them to further Sri Lanka’s economic and commercial interests.
However, some of the professional bodies like the Organisation of Professional Associations, the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies and the Government Medical Officers’ Association have voiced their opposition to signing the ETCA with India, as they fear invasion of Indian professionals in large numbers into the country to the detriment of local professionals. The Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party which is opposed the signing of the agreement has threatened to launch an agitation against it.
Pakistan PM’s visit
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a three day visit to Sri Lanka that ended on January 6; during the visit the two countries signed eight agreements covering the fields of health care, science and technology, trade, statistics sharing, gem and jewellery, money laundering and terrorism finance and culture. However, a $ 400 million agreement for Sri Lanka to buy Pakistan-made Chinese JF17 Thunder jet fighters which was expected to be signed during the visit did not materialize.
According to media reports Sri Lanka cancelled the order due to Indian pressure. Sirisena regime is trying to balance its relations with India which were skewed in favour of China during the Rajapaksa decade. So Sri Lanka’s reluctance to override Indian concerns is understandable as both countries after regime change are keen to build better Indo-Sri Lanka relations.
Unlike his predecessors, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking at the relations beyond the narrow spectrum of Tamil issue to forge closer economic relations, so that the island nation takes advantage of India’s growth story. Even otherwise, India has close strategic security ties with Sri Lanka particularly in protecting their combined interests in Indian Ocean region. In this context India would be averse to see the presence of Pakistan air force training crew and Chinese air force maintenance crew gaining access to air force facilities in the close vicinity of peninsular India.
(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence officer, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (1987 to 90). He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-mail: email@example.com Blog: http://col.hariharan.info)
Courtesy: South Asia Security Trends, February 20015 issue