‘I AM READY FOR THE GALLOWS’ – Says Rajapaksa as UN report is published

0
1036
A mass demonstration in London against the slaughter of Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka
A mass demonstration in London against the slaughter of Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka

SRI Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during a meeting held at Temple

Trees with electoral officers, declared that he is willing to go even to

the gallows to safeguard his motherland, reports TamilNet.

‘Certain groups with vested interest are still hell bent on bringing

disrepute to Sri Lanka, almost two years after the war was ended,’

Rajapaksa said according to political sources in Colombo.

Rajapaksa made these statements in reference to the UN-panels report on Sri Lanka

war crimes which was submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The Sri Lanka-based paper, ‘Island’ leaked the executive summary of the

report in an attempt to soften the damages before the UN releases the

full report, a political observer in Colombo said.

Rajapaksa reportedly told the meeting that he is willing to go to any

length to safeguard Sri Lanka from these vested interest groups who are

hell bent on bringing disrepute to his country.

Evidence in the report against Sri Lanka are ‘all fabricated, and I am

willing to go to any length to safeguard my country,’ Rajapaksa was

quoted as saying in this meeting.

Meanwhile, the president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is the

current Defence Secretary, threatened that ‘if the United Nations cannot

protect one of its member states, Sri Lanka will be forced to look for

protection from Russia and China,’ the Colombo paper Sunday Times said.

He said the UN seemed to have been ‘hi-jacked by some countries’ and

that Sri Lanka as a member-state of the UN needs its protection.

‘This will push us to other countries to protect us. The UN should not

be a pawn of some countries,’ the Sunday Times said quoting the Defence

Secretary.

Referring to a passage in the report that states that the Army fired on

hospitals during the last stages of the war, the Defence Secretary said

he had it ‘in writing’ that the hospital had been vacated before the

firing had started.

Following is part of the text of the UN Panel report, leaked to media in

Colombo, on Saturday:

‘Allegations found credible by the Panel

‘The Panel’s determination of credible allegations reveals a very

different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to

this day by the Government of Sri Lanka. The Government says it pursued

a “humanitarian rescue operation” with a policy of “zero civilian

casualties”. In stark contrast, the Panel found credible allegations,

which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of

international humanitarian law and international human rights law were

committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of

which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed,

the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime

of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both

war and peace.

‘Specially the Panel found credible allegations associated with the

final stages of the war. Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri

Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni using

large-scale and widespread shelling causing large numbers of civilian

deaths. This campaign constituted persecution of the population of the

Vanni. Around 330,000 civilians were trapped into an ever decreasing

area, fleeing the shelling but kept hostage by the LTTE. The Government

sought to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war

through a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white

vans to abduct and to make people disappear.

‘The Government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive No Fire

Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate,

even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons. It

shelled the United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ships that were coming

to pick up the wounded and their relatives from the beaches. It shelled

in spite of its knowledge of the impact, provided by its own

intelligence systems and through notification by the United Nations, the

ICRC and others. Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the

war were caused by Government shelling.

‘The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All

hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them

were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were

well-known to the Government. The Government also systematically

deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of

food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to

their suffering. To this end, it purposely underestimated the number of

civilians who remained in the conflict zone. Tens of thousands lost

their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in

the carnage of the final few days.

‘The Government subjected victims and survivors of the conflict to

further deprivation and suffering after they left the conflict zone.

Screening for suspected LTTE took place without any transparency or

external scrutiny. Some of those who were separated were summarily

executed, and some of the women may have been raped. Others disappeared,

as recounted by their wives and relatives during the LLRC hearings. All

IDPs were detained in closed camps. Massive overcrowding led to

terrible conditions, breaching the basic social and economic rights of

the detainees, and many lives were lost unnecessarily. Some persons in

the camps were interrogated and subjected to torture. Suspected LTTE

cadres were removed to other facilities, with no contact with the

outside world, under conditions that made them vulnerable of further

abuses.

‘Despite grave danger in the conflict zone, the LTTE refused civilians

permission to leave, using them as hostages, at times even using their

presence as a strategic human buffer between themselves and the

advancing Sri Lanka Army. It implemented a policy of forced recruitment

throughout the war, but in the final stages greatly intensified its

recruitment of people of all ages, including children as young as

fourteen. The LTTE forced civilians to dig trenches for its own

defenses, thereby contributing to blurring the distinction between

combatants and civilians and exposing civilians to additional harm. All

of this was done in a quest to pursue a war that was clearly lost; many

civilians were sacrificed on the altar of the LTTE cause and its efforts

to preserve its senior leadership.

‘From February 2009 onwards, the LTTE started point-blank shooting of

civilians who attempted to escape the conflict zone, significantly

adding to the death toll in the final stages of the war. It also fired

artillery in proximity to large groups of internally displaced persons

(IDPs) and fired from, or stored military equipment near IDPs or

civilian installations such as hospitals. Throughout the final stages of

the war, the LTTE continued its policy of suicide attacks outside the

conflict zone. Even though its ability to perpetrate such attacks was

diminished compared to previous phases of the conflict, it perpetrated a

number of attacks against civilians outside the conflict zone.

