Four years after the war ended, development and reconstruction showcases are eclipsed by raw human suffering during Navi Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka
Rajeswari Ganesan, mother of a 28 year old Vavuniya prison inmate who died under suspicious circumstances in June last year, sobbed out her grief to visiting UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay in the North last Tuesday. This past year, Rajeswari’s grief over the death of her only son, who authorities claim died of a heart attack but she believes was killed in custody, has been a terrible thing to see. Navi Pillay may not have been able to understand Rajeswari’s representation made in Tamil, but overcome with empathy, the UN Envoy put her arms around the weeping mother and held her.
Navi Pillay was the most senior UN official to have visited Sri Lanka’s embattled north and east since the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon toured the region soon after the war ended in May 2009. For hundreds of families living in the former war zone, whose personal tragedies have been ignored for years, the fact that a high ranking person of international influence was finally close enough to hear their cries for help, was undoubtedly an electrifying experience. “I have never experienced so many people weeping and crying. I have never seen this level of uncontrollable grief,” Pillay was to tell The Sunday Leader three days later in an interview.
Steps in the right direction
In anticipation of her visit, the Government made several strides in the right direction. Whether superficial attempts to pacify the visiting UN Envoy and temper her report ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled for November or not, the Rajapaksa Administration set up a Commission on Disappearances, appointed credible commissioners, returned military acquired land to the people, promised action on the Weliweriya killings and agreed to give Pillay “unfettered access” wherever she chose to go. It was the first time that the regime had opened up the final theatre of war beside the now legendary Nandikadal lagoon to any foreign visitor.
Yet in the end, none of the Government’s efforts to paint a positive picture of Sri Lanka’s leap forward after the end of the war could mitigate the stark reality of weeping women and children on the streets of Jaffna and Trincomalee. Shiny new roads and railway tracks could not hide fundamental issues in the former battle zones that were obstructing genuine post-conflict healing and reparation. Pillay was confronted with tales of livelihood and land loss, the search for missing family members and justice for senseless death everywhere she went in the north and east. And in the capital, journalists and marginalised groups like the country’s Muslim population made representations to her about the ongoing suppression of fundamental freedoms in post-war Sri Lanka.
When the High Commissioner issued a stinging report of her seven day fact finding mission hours before she left the island, it was clear the representations of ordinary Sri Lankans and civil society groups had made a deep impression. There was no mincing of words or attempt to pacify the host government. Pillay hit back hard at her critics – many of them Government ministers and warned she would report any reprisals against those who had spoken to her during the UN Human Rights Council mandated mission, back to the Council.
If Pillay’s presence had given ordinary people extraordinary courage to publicly air their grievances even in the heavily garrisoned north and east, her parting words that the UN considered reprisals a very serious matter has only extended this boldness. One day after the UN High Commissioner left Colombo, Fr. Veerasan Yogeswaran who runs a human rights group in Trincomalee that works with families of the missing or detained, told the French Press Agency (AFP) that he had been visited at midnight and again at dawn by half a dozen plainclothes policemen last Wednesday, just hours after his discussions with Pillay. The Jesuit priest told reporters that his concern was that security forces personnel were entering homes at midnight or in the pre-dawn hours and questioning ordinary civilians. Met with complaints by Pillay about the reprisals against the priests, journalists and civil groups, the Government vehemently denied the claim and then demanded the High Commissioner provide proof to allow the administration to commence investigations. It has lapsed into familiar arguments, about vested interests intimidating people in order to cast the Government in a bad light and even claimed the UN Envoy had been misled by mischievous political elements. But in other ways, the Government has already commenced its own public criticism of those who made representations before the UN High Commissioner, calling them out as tale carriers to the international community. Minister Wimal Weerawansa has already accused the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress of “snitching’ to Pillay because the Party handed over a report about violence against the Muslim Community to the visiting Envoy. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also reportedly had strong words for SLMC Chief and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, about the move.
For Government officials heavily involved with organising Pillay’s visit, her final remarks at the end of the week long tour proved a deep disappointment. The sections of the regime that are advocating greater engagement with the UN system, including Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha who heads the country’s Geneva mission to the UN, genuinely believed that given the opportunity to witness the progress in Sri Lanka first hand, the UN High Commissioner’s perception of the human rights situation on the ground would change. Unfortunately these Government elements are at odds with other more powerful sections of the ruling regime, that are willing only to make superficial changes but have no real intention of meeting international obligations to devolve power to the island’s Tamil population or investigate alleged violations in the conflict’s final phase. Unfortunately for the Rajapaksa administration, Navi Pillay was not willing to merely scratch the surface during her visit.
As for Pillay’s last words in the island, no one is smarting more than President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The explosive statement at the end of her mission, included remarks about the authoritarian direction in which Sri Lanka was headed. Her words continue to rankle power centres in Colombo long after Pillay is gone.
“A dictator is a ruler who does not hold elections,” President Rajapaksa charged at the 62nd SLFP Convention in Kurunegala on Monday, one day after Pillay had left these shores. There had been 11 elections held under his watc, since 2005, he claimed. “What’s more democratic than that?” he asked the SLFP crowd. “What can I do if the Opposition Leader can’t win an election,” he quipped. Under the lighthearted tone however, the rancour is real, Government insiders say.
There is also the question of whether President Rajapaksa was deliberately perpetuating the grotesquely erroneous notion that elections are the sole test of a state’s democratic credentials. Deposed Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein, Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak, Zimbabwe’s President for life, Robert Mugabe and President Rajapaksa’s brand new best friend in Belarus, the self-proclaimed last dictator of Europe, Alexander Lukashenko all belong on a list of autocratic leaders who regularly take their nations to the polls. Elections held under such regimes are tragically flawed affairs. But even so, democracies are measured not merely by whether a country’s leaders are elected (however fairly or unfairly), but also by how a state and its leaders safeguard and uphold the liberties of individuals. In a state where civil liberties are suppressed, elections only impose majority tyranny on the rest of the populace.
The Government has issued rebuttal after rebuttal to Pillay’s statement. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris even addressed the press in London on Monday evening, in order to reply the UN Envoy as soon as possible. Each rebuttal has dealt extensively with Pillay’s remark on increasing authoritarianism, claiming that the comment was a transgression of her mandate and a political statement. Peiris said her concluding remarks showed a “distressing lack of balance” and claimed her observations suggested that Pillay had “formed her views before reaching the shores of the country.”
The floral tribute
The rebuttal of Pillay’s closing remarks from the Department of Government Information went so far as to accuse the High Commissioner of having attempted to pay a floral tribute at Mullivaikal where the LTTE Leader met his death. The UN Delegation it is learnt was notified by the highest levels of Government in Colombo last Tuesday while Pillay was in the North, that the tribute would not be tolerated.
During her press briefing in Colombo, High Commissioner Pillay said she often lays flowers in commemoration of victims of conflict, in most countries she visits. The question of the floral commemoration has become a hot button issue, with Government insiders insisting Pillay had “shown her hand” in no uncertain terms with the attempted ‘commemoration’.
Given the southern political sensitivities regarding the final theatre of battle where the LTTE leadership perished, the UN`s choice of Mullivaikal for a tribute was perhaps a poor one. But as analysts point out, despite the ubiquitous war memorials bearing unmistakably militaristic symbols all over the country, the Sri Lankan Government is yet to construct a memorial for all victims of the war, despite such a conciliatory memorial being strongly advocated even in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Nevertheless, for the first time since the High Commissioner’s delegation left Sri Lanka, her Office clarified the issue yesterday. Spokesman for the High Commissioner, Rupert Colville told Daily FT that the UN considered that the the general area where the war ended after nearly 30 years might be a suitable spot to commemorate all those who died during that conflict. Colville said that the Government had learned Pillay’s team was considering this and made it plain they viewed it in a different light. “We considered their point of view carefully and felt in the end that it might be misinterpreted — as indeed it has been — so decided not to proceed,” Colville said.
