Island Editorial: Guilty by suspicion

(Courtesy of The Island)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is apparently wasting its time and money on its campaign to have a hybrid war crimes tribunal set up in this country. For, UN expert and South African human rights lawyer, Yasmin Sooka, has already found the Sri Lankan troops guilty of war crimes!

A member of the UN panel of experts on Sri Lanka, Sooka has faulted multinational fizz drink giant, Coca Cola, for sponsoring a motoring event organised by the Sri Lanka Army in August. She has gone so far as to condemn, as war criminals, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, other officers and men of the Gajaba Regiment, which played a key role in defeating the LTTE.

There have been allegations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan troops. War-winning Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, himself, has accused his successor General Jagath Jayasuriya of having committed war crimes while the latter was serving under him in the Vanni. So, one may argue that foreigners cannot be faulted for levelling war crimes allegations against those who fought under Fonseka’s command. But, as a UN expert and former member of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission of South Africa, it behoves Sooka to act responsibly without letting her prejudices get the better of her.

Ironically, a Tiger who carried out a claymore mine attack on a crowded bus, killing 30 people and injuring many others in 2008 at Piliyandala, was sentenced to life imprisonment, close on the heels of Sooka’s letter to Coca Cola condemning Maj. Gen. Silva et al as war criminals. LTTE suspects currently in custody are lucky that Sri Lanka has not adopted the Sooka method in dealing with them. Else, all of them would have been sentenced before being tried!

President Maithripala Sirisena has declared once again that never will he allow any member of the military to be hauled up before a hybrid war crimes tribunal. One is intrigued. By co-sponsoring the US-crafted UNHRC resolution, his government has, to all intents and purposes, undertaken to conduct a war crimes probe with foreign participation.

So, the question is how President Sirisena can give a cast-iron guarantee that war crimes charges won’t be preferred against any member of the armed forces.

There is no way President Sirisena can say so confidently that he is in a position to prevent a war crimes probe unless he has got an assurance from the US and other western powers behind the UNHRC resolution at issue that they won’t pursue the matter. If so, why have they softened their stand on Sri Lanka, where, they insisted, war crimes had been committed? Is it because of the 2015 regime change, which paved the way for the advent of a pro-western dispensation? Have they subjugated their much-flaunted human rights concerns to their geo-political interests? Is it that they used war crimes allegations as a bludgeon against the pro-Chinese Rajapaksa regime?

Curiously, UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff, who was here recently, called upon the government to honour its Geneva commitments. Addressing the media, he told the government in no uncertain terms that it had to commence a war crimes probe. As we pointed out in a previous comment, he also warned that the case filed in Brazil against former Sri Lankan Ambassador to that country General (retd.) Jagath Jayasuriya was only the tip of the iceberg. The government’s failure to launch a war crimes probe would lead to more such efforts being made internationally, he warned. Overstepping his diplomatic limits, he went to the extent of taking exception to President Maithripala Sirisena’s much-publicised assurance that he will not allow ‘war heroes’ to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes. The government chose to take Greiff’s diplomatic excesses, as it were, lying down. Why? Is it running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?

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