In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name…
– written by Lasantha Wickramatunge, the slain editor of The Sunday Leader in the letter addressed to President Rajapaksa, published posthumously shortly after his assassination, a dying deposition
The Sri Lankan culture of impunity is complementary to its state of blatant denial.
The latest is the outright denial of the statements made by Gordon Weiss who had been with the UN for fourteen years having served last in Sri Lanka. In an interview with Australian TV, SBS, Weiss stated that from credible information collected from NGOs serving in the war zone and civil servants his estimate of those killed would be in the region of 40,000 persons. This includes persons killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whenever they used Tamils as human shields and prevented Tamils leaving the scene of the last minute battle.
We have been maintaining that the estimated government killings of innocent Tamil people would be in the region of 35,000, men, women and children through indiscriminate aerial bombings on civilian targets , use of cluster bombs and poison gases, provided also by India in competition to the chosen friends like China, Russia, Iran and Myanmar meant to be aimed at civilian targets and crowded hospitals, a fact denied constantly by the Sri Lankan government during the crucial period between January and May 2009 with no international or independent media allowed in.
This is in contrast to the version of the secretary to the president in a media interview (Daily Mirror) stating that it was a hand to hand fight between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army perhaps like Dutu Gemunu and Elara 2300 years ago. In early March 2009 alone, the conservative UN estimate was nearly 2500 civilians killed.
We are also strongly inclined, in hindsight, to believe that these massacres were planned in advance with no independent media to be allowed in and conducted with the blessings of most of the sectors of the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy for whom killing Tamils is not an infringement of their Dhamma, thanks to the impunity justified by the Mahavamsa.
We are aware that Gordon Weiss, an Australian, while in Sri Lanka living within a terrorist State, was understandably restrained in releasing statements for fear of his life and that of his family. He has now had the opportunity in the SBS interview to come out with the truth, clear his conscience and get the record straight for his memoirs. We cannot see any reason why Weiss should lie in relation to the figure as long as the fact remains that tens of thousands of innocent Tamils were killed with impunity. In early March 2009, when questioned about the unusual number of civilian deaths, a UN spokesperson in Geneva stated that they were not interested in counting dead bodies.
When Ban Ki-moon, along with his side kick, Vijay Nambiar, was touring the Tamil war torn areas by air he must have been persuaded to believe that the carnage he saw was part of the permanent landscape of the Vanni, with no evidence, in his view, of a massacre of such magnitude. The UN’s estimate is around 7000 deaths. In response to Weiss, the UN, while not refuting his figure, has said that they do not have verifiable figures of how many casualties there were. We believe that Weiss would have periodically kept his head office of the UN updated on the casualty figures. A more accurate actual figure will have come out in the wash when Weiss’ memoirs are soon published and aired to the world.
Responding to the call by Ban Ki-moon for the pursuit of the process of accountability into all such allegations, including the crimes against humanity, Rajapaksa’s office has stated that any such inquiry is unwarranted and uncalled for. Elated by his recent victory, Rajapaksa, with the support from his newly found geopolitical friends, can well afford to tell Ban Ki-moon, with scant regard, to go to hell (wish we could use more colourful language). This also throws a spoke in the wheel of the foreign minister, Bogollagama, who had been oiling the way with Nambiar. With his clout with Ban Ki-moon, for a permanent position in the UN for his son, perhaps in return for old favours in the truly Sri Lankan (or Nammadal) fashion – and why not? — in a culture of corruption all around. A low tactic within what is said to be the highest body.
Returning to Lasantha, whose murder was completely denied, he wrote further in his posthumous piece: “…I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death… All that remains to be written is when. A military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity…”
Prophetic. If, at all, anything comes out of the belated investigation, it would be to implicate Fonseka and permanently silence him on the question of his revelations of war crimes. The murderer, obviously, is not the one who dealt the final blow on Wickramatunga’s head but the one who ordered his death.
The furthest that President Rajapaksa went from his government’s denials was the appointment of the “independent” Presidential Commission to inquire into the execution style murder of Tamil workers of the French NGO in Muttur in the east and the cold blooded murder of five University undergraduates by the Special Task Force in Trincomalee, which ruffled international feathers, of which nothing came out, for the inquiry was intended to be a farce from the very outset with all the fanfare of an international panel of internationally eminent persons overseeing its proceedings much to their disappointment – having been made fools of.
When the LTTE was in existence it was convenient to transfer the blame for all crimes against humanity on the LTTE but with them no more it is just denial or feigning ignorance. We are not in any way holding a brief for the LTTE for their share of the crimes as we have never done. It would be insane to assume that certain crimes, by any reasoning, could not have been committed by the LTTE. The murders of: Kumar Ponnampalam, Tamil and Sinhalese, journalists like Taraki and Lasantha Wickrematunge, fourteen other journalists, Tamil parliamentarians like Joseph Pararajasingham of Batticaloa in the east, Maheswaran, and Ravi Raj, Christian priests, General Janaka Perera who posed a political threat to the establishment, Kethesh Loganathan; and the disappearances of dissenting academics and other disappearances, abduction of children and others, rape of Tamil women and even children, unresolved murders, incarcerations of an unknown number of Tamils and detention of others without trial, and numerous other crimes.
The Rajapaksa government has been in a denial mode hoping that the truth will go away. In the current case of the missing journalist and cartoonist, Pradeesh Eknaligoda, his wife, in her anguish and ultimate desperation, defies the ruthless Sri Lankan regime in daring to say that the government is responsible for her husband’s disappearance. She is one of the thousands of such Sri Lankan wives and mothers waiting for their loved ones to return.
If the Sri Lankan government is to claim that they fought Tamil terrorism for thirty years, then the Tamil people resisted the terrorism of the Sri Lankan State for fifty years or more. To deny this will be to make caricature of history. The revelation of war crimes made by Fonseka have been denied and such denial endorsed by the Sinhala polity branding it as an unpatriotic act of treachery against the Sinhalese people and the Sri Lankan State, as if war crimes and crimes against humanity as long as they are committed against the Tamils, are not to be deemed a crime. This portrays the signs of moral decay and the future degradation of the Sri Lankan society, the majority of whom cannot look at themselves as they really are in their own eyes and face the truth, thus reflecting the quality of their own leadership. The question is whether the Tamil nation should remain part of such a society which is in imminent decay.