He said it was a gross misrepresentation to pretend that Pillay was planning to honour the LTTE. “She made her views on the LTTE very clear indeed in her statement,” the High Commissioner’s Spokesman told Daily FT. Colville said that the words High Commissioner Pillay was due to speak in Mullaitivu had been included in her final statement, when she paid her respects to all Sri Lankans around the country who were killed during the three decades of conflict.
He said that the misrepresentation was “just the latest in the pattern of mendacious abuse” Pillay had referred to in her closing remarks.
Needless to say the slurs cast at the visiting High Commissioner became a large part of the narrative, especially after Pillay tackled the issue head on in her closing remarks. According to informed sources, two remarks particularly irked the visiting UN Envoy. Firstly the reference to her by JHU strongman Udaya Gammanpila as a terrorist sympathiser who saw “her husband in every terrorist”. Pillay’s husband was a lawyer and anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa, imprisoned with Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island, where political prisoners were detained. The second was Minister Mervyn Silva’s offer to marry Pillay to show her what Sri Lanka ‘has to offer.’ The lewd remarks, made worse by allusions to Ravana-Sita folklore drew an apology to the visiting High Commissioner from President Rajapaksa no less, during his meeting with her last Friday. For the 72 year old judge, who has fought relentlessly for women’s rights throughout her career and especially in her present position, Silva’s remarks were not to be borne.
During a meeting with Leader of the House Nimal Siripala De Silva who was briefing Pillay on the recently constituted Parliamentary Select Committee on Devolution proposals, tried to lightheartedly brush off Mervyn Silva’s slurs. “Don’t worry about his remarks,” the congenial De Silva said during the meeting. Pillay was quick on the draw: “It is you that should be worried, Minister” she said.
Making it personal
There is great weight in that brief but powerful sentence. Rajapaksa administration officials repeatedly make a fundamental mistake in its dealings with international diplomats. They attempt, at their own peril, to individualise UN office bearers or diplomatic officials at local missions. Navi Pillay, as far as the Sri Lankan Government is concerned, can be whittled down to a South African Tamil, a sympathiser of the Tamil cause by virtue of her ethnicity and a convenient tool of the West. Similar mistakes were made with her predecessor, Louise Arbour, who was repeatedly vilified by Government officials. Navanethem Pillay, the Government must understand, even at this late stage, is not just one woman to be discredited and ascribed terrorist labels. Pillay is not just a South African or a Tamil, but the holder of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN, a fixed institution that will continue to advocate and criticise long after Pillay no longer holds the title. When she presents her reports on Sri Lanka following this fact finding mission, that report will not only remain relevant while Pillay remains in office, but even when her successor takes over the reins.
The UN Envoy said as much during her concluding press briefing last Saturday, when she explained that she and even the UN Secretary General were merely civil servants, bound to uphold the regulations and standards set by 193 member states of the UN. The rules, she said, were set by governments of the world, including Sri Lanka. “If the rules and regulations are violated, that is what the UN points out to Governments. You may call it criticism, but that is what the UN does. When there are gaps, we raise a critical voice, but always with the intention to help,” the High Commissioner told the Sri Lankan press corps. In essence, Navanethem Pillay does not make the rules, any more than Ban Ki Moon, Marzuki Darusman or Arbour does. This fundamental truth that the Sri Lankan Government fails to understand, despite the best efforts of saner counsel within the regime, gravely endangers the country’s international standing at forums such as the UN.
There is little doubt that High Commissioner Pillay’s report on Sri Lanka, to be presented orally in September and in full during the Human Rights Council’s March sessions, will be a bare-naked reading of the human rights situation on the ground. The Government has choices to make as it looks towards Council sessions in Geneva in March 2014, which foreign policy analysts repeatedly warn could herald the beginnings of a fully fledged international inquiry against Sri Lanka unless genuine steps are taken to address accountability issues between now and then.
Costing hearts and minds
Acknowledgement that the need to grant people freedom with dignity, protect human rights and the genuinely necessity to hold people to account for crimes committed against sections of the population not because the international community is demanding it, but for the sake of Sri Lanka’s own soul, could be a starting point, if the political leadership was so inclined. The lack of genuine commitment may have been where everything went wrong for the Government during the Pillay mission, despite all its best efforts to showcase progress. As human rights Chief, Pillay is less concerned with physical reconstruction and more focused on the human condition. The inability to understand that fundamental difference, is costing the Government hearts and minds in the former conflict zones and support in the international arena.
For Navi Pillay, the message came through loud and clear. Everywhere she went in the north and east and sometimes even in Colombo, ordinary people mobbed her with tales of their personal suffering. In the north, observers say, all focus has shifted from the Provincial Council election since Pillay’s visit, with ordinary people convinced again that the UN will successfully advocate on their behalf. Her presence inspired hope for civilians, families of the missing, journalists and human rights activists whose post-war reality has been far from peaceful.
“The fighting may be over, the suffering is not,” Pillay said, as she left Sri Lanka.
If it was paying attention to the more human factors of post-conflict rebuilding, the Government may not have had to endure the embarrassment of having Navi Pillay draw attention to the fact that the peace dividend will elude Sri Lanka as long as a section of its populace remains chained to the suffering wrought by brutal conflict. Sandhya Ekneligoda or Rajeswari Ganesan could have articulated the point with equal eloquence. It would have been apparent in the fear of thousands of ordinary Muslims, worrying that a violent day of reckoning may be in their future. Or in the prostate, uncontrollable grief of Sinnakutty Kanapathipillai from Mullaitivu, who lay on the streets outside the Jaffna Library, asking the UN High Commissioner to find her son who surrendered on 18 May 2009, never to be heard of again.
The compulsion to tell the world of their suffering is a direct consequence of the fact that at home, no one is listening.
Courtesy Daily FT
The Rajapaksa regime increasingly appears to consist of twin forces within it, one civilian and the other military. The so-called UPFA government or the Cabinet is only a façade for the regime which is based mainly on the military and the bureaucracy. The UPFA even with the old left parties within it only have a decreasing influence on the civilian part of the regime. The Parliament with a feeble opposition appears to supply humour and entertainment to the cynical public these days. These are the culminating results of the presidential system and the recent subjugation of the independence of the judiciary as part of that same culmination. Just recollect how the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) behaved on the question of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. It was farcical and demeaning to the hilt.
The most alarming immediate development is the deployment of military troops in quelling a civilian protest in Weliweriya on 1 August without any justification or the backing of even emergency regulations. In a protest of villagers, asking for clean water, the military intervention has killed 1 civilian and injuring 15 others. The question has been rightly asked who gave the orders. There is no point in asking even the person responsible to resign because that will not happen in current Sri Lanka. A participant in the protest explained the brutal behaviour of the troops equating it to the LTTE attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1988, reminiscent still in the public mind.
The military intervention in civilian life is reported to be a daily occurrence in the Jaffna peninsula very much pervasive and brutal. As the civilians have been so much subdued without much room to engage in peaceful protests like the Weliweriya villagers there has been no much opportunity so far for the military to use its fire power at least openly. One occasion to the contrary was when the university students peacefully engaged in remembrance or heroes day celebrations in December 2012. The harassments and brutality were quite extensive.
What has to be realized in the current context is that the people in the North or in the South are facing the same common enemy and that is the emerging danger of a military or a quasi-military rule in the country destroying all norms of human rights and democracy.
These are developments particularly aftermath of the end of the war and hopefully there would still be possibilities of turning the situation around peacefully and resurrecting democracy with the international good will and even assistance. After all, Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and the United Nations with obligations on human rights, democracy and rule of law. No one should shy away of working towards international solidarity on the Sri Lankan question.
It was understandable when the military strategy dominated the civilian affairs prior to the end of the war in May 2009 and after the LTTE completely broke away from the peace process in July 2006. The country was fighting against a ruthless menace of terrorism. However, as a democratic country, even during the war there were certain international norms that the government and the military should have observed. If the declared ‘zero civilian casualty’ was a genuine proclamation, then after the war that should have been accounted for through independent and reliable investigations of the alleged and obvious deviations from the international humanitarian law. That was not done.
