Sri Lanka has a tried and tested legal system bequeathed to it by the British. It has produced eminent jurists in the calibre of Neville Samarakoon (QC), who as Chief Justice (CJ), withstood the might of his once good friend, President J.R. Jayewardene by delivering judgments against him, despite Jayewardene’s record steamroller five-sixths majority in Parliament and his audacity to say the only thing he cannot do is to “make a man a woman and a woman, man.”
Samarakoon wasn’t killed because he took that stand, nor was he impeached, though there were moves to implement the latter by Jayewardene, which, however, wasn’t fully executed by him. Samarakoon was allowed to retire gracefully upon reaching the age of 65, the retirement age of CJs in this country.
Another of the island’s products, Christopher Weeramantry, even served as a judge at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, not so long ago.
It’s in this vein that one has to look at an article published in yesterday’s edition of this newspaper under the heading, ‘Calls for int’l war crimes probe ‘insulting,” which was a reproduction of an interview former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had given to a foreign media organization.
To quote excerpts of that interview: “Sri Lanka is united against an international investigation into alleged war crimes during its 26-year-long civil war…
…both the Sri Lankan people and its politicians found the calls for a UN-led international investigation ‘insulting’ by implying that the country could not carry out its own.
…while Sri Lanka would ask the UN to provide technical support, the probe would be a domestic one.
The whole country doesn’t want (an international inquiry) because it is the feeling that it is insulting to the government that we cannot carry out our own investigation in a transparent manner…
‘Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena, has said the country would launch a domestic enquiry into crimes committed during the war with the LTTE, but ruled out the investigation being carried out by an international body…
Filmmaker Callum Macrae recently released No Fire Zone, a ‘documentary,’… accuses the Sri Lankan Government of targeting civilians.
Macrae said that a domestic inquiry would not be credible.
How does he (Sirisena) expect witnesses and survivors of these crimes to come forward and testify at a domestic investigation set up by someone who has effectively said in advance that he ‘doesn’t believe’ the events they will describe? How can such a process be described as ‘impartial’? Macrae said in a press release.
The BBC reported that when Sirisena was asked about the documentary, he said that he doesn’t believe the allegations, but Kumaratunga said “the President had been ‘misunderstood’, and that if the filmmakers had evidence then it should be passed on to the investigators”
The UN has accepted this position, that’s why it has given Sri Lanka time till September of this year, to come up with its own report on war crimes investigations, especially during the last stages of its battle against the LTTE.
In this connection, Sirisena is also reported to have said that such a Commission will be appointed next month.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa too appointed a similar commission to probe war crimes known as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
LLRC in fact has been accepted by the international community as being at least the basis for reconciliation.
Therefore, what the government needs to do is to implement its recommendations and not waste taxpayers’ money by instituting a new commission.
‘Missing persons,’ being victims of war, vis-à-vis the Tamil community, is a key issue from both an international and local perspective, due to its economic and political ramifications on the island.
An LLRC recommendation in this connection is, “A comprehensive approach to address the issue of missing persons should be found as a matter of urgency as it would otherwise present a serious obstacle to any inclusive and long-term process of reconciliation. It is noted that given the past incidents of disappearances from different parts of the country and investigative efforts thereon, past Commissions have recommended, inter alia, a special mechanism to address this issue and deter future occurrences. These recommendations warrant immediate implementation, as these will help address this serious issue, which has arisen in the human rights context and left unimplemented by successive governments. Continued failure to give effect to such critical recommendations of past commissions give rise to understandable criticism and scepticism regarding government appointed commissions from which the LLRC has not been spared.”
Despite the apparent political mindset of Sri Lanka’s 70% Sinhala Buddhist majority, Sirisena will have to have that iron will to start acting on the LLRC recommendations, elections notwithstanding.
The reality is that the Tamil question and its international ramifications will be a political tool in a poll, a general election or not, to woo the Sinhala Buddhist vote, by the politician in the South. So, delaying its implementation will not help Sri Lanka.