BY GAGANI WEERAKOON
With back to back terror attacks rocking London and Manchester, British Prime Minister Theresa May called that time has come to say ‘enough is enough’.Britain came under three terrorist attacks in the last three months. Premier May said that as terrorism breeds terrorism and perpetrators are inspired to attack, not only on the basis of carefully constructed plots after years of planning and training, and not even as lone attackers radicalized online, but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.
“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change and they need to change in four important ways.
“First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism.
“It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.
“Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time, but it cannot be defeated by military intervention alone.”
She also said, “we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed.Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.
“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.
“And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online. Third, while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world.
“Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it also means taking action here at home.While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult, and often embarrassing, conversations. But the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism, and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom.”
Though, May’s stance on taking ‘every possible’ action against terrorism regardless of human rights once again provides evidence of the hypocrisy of the West, when dealing with matters concerning other countries, her call to not provide breeding ground to Islamic or any other extremist group cannot be ignored.
As a country which fought to end a terrorism militarily eight years ago, Sri Lanka too is facing a challenge of keeping its regained political stability and national security with both Islamic and Buddhist extremists groups taking centre stage from time to time.
While, there were intelligence reports indicating the need of the hour to end extremist groups operating in Sri Lanka, before it was too late, both present and past governments continue to trade charges against each other for being ignorant.
It was in 2014, that State Intelligence Service provided a comprehensive report of Sri Lanka being a haven for extreme militant groups but the defence authorities at the time seemed to have taken it for granted.
Meanwhile, during the latter part of 2016 Indian intelligence services sought stronger cooperation from Sri Lankan security forces and intelligence services through the Sri Lankan Government in tracking down terrorist outfits operating in the country.
They have, according to sources, confirmed that terrorist outfits and extremist groups like Al-Qaida, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), ISIS and IKK (Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq) are using Sri Lanka, especially the Eastern Province as a strategic posting point and operation centre. In addition, the comprehensive intelligence report also states that they have screened about 55 Maldives nationals and several other Sri Lankans of being members of these terrorist outfits.
According to the report, ISIS and Al-Qaida uses Sri Lanka and the Maldives as they could not access Chennai that easily.
Even though, India had warned Sri Lanka on similar issues from time to time, it came to a turning point after arresting Maulana Umar Madan in 2009 in Chennai.
Investigations proved that he was a frequent traveller to the Eastern Province and happened to be one of the close confidants of JuD (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) leader Hafiz Saeed and second in command Abdul Rehman Makki.
With Mohammed Rafeeq, a confirmed plant by ISIS being arrested for attempting to target the Israeli Consulate in Bangaluru they insisted the Sri Lankan authorities to be on the alert.
According to reports, these groups operate as a fake Indian currency manufacturing team. Anderson China arrested a suspect with 2. 5 million Indian currency in Guangzhou city on 19 August 2016.
The suspect had arrived in China from Colombo and Indian intelligence, were able to apprehend him with the assistance of its Sri Lankan and Chinese counterparts.
Therefore, it is evident that India has highlighted the importance of intelligence sharing and cooperation.
However, despite these warnings authorities continue to ignore the acts of extremism.
Even though, it was widely accused that the last (Mahinda Rajap[aksha) regime was nurturing Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups like the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balaya and the Sinhala Ravaya, such groups and their activities seems to have revived once again under the Yahapalana Government, as well.
While some argue that both these Sinhala Buddhist and Islamic extremist groups are still operating within the democratic framework and have not resorted to taking up arms, one should not ignore the fact that global terrorism has changed its patterns of violence and are not limited to simply waging wars against governments. The attack on the London Bridge proves that the extremist terror groups are now opting for isolated attacks and also focus on waging their terror on innocent civilians.
The revival of Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist groups by allegedly carrying out certain attacks on selected busines entities after a ‘break’ also raises questions. While, the doubt of Bodu Bala Sena’s involvement in these attacks have neither been officially confirmed or denied, following thorough investigation, one cannot also rule out the possibility of extreme Islamic groups of carrying out attacks on those who are not aligning with their ideologies. The defence authorities are now concentrating, according to reliable sources, on asserting whether it is a single element that nurture and fund both Islamic and Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups in the country, in order to destabilize normalcy.