It is a known fact that during the period between 2006 and 2009, the military in the country became doubled in numbers and equipped with high-tech equipment and training. What was obviously neglected was the education or training on human rights and humanitarian law. After the war there was no effort to demobilize the military. Instead it appears that the ordinary soldiers are being politicized and used for other missions. Although in the past the military in Sri Lanka has been a professional army with high professional standards, it is obvious that these have deteriorated especially among the middle and the lower ranks thereafter.
If the government wanted to maintain a disciplined and a professional army after the war, the first thing should have been done to investigate the slighted allegation against any wrong doing during the war particularly between 2006 and 2009 and punish or discipline the perpetrators accordingly. That is the period that matters most for the discipline and the calibre of the military at present. It is also a well-known fact that although the President gave promises to the UN Secretary General on the subject of accountability in May 2009 that promise was not fulfilled for some reason and this reason can be identified as the influence of the military wing of the regime over the civilian leaders.
Weliweriya is not the first occasion that the defence establishment unleashed its strong arm tactics against the civilians in the South not to speak of the much concealed military oppression in the North. In February 2012, the STF was deployed against the protest of fisher folks in Chilaw and killed one, seriously injuring 8 others. The most alarming was the military deployment for the prison riot at Welikada in November 2012 killing 27 and seriously injuring 40 others. It was a gruesome operation violating all international norms on the treatment of prisoners.
There are arguments that the regime or its security establishment is intervening in this manner to maintain and establish law and order in the country. This is not at all a reliable argument. If that is the case, then at least the police should have been intervened in preventing over 75 well- orchestrated goon attacks on religious places of the Muslim and Christian communities in the country during the last three years. At least the perpetrators should have been punished. The newest attack was on 19 July in Mahiyangana. There are all indications that there is close association between the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist forces that are unleashed against the religious minorities.
These are also the two sectors that have been agitating against the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Although the civilian political wisdom has prevailed on the question of holding of the NPC elections for the time being it is not clear in what ways that the attempt would be scuttled by the military wing of the same regime in the future. The most bizarre phenomenon in the current situation in Sri Lanka is that both the civilian and the military wings of the regime are led by the same family! It is most unlikely to perceive a serious split within this family given its past and its kinship cohesiveness.
Therefore, while the regime and with it the ruling politics will oscillate between civilian and military directions from time to time, the general course until the regime is democratically changed would be more and more towards a quasi-military rule in the country.
On the afternoon of 25th July 1983, 35 Tamil prisoners held under the PTA or Emergency Regulations were massacred in a prison riot. What was more remarkable was the second attack on the surviving prisoners two days later, killing another 18 prisoners after strong protests from abroad and measures had apparently been taken to protect the survivors.
Both massacres were documented in the UTHR(J) publication Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power; Myths, Decadence and Murder. It adduced strong reasons pointing to a section of the government of the day as prime mover in the crime supported by some members of the prison staff. Among the latter it identified Jailor Rogers Jayasekere a supporter of the ruling UNP from Kelaniya, the former electorate of J.R. Jayewardene, who was then president. The old Kelaniya electorate was in 1983 represented by Ranil Wickremasinghe (Biyagama) and Cyril Mathew (Kelaniya), who were both instrumental in the July 1983 communal violence, particularly the latter.
An army contingent stationed at the prison had a direct radio link to Army HQ, where during both prison attacks the Security Council was meeting with President Jayewardene himself present. We are clear that the Army unit at the prison was ordered not to intervene and on the first occasion, Lt. Mahinda Hathurusinghe further prevented the injured prisoners being removed to hospital and ensured that they were killed or died through neglect or suffocation after being piled one on top of another.
Arrogance of Power points to political interference in the inquest proceedings. The Government had armed itself with enough draconian powers to dispose of the bodies without an inquest, although the bodies having been taken to the Hospital mortuary created a problem. Because of international interest Secretary/ Justice, Mervyn Wijesinghe, persuaded the Government to hold inquests in both instances. To this end the reluctant Colombo Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene was told by Wijesinghe to hold the inquests. The inquest verdicts, while routinely admitting homicide and calling upon the Police to conduct further investigations were also crafted to rule out state complicity and culpability. They long remained the Government’s defence and the last official word on the subject.
The supplementary information here comes from two sources. One is Lalanath de Silva, the son of Alexis Leo de Silva, then Superintendent of Welikade Prison who passed away in 1995. The other is Nuvolari Seneviratne who was the Lieutenant in charge of the army unit outside Welikade Prison during the second massacre on the 27th. But first a note on the ‘Truth’ Commission.
Judicial Censorship of SP Leo de Silva
In July 2001, President Kumaratunge appointed the Presidential ‘Truth’ Commission on Ethnic Violence headed by former Chief Justice Suppiah Sharvananda, with S.S. Sahabandu and M.M. Zuhair as additional members. It was mandated to inquire into the nature, causes and the extent of gross violations of human rights and destruction property in violence between January 1981 and December 1984. With regard to the violence of July 1983, Suriya Wickremasinghe, who had done extensive work on the prison massacres, appeared before the Commission. We give below in her own words her assessment of what was achieved and what it failed to achieve on the question of the massacres:
“Where the Welikade massacres were concerned for instance it did hardly any – if any – investigation of its own. It relied on me (CRM) for practically everything (for instance, even the inquest proceedings were supplied to it by us) and seemed more than happy with just our material. What it should have done is taken our material as a starting point and then followed up from there, with all its powers of investigation and summoning witnesses, which we didn’t have. For instance it could and should have tried to obtain the statements recorded by the police after the 1st massacre. The instructing attorneys in the 35 civil cases filed by dependents of victims (assisted by CRM; it was in pursuance of these that we tracked down and interviewed survivors) called for these time and again in preparation for the trials, but were met with evasion after evasion by the Police. The cases never came to trial because they were eventually settled, state paying some compensation but without admitting liability.
“By the time of the ‘Truth’ Commission, I guess I was exhausted with putting the facts before them and it was probably partly my fault I did not press sufficiently for follow-up, or possibly I thought it would be no use. Welikade was only a small part of the Commission’s whole remit. In its report the Commission did pay CRM and me a handsome tribute, which was certainly gratifying, but we had really hoped that it would investigate further and uncover information which we had not already found out for ourselves.”
When contacted by us Lalanath de Silva told us: “My evidence before the Truth Commission was essentially about what I knew – things I heard and saw for myself – and things my father told me or discussed with me. In July 1983 I was a young lawyer having been admitted to the bar in August 1982. My father discussed many legal and other matters related to his duties and this incident with me.
“If there was one thing he was ever so clear about – it was his duty as a Prison official with respect to all in his custody – namely that under the law they were committed to “safe custody” and that it was his bounden duty to keep them safe and well until they received due process. That is why the Magistrate at the first inquest refused to record his full story – abridged what he said, taking down only what he wanted. At one point my father refused to continue unless his evidence was accurately recorded.” The Magistrate became angry andstopped taking any more evidence from my father.
“In any event, my father told me that the AG’s department counsel called my father outside the room where the inquest was being held and had attempted to persuade my father to go along – his plea was that the truth would place Sri Lanka in a very adverse position internationally. My father refused to cooperate. He wanted it recorded that the Army had been complicit (by commission and omission) in the whole affair, that there were prisoners still alive after the massacre that he wanted sent immediately to the accident service for emergency treatment and that the army had blocked this and that his pleas to higher authorities to move the Tamil detainees away from Welikade even before the massacres had fallen on deaf ears. Of course none of this was recorded!”
“At the second inquest, he did not take my father’s evidence because he knew my father insisted on speaking the truth and instead selected some junior officers. It was clear to my father that both the AGs department personnel and the Magistrate had one clear objective – to cover up the incident and return a finding where no one could be identified and prosecuted for the massacre. My father paid for his stance.”
This clarifies the observation made by Suriya Wickremasinghe of the Civil Rights Movement who closely followed this case from the very outset. She observed the lack of continuity in Leo de Silva’s testimony as recorded in the first inquest report and felt that parts of it were missing.
The Magistrate entered a verdict of homicide, from a ‘general state of unrest’ among 800 prisoners housed upstairs in the Chapel Section, ‘which had ended up as a riot’. He further concluded that, “None of the prison officers or the army officers summoned thereafter could have done anything under the circumstances to prevent the attack. They have all been completely overpowered.”
