Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for March, 2017

The CID on Military Intelligence Death Squads

Posted by harimpeiris on March 29, 2017

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily news of  29th  March  2017)

It should have been a political bombshell of huge magnitude but it turned out not to be. It should have halted the Joint Opposition SLFP faction’s fascination with Gotabaya Rajapakse, but it did not. Recently in the course of case proceedings in the Mt.Lavinia Magistrate’s Court into the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the country’s premier criminal investigative department of the Police, revealed in Court, that the Sri Lankan military’s intelligence apparatus had run a death squad operation, which was outside the military’s normal chain of command and directly overseen by the then President Rajapaksa’s brother and defense secretary Gotabaya. The next day as expected, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse issued the standard blanket denial, which was the hall mark of the Rajapaksa Administration, of any such role or responsibility for a military intelligence death squad. However, this piece of evidence by the CID raises serious issues for Sri Lanka and her democracy and require careful, fulsome and comprehensive public debate, which also cannot and should not be squashed through self-censorship and media manipulation.

1. It is CID evidence in court, not a political claim on a platform.

During the 2015 presidential election, the issue of the fear psychosis in Sri Lankan society, the brutality of the Rajapakse Administration, the white van syndrome, abductions, the forced disappearance culture and the allegation that the national security apparatus which had been so effective against the LTTE was now being turned against democratic political opponents of the Rajapaksa’s’ had been alleged from the political platform. But it was two years later, that the credible information available at the time of the campaign had now translated itself into evidence acceptable in a court of law, under the evidence ordinance. The CID was not merely repeating the claims made by the then Army Commander, about his intelligence wing, but had, we can safely assume, as is common in any investigation crossed checked with other witnesses, suspects and sources.

 2. The Rajapaksa’s tried to politicize the military but failed.

The Rajapaksa’s unsuccessfully sought to politicize the Sri Lankan military and use it as a political tool. By and large, Sri Lanka’s fighting forces, our best, resisted this effort and continued in the best traditions of a professional military which did not seek to bow to the illegal whims and fancies of a government of the day. In mid night attempts to use the military to suspend the results of the January 2015 election the Rajapaksa’s failed. The postal voting from places such as Jaffna district where the bulk of the Army is stationed and postal voters are mostly the military, demonstrated that the military rank and file comprehensively rejected the Rajapaksa’s. It is perhaps only in the shadowy world of military intelligence in the capital Colombo and the south, that the lethal force of the State’s national security apparatus was turned on democratic political opponents.

Civilian control of the military is an essential feature of a democracy. What the CID evidence reveals in the Wickramatunga murder was clear, that the military apparatus headed by the President’s brother operated as a law unto itself and was accountable to no one. Not only the military intelligence but from Avant Garde to Rakna Lanka, from the new Defense headquarters building fund to dalliance with violent extremist groups it is clear that the Rajapakse defense set up was accountable to no one. Not Parliament, the auditor general or any other statutory or state body. During the conflict era, maximum operational leeway needs to be given a military to conduct operations and as former President Jayawardena famously quoted the ancient Roman Empire Era’s Senator and philosopher Cicero, “in the fight of good against evil, the laws are silent”. However now, the evil threat of the LTTE to Sri Lanka was comprehensively eliminated on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon in 2009. We cannot and must not live in peace time, like in war time. We cannot have a war psychosis, which adds to the anxiety of the populace, negates the comprehensive nature of the victory won by the armed forces and significantly reduces the normalization of society and confidence in law and order required for investment, commerce and economic prosperity. The military intelligence must be held totally accountable to Parliament. Currently the world’s most powerful military, the US military and its civilian executive leadership holds itself accountable to a variety of Congressional committees.

3.Implications for the Thajudeen murder and other crimes

The existence of state controlled, military intelligence linked illegal armed assassins and hit squads have serious implications for the ongoing investigations into the murder of former Thomian, Havelock’s and national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, the abduction of editor Keith Noyar, Poddala Jayantha and the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda. The allegation during the 2015 election, (It was unsafe to allege anything before an election campaign, because any one alleging anything against a Rajapaksa, ran the serious risk of sharing the same fate as either Keith Noyar, Poddala Jayantha or the ultimate fate of Thajudeen and Ekneligoda among others), was that these were ordered and carried out by state actors under government orders. The CID in the Lasantha Wickramatunga case, is now presenting evidence to corroborate this in court. It is in this context, that President Sirisena has stated that if he had challenged the Rajapaksa’s and lost, he would have been six feet under (killed).

Sri Lanka post the end of the war, must have a public life and social culture that is different from the national security state of the war decades. Our people demanded better in 2015 and our future generations deserve better. The CID evidence, is one more fact, which clearly reveals why Sri Lanka needs real reform, including security sector reform. Nationalist elements bristle when there is criticism of the Sri Lankan state and her institutions and through the Joint Opposition (JO) having been blocking every attempt at real reform. Military intelligence death squads unleased against democratic political opposition in post war peace times, demonstrates exactly why Sri Lanka needs national reconciliation and deep social healing.

