By Mangala Samaraweera
The Rajapakse administration has shown an uncanny ability to create world records in the last few years; prior to the General Election, Sri Lanka had the dubious honour of having the world’s largest number of Ministers and now we have created yet another world record by having the world’s smallest cabinet of two ministers.
As some say, the new cabinet consists of 2 Ministers and 39 door mats for the family, especially for the young Mr. Rajapakse to wipe his feet on while receiving on job training at the expense of the senior and experienced politicians holding the rest of the name board Ministries.
The Rajapakse triad consisting of the President as Minister of several key Ministries along with his super Minister brother and his super secretary brother control over 63% of the annual budget.According to the report presented to Parliament, out of the total expenditure of Rs.1.9 T, Rs.1.2 T comes under the direct purview of the Rajapakse triad.
However, due to the limited time available, I am not going to discuss the economics of the heads, which come under the Rajapakse triad. At a time when a three member panel of experts has been appointed to advise the UN Secretary General on Sri Lanka, I feel that it is appropriate to talk about the short sighted acts of commission and omission of some of the Ministries under discussion today, which has led to the sorry state of affairs, our country is facing today.
The appointment of the expert’s panel is the culmination of nearly four years of governance by the Rajapakse regime where the rule of law in our country was systematically undermined, using the war against terrorism as a basis or a justification for doing so.
In fact, as I mentioned in my speech last Friday, I warned the President in writing on the 13thDecember 2006 that, “ due to various omissions and commissions on our part as the Government, our image is deteriorating rapidly which may lead to serious repercussions for the country. As Your Excellency’s Foreign Minister, I would be failing in my duty if I do not highlight some of these concerns and impending perils.”
I also pointed out the outstanding diplomatic victories the President achieved in the first six months in office.However, the emergence of the white van culture of abductions and extra-judicial killings, political assassinations of MPs like Joseph Pararajasingham, Ravi Raj and Maheswaran and the increasing number of attacks on journalists and as aresult of the defence Ministries stubborn refusal to investigate such crimes and the governments inability to respond toserious allegations in a credible manner, the country started to lose the international goodwill we had harnessed. Hurling abuse in the style of a sarong raised village thug became the hallmark of this government in the face of mounting criticism both locally and Internationally.
As I wrote, “ instead of responding to the allegations made against us in a credible and factual manner, people who make such allegations become victims of vicious personal attacks bordering on criminal defamation. This strategy of “shooting the messenger” will only alienate the International community further away from us.”
Mr. Speaker, due to the limited time I have I cannot go into details of the letter but I would like to table it to be included in full in the Hansard.
My sincere appeal fell on deaf years and today Sri Lanka is on the verge of being labelled as an international fugitive and faces the risk of being hauled up before the ICC. (International Criminal Court). This would be a severe blow to the image of our country, which has a proud history of being a much loved and respected member of the International community.
The ICC Treaty, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into operation in 2002 and as of July 2009,nearly 110 countries had become state parties to this treaty. This international institution, based in the Hague in the Netherlands has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals responsible for the most serious crimes of international concern; genocide, crimes against humanity, the crimes of aggression and war crimes.
However, the ICC has jurisdiction over any of these crimes, only if the country is a state party or a signatory to the Rome Statute. Fortunately for the Rajapakse regime, Sri Lanka is not a signatory to this treaty because PM Ranil Wickramesinghe in 2002 refused to be a signatory on the basis that Sri Lanka has the independent institutions able to undertake such investigations, if and when the necessity arises.
In fact the Rajapakse regime owes a debt of gratitude to the much-maligned Ranil Wickramesinghe for his forward thinking wisdom as PM.
However, the woes of this regime does not end there because there is provision in the treaty for the UN security council to refer a non state party to the ICC like they did to Sudan, also a non signatory to the ICC, in 2005.
Sudan, Mr. Speaker is a case study of interest to Sri Lanka in the present context. Subsequent to the refusal of the Sudanese government to cooperate with the UN to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1593 referring “the situation prevailing in Darfur since 1st July 2002” to the prosecutor of the ICC. Despite Sudan insisting that the court has no jurisdiction over the matter, the courts issued arrest warrants in 2007 for the Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister and a militia leader.
In July 2008, an arrest warrant was issued for President Al Bashir making him the first head of state to be indicted by the ICC. In spite of familiar anti western rhetoric and staged protests in Dafur, Bashir remains an international fugitive with an international warrant issued for his arrest; other than to a few other African countries he is unable to travel outside his country.