The 2nd Massacre 27th July
Most people, especially Tamils, assumed that the first massacre was planned and executed on behalf of the government of the day and the second followed because the job was incomplete, with about half the PTA detainees remaining alive. Suriya Wickremasinghe, who more than anyone else has painstakingly studied the matter from the start, and tracked down and interviewed most of the survivors in different parts of the world, adds a note of caution. While she formed a strong impression that the second massacre became imperative to cover up the first, she feels the first massacre was not necessarily pre-planned at high level. Her reasoning is that following the inquest into the first massacre, the Magistrate had issued routine instructions to the Police to carry out investigations and the Police did question the survivors and start recording statements which contained some damning testimony. The survivors had become witnesses to the crime. We will return to the question of premeditation towards the end.
Suriya Wickremasinghe added, “Some survivors were circumspect and didn’t say much. Others came out with names – e.g. Manickathasan (of the PLOTE who was killed by the LTTE in 1999), told me he named two jailors. He said their names were written down in inverted commas in his statement. Prison staff were listening while his statement was recorded and one of them, a thin jailor whose name he did not know, advised him not so mention these two names, otherwise the people here will do the same to you. He also told the police when asked that he could identify the two convicted prisoners who had broken down through the ceiling and come into their corridor…. …This would explain why, if indeed it happened, it was felt necessary to import criminals from outside – Lt. Seneviratne’s testimony below – for the second occasion, to make sure the job was properly done.”
While some survivors felt safe after being moved to the Youthful Offenders Block, others felt that they were in even greater danger than ever because they were witnesses. They would not be allowed to live but they would die fighting. Suriya adds, “Therefore they started preparations to defend themselves – improvised weapons by twisting tin plates to form missiles, collected urine and chillie water from their gravy in their buckets, got ready to entwine their canvas sleeping-sheets round the iron bars to hold the cell doors closed. That is why they were able to fight back and why some of them managed to survive.”
During the morning the Chief Jailor informed Acting Commissioner of Prisons C.T. (Cutty) Jansz that another attack on the surviving Tamil PTA prisoners was imminent. (At the inquest, he also added plans for a mass jailbreak to the impending attack on PTA prisoners, which we now have good reason to believe, was prompted into the testimony by the AG’s Dept.) Jansz contacted Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary/ Justice and wanted moves to fly the surviving prisoners out of Colombo, as had been agreed after the first attack, expedited. For this purpose Jansz attended the Security Council meeting at Army HQ that afternoon.
We make some remarks about the layout that are necessary for the account below. The prison has an outer perimeter wall. At the entrance there is an arch fitted with a solid door with a small door built into it to admit visitors. The larger door is opened for vehicles. Inside one is in a covered way, a kind of tunnel. On either side of the tunnel are office rooms and visitors rooms. At the end of the tunnel is a second gate made of metal bars through which one could see into the prison compound. A public coin-operated telephone was on a side of this tunnel. The standard security procedure for vehicles entering the prison is that when they go in through the first door, that door has to be closed and secured before the other is opened.
Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne of the Field Engineering Unit led the platoon that was on duty outside the prison. His unit had arrived in the night following the first massacre and, at midnight, he took over duties at the prison from Lt. Hathurusinghe of Artillery. The latter left in the morning. Some of Seneviratne’s men were at the guardroom at the prison entrance. Lt. Seneviratne told us that the duty of the soldiers at the entrance was to check the papers of the vehicles coming into the prison and ensure that they were government vehicles. The identity checks were the work of the jail guards just inside the entrance. The soldiers communicated freely with the jail guards and passed on to him news of what was going on inside. The soldiers at the entrance told him that they heard from the jail guards that some of the official vehicles coming in were bringing in underworld figures. They did not go back out in the vehicles that had brought them.
Asked who the underworld figures were, Seneviratne replied, “I did not see them myself and there is no way my men would have known them. But the jail guards knew them as persons who had been in and out of jail. They told my men.” Through sensing the atmosphere and what his men learnt from the jail guards, Seneviratne confirms that plans to attack the Tamil PTA detainees were widely known in the morning. Jansz had acted on this, yet nothing was done to ensure security of the prisoners.
Lt. Seneviratne did not communicate the prospect of an attack to Army HQ. He says that his men were well equipped with weapons and riot gear, rigorously trained and they could have handled any riot. During the afternoon he and his men heard a commotion near the Youthful Offenders Block where the surviving prisoners were housed. This was also close to the entrance where they were. It was at this point, Seneviratne says, that he contacted the Operations Room at Army HQ by the direct radio link. This was about 20 minutes before the actual attack began (roughly 4.00 PM). He spoke to the junior duty officer whom he asked for permission to go into the prison and deal with the attack. The junior duty officer gave him a telephone number at Army HQ and asked him to speak to the senior duty officer (rank of colonel).
Seneviratne believes that he was the first to communicate the impending attack to Army HQ, from whence Jansz was then on his way back to the Prison Commissioner’s office. Curfew was declared at 4.00 PM. Jansz was told about the riot about 4.15 PM and he immediately phoned Brigadier Madawala at Army HQ, who as arranged earlier had agreed to keep a squad in readiness in case of attack.
Lt. Seneviratne went to the public call box inside the entrance and in the tunnel. Using coins collected from his men and the Chief Jailor who was at the entrance, he phoned the number giver by the junior duty officer and got hold of the duty officer who was in the Army Commander’s room at HQ. The duty officer told him that they were aware of the riot and were sending a back up team and asked him to stay out. Seneviratne asked to speak to the Army Commander. The duty officer told him that the President was also there and he could not speak to the Army Commander and insisted that he stick to the standing orders, failing which he would be court-martialled. The standing orders were not to go in to the jail at any cost, but to protect the jail from outside attacks only. The orders had nothing to say on the protection of prisoners.
Seneviratne told us that during this time he was in the tunnel with some of his men. They were able to move in and out through the small door attached to the big door in front. The second door with a metallic grill leading into the prison compound was closed but not locked. Jail staff were moving in and out of it into the tunnel. Some of his men who were with him fired at the attackers through the grill. Others had used an army truck and climbed onto the prison wall and fired from there.
The account in Arrogance of Power reflected the general perception that both prison attacks had been planned for just after curfew to prevent other prisoners escaping. There may also be another factor in the second. Arrogance of Power which also used Suriya Wickremasinghe’s analysis of the case, expressed surprise that neither the inquest proceedings nor the recorded testimony of prison staff made any reference to the whereabouts or role of Superintendent Leo de Silva or either of his two ASPs. It wondered if Leo was on the premises.
His son Lalanath said, “My father was in and out of that jail all through this time.
I was at home and he spent most of his time, morning, noon and night in that jail. That was not just during this period but that was his commitment to duty – The Prison Ordinance says that Prison officers are on duty 24 hours – he took that literally! He would say to me “Prisoners come and Prisoners go, but I am in jail forever”!
“The second massacre took place minutes after my father had come home to get a late
lunch and a quick wash – he had spent the whole night in jail and pretty much the whole morning and noon. He had barely come home (our home is the big house to the left of Welikade gate) when he heard shouting from inside the jail, the alarm siren etc and he ran back to the jail. Perhaps they all waited for him to leave? The timing was incredibly too perfect. My father did tell me that on the second massacre he was pleading with the army to fire tear gas – and that it took him many appeals and even some shouting to get them activated!”
The back up team sent by Army HQ comprised a group of commandos under Major Sunil Peiris. He and his men came through the small door into the tunnel. Peiris inquired about the situation from Seneviratne briefly before rushing in. By the time the commandos took control the attackers had enough time to kill 16 of the 28 prisoners locked up in the cells on the ground floor of the YO Block and Dr. Rajasundaram upstairs. Another died later in Hospital, bringing the total to 18.
