By Kalana Senaratne
Can a senior, experienced and responsible politician be taken seriously when he asks the government to investigate allegations of war-crimes levelled by protesting pro-LTTE/separatist groups when that politician is one who seriously believed that the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka should become the President of Sri Lanka not so long ago?
Having defended and supported Fonseka to the hilt, is it correct for Jayasuriya to ask President Rajapaksa to now conduct an investigation concerning what happened during the last stages of the conflict? Jayasuriya is so deeply concerned about Sri Lanka’s image, but he does not tell us, at the outset, how Sri Lanka’s image would have been better projected to the world had Sri Lanka elected its former Army Commander as Head of State; an Army Commander who has been accused of giving orders to commit serious crimes; the candidate Jayasuriya and his colleagues supported in January, 2010.
There is, of course, another question which is: Was this the game that the likes of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya would have liked to play, had Sarath Fonseka won the Presidential election? Would they have brought up this issue of ‘investigations’ to make life difficult for their President, or even to oust him, with the assistance of certain external elements? Or, for instance, could we ever imagine of a situation where (Minister) Karu Jayasuriya would have asked his (President) Sarath Fonseka to carry out an investigation because pro-LTTE groups, around the world, were demanding an investigation? That would have been the end of Mr. Jayasuriya’s political career!
The above is a fundamental issue that makes Jayasuriya’s recent statement and the concerned appeal contained therein look disingenuous. There are, of course, many other questions that arise from Jayasuriya’s statement. It contains an important appeal, but is based on wrong reasons.
Jayasuriya states: "It is clear that the world is growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude. If nothing else, the President’s visit to Britain should be an eye opener for this regime that the only way to restore Sri Lanka’s good name in the world is to investigate these many allegations against us and take genuine steps to address the just claims of the Minority. This is the only way to diminish the credibility of these protesting groups and the only way to counter worldwide sympathy with their cause."
Firstly, this issue was about investigations. And what is there to be investigated according to those who have made these accusations? These are, in the main, war-crimes (allegedly committed mainly by Sri Lankan Armed Forces). So, when the government stated that Mr. Jayasuriya was calling for a war-crimes investigation (and as the title of the report in The Sunday Island suggested). Jayasuriya made the ridiculous counter argument that he never mentioned the term ‘war-crimes’.
This clearly showed that Jayasuriya was not being really truthful, or even courageous, to defend what he actually meant. If not war-crimes, then what? If it had not been ‘war-crimes’ that Jayasuriya was referring to, why should he have made reference to the groups, which protested in London? The protesting groups were not asking for the reduction of the cost of living in Sri Lanka: they were asking for something specific – investigations and/or arrest of President Rajapaksa et al. Either Jayasuriya did not give much thought to it when he was writing it, or did not care to go through what was written for him by someone else.
Secondly, as very correctly pointed out by Prof. GL Peiris (in Parliament) and Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka (in The Island last Monday), those "protesting groups" that Mr. Jayasuriya mentioned were made up of LTTE or pro-LTTE/separatist elements? This was so obvious when it was seen that the protestors were holding the ‘Ealam flag’, and Jayasuriya couldn’t have missed them. Jayasuriya seems to be overly concerned about what these pro-LTTE/separatist groups seem to be saying, without appreciating the fact that their accusations are motivated, principally, by ‘revenge’ and ‘vengeance’.
Does Jayasuriya believe that these very groups that supported the terrorist organization which tried to kill Jayasuriya’s and the UNP’s ‘Common Candidate" Sarath Fonseka have any credibility? It would have been a more open and honest thing if Mr. Jayasuriya had clearly pointed out the specific allegation which needs to be investigated, if he thinks that an investigation is necessary. This is especially so, because he was perhaps one who seems to have believed that in general, the Armed Forces didn’t commit war-crimes at the time he was supporting Presidential candidate Fonseka.
Thirdly, Jayasuriya argues that he never referred to the "West" or the Western-European bloc. Yet, Jayasuriya would know that those who are really "impatient" or "growing impatient" about the Sri Lankan situation are the Western/European States. And here, it needs to be stated, that Sri Lanka should not be too concerned about the demands made, and concerns raised, by the West with regard to war-crimes investigations. This is certainly not an excuse for those in government to lambast the West as if Sri Lanka were an emerging super-power in Asia. But, it should be remembered that the West has no moral right or integrity to coerce Sri Lanka into any serious investigation.
Jayasuriya talks about "growing impatience". Yet, think for a moment - how impatient should other States be, how frustrated should these other States be, for having witnessed, for decades and decades, the callous attitude shown by the West concerning the use of force in armed conflict?
If then, Jayasuriya should realize that there is no question of a "growing frustration". This world is in a frustrated state, anyway; and a very large chunk of the blame should go to the West, the so-called self-appointed promoters of the international rule of law. A more holistic understanding about the frustration of States, as regards the lack of investigations concerning war-crimes committed elsewhere in the world and crimes which are still being committed, could have done Jayasuriya much good.
There are, however, certain issues raised by Jayasuriya which are of much importance. He mentions that it is time to look inwards. He states: "Let us put our house in order before the impunity and hubris of today becomes our collective tragedy and shame tomorrow."
These are important sentiments.
In this regard, it is very important for this government to ensure that Sri Lanka takes seriously the importance of independent investigations and the overall promotion and protection of human rights. But that is not the only message of Jayasuriya. One notes how a politician such as Jayasuriya - who once believed that there was no problem about the last stages of the war or that there was nothing to investigate as regards Fonseka’s conduct as the former Army Commander - is seen to be feeling distressed and concerned about the noise made by pro-LTTE elements at the Heathrow airport.