Although I have many ‘reservations’ about the leaders of this government, I would hate to see such scenario being enacted in Sri Lanka. The ignominy of such situation would be a devastating blow to our country and our people with devastating consequences for years to come. That is why the government, even at this late stage deal with this problem in a responsible manner to salvage the good name of our country instead of resorting its village thug tactics and wishfully hoping that countries like China will bale us out of a difficult situation in the UN.
In this context, it is interesting to note that China did not use its veto power when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1593, referring Sudan to the ICC in March 2005. China abstained along with US allowing the resolution to pass by 11 votes. This was in spite of the fact that China and Sudan have very warm and cordial diplomatic relations. Beijing’s direct investment rose to $1.6b in 2005 making Sudan the 9th largest recipient of Chinese FDI.More recently China backed the US sponsored sanctions despite heavy lobbying by Iran and China is one of Iran’s biggest oil customers. This ought to be a wake up call to elements within this government who are cocky about the prospects of a UN probe because of the apparent support of China for the government. China follows a very pragmatic foreign policy and in many critical votes in the UN, China has never stood in the way of resolutions backed by the western powers.
If our country is referred to a war crimes prosecution, it will also tarnish the image of our armed forces. The Sri Lanka Army is one of the most disciplined armies in the world and this was the main reason that our army was chosen for peacekeeping activities around the world by the UN in 2002. However, even in the best of Armies, there could be a few black sheep or miscreants who tarnish the image of the entire force by their actions and many countries, protect the reputation of their respective armies by investigating any allegations and punishing those responsible in keeping with the law of the land.
For example, Mr. Speaker, in 2004, Seymour M. Hersh of the New Yorker magazine along with a local TV station related accounts of physical, psychological and sexual abuse including torture and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by personnel of the US Army.
How did the US government respond to these allegations? They did not label the journalist an Al Quid sympathiser and send white van in search of him nor did they bomb the TV station: the secretary defence, unlike in Sri Lanka, the Defence Minister, did not use his position to threaten the media to stop them writing about these allegations.
Instead, the US Department of Defence carried out a full-scale investigation and eleven soldiers were convicted in court between May 2004 and March 2005, sentenced to military prison and dishonourably discharged from service.
Even in the UK, allegations against the armed forces receive the serious attention of the government. The London Times reported on Wednesday, that PM David Cameron is to announce an inquiry into claims that British security services were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects.
Even in Sri Lanka, previous governments have responded swiftly to allegations of state violence. In the face of mounting criticism and outrage at the rape and murder of 16 year old Krishanthi Coomeraswamy in 1996, President Chandrika Kumaratunge ordered a trial at bar against the army personnel accused while the forces personnel behind the floating Bolgoda bodies in 1995 were also charged and presented to court while the forces personnel who threatened journalist Iqbal Athas were also brought before the law.
This is how responsible governments behave in the face of allegations of state violence, which is inevitable especially in countries that are fighting the menace of terrorism.However, as the International Commission of Jurists in the Berlin Declaration of 28 August 2004 stated;“ In adopting measures aimed at suppressing acts of terrorism, states must adhere strictly to the rule of law, including the core principals of criminal and international law and the specific standards and obligations of international human rights law”
And also states that “ the odious nature of terrorist acts cannot serve as a basis or pretext for states to disregard their international obligations.
The Council of Europe also articulated the need to uphold the law when fighting terrorism, in 2002.
“………..while the state has the right to employ to the full its arsenal of legal weapons to repress and prevent terrorist activities, it may not use indiscriminate measures which would only undermine the fundamental values they seek to protect. For a state to react in such a way would be to fall into the trap set by terrorism for democracy and the rule of law.”
Unfortunately for us in Sri Lanka, the government seems to have fallen into this trap; the way the government, especially the External affairs Ministry along with the rest of the Cabinet is handling the present crisis, Prabakharan may well have the last laugh from beyond the grave.
So for the sake of our country, the government must act in a responsible manner to save its reputation; let experienced diplomats handle this situation instead of the jokers and amateurs who have been posing as diplomats over the last four years.
Let us also not forget for a moment that this crisis has been brought on by the government itself. As I pointed out in this house last Friday, it was MP Mahinda Rajapakse himself who invited the UN and other International human rights agencies to intervene in Sri Lanka 21 years ago.
Even recently, the UN Secretary General stated that he is acting on the basis of the joint statement of the GOSL and UNSG on 23 May 2009, in which the government had given an undertaking to take measures to address the grievance relating to violations of human rights. This position has not been refuted by the government nor has the Foreign Ministry has at any time stated that the joint statement is inoperative. Therefore, the government has obviously conceded the position of the UNSG.
In conclusion, I request the government to cooperate with UN to clear the name of our country instead of howling and barking at the moon like a pack of demented wolves.
(Speech made in Parliament on July 5th 2010)