Major Peiris in testimony given to us said that fire from his weapon injured a prisoner whom he saw being carried away. Lt. Seneviratne told us that his men too had fired at the attackers from the gate and some were injured. These facts were not recorded by Magistrate Wijewardene who also conducted the inquest into the second massacre at the request of Mervyn Wijesinghe. Nor was any attempt made to identify the attackers whom, as Suriya Wickremasinghe who interviewed survivors noted, could have been identified by them, as they fought off several of them at close quarters. Many survivors told her that they could have identified some of the attackers if seen again. After asking the survivors whether they could identify the attackers, to which the answer was no, since the prisoners did not know the attackers by name, the Magistrate failed to follow up with, whether they could identify the attackers if they saw them again (for example at an identification parade). It was also remarkable that whereas the prison staff, who at the inquest identified with ease the mutilated bodies of the victims, invariably said that they were unable to identify a single of the convicted prisoners who took part in the riot!
Lt. Seneviratne Barred from the Inquest
The presence of underworld elements imported into the prison for the second attack, which Lt. Seneviratne spoke of, had been rumoured for a long time and strenuously denied by senior staff in the Prisons Dept. Also rumoured before and denied by Prisons staff is a hole reportedly made in the prison wall after the second massacre. Lt. Seneviratne said that after Major Peiris arrived, his men alerted him to a hole having been made in the prison wall by the cricket grounds. He said that he personally saw it about 5.00 PM and an Air Force truck was parked opposite the hole, with an air officer present. He did not make an issue of it but simply looked at it and left. He believes this was how the injured prisoners and the underworld elements brought in were taken out, adding that there is a path there that leads to Borella.
Lt. Seneviratne told us that following the massacre AG’s Dept men and men from the Army’s legal department. came to Welikade prison to discuss the inquest. The standing orders and the logbook in which the soldiers logged in the vehicles entering were removed. He said a group of about 20 of them wanted him to tell the inquest that there had been a jailbreak attempt by detainees. He was placed under enormous pressure, but he refused to testify that he was outside the prison controlling a jailbreak.
Seneviratne felt very bad about not being allowed to go into prison and rescue the PTA detainees. He told the others that they refused him permission to go in and rescue the prisoners, but now they wanted him to make some false testimony. He said that he would only speak the truth and say that what happened was sheer murder.
The AG’s dept. men told the army officers present to convince ‘your man’. When he refused repeated pleas to give in, Major Sunil Peiris stepped in and told the others not to harass him and if he won’t, he won’t. Peiris said that if they wanted someone from the Army to testify, he would. Seneviratne told us that he had trained with the commandos and during that time he had become friends with Major Peiris.
Peiris testified at the inquest the following day, but he did not give substance to any attempted jailbreak. He answered what must have been a leading question with, “I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out… I initially gathered that the mass scale jail break had been contained…”
Seneviratne was hoping that as the officer in charge at the prison, he would be called upon to testify as Lt. Hathurusinghe had previously been, so that he could place the truth on record. But he was not. Major Peiris was presented as the spokesman for the Army’s role and the part played by those on duty outside the jail was ignored. Suriya Wickremasinghe with whom Lt. Seneviratne first made contact adds, “In fact even those who later studied the subject carefully overlooked this omission, or assumed that the army unit outside had been unable or unwilling to do anything as during the first massacre.”
After the awkwardness with Leo de Silva at the first inquest, the AG’s Dept. was very choosy about witnesses. Leo de Silva and his two deputies were not called. The Chief Jailor, fourth in order of seniority, was brought in as though he were in charge. Explaining his position, Chief Jailor Karunaratne said, “Up to this point… to the best of my recollection there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound…” Indeed, Leo had gone for a quick lunch, but had come as soon as the alarm was raised.
It is now easy to see that the combination of officials and lawyers from the Army’s legal unit and the AG’s Dept., along with a willing magistrate, had scripted the inquest proceedings. Having kept Seneviratne out of the inquest, Chief Jailor Karunaratne was given a story to explain why an army unit had to come all the way from HQ when Lt. Seneviratne who was on the spot was not utilised. Karunaratne said: “I was also informed that some… prisoners in the remand prison had obtained possession of fire arms. I am now aware that in view of that situation some of the army personnel placed outside Welikade Prison had to go to the remand section to combat that situation.”
What Karunaratne could not say is that he was at the gate asking help from Lt. Seneviratne’s unit and gave him coins to call Army HQ to get permission, which was refused. He was thus scripted to explain the army unit’s absence with a fictitious riot at the remand section. He rather weakly explained the steps he took to prevent a mass jailbreak, sending his men everywhere except to the scene of attack.
Having failed to substantiate any jailbreak attempt, Magistrate Wijewardene still went undeterred to the scripted conclusion: “Both the army personnel and the prison officers had been hindered in the full utilisation of their forces to protect the victims of the attack by the intended mass jailbreak…However, prompt and efficient steps taken by the special unit of the Army under witness Major Peiris had effectively prevented the jail break referred to.” Major Peiris had been clear that there was no attempted jailbreak.
Post massacre fortunes of SP Leo de Silva and Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne
Despite their large difference in age and having been in two different services, they had something in common. They instinctively respected the spirit of the law and found murder galling. During the fateful 48 hours at Welikade, which scarred their lives and virtually ended their careers, they moved in close proximity of each other, but perhaps never met. If they did, Leo would have been deeply distrustful of Nuvolari.
Leo’s son Lalanath said, “My father was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the Army set the prisoners up. Keep in mind this was a response to 13 soldiers being killed in the North by the LTTE. Here was a way to kill “LTTE” personnel right in Colombo. My father believed that by commissions (rousing prisoners to revolt) and omissions (refusing to cooperate to quell the riot and blocking emergency treatment for injured Tamil detenues after the first massacre) the Army was vicariously responsible for the events.”
Leo, as he confided to his family, continued in fear of grievous harm from the army units guarding the prison . He took the precaution of swearing an affidavit before his son, an all-island JP. He would leave the truth on record in a situation where the courts found no place for it. After all that happened and the position he took trying to save the lives of injured Tamil detainees and the court scenes where he protested to a rude and angry magistrate that he would speak the whole truth, a further incident related by his son enhanced his fear:
“After the massacres, he was walking to the jail from home once after dark, when he was challenged by an army officer. Upon giving his name and rank, the officer verbally signalled him to pass, but continued to point the gun at my father. Under normal practice the gun is lowered once permission to pass is given. My dad was angry at this insult. He went up to the officer and reminded him that he (my father) was of the rank of a colonel in the army and the correct thing was for him to lower his gun and salute him. The officer did not salute him but did lower the gun and stand to attention.”
In the affidavit, he affirmed his belief that the army personnel stationed outside the prison were instrumental in encouraging prisoners to attack Tamil PTA detainees. According to his son, “It was very clear to my father that during the first massacre, prisoners appeared confident that the Army would not intervene and that the Prison guards themselves neither had tear gas nor other effective means for mass crowd control.”
As the head of the prison, Leo de Silva felt it incumbent upon him to carry out an internal inquiry and identify the culprits responsible. In this he was thwarted by an order from the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. Delgoda. He was a marked man given that the Government was determined to cover up the Welikade massacres. Leo de Silva was obstructed and finally pushed out at the age of 56. The prisons come under the Ministry of Justice, and Dr. Nissanka Wijeratne, who was then Minister for Justice refused him the extension of service that is routinely given annually after the age of 55. He was denied his pension and promotion as well. As a young lawyer, Lalanath had to file a fundamental rights case for him – and it was in a settlement they got there that his full pension was restored and his back wages were given on the basis of a promotion.
For Leo it was towards the end of his exemplary career, and being thrown out in that manner is a bitter pill for anyone. For Nuvolari Seneviratne, it was but the beginning of his career. He was then only 22 years old. He soon realised that by refusing to play along at the inquest according to the script, he angered many in the Army. Relations between him and his commanding officer Major (later Colonel) Jayantha Jayasinghe plummeted. The latter found himself blamed for not being able to get his subordinate to go along with their story.
Seneviratne and his men felt frustrated and unhappy that they had been prevented from going into the jail and rescuing the prisoners under attack. To many this would seem a very unusual attitude after what people saw from the Army at that time and especially from Lt. Hathurusinghe’s unit that was at the prison during the first massacre. Hathurusinghe was also in touch with Army HQ, but his unit went into the prison and were spectators to the massacre and also, later, prevented the injured from being taken to Hospital.
