Sri Lankan Army Chief unwittingly admits committing war crimes

BY RAMANAN VEERASINGHAM21 OCTOBER 2013
Inadvertently confirming that his troops have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the name of wiping out the Tamil Tiger rebels, Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake has said earlier this week that the entire “world has been exhibited the way in which we defeated” the 30-year long separatist armed struggle in the island nation in May 2009. “The entire world has been exhibited the way in which we responded to those who attempted to divide the country. They know what happened to Prabhakaran and his people who came with such campaigns. Those who are aware of what has happened (to them) would not attempt to go back to those ways,” Army Commander Ratnayake has said without mincing his words at a military event in the Wanni on Tuesday (15). Not stopping with the confirmation of committing such crimes, the Army Commander has also issued a public warning while speaking among the troops in the former war zone, that his troops would have no hesitation but to repeat such crimes if separatism rises again in the country. “The message we give to the masses here is that as long as the people do politics or related activities within the democratic framework, we all can live happily. Instead, if anyone deviates from it and becomes extremists or tries to divide the country, it is not

the country that will be divided, but their heads that will be severed from their bodies,” the 20 th Commander of the Sri Lankan army has said, apparently drawing similar lines to that of his political masters with regard to truth, accountability and justice. His remarks have come at a time when Sri Lanka is under mounting international pressure more than ever before, to investigate the widespread allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the final months of the war that ended in May 2009. The UN (Expert Panel and the Review Panel reports) investing to those widespread allegations, has found most of those “allegations credible”. If the UNHRC has given Colombo an ultimatum to Colombo to conduct a credible local investigation into such allegations or face an international probe, of the country’s top donor Canada is boycotting an international summit there (CHOGM), citing its adverse rights record. Projecting that as many as 70,000 people may have been killed during the final months of the war, a UN report says that the death toll could well have been much more than its estimates. After a fact-finding mission, head of UNHRC Navaneetham Pillay said last month that the country under the Rajapaksa administration is “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction” with democracy being badly undermined and rule of law being eroded. The Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joesh quoting reliable information and statistics has said that 146,679 people have not been accounted for in the North during the last eight months of the war. He still maintains the figure even after being quizzed by the CID for making such statement. Even four years after the end of the war, the country’s armed forces are credibly accused of still engaging in widespread rape, sexual abuses and extra-judicial killings. Journalists, lawyers and government critiques are threatened, intimidated, and killed under the incumbent coalition government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Far reaching consequences Army Commander Ratnayake’s controversial speech has come just weeks after the electoral victory of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the north, where the military maintains huge presence while visibly expanding its bases and cantonments. Commenting on his speech, a human rights lawyer in Colombo said that making such powerful rhetoric remarks while addressing the troops in the Wanni, could result in “farreaching consequences on the ground where there is little or no democracy and rule of law”. “There are enough legal provisions in the country to deal with those who attempt to divide the country. The Army Commander wowing to behead those working to separate the country comes as a confirmation that the North, if not the entire country, is still under military rule. The military laymen on the ground would find it very encouraging in indulging in such crimes, under the prevailing culture of immunity,” the lawyer told the JDS via phone, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “In other functioning democracies, an army commander speaking publicly about

beheading the people could have earned him a prolonged jail sentence. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, it is seen as heroism and patriotism,” he said. A criminal threat Another legal expert, who is currently on a visit to European countries, said that as the head of the Army, Lieutenant General Ratnayake has all the right to talk about the safety and security of the country within the legal means, “but publicly talking about beheading simply amounts to a criminal threat”. “Making such statements publicly itself is a criminal offence under Sri Lanka’s legal framework. The Army Commander has virtually confirmed what has been the intent of the Sri Lankan army in dealing with the LTTE and the Tamil ethnic question,” the legal expert said. Selvam Adaikalanthan, the Wanni District Parliamentarian of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that these kinds of statements from the head of an arm service “can often be very dangerous, especially at a fragile situation of no-war and no-peace situation”. “It would certainly encourage the soldiers on the ground to involve in more violence. These soldiers are trained to deal with violence and the Army Commander’s statement will come as a moral boost to double their violent intentions, under prevailing culture of full-scale impunity,” he said. “All what we, the Tamils request and fight for is to live with dignity on the basis of recognising Tamils as a nation with equal rights within one country. These kinds of irresponsible statements by a person of Army Commander’s calibre would certainly run the risk of encouraging the entire soldiers to view our people’s voice and their quest to fight peacefully and democratically for their rights and political aspirations, as means for separation”. Coming hard on the growing ultra nationalist elements in the southern part of the island, the Wanni MP said that the extremist forces (within the government and outside) that are unable to bear our landslide electoral victory at the Northern Provincial poll “are hell-bent to project this as a mandate for separation”. “They are busy occupying almost all the television channels to create this idea among the masses in the South. The Army Commander’s statement against this background will add insult to injury. Will the Army Commander who talked about the democratic mainstream, take steps to stop the ongoing military land grab and release vast stretch of lands to the rightful owners in the Wanni and help our people to lead their normal life without any military interference?” the Wanni MP quarried. Before winding up his trip to the Wanni Army Commander Ratnayake, has also

ceremonially unveiled a Buddhist temple in Mankulam. The construction of the temple was fully supported by the military’s Wanni headquarters.

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