(The writer is Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are personal)

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Avoid hysteria regarding UNHRC & pursue reconciliation

Posted by harimpeiris on March 21, 2017

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily news of  21st  March  2017)

The ongoing sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, has seen heightened public interest and escalating rhetoric with regard to both the state reforms and reconciliation processes. The Joint Opposition (JO), basically the political grouping supporting defeated President Mahinda Rajapakse has been ratcheting up its anti-reform and anti-reconciliation rhetoric in to overdrive. The political heat generated though creates more confusion rather than throwing light on the relevant facts, which should be considered with due seriousness and careful consideration.

 

The national unity approach in Geneva

 

The foreign (& indeed domestic) policy approach of the National Unity Government formed in 2015, is at considerable variance with that followed by its predecessor. Indeed, it should be so, since the Rajapakse approach, post the end of the war, failed to maintain our international friends, all of whom had supported Sri Lanka’s battle against the LTTE, isolated Sri Lanka, damaged our relations with trading partners and resulted in a growing self-imposed isolation from the world. Rather than building bridges and engaging the world, which is what is required for a strategically placed, island nation.

Co-sponsoring the resolution in Geneva, was and is the right thing to do, as it clearly states to the world, that Sri Lanka as a sovereign state, takes responsibility for its own actions and is ready to be accountable for compliance with its international obligations, as a free and equal member of the international community of nations. Our robust engagement with the world, enhances and promote rather than detracts from our national interest. Our national interests, whether security, economic or socio-cultural are not served by becoming a pariah state.

 

Much ado about foreign judges

 

The joint opposition of the defeated Rajapakse regime, makes much ado and seeks to create some hysteria about the sections of the resolution which talk of foreign participation in accountability processes including judges, prosecutors etc. However, it must be noted that it was the very act of the Rajapakse regime in summarily sacking former Chief Justice Shiranie Bandaranaike and imposing an interloper at the apex of Sri Lanka’s judiciary, which severely eroded international and indeed domestic confidence in Sri Lanka’s judiciary, the Bar Association leading the opposition to the impugned removal of Chief Justice Bandaranaike. The restoration of the independence of the judiciary, best symbolized by the restoration of Chief Justice Bandaranaike after the 2015 presidential election, was the first step in restoring confidence in Sri Lanka’s judiciary.

 

Firstly, it was the Rajapakse Administration which introduced foreign jurists into Sri Lanka’s transitional justice mechanisms, when President Rajapaksa’s Special Presidential Commission on Grave Human Rights Abuses also comprised of the International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP) led by former Indian Chief Justice Bhagwatti and aided by foreign legal experts in prosecutions and forensics. Moreover, the subsequent Rajapakse Administration creation of the Paranagama Commission was also assisted by a foreign judge and lawyers. Moreover, all Sri Lankans are no doubt proud that eminent Sri Lankan judges serve on both foreign national judiciaries and international legal tribunals, late Justice Weeramantry being the best-known example. But other Sri Lankan judges have also served in Fiji, Botswana and several other countries.

 

Secondly, the UNHRC Resolution categorically states that the accountability process and the institutions or mechanisms created would be a domestic (Sri Lankan) process. Clearly a Sri Lankan process, would be Sri Lankan led and managed with such expertise, assistance and support as required to ensure, a credible process, whose outcome everybody can trust.

 

Focus on reconciliation

 

The real problem with the current tone, tenor and content of the political debate, especially as defined by the Joint Opposition (JO) is that it completely ignores the reality and the national need for what President Sirisena has frequently defined as “Sanhindiyawa” or reconciliation, which is dealing with the effects and the causes of our near three decades of civil conflict. Which Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, so aptly refers to as “addressing the failures of dealing with our diversity”, which has cost our nation dearly. We owe it to our future generations of Sri Lankans that we do not bequeath them a nation, which is ethnically polarized, with simmering communal tensions and a sub optimal economy, where the national past time of the young and not so young, including mothers, is to leave the country.

 

Sri Lanka like any country requires reform and the National Unity Administration of President Sirisena and Prime Minster Wickramasinghe was elected on a platform of reform, economic development and reconciliation. The quick, easy wins in that process was achieved during the one hundred (100) day program in 2015. Much of the ground work for the harder more substantial measures on reforms, economic development and reconciliation was done last year in 2016 and the current year should be the one which sees some of the fruition of those efforts. To oppose such reforms due to focusing on mid-term local government and provincial elections is extremely short sighted and definitely not in the national interest.

 

A political opposition in a democratic society does have a crucial role to play as a watch dog and a constructive critic, holding a government accountable. However, the current political rhetoric and the consequent social tensions generated is more polarizing and divisive than constructive. A national reform process, must indeed be inclusive and this includes not only the majority monoethnic JO but also accommodate and include the ethnic minority and other smaller parties, to ensure that the reformed institutions of the Sri Lankan state, accommodates the full diversity of our nation’s multi ethnic and multi religious society.

 

(The writer is Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are personal)

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