Generalisations could frequently be unjust. There were many soldiers, including from the ranks, who thought professionally, like in the case cited below. When the officer wanted a soldier to assault a prisoner, the soldier replied that an order asking him to shoot was one he was bound to obey, but not one to assault a prisoner. When a platoon works and trains together, a rapport develops and when the commander sees a task as a challenge to their professionalism, the men are bound to fall in line.
In this instance Seneviratne and his men saw it as their duty to rescue the prisoners. And their frustration must have increased when after a crucial delay, Major Sunil Peiris was sent in to do the very job they were both trained and eager to do and could have accomplished expeditiously. Where the public was concerned, Seneviratne and his platoon were cast in a poor light and left there for reasons of state. It appears that Army HQ was taken aback when Seneviratne asked for permission to go into the prison and do his job. They strictly ordered him to keep out of the jail, unlike they did with Hathurusinghe and his men, who were allowed in on a sight-seeing expedition.
Seneviratne says that three years after the massacre, knowing that there was no future for him in the Army, he put in his papers. He was refused and by this time the talk among several officers was that it was better to keep him in the Army, rather than let him go out and talk. He kept on putting in his papers to leave the Army. His promotions were also stalled, but he was posted to the battle zones in the North. Some called him a Tiger, claiming that those killed at Welikade were all Tigers. (In fact an overwhelming majority of those killed did not belong to the LTTE, but Tigers had become a generic name for Tamil militants.) Seneviratne argued that many of those like Rajasundaram were in fact intellectuals.
Finally, Seneviratne says, General Kobbekaduwa in 1992, understanding his position was sympathetic and signed his release. But just afterwards, in August 1992, he was killed and Seneviratne’s release was withdrawn. At this time Seneviratne, who by then held the rank of captain, was in Weli Oya. Whenever he was with his commanding officer Jayantha Jayasinghe, tempers tended to flare up and sometimes they almost came to blows. The area was one where there was constant LTTE infiltration and Seneviratne felt that he was being sent on missions from which he was not expected to come back alive.
At one point Colonel Jayasinghe had his salary stopped although he continued on active duty for a further seven months. When he went home on leave, Jayasinghe sent a message telling him not to come back. Without making a further issue of it, Seneviratne simply went away. It was in the year 2000 that he appealed to the Army Commander for a review to regularise his discharge from the Army. An inquiry was held, where some of his former brother officers supported him. The Commander regularised his departure and called for the payment of his arrears. Seneviratne says he was told unofficially to forget his back pay as the termination of his pay was improper and touching the matter would involve the Army in legal controversy.
The Standing of Seneviratne’s Testimony
A striking remark made by Seneviratne in the course of our conversations is that he would not be speaking out now, had he not seen the account of the prison massacres in Arrogance of Power, which concluded that there was no attempted jailbreak during the second massacre, contrary to what the Magistrate maintained. For, Seneviratne said, “No one would have believed me”.
One would soon realise that his fears were very real. Senior Prison Department staff have maintained over the years that there was no presence of outsiders during the second massacre and they dismiss the claim that a hole was made in the wall. The infirmity in their denials is that a proper inquiry was never held and the culprits were not held to account. And after the kind of disaster that occurred, one would have expected some open accounting. On the other hand Commissioner Delgoda blocked Leo de Silva’s attempt to hold an inquiry and he alone appears to have paid dearly for his independence.
On the other hand Leo de Silva’s assessment has been that the Army was mainly to blame. His son told us, “I recall (and I said so to the Truth Commission) an army truck with soldiers cheering “Jayaweva” (Victory) speeding around the perimeter road of the jail even as the massacre was happening (I cannot remember if it was the first or second). I saw this myself through the rear window of our house – where my sister, mother and aunt were and prisoners could have heard this as well.” This incident we believe took place after the first massacre. Seneviratne vigorously denies that this happened on his watch.
The first day of widespread communal violence, July 25th, was soon after the killing of 13 soldiers in an LTTE mine attack in Jaffna. Besides, Leo de Silva’s personal experience with the Army too would have strengthened his assessment of the Army being the main instigators with tacit government support. However, the evidence we advanced in Sri Arrogance of Power points to both the communal violence and even the prison massacres having been planned well in advance.
The countdown in July, the President’s Daily Telegraph interview on fighting terrorism without impediments of the law and the orchestrated belligerence were pointers to the coming menace. Leo de Silva had even before the massacres called for the Tamil prisoners to be transferred, having sensed something nasty in the offing.
Evidence that Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne was indeed a conscientious objector to what his superiors wanted him to do, is the fact of the AG’s Dept. shunning his testimony. Arrogance of Power had found this remarkable and in need of explanation.
We found Lt. Seneviratne’s evidence eminently credible, not jarring anywhere, but adding to our understanding of events. His answers to questions regarding difficult points in his testimony came across convincingly without hesitation. A second massacre had been anticipated. Acting Commissioner Jansz wanted the transfer of prisoners expedited. The President and the Army Commander knew the gravity of the situation at the prison. Whether or not Seneviratne’s advance warning to the junior duty officer was communicated to them, they sent a back up team after Jansz communicated with them. One finds it strange for an army that the junior duty officer should have asked Lt. Seneviratne to go to a public call box and phone the senior duty officer in the same HQ premises.
While the army unit at the entrance had been kept idle, the Magistrate was anxious to conclude that there had been an attempted jailbreak. Seneviratne affirms that his pleas to go to the aid of the prisoners were turned down and he was asked to do nothing and pretend that there was an attempted jailbreak, so giving the attackers more time. All this makes perfect sense if the Army HQ had connived in the crime. If not Seneviratne could simply have been ordered to go in.
We come to the controversial elements of his testimony. One is about outsiders getting into the prison since the morning in official vehicles and the hole in the wall. Lalanath de Silva who shares the skepticism of senior prison officials at that time, says of outsiders getting in, “It is also highly unlikely that this could have happened under my father’s nose. He was an extremely alert man and was fully conscious of this possibility. Whether this happened when my father was not in the jail, I don’t know.” He suggested that blaming goons and thugs from the outside might suit the Army to deflect the searchlight from themselves. It is however well to remember that in the situation prevailing after the first massacre, Leo de Silva’s authority had been grievously undermined.
A strong indication of political machinations in the second massacre that Arrogance of Power has drawn attention to is a cabinet meeting that same (27th July 1983) morning reported in Sinha Ratnatunga’s ‘Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience’. The question of transferring the survivors of the first massacre out of Colombo to Jaffna prison had been raised. The author, who wrote the Migara column in the Weekend and was reputed for excellent inside contacts with President Jayewardene’s circle, reported that Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Ranil Wickremasinghe objected to the suggestion on the grounds that it would ‘further infuriate’ the Sinhalese. From what Lt. Seneviratne’s men told him, it would appear that even as these words were being uttered, underworld elements were being inducted into the prison in official vehicles.
We contacted S. Manoranjan editor of the Lake House Tamil monthly Amuthu from 1999 to 2001. In July 2000 Amuthu published an investigative report on the Welikade prison massacre. It said that a group of underworld figures led by Gonawela Sunil, a UNP thug from Kelaniya, had been brought into the prison to lead the second massacre.
Manoranjan told us that there were three journalists working on this piece. They had approached Mr. Ganeshalingam, a long time UNP stalwart in Colombo and subsequently mayor of Colombo, for help. He directed them to a former member of the UNP trade union JSS which earned notoriety at the time of the communal violence under the leadership of Minister Cyril Mathew, also MP for Kelaniya. It was this former JSS member who told them that goons from Kelaniya under Gonawela Sunil were brought into Welikade Prison to carry out the second prison massacre. This story had been in the rumour mill for a long time.
We may also note that at some level there was apparently unhappiness with leaving the Welikade Massacres case to rest with merely the highly publicised inquest reports of Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene as the last word. Or perhaps this was simply the result of the internationally expressed outrage. The Appendix gives the copy of a letter provided to us by the Civil Rights Movement where A.R.B. Amarasinghe, who had by early 1984 succeeded Mervyn Wijesinghe as Secretary/Justice, requests the Chief Justice to nominate a judge of the Supeme Court to inquire into matters pertaining to the massacre. One question notably concerned the possible presence of outsiders who were neither prisoners nor prison officials.