‘Thus, in conclusion, the Panel found credible allegations that comprise

five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the

Government of Sri Lanka: (i) killing of civilians through widespread

shelling; (ii) shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects; (iii)

denial of humanitarian assistance; (iv) human rights violations suffered

by victims and survivors of the conflict, including both IDPs and

suspected LTTE cadre; and (v) human rights violations outside the

conflict zone, including against the media and other critics of the

Government.

‘The Panel’s determination of credible allegations against the LTTE

associated with the final stages of the war reveal six core categories

of potential serious violations: (i) using civilians as a human buffer;

(ii) killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control; (iii) using

military equipment in the proximity of civilians; (iv) forced

recruitment of children; (v) forced labour; and (vi) killing of

civilians through suicide attacks.’

The report states under ‘Accountability’.

‘Accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian or

human rights law is not a matter of choice or policy; it is a duty under

domestic and international law. These credibly alleged violations

demand a serious investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.

If proven, those most responsible, including Sri Lanka Army commanders

and senior Government officials, as well as military and civilian LTTE

leaders, would bear criminal liability for international crimes. . .’

Under ‘The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ the report

states: ‘In sum, the LLRC is deeply flawed, does not meet International

standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does

not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri

Lanka and the Secretary-General to an accountability process.’

Under ‘Other domestic mechanisms’ the report states: ‘The justice system

should play a leading role in the pursuit of accountability,

irrespective of functioning or outcomes of the LLRC. However, based on a

review of the system’s past performance and current structure, the

Panel has little confidence that it will serve justice in the present

political environment.

‘This is due more to a lack of political will than to lack of ability.

In particular, the independence of the Attorney-General has been

weakened in recent past, as power has been more concentrated in the

Presidency. Moreover, the continuing constitution of Emergency

Regulations, combined with the Prevention of Terrorism Act in its

present form, present a significant obstacle for the judicial system to

be able to address official wrongdoing while upholding human rights

guarantees. Equally, the Panel has seen no evidence that the military

courts system has operated as an effective accountability mechanism in

respect of the credible allegations it has identified or other crimes

committed in the final stages of the war.’

Under ‘Recommendations’ the report states on ‘Recommendation 1:

Investigations

‘A. In light of the allegations found credible by the Panel, the

Government of Sri Lanka, in compliance with its international

obligations and with a view to initiating an effective domestic

accountability process, should immediately commence genuine

investigations into these and other alleged violations of the

international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides

involved in the armed conflict.

‘B. The Secretary-General should immediately proceed to establish an

independent international mechanism, whose mandate should include the

following concurrent functions:

‘(i) Monitor and assess the extent to which the Government of Sri Lanka

is carrying out an effective domestic accountability process, including

genuine investigations of the alleged violations, and periodically

advise the Secretary-General on its findings;

‘(ii) Conduct investigations independently into the alleged violations,

having regard to genuine and effective domestic investigations; and

‘(iii) Collect and safeguard for appropriate future use information

provided to it, which is relevant to accountability for the final stages

of the war, including the information gathered by the Panel and other

bodies in the United Nations system.

‘Recommendation 2: Other measures to advance accountability

‘A. The Government of Sri Lanka should implement the following

short-term measures, with a focus on acknowledging the rights and

dignity of all of the victims and survivors in the Vanni:

‘(i) End all violence by the State, its organs and all paramilitary and

other groups acting as surrogates of or tolerated by, the State;

‘(ii) Facilitate the recovery and return of human remains to their

families and allow for the performance of cultural rites for the dead;

‘(iii) Provide death certificates for the dead and missing,

expeditiously and respectfully, without charge, when requested by family

members, without compromising the right to further investigations and

civil claims;

‘(iv) Provide or facilitate psycho-social support for all survivors,

respecting their cultural values and traditional practices;

‘(v) Release all displaced persons and facilitate their return to their

former homes or provide for resettlement, according to their wishes; and

‘(vi) Continue to provide interim relief to assist the return of all

survivors to normal life.

‘B. The Government of Sri Lanka should investigate and disclose the fate

and location of persons reported to have been forcibly disappeared. In

this regard, the Government of Sri Lanka should invite the Working Group

on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka.

‘C. In light of the political situation in the country, the Government

of Sri Lanka should undertake an immediate repeal of the Emergency

regulations and modify all those provisions of the Prevention of

Terrorism Act that are inconsistent with Sri Lanka’s international

obligations, and take the following measures regarding suspected LTTE

members and all other persons held under these and other provisions:

‘(i) Publish the names of all of those currently detained, whatever the

location of their detention, and notify them of the legal basis of their

detention;

‘(ii) Allow all detainees regular access to family members and to legal

counsel;

‘(iii) Allow all detainees to contest the substantive justification of

their detention in court;

‘(iv) Charge those for whom there is sufficient evidence of serious

crimes and release all others, allowing them to reintegrate into society

without further hindrance.

‘D. The Government of Sri Lanka should end state violence and other

practices that limit freedoms of movement, assembly and expression, or

otherwise contribute to a climate of fear.’

Further ‘B. The Government of Sri Lanka should issue a public, formal

acknowledgement of its role in and responsibility for extensive civilian

casualties in the final stages of the war.

‘C. The Government of Sri Lanka should institute a reparations

programme, in accordance with international standards, for all victims

of serious violations committed during the final stages of the war, with

special attention to women, children and particularly vulnerable

groups.’