The February-March session of the UN Human Rights Council will be a trying time for the Rajapaksas. A US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka is expected to come up in Geneva, if the regime fails to honour its own, repeated promises of justice and accountability.
Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary, compares politicians to eels, a definition which seems tailor-made for the Rajapaksa. The Siblings usually respond to international pressure with a confounding mix of empty promises and sweeping denials. At Geneva too, the modus operandi is likely to be a soulful pledge to implement the LLRC recommendations coupled with pious denials of any wrong-doing by Lankan forces, during the Fourth Eelam War.
Veneration of the security forces is a Rajapaksa shibboleth. In public, the Ruling Siblings attribute to the armed forces the same quality of inerrancy they claim for themselves. They insist that no crime is as heinous as that of criticising ‘war heroes’. As Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said, in an interview with ‘Lakbima’, “If war-heroes are criticized…people will protest it. In such instances, people take laws to their hands and act impatiently… I don’t approve it. But such things can happen” (quoted Lanka e news – 31.3.2009).
As the WikiLeaks cables reveal, there were two Lankans who were rather critical of ‘war-heroes’ with American envoys. Thanks to the information supplied by these two Lankans, the US knew that Lankan Forces did engage in extra-judicial killings and other rights-violations, often with the assistance of the EPDP and the TMVP.
The two US informants were Presidential Siblings, Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
In a private conversation with the US Ambassador, Basil Rajapaksa admitted that his brother’s regime knew that the STF carried out the January 2006 murder of five Tamil students in Trincomalee town. He also informed the US envoy that the STF “must have separate guns when they want to kill someone” – an oblique admission that the STF engaged in extra-judicial killings, systematically and not infrequently.
Basil Rajapaksa also confided in the US Ambassador that the Lankan Navy “has been credibly implicated in harassment and human rights violations” and that it “‘looked like’ EPDP cadres, along with the SLN, had perpetrated the mid-August burning of the pro-LTTE Uthayan newspaper office in Jaffna”. He and brother Gotabhaya admitted to two US State Department staffers that the war had ‘not been clean’.
The underlying message in the Rajapaksa warbling is clear: The armed forces are guilty of the crimes; ‘We’ knew nothing until after the crimes happened; ‘We’ cannot punish the wrongdoers because they are too clever or too powerful. To the listening Americans, these admissions would have sounded authentic, desperate pleas by an elected civilian government struggling to survive against the combined might of powerful armed forces and entrenched war-lords. It is a familiar scenario, from South America to Africa, from the Middle East to Asia.
Not Sri Lanka, though; not then, not yet (we may face such a dilemma someday in the future, thanks to the Rajapaksa programme of militarising civil spaces). In Sri Lanka, civilian authorities were (and still are) very much in command, fortunately. During the war, the Armed Forces did not set the tune; they merely danced to the tune set by the civilian leaders. The rights violations happened due to and within the climate of impunity created by the political masters. Neither the repeated rights-violations nor the subsequent cover-ups could have happened without the knowledge and the blessings of the rulers.
To argue that the EPDP and the TMVP could have set their will against the Rajapaksas is even more inane. Both organisations were and are totally dependent on the regime for survival. Douglas Devananda and Karuna Amman have become Rajapaksa ciphers who will obey any command, to safeguard their ministries and their private mini-armies.
So the patriotic Rajapaksas, while hoisting the armed forces on a pedestal, in public, busied themselves with sneaking to the Americans (and perhaps other regional and international powers) about the crimes committed by the very same armed forces, in private. The WikiLeaks cables have divested the Imperial Family of their patriotic garb and revealed them for what they are: self-serving opportunists whose sole concern is the continuation of Familial Rule.
Saving Their Own Skins
In the Rajapaksa book, traitors deserve to be hung. When asked about the allegation, allegedly made by Gen. Sarath Fonseka, that he ordered a group of white-flag bearing Tiger leaders to be murdered, a visibly-scathing Gotabhaya Rajapaksa burst out, “That’s treason; we will hang him if he says that” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/8726150.stm).
Will Messers Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa hang themselves, for the ‘treasonous crime’ of criticising ‘war heroes’, with American envoys? Especially since the US can use that information in an international war-crimes trial someday?
According to Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, “…the LTTE rump would strive to isolate the country… The fastest way to achieve their goal was to use MP Sarath Fonseka to justify their baseless allegations…” (The Island – 29.11.2010).
‘The LTTE rump’ does not need Gen. Fonseka to justify any allegations. They can use the admissions by Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa with far greater effect. (Incidentally WikiLeaks’ Cablegate is limited to official correspondence between US envoys and the State Department. If the correspondence between other envoys in Colombo and their Foreign Ministries ever reach the public domain, there might be many more startling revelations in store for Lankans).
The reputation of Sri Lanka and the good-name of her armed forces would have been better served had the Rajapaksas allowed those servicemen suspected of crimes (such as the Trincomalee Killings) to be prosecuted under Lankan laws. Punishing a few criminals would have been far more patriotic than engaging in an insidious whispering campaign with the Americans against the entirety of the Navy and the STF. The argument that prosecuting service personnel would have caused disquiet within the armed forces and/or society is a specious one. Before 2005, armed forces personnel were legally prosecuted on several occasions, with no backlash from either the military or society. In any case, if the extremely popular war-winning Army Commander can be tried, convicted and jailed for a financial misdemeanour with no unrest from anywhere, why not do the same to lesser officers accused of greater crimes? Incidentally, a majority of Lankans (both civilians and service personnel) will be mature enough to comprehend that every entity contains a few miscreants, and that these wrongdoers need to be dealt with legally, to ensure the health and wellbeing of the broader community.
Ambrose Bierce, again in Devil’s Dictionary, defined patriotism as “combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name”. For the Rajapaksas, patriotism is a weapon of choice, in their relentless war against the democratic system, to enshrine Familial Rule. It is the ideal disguise for every act of tyranny, injustice and betrayal, the perfect scam to short-change the gullible. After all, can it be accidental that the Rajapaksa Siblings who sneaked to American envoys about Lankan forces are Sri Lankan-Americans, perhaps with properties and families in the US?