The attempt to hold an inquiry did not get off the ground. The reasons must for the moment remain a matter of speculation. It does however tell us that the possibility of an unauthorised presence of outsiders was taken seriously in the aftermath of the massacres.
Seneviratne’s support for this charge of the involvement of outsiders in the second massacre comes totally independent of any other report and without frills. He did not know about the affiliations of the underworld figures, but reported the mere fact of what his men learnt from the jail guards they worked with. His report of the hole in the wall had also been previously rumoured and adds nothing to his verifiable and damning testimony about the massacre itself.
Other Dissidents in the Saga of Welikade Prisoners
Cases of other dissidents who come out with credit in the story of the PTA prisoners were given to us by Suriya Wickremasinghe. She was told of these during her extensive interviews with survivors and we give them as related by her:
– The jail guard who successfully stood guard at the entrance to one of the wings in the Chapel building during the first massacre, blocking the doorway with his arms and legs spread out so that he formed an X. (Recounted to me by one of the survivors, who demonstrated how the guard had stood). Other survivors spoke of a jail guard, presumably the same one, who put his foot on the lock of the entrance to the corridor and said if you break this you have to cut my foot. It is correct that one of the wings housing Tamil prisoners in the Chapel Building was not broken into at all during the first massacre and all its inmates were thereby saved.
– Even more significant, the soldier in army camp (Panagoda if I recall right) before the prisoners were transferred to Welikade, who told his superior, when refusing to assault a prisoner, that he can order him to shoot, but that he cannot order him to beat a prisoner.
– Another survivor spoke very emotionally of a prison officer who was kind to them in Welikade and wanted me to convey to him his good wishes! This same survivor told me that if he ever sees again those who tortured him, he just has to kill them. This tale of regular assaults in army custody was a feature of almost all the testimonies, and they were very relieved when they were transferred to Welikade, where life was a comparative paradise until the 25th of July 1983. When interviewing these survivors, I was always in a hurry to hear about the massacres, but invariably first let them get off their chest the account of what they had undergone up to then. It was also a standard feature that admiration at times indeed amounting to love for those who treated them humanely was as strongly expressed as hatred for those who did the opposite.
The Question of Premeditation in the Massacres
We mentioned earlier that to most of us who in 1983 were politically alive as Tamils, and to the community having been placed at the cross roads by the infamous events, nothing we read or heard ever caused us to doubt that both the prison massacres were planned and executed by elements in the government of the day. It happened after the Tamil PTA detainees had been transferred from military custody and other prisons to Welikade prison.
Premeditation is hard to prove as no proper investigation was conducted and some of the key witnesses have since died. Many would still argue after extensive research that the transfer of prisoners to fiscal custody had been demanded by the main Tamil parliamentary party, the TULF, because of complaints of assault and ill-treatment in army-custody. The first massacre could also be explained as a result of purely local instigation in response to the upsurge of anti-Tamil emotions outside, granting that some jailors (persons of officer rank in the prison service) were also involved.
Many of these questions were dealt with in Arrogance of Power. We summarise the essential points and add a few more. Arrogance of Power could not have been written, but for an exceptionally conducive environment prevailing under the early years of Chandrika Kumaratunge’s presidency. There was a war and there were serious ongoing abuses, but for all her shortcomings as a leader, she stated unequivocally that there was an ethnic problem and genuine political grievances among the Tamils that needed a federal settlement. She repeatedly spoke of July 1983 as an outrage that needed to be come to terms with. One cannot readily see that her appointment of a ‘Truth’ Commission to go into the events of July 1983 was calculated to derive political mileage. Given the quagmire into which local politics had entered, her position as a leader was a major step for this country, as seen by the ease with which her successor has slipped back into primordial Sinhalese nationalism, leading to much uncertainty.
The atmosphere prevailing in the latter 1990s gave unprecedented access to material and to serving and retired officers in the security services, who believed that the ethnic problem had been badly mishandled and were willing to talk frankly about their experiences. An especially important group of contacts was journalists who had been active during the mid-1980s and had informally hobnobbed with key ministers.
Not only were a number of them convinced that the a section of the government was behind the prison massacres, but also that Jailor Rogers Jayasekere was the key linkman. Senior members of the Prison Dept. confirmed this to us obliquely. The journalists knew Jayasekere, whose father had worked for President Jayewardene when he contested Kelaniya earlier in his political career, as a UNP hatchet man, who provided behind the scenes support when the party wanted to play rough. In the prison he was polite and English speaking but his party affiliations to the UNP – the ruling party then – were also well known.
Citing Gamini Dissanayake, a leading minister who was then being overtaken in importance by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, a leading journalist told us about Jayasekere’s involvement in establishing Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas – Weli Oya in this instance. Jayasekere, he learnt was picked for the job of arranging for selected Sinhalese prisoners in Anuradhapura prison to be moved to Manal Aru in Mullaitivu (Weli Oya in Sinhalese) to pioneer a Sinhalese settlement. (This first group sent by Jayasekere was massacred by the LTTE in November 1984.)
Given Jayasekere’s background, it was eminently credible that the Welikade massacre was entrusted to him by leading members of the Government. Former detainees named two other prison officers who played a leading role in the massacres. They are Jailor Samitha (Rathgama) and Location Officer Palitha. There were also other reasons that added weight to the contention of premeditation.
A former prisoner in Welikade, now living abroad, told us that their being moved to Welikade had nothing to do with the request by the TULF. He said the TULF request was made 1½ years earlier and the prisoners themselves launched a hunger strike several months before to press this demand. This prisoner was moved to Welikade from Panagoda Army Camp as part of the movement to Welikade, which began on 3rd June 1983 and ended 11 days later on the 14th. The context of this movement was also the Public Security Ordinance, which was brought into force on the same day the movement began – 3rd. The former prisoner was among four who were released around 9th June. He believes they were released because there was nothing against them. Looking back he feels quite certain that the fate of the rest was already sealed. He points to the following, which seem to him significant in retrospect:
- Of the 72 Tamil PTA or ER detainees concerned in the massacre drama, 63 were concentrated in one place – in three wings on the ground floor of the Chapel Section – irrespective of status. Some had been convicted, some had court hearings in progress and there were those against whom charges had not even been formulated or whose offences, if any, were not even of a criminal nature and should have been released. [The remaining nine prisoners of standing were held at the Y.O. Block to which the survivors from the first massacre were then moved. There were also Tamil suspects held in other parts of the prison.]
- During the same period some criminal elements were moved from other prisons to the Chapel Section. Among them were Sepala Ekanayake and Akuna Santhre (Hemachandra) who were in Magazine Prison. The first took a prominent role in the second massacre and the second was a notorious killer.
This former prisoner suggested that A. Varadarajaperumal who was in Magazine Prison might have more information on this. At our request Mr. Varadarajaperumal sent us some notes. From his testimony, we gather no evidence that any prisoners were moved to the Chapel Section in preparation for the massacre. Akuna Santhre remained at Magazine. Sepala Ekanayake was transferred to the Chapel Section. His trial for hijacking commenced on 30th June 1983.
Varadarajaperumal was interrogated by an ASP from the CID on the 4th Floor around 1st April 1983. This police officer kicked him onto the ground, screamed at him that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte (Colombo suburbs with a large Tamil population) will burn, as happened the coming July, and kicked him again.
Concerning Sepala Ekanayake, Varadarajaperumal said that at Magazine he used to be notably uncommunicative with Tamil prisoners and was also known to express strong anti-Tamil views among other prisoners. This was in marked contrast to his disposition towards the Tamil prisoners at the Chapel Section, where he cultivated a cordiality that was about excessive – greetings in Tamil and expressions of solidarity with their cause. Several Tamil survivors of the massacres refused to believe that he played a leading role in the second massacre. It is quite possible that those planning the massacre in the Chapel Section had recruited him and he was enjoying the deception of bogus cordiality with the intended victims. Appendix II gives a translated extract from Varadarajaperumal’s notes.