UN resolution debated
The Joint Opposition in Parliament charged that the report of the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka was misleading and its recommendations were harmful to the nation.
Moving an adjournment motion on the repeal of the United Nations (UN) Resolution on Sri Lanka, MP Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that the UNHRC Report on Sri Lanka dated 10 February 2017 had stated that Sri Lanka had formulated a Draft of the new Constitution in December 2016, which he claimed was untrue.
“This report states that a Draft of a new Constitution was completed by Sri Lanka last December. This is false. No such draft has been formulated. This report is full of lies attempting to mislead the international community,” he added.
He went on to say that the UN Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka would do more harm to the country.
He also said that as a result of the Resolution, a witch-hunt was carried out against members of the Armed Forces in the course of which they were arrested and detained without the possibility of bail.
“Members of our Armed Forces have been hunted and arrested in a vengeful manner. As a result our forces have lost confidence and even our intelligence community is not performing to the best of its ability as they too are afraid”.
However, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan pointed out that it was the policy of confrontation and refusal to participate that led to the Resolution being adopted in 2015. “This is undeniable and the former Government must accept responsibility for that situation,” he said.
“I might say very clearly that the Sri Lankan State is bound by the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council and that it is the bounden duty of the Sri Lankan State to implement that Resolution. We should really work towards how that can be achieved without any harm being done to this country. That should be our objective. The causes and events that led to this situation, to this Resolution being adopted, occurred during the tenure of the former Government. The present Government took over when conclusions, decisions had been arrived at by the UN Human Rights Council. Not having been able to contain the situation despite being given every opportunity from 2012, the former Government could not have contained the situation when decisions had been arrived at in 2015 by the UN Human Rights Council.
The former Government was given every opportunity to implement its own LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations and conduct its own domestic investigations in 2012, 2013 and up to 2014,” he said.
“One must not forget that this whole process commenced when the then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, gave a commitment to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, on 26 May 2009 when the Secretary-General visited Sri Lanka, to the effect that Rajapaksa, the President, and the Sri Lankan Government would address the question of accountability.
“That was a commitment very clearly made by the then President to the Secretary-General of the UN when the Secretary-General came here. President Rajapaksa undoubtedly knew what he was doing because he himself had gone to Geneva in the late 1980s, in 1988 and 1989 – to seek the intervention of the UN Human Rights body when there were grave violations of human rights and humanitarian laws in the South of this country, when Sinhala civilian youth and Sinhala people were being slaughtered in their thousands, indeed tens of thousands, at that point of time. The only difference is that what happened in 2008–2009 happened in the North,” Sampanthan opined.
According to him, nobody is complaining on behalf of the armed combatants. “Rajapaksa did not complain on behalf of armed combatants when he went to Geneva in 1988 and 1989. He only complained about what happened to civilians. The UN Human Rights Council is also dealing with what happened to civilians. In fact, simultaneously, investigations have been conducted against the armed combatants about their own violations of human rights laws and humanitarian laws also against civilians. This culture of impunity should not continue. It should come to an end.”
“What happened to unarmed civilians in violation of human rights and humanitarian laws must not be confused with legitimate actions taken by the State against armed combatants carrying on an armed struggle against the State. The distinction between these two situations is clearly defined in humanitarian laws and human rights laws, and the standards of judgement pertaining to the applicability of the said two laws are clearly recognized internationally.
“I do not think all war heroes were engaged in committing violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights laws but some of them undoubtedly committed crimes against both those laws.Can the cases pertaining to journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, and five students murdered in Trincomalee when they were standing on the beachfront or the 17 aid workers killed in Muttur be swept under the carpet merely because the persons who are accused of those crimes are members of the Armed Forces; so called war heroes? If those crimes cannot be swept under the carpet merely for the reason that those acts were committed by war heroes, how can violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law which are crimes against humanity committed in 2008-2009 be swept under the carpet? This was impunity at its zenith.”
“No one should be allowed to confuse the execution of legitimate duties by a government with the wanton killing of unarmed civilians in furtherance of the political agendas of persons holding high office. Unless this culture is brought to an end, it will continue and that must not be allowed”.