Many UNP leaders argue that it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who paved the way for the UNHRC to interfere in Sri Lankan affairs by signing a joint communique with United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon on May 23, 2009, four days after the end of the separatist war in Sri Lanka, pledging to address accountability issue. They seem to imply that former President Rajapaksa should not have signed such a communiqué and that they would not have signed it had they been in power when the UN Chief visited Sri Lanka soon after the war ended.
If that is what they imply, they are wrong. Long before the LTTE leadership was destroyed, the issues of human rights and accountability in respect of the Sri Lankan civil war had been high on the agenda of Western nations and international human rights organisations. It must be remembered that as far back as in 2006, in his first year in office, President Rajapaksa appointed the “Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights which had allegedly risen in Sri Lanka since August 1, 2005” (The Udalagama Commission).
It was the extension of that pressure that compelled Rajapaksa to sign the joint communiqué and take several other measures. In the wake of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointing the Darusman Panel to advise him on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa hurriedly appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) in 2010 with a bizarre terms of reference to find the “facts and the circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement” signed by the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE in 2002. (It was perplexing that a man who was vehemently opposed to the ceasefire agreement was looking for reasons for its failure.)
Again, in spite of so many statements that the government followed in its “zero casualty policy” in the battlefront and in the light of an army court of inquiry ruling that no disappearances had taken place during the final stage of the war, he [Rajapaksa] appointed the Maxwell Paranagama Commission to look into the instances of disappearances. Later, the Paranagama Commission was also entrusted with another mandate to look into civilian casualties during the last lap of the war.
All these and so many other past instances point to the fact that you cannot ignore the international factor, as the Rajapaksa loyalists argue now, although the leading players of the international community are selective and given their track record, do not have the moral right to pressurise other countries in respect of human rights issues. On the other hand the professed intention of the Sri Lankan rulers including Rajapaksa to appoint various commissions and committees was correct, as the instances that were to be looked into by these commissions and committees had been real on the ground and the rulers bore the responsibility to show cause to the people of the country.
Therefore it is unfair by Rajapaksa to blame him for the joint communiqué with Ban Ki-moon or the subsequent resolution adopted at the special session of the UNHRC in the same month “endorsing the joint communiqué … and the understandings contained therein.” But where these rulers failed was in their integrity. Many local as well as international concerns have compiled lists of Sri Lankan failed commissions and committees of inquiry which clearly show breach of trust. One such compilation is the book titled “A Legacy to Remember; Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry-1963-2002” written by Kishali Pinto Jayawardena for the Law and Society Trust. The website “Sangam” too had compiled another list. When the LLRC was appointed in 2010, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated: “Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing ad hoc commissions to deflect international criticism over its poor human rights record and widespread impunity, …“Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established at least 10 such commissions, none of which have produced any significant results.” It also added in the same statement; “Every time the international community raises the issue of accountability, Sri Lanka establishes a commission that takes a long time to achieve nothing.”
Rajapaksa too vindicated this point by not presenting the reports of Udalagama Commission and the APRC and by not implementing the recommendations of those commissions and the LLRC. However, the only report he had made public, the LLRC report, became the basis for all four resolutions adopted at the UNHRC over the past four consecutive years.
Apart from war related incidents, in all incidents of a political nature, the lack of trust on the domestic judicial process had been highlighted, inviting international or foreign involvement or pressure. Assassinations of SWRD Bandaranaike, Lalith Athulathmudali, Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa,
Parliamentarians Raviraj and Pararajasingham were some of the cases in point. Also, President Rajapaksa had to appoint foreign experts for his commissions for want of credibility. He appointed the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to assist the Udalagama Commission and the group left its mission halfway citing lack of credibility in the process. He also appointed international experts to assist the Paranagama Commission to address the aspects of credibility.
The special hybrid court suggested in the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report presented to the UNHRC last month too stems from this long breach of trust for which we have to blame ourselves. However, what has been thrust upon us now is not a hybrid court but a lesser form of it, a domestic judicial process with Commonwealth and “other” foreign judges. Now the options left to us are to accept this and find ways to lessen the impact of the process on the armed forces as well as the much needed reconciliation or to reject what has been envisaged and face a purely international judicial mechanism.
A blanket denial of culpability in human rights issues in the guise of rejection of the betrayal of war heroes itself seems deceptive, since the international players, as they had done before,are not going to back down.On the other hand it is only for alleged extrajudicial activities and not for military actions taken against the LTTE that anyone would be tried according to the Geneva resolutions. And even the former president had declared that anyone found guilty must be punished.
All in all, going by the recent history we could have averted the international meddling by keeping our word.