An Interview with Karu Jayasuriya by Namini Wijedasa
Karu Jayasuriya, the UNP deputy leader, last week said he did not know why the government was agitated over a statement he issued in good faith. He maintained also that he had never alleged war crimes had been committed by Sri Lankan troops. Excerpts:
Did you draft the statement or simply lend your signature to it?
It was my statement and I take full responsibility for it.
Given the nature of politics in the country, did you not expect a controversy?
My intentions were pure. I know it was a very strong statement. I also had very strong sentiments about the way things were happening in the country. These are not just mine but the sentiments of this country’s people.
Did you get party approval for it or was it a personal statement?
Every time you issue a statement you don’t need party approval. Of course the party hierarchy was aware that I was issuing a statement on behalf of the incident that happened. We are a democratic party and I enjoy my freedom of expression.
What was your objective in issuing that statement?
Our colleague Jayalath Jayawardana was harassed, assaulted and insulted inside parliamentary premises, and accused of taking part in the rally against the president. I know how his family suffered. I got telephone calls from our branches everywhere... in the UK, Geneva and Europe. Dr Jayawardana has been a frequent visitor to Europe. He’s our additional secretary in charge of human rights. Lately he has been travelling quite frequently on General Fonseka’s imprisonment, talking to connected institutions in Switzerland and the UK. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all know that the president went to Geneva when he was in the opposition in 1989 against the situation in the country. We have also asked Dr Jayawardana to strengthen the UNP branch organisations including our branch and youth league in London and to look into the setting up of professional organisations for the UNP.
So that is what you did?
I took the liberty of saying, “Don’t do this”. If there are accusations against the country, look inwards. I never used the words ‘war crimes’ or ‘diaspora’ in the first place. It was not ethical for the journalist who did this to give interpretations to that. I have never at any time wanted foreign intervention or investigation. I was one of the people that voted against LTTE atrocities, supporting the government for two years. I left the government on 10 December 2008 after voting for the 2009 budget that enabled them to buy military equipment. It’s grossly unfair to label me with a Tiger brand. On the other hand, I’m not surprised because the former army commander who was responsible for the defeat of the LTTE is also branded a traitor. We accept the fact that president gave political leadership, defence secretary gave the required coordination and the strength, service commanders and police played their role as did everyone else but the former army commander played the biggest role.
Was the government’s treatment of Dr Jayawardana the only factor that prompted your statement?
I must also tell you that if the president of a country is insulted, it’s an insult to the country and all of us. When we travel abroad, we always maintain the respect of the country. We have no personal grudges against the president. We only disagree on policy matters. We don’t agree for instance with the policy on the executive presidency or the 18th Amendment. Therefore, it’s highly uncalled for that we are called traitors merely because we express an opinion. I don’t know why this type of approach is taken. We all want the pride and self respect of the country to be maintained, that can only be done by not leaving room for various international forces to point fingers at Sri Lanka.
What is your position on war crimes?
Sri Lankan forces fought the world’s worst terrorist enemy. In such instances, you can’t expect everything to happen to perfection. Even if there were excesses, they would have been under exceptional circumstances. I always respect the gallant forces and the role played by the Sri Lanka army. If this happened in any other part of the world, the casualties would have been much more. The fundamental principles governing this kind of international investigation that is being threatened against the Sri Lankan state is the proof that the local justice system has failed or is not in a position to deliver justice. By not addressing these accusations we are playing into the hands of our enemies who want to drag our military and political leaders in front of an international tribunal. My point is that the only way we can prevent outsiders investigating us is for us to conduct a credible investigation of our own.
This is the only way to exonerate the good name of the entire military. It has been done before in this country during war time, under different administrations. The reason why this is so controversial now is that there is no room in this country any more for political discourse that differs from the official line. The time for playing local politics is past. This is a national issue, one that affects the very core of our value systems as a nation. We need to act, to prevent others acting for us and bringing disrepute to our forces. I always maintain we must protect the Sri Lankan forces; there cannot be charges against the Sri Lankan forces. We have to maintain that. But what we say is that when charges are made tell the world what exactly happened. There are things that could take place in certain abnormal circumstances. For instance, if you are attacked you have to attack back. Even a court of law allows that. It’s just a matter of explaining, I’m sure the world will understand.
Your statement speaks of investigating and telling the truth. Do you expect prosecutions to take place?
My personal view is that our soldiers have done their duty. However the charges being brought against us are of the utmost seriousness. They are accusations we cannot as a civilised nation, ignore. Why can’t prosecution take place? Has it not happened before? We are not the first nation in history to be accused of excesses during conflict, nor is this the first time such things have happened in Sri Lanka. You may recall, during the JVP insurrection of 1971 an army officer was accused of raping and killing Premawathie Manamperi, a mass grave was found in Suriyakanda in the early 90s, military personnel were accused of killing Krishanti Kumaraswamy in Jaffna. In all these cases, there was agitation for justice both locally and internationally and the Sri Lankan government allowed a local investigation and the perpetrators were found and prosecuted under Sri Lankan law. In those instances, justice prevailed and as a result the whole military and the nation did not suffer the ignominy of being accused of ‘war crimes’. Had similar steps been taken to address these allegations when they were first brought against us in the current context, we wouldn’t be fighting this losing battle in the world today. We have the processes to look into the allegations ourselves, in a credible way that will alleviate international pressure and restore our image in the world.
What about the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission?
I don’t think the commission is going deeper into those areas at the moment and I think they should. In my view we must tell the world that we fought the worst terrorist organisation in the world. Even if there were excesses, that would be under exceptional circumstances. There are two ways of settling this. Most Western countries are highly sensitive to press freedom, democracy, and the rule of law and so on. When they raise issues in those areas, the best way would be to explain the actual position. If any country makes a statement against Sri Lanka, the normal practice would be for that envoy of the country to be called to the foreign ministry so that we can lodge a protest. Unfortunately, when things like that happen we go before the relevant embassy, stage a ‘bali-thovil’ ceremony, hoot at them, throw stones and become an international joke. This is not the way to handle international affairs. We are living in a civilised world and these countries follow the Vienna Convention. What I meant was that I simply can’t understand why the government got agitated on a matter which I raised in good faith.
How do you react to being labelled a traitor?
As much as the so-called patriots, we love the country. I was a military officer for seven years, I have been a diplomat and I raised both hands for the elimination of terrorism being part of the government. Therefore, if they dare to label me as a Tiger supporter they are sadly mistaken and people will not believe it. But I will always stand for democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and I will fight for those virtues unto my death.
Do you expect the government’s proposed no-faith motion against you to materialise?
As far as normal parliamentary laws are concerned, a no-faith motion can only be brought against somebody holding office. You can’t bring it against an opposition MP. On the other hand, even if I lose my seat, this is not my employment. I don’t live out of being MP, I’m performing a service. My policies will not change. I will speak for what is right and I will speak the truth.
Why did you not openly identify the crowds who protested against President Rajapaksa as LTTE supporters?
The reports reaching us said there were not only LTTE supporters but others. - courtesy: Lakbima News -