War crimes and sexual offences Lack of evidence, main bugbear

BY Mirudhula Thambiah

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader Veerasingham Anandasangaree said any charges relating to war crimes on sexual abuse, rape or murder cannot be proved as there was hardly any evidence since most of the crimes were not visible to the people. Also affected victims are mostly women who will rarely be in a situation to give evidence of sexual abuse and rape.

“There are certain things from which you cannot escape, as there is concrete evidence. However, it is hard to prove war crimes, sexual abuse and rape because there is no eyewitness accounts. Therefore, it is difficult to prove such crimes,” he said.

Excerpts:

Vijay Nambiar, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special political adviser is seen at a joint press conference with members of a UN delegation and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in Madrid 19 July 2006. Terje Roed-Larsen, Annan's adviser on Lebanese-Syrian issues on Wednesday urged a rapid decision on whether to deploy a new international force in an attempt to halt the fighting in the Middle East, "We are in a hurry. It has to happen fast." AFP PHOTO / BRU Garcia

Vijay Nambiar, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special political adviser

?Ministers recently said they will back the security forces in the war crimes probe. Special lawyers will be hired to appear on behalf of them and if they are found guilty, they will be pardoned. Do you think that the domestic mechanism will work?
A: This is a serious issue. I will blame the government if it tries to defend the Army. You must leave it to the local Court to decide. We have confidence in our judges. If we don’t have confidence in the judges, we must change them.
We cannot be fooling the people all the time. Most of the cases relate to women who have been sexually abused, tortured, raped and murdered. Therefore, a special panel of judges with female judges should be appointed to hear these cases in camera since no Sri Lankan woman would like to say she was raped or sexually abused. Backing the security forces in the inquiry is wrong and it will be biased.
? Tamils in Sri Lanka have been demanding an international inquiry on war crimes. Even the international community was somewhat backing their claim. The recent UNHCR sessions have changed their demands. Does it mean that the international community has betrayed the Tamils?
A: Tamil leaders have betrayed the Tamils. Most of them do not know the difference between an international inquiry and a local inquiry. They even do not know whether the offenders should be tried in local or international Courts. Thus, the Tamil leaders, especially the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have misled them.

Until the general elections, TNA was demanding an international inquiry. When one of their prominent members returned from London, he announced that Sri Lanka should have a domestic inquiry similar to an international inquiry. They are acting as if the others are fools. People are not fools. When I said most women are victims, people accepted it. These are sensitive issues. We cannot play the fool with the sentiments of women. Therefore, I put the blame on TNA for trying to fool the people.

Sri-Lanka-army-cleared-2? As a minority political party leader, how do you view the UNHCR report and the new US resolution adopted recently?
A: There are certain things from which you cannot escape when there is concrete evidence. When there is no evidence, it is hard to prove. I don’t think they will be able to prove any of the charges. Who are the people involved? Where did the witnesses collect evidence? Have they got written records or are they relying on what they saw on television?.

? As you said if it cannot be proved, what will be the plight of the affected people?
A: This is why I said we need women judges and lawyers to deal with the matter and compensate the victims. It is the only way to help the affected people.

? Is the payment of compensation sufficient for all the grievances of the innocent women?
A: As women are the victims, we need evidence to prove the charges. Unlike our local politicians, we must tell them that they are too innocent to understand these matters. The Courts will look into them and the judges will be extremely careful when there is no concrete evidence.

? Most Tamil politicians say that a domestic mechanism will not be impartial. Why do they say so?
A: I’m the only person who talks with some sense on this matter. Unfortunately, I become the victim of circumstances, as I take a different stand. I’m asking whether we have concrete evidence in any case to prove the crimes. My assumption is that there is hardly any. This happened a long time ago behind the iron curtain of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), where people weren’t free to criticize them. People were not even free to watch an incident. So how can we prove that people were detained at Puthumattalan. Therefore, it is hard to prove.

?Why do you continuously emphasize that crimes cannot be proved?
A: In Western countries people have the courage to give evidence. Have you ever found a local girl giving evidence when she is raped? They don’t do so because they are concerned about their future. All the sympathy a victimized girl had will vanish and she will be looked upon as an outcast. The culprit should be punished, but unfortunately he cannot be identified.

abHU_LmI5zAm?The government has assured that the report of the domestic mechanism will be released within 18 months. Do you think the government will do so?
A: The government has come out with some fantastic ideas. However, it will ask for another 18 months. Don’t forget that the government has a moral duty to defend the Army.

? Why do you say that political prisoners should begiven a general pardon?

A: We should be fair by everyone. What did they do? Hardcore criminals are representing various political parties. They were pardoned after signing of the Indo – Lanka Accord. People who are very much involved in crimes are now in Parliament and Local Government institutions. If the government can pardon them, they can pardon the others. I’m asking for something which the government has done earlier.

?People in the South are very much against any kind of inquiry. What kind of role will they play in the war crimes inquiry?
A: A local inquiry will help to arrest many culprits. They cannot run away. The suspects and victims are around the place. We have to see it from a different angle. Most of the war crimes are related to Sinhala soldiers. At the same time, there are less victims of the above nature who were subjected to sexual abuse and rape during the war. That way they will sympathize with their community.

?Do you think the Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan’s proposal on 3-5 regions as a part of power sharing process for the ethnic issue will be appropriate?
A: Sampanthan has no business to make such a proposal, apart from whether it is good or bad. He has no moral right to be the Leader of the Opposition. At the 2004 general elections, it was entirely organized by LTTE. Candidates were not allowed to campaign and vote. I was one of the victims. All the TNA candidates won. This organization should be banned. It is a duplicate of an organization which has already been banned in this country. Thus Sampanthan doesn’t have a moral right to talk even on Tamil rights.
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