Mahinda Rajapaksa, Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan parliament and a former Sri Lankan President, has strongly urged the governments of India and Sri Lanka to revive the “Troika” system which managed relations between the two countries during the crucial final phase of the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Speaking on India-Sri Lanka relations at “The Huddle 2019” organized by The Hindu in Bengaluru on Saturday, Rajapaksa said: “You would recollect that a novel mechanism was in place during our time in government and in particular when we, as a country, fought against the most cruel terrorist organization in the world. The Troika, as it was known, helped in no small measure to build a bridge between the leaderships and the associated thought processes of our two countries and thus prevented any misunderstandings when Sri Lanka was engaged in a crucial war against terrorism.”
The relationship in the Troika was “friendly and casual” and that produced the desired outcome, Rajapaksa said.
“I say without any hesitation, that India’s deep understanding of our government’s motive was a key factor that helped us eradicate terrorism. The respective leaderships were consistently and continuously briefed by the relevant Troika thus promoting the high level of understanding that was required to keep the relationship dynamic,” he added.
Inviting Rajapaksa to India “insult” to 1,40,000 Tamils killed by Sri Lankan army
In the context of Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa being invited in India, several human rights activists*, claiming to be concerned about rights violations during the civil war in Sri Lanka, especially in 2009, have joined together to express their dissent through a statement.
According to them, all those “who are concerned about human rights in India must remember that many innocent Tamil people, including women and children were killed, in the war.” The statement calls Rajapaksa a war criminal and drclares: “No invite to Mahinda Rajapaksa! War criminal go back!” It adds, the issue concerns India also because many war victims are still in India, struggling for their basic human rights.
Text of the statement:
We the undersigned strongly condemn the invitation to Mahinda Rajapaksa, war criminal and former President of Sri Lanka, to deliver the inaugural address at the “The Huddle”, an annual conclave organized by “The Hindu” in Bangalore.
The conclave, according to “The Hindu”, is a “thoughts and ideas conclave, a platform that attempts to bring under a single roof some of the best minds from politics, academia, the entertainment industry, the corporate world, sports and civil society”.
Inviting Mahinda Rajapaksa to the event is an insult to the memory of over 1,40,000 innocent Tami civilians killed by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last few months of the civil war in 2009. Rajapaksa, was one of the main architects of the Eelam Tamil genocide, condemned by human rights groups around the world.
Nearly three Lakh Eelam Tamils (Tamils from the north and east of Sri Lanka) who were displaced by war were herded into concentration camps and underwent torture and abuse at the hands of the military. Many of those who surrendered have not been seen again. Thousands of victims of Rajapaksa’s war are still living in Tamil Nadu as refugees.
The Sri Lankan government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained that the war did not have any civilian casualties. But various independent accounts and UN reports have confirmed that the Sri Lankan military targeted civilian structures and ‘No Fire Zones’, with the only aim of maximizing the killings of Tamil civilians. The 2010, Permanent Peoples Tribunal session in Dublin was the first to charge the Sri Lankan government with war crimes, with the set of limited evidences that was available at that time.
The 2011 “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” concluded that “the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace” and also called for an independent international investigation by the UN Secretary General into the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The “The United Nations secretary-general’s internal review on UN action in Sri Lanka” report submitted by Charles Petrie stated “From as early as 6 February 2009, the Sri Lankan Army continuously shelled within areas that became the second No Fire Zone, from all directions, including land, sea and air.
It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 330,000 civilians in that small area”. In 2013, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal session in Bermen, concluded that “On the strength of the evidence presented, the tribunal reached the consensus ruling that the state of Sri Lanka is guilty of the crime of genocide against Eelam Tamils”.
Mahinda Rajapaksa also unleashed unprecedented media suppression in Sri Lanka. Under Rajapaksa dozens of news websites were blocked, media institutions attacked, dozens of journalists were abducted and killed with total impunity. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse gave death threats openly to the dissenting journalists.
Lasantha Wickrematunge, who posthumously received the World Press Freedom Prize awarded by UNESCO, was killed in broad day light for being critical of corruption of the Rajapaksa government, human rights violations and the war. In 2014 the Rajapaksa’s government went to the extent of issuing a circular in which it banned non-governmental organizations from holding press conferences, workshops, training courses for journalists.
Despite all these opinions from UN bodies and international human rights bodies, “The Hindu” has always shown open support to Mahinda Rajapaksa in its editorials and columns. Mahinda Rajapaksa has blood on his hands, the blood of innocent Tamils, honest and brave journalists and uncompromising rights activists.
To call him to deliver an inaugural address at The Huddle is an injustice to not just journalism but humanity itself and we strongly demand that The Hindu drop Rajapaksa from the list of invitees.
*Signatories include: Dr Ram Puniyani, All-India Secular Forum; Binu Mathew, editor, “Countercurrents”, Kochi; Dr Punyabrata Gun, health rights activist, Kolkata; Dr Apoorvanand, Delhi University, New Delhi; Dr Madhumita Dutta, Ohio State University, USA; Dharmesh Shah, environmentalist, Chennai; Satya Sivaraman, journalist, New Delhi; Wilfred D’Costa: INSAF; Shivakumar, writer, activist and journalist; Dr Prabir Chatterjee, Raipur, Chattisgarh; Nityanand Jayaraman, environmental activist, Chennai; and KP Sasi, film maker