No substitute for negotiated peace

By Shanie

The government has been attempting an impossible repair job after the fiasco of the forced eviction of Tamil citizens from Colombo. The President has ordered the Police to submit a report to him within a week. By the time this column appears, that week would have passed. The Prime Minister has expressed regrets saying that this expulsion order, along with disappearances, abductions and killings had brought the government into disrepute. Seated along with the Prime Minister was Keheliya Rambukwella, the government’s Defence spokesperson, who only two days earlier had denied that there was any expulsion. The government had only assisted Tamils by providing transport to those who wanted to leave Colombo voluntarily.

It was refreshing to see the Supreme Court coming down hard on this and ordering the Police not only to halt any further expulsions but also not to prevent any citizen from entering the city of Colombo. The Centre for Policy Alternatives lived up to their reputation as fearless defenders of human rights by petitioning the Court in this regard. The petition is to be finally determined on June 22 but there does not seem to be any evidence to support any change to the interim order.

The government was undoubtedly taken aback by the immediate outrage that their action evoked both within the country and outside. That they even thought there would not be this kind of response only shows how deeply ingrained was the culture of impunity. All ethnic groups have suffered similar eviction from their homes in the past. But this is the first time that a government thought it fit to implement such a policy. Their justification for it is the same as that of the LTTE when they ethnically cleansed thousands of Muslims from the North seventeen years ago. The repair job being attempted by the Government cannot hide the fact that this action was not initiated by the Police. Let us hope that somebody else is not left to carry the can for orders sanctioned by those in authority. We will never have anyone admit the truth, whatever report is submitted by the IGP. But the public have their own discernment and will not be easily deceived by those trying to pass the buck for this outrageous action.

Rajitha Senaratne in trying to defend the indefensible act has credited his new found leader as being the first President to invite the families of the disappeared to tea at Temple Trees. Does he really believe that the families were happy to have tea and sympathy from the President while their dear ones have disappeared, perhaps never to return? But President Rajapakse is not the first to do so. In the run-up to 1983, a senior SLBC Engineer and his wife were doing an evening constitutional along Bauddhaloka Mawatha when a vehicle (white vans were then not yet in use) drew up alongside and bundled them both inside and drove them to the Wellawatta Police Station. There the police realised that it was a case of mistaken identity but the couple had some harsh things to say to a top Army brass who spoke to them on the telephone from Jaffna. But the military are not used to anyone talking rudely to them. So the couple, already declared innocent, were left to spend a few days in custody. The upshot of this was that President JR Jayewardene invited the couple to Janadhipathi Mandiraya to offer them tea and sympathy. It, no doubt, gave self-satisfaction to the President but no comfort to the couple.

There has been no let up in the abductions, targeted killings and disappearances that have been taking place for more than a year now. These are not isolated happenings and President Rajapakse is only adding insult to injury by declaring that many of the disappeared have really not disappeared but gone abroad. There are several hundred reported disappearances; how many of them have been investigated and has even one of them found to be living abroad? Is Professor Raveendranath, the missing Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University one of them? Based on credible assurances, the family had hopes of his return to safety. But suddenly everyone is silent and hopes have diminished-–almost completely. What does one make of the nine bodies found at Dumbaladeniya and the two Red Cross workers abducted and killed and their bodies found at Kiriella. Rajitha Senaratne needs to be reminded that tea and sympathy are not enough, nor are publicised orders for investigation and appointment of commissions of inquiry. Hundreds have been killed in Allaipiddy, Pesalai, Pottuvil, Trincomalee, Kebbitigollawa, Gomarankadawela and in a hundred other places. (How many are being killed in the Vanni we will never know.) Has anyone been held accountable for even one of these?

The bleak human rights picture is compounded by abductions by politico-criminal elements for huge ransoms. First the target was Tamil businessman. Now it seems to be the turn of Muslim businessmen. Everybody believes they know the group and persons responsible. Names have been mentioned in Parliament. The complicity, willingly or unwillingly, of the police and security forces has been alleged. It is time to drop petty party politics and begin to take measures to arrest these abductions for ransom. The civil society has a vital role to play. Politicians will only keep blaming each other. The civil society must stand up and steer the country away from the path to doom. In the immediate aftermath of Mahinda Rajapakse’s victory at the Presidential Election, it is a pity that only a few had the prescience to realise the damage that was to come by the non-appointment of the Constitutional Council. In the end, the President went on to place his own nominees in all the ‘independent’ Commissions that are now proving so ineffective. Very few had also the conscience to decline nomination to these Commissions. The judiciary has also come under flak in recent times. Let us hope that the recent judgment on the expulsion of Tamils issue will be the beginning for people to respect the independence of the judiciary.

There are many in government who, maybe for different reasons, feel that the war should continue to be prosecuted. The argument is the LTTE is a terrorist organisation and it is necessary to crush them by military means. In the course of that, it is just too bad if the rights of all Tamils (and other citizens) are trampled. Gothabaya Rajapakse is on record as having told Reuters that he cannot understand what the hullabaloo was about the recent expulsion of Tamils from Colombo. The government could have put all of them in detention centres but the government acted mercifully by sending them to their homes in the North and East. If he has been quoted correctly, this has to be the official government Defence Ministry line. For whose benefit is his President brother calling for a report from the IGP? This interview with Reuters says it all.

The Defence Secretary also goes on to say that the abductions in Sri Lanka are like the covert operations of the US Intelligence. If he has again been quoted correctly, the lid is now blown open as to who is responsible for abductions-–either sanctioning them or doing the actual operations. The abduction and killing of the Red Cross workers, the abduction of the Eastern University Vice Chancellor and the nine bodies at Dumbaladeniya (seemingly of persons abducted) must now be presumed to be cases of justifiable covert operations.

This year we are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War in which the Israeli Army defeated the Palestinians and their supporting countries in the region. Sixty years ago, the Israelis expelled thousands of Palestinians from the newly created Israeli nation creating a huge refugee population many of whom still remain in refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere. Despite all these military victories and expulsions of ‘potential insurgents’, is there peace in Israel? The whole region remains a powder keg. All countries with a civil conflict have found that militarism was not leading them anywhere. There is no substitute for dialogue and negotiations for peace. –The Island


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