More pertinently, it must be remembered that the transfer to fiscal custody coincided with putting the PSO into effect with talk of getting tough on terrorism. Barely three weeks earlier, in May, sections of the Government had had unleashed communal violence against Tamil students at Peradeniya University (Supplement to Special Report No.19 Part-I).
On 12th June 1983, just as the movement of prisoners to Welikade was being completed, a report in the Island revealed that some in the Government were obsessed with these prisoners and proposed changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Criminal Procedure Code giving the Army as part of routine law powers they already had under the PSO and various Emergency Regulations. The proposed amendments empowered the army personnel to use lethal force in respect of ‘terrorist suspects attempting to break jail or making a bid for freedom’. In the event of a suspect’s death, the only legal obligation was to make a report to the Attorney General’s Dept. on the circumstances of the death. This was the thinking reflected in the standing orders given to the army unit posted outside the prison.
A strong piece of evidence of premeditation comes from the fact that the communal violence of July 1983 was meticulously planned with the collection of electoral lists and assignment of UNP hit men to areas, behind the rhetoric of dispensing with the law to defeat terrorism. The attention the Government devoted to the PTA detainees in the run up to the violence (which was largely independent of the incident in Jaffna where 13 soldiers were killed) would make it highly remarkable if they were left out of the planning. The behavior of the army hierarchy during both massacres when the President was at Army HQ and the termination of the services of Superintendent Leo de Silva after he tried to hold an internal inquiry are further pointers.
The Curse of a Generation
To SP de Silva, Lt. Seneviratne and their families, it has been many years of pain living under a cloud of suspicion for crimes they tried to prevent, their honour tarnished. For the country itself it has been a steady erosion of values for a generation, taking a heavy toll on the honest and honourable. In the journey in time from Welikade to Mutur and Pottuvil, we have seen a host of crimes that would have been easily dealt with if our Courts, the Police and the AG’s Dept. were geared to bringing out the truth. With obfuscation having become the norm for these institutions, those committed to the truth need to go through a painful process of trial and error.
A more perfect account needs to stand on the shoulders of imperfect accounts. But the sanity of a society demands that the truth must be placed on record and those guilty understand the feelings of the others. Imperfect accounts have their place. It is through them that others feel motivated to respond and improve the stock of information.
For a generation we have been locked into a regime of crimes and counter-crimes. While those of governments may come to light, many years later perhaps, through conscientious objectors, such persons stand no chance in Tamil society. Crimes of the LTTE are far more likely to come to light in psychiatric clinics. Placing the truth on record has a necessary curative purpose, so that if not we in our time, another generation could at least see the light of dawn.
Acknowledgement: The Welikade Prison Massacre remains a live issue largely because of the Civil Rights Movement and Suriya Wickremasinghe. They have been the chief repositories of its memory and we hope Suriya’s book on the events would be published before long. The reader would see that much of the information contained here and what appeared in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power…owed critically to resources provided by her and CRM. Her editorial suggestions to this account were such as to help it stay within the bounds of evidence as against extrapolations and what we have taken for granted. We might add that she holds reservations about some of our conclusions. On a further note, Nuvolari Seneviratne who was at the time of the massacre a lieutenant in the Sri Lankan Army made contact with Suriya Wickremasinghe after seeing the account of the massacre in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power… on our web site. We invite readers to send any further information to us at [email protected]. This would be passed on to Suriya Wickremasinghe.
Letter from Secretary, Justice, Amarasinghe to Chief Justice Samarakoon
3rd January 1984.
The Hon. N.D.M. Samarakoon, Q.C.,
Chief Justice’s Chambers, Hulftsdorp,
Dear Chief Justice,
Further to our discussion this morning, I shall be grateful if you would assist us by nominating a Judge of the Supreme Court to investigate and report to the Hon. Minister of Justice on or before March 15th 1984 on the following matters:
1. What were the significant and relevant incidents leading to the deaths of certain persons at Welikade Prison on 25th and 27th July 1983?
2. What were the significant and relevant incidents and events which took place at Welikade Prison on the 25th and 27th July 1983?
3. What were the significant and relevant incidents and events after the 25th and 27th July 1983?
4. Did the prison authorities sufficiently discharge their duties and if not, who were the officers to blame and in what way?
5. Were the physical facilities and security arrangements adequate, if not, in what way were they deficient?
6. At the time of the incidents in question, were there any persons within the prison who were neither prisoners nor prison officials? If so –
(a) who were they?
(b) how did they gain admission?
(c) Were they armed and of so, in what way?
(d) were they directly or indirectly responsible for the incident in question and if so, in what way?
7. What steps if any, should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents?
Dr. A.R.B. Amarasinghe
Ministry of Justice.
A Note from A. Varadarajaperumal
Annamalai Varadarajaperumal (Varathar), along with Maheswararajah, an MA student at Jaffna University, and 10 other members of the EPRLF were arrested by the Police in Batticaloa on 31stMarch 1983, at what was essentially a political meeting. What the Police found were innocuous political materials. They were all imprisoned in Magazine Prison, Colombo, under the PTA and their detention was prolonged by the CID periodically reporting to the Magistrate that there was a delay in obtaining translations of their materials. Varathar was in Magazine prison nearby when the massacres took place in Welikade. Some of his experiences are described below:
Four days after our arrest we were taken to Magazine Prison. Maheshwararaja and I were kept in solitary confinement. A little later we were joined by Vamadevan from KKS, who was S.J.V.Chelvanayakam’s driver. I came to know him during the famous 1975 parliamentary by-election in KKS. He was arrested in Batticaloa in connection with the Chenkalady bank robbery in which he was involved with Paramadeva. Having been in prison long, he knew the other prisoners and the prison officials, whom he introduced to me. There were near us two prisoners held in maximum security conditions. They were Akkuna Santhre (Hemachandra) and a Muslim who was involved in several robberies in Maradana. Also held with us was Thanga Mahendran, a founder member of TELO in 1975.
The hijacker Sepala Ekanayake was separated from us by a tin fence. He hardly ever spoke to the Tamil detainees. A few days before the July 83 incidents a rich Tamil from Colombo was brought there in connection with foreign exchange fraud. It was he who gave us much information about Sepala and said that he used to vomit communal venom among the Sinhalese detainees.
It was customary for the prison superintendent to meet us on our first or second day in prison. When it was my turn to see the SP, I was in for a shock. He was Ratnayake, the Chief Jailer when I was imprisoned in Welikade H ward during 1975 to 1977. We then knew him as an arch Sinhalese communalist. But this time he struck me as a decent man. My impression was that there had been a genuine change.
I could sense that the events of July 1983 were planned and unleashed on the Tamil people and, by early April, plans were already known in intelligence circles. Two days after my arrest, 1st or 2ndApril 1983, I was taken to a room of an ASP on the 4th flour of the CID building. When I answered his questions about the Tamil struggle, he instantly abused me in filthy language. From where he was seated on the table, he kicked me and I fell against a corner. He screamed at me that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte will burn and kicked me again while I was on the ground.
In Magazine Prison there were Sinhalese communalists among the prison staff and also some very decent people. When the violence began on 24th July, one jail guard told me with deep feeling that this country has been pushed back 50 years. On the 25th when the first Welikade massacre took place, we were locked up earlier than usual. It was on the radio that we heard of what had happened. When we were let out the following morning, Vamadevan warned me that Akuna Santhre, who was friendly with us until that day, was gritting his teeth and looking at us with a twisted face. He told us not to talk to him. Communalism had got even into this veteran prisoner, notorious murderer, robber and social outcast. Sensing the situation was bad we asked SP Ratnayake to move us to where the other Tamil detainees were. A few hours later Maheshwararaja, Vamadevan and I were joined with the other Tamil political prisoners.
There was curfew on the 26th. No new restrictions were placed on the prisoners, but the prison officers were alert and maintained control of the prisoners.
On the 27th of July we were all suddenly locked up a short while after lunch. We were afraid that a massacre might be unleashed in our section. We requested a jail guard to allow us all in the lobby. This was refused and we were unable to contact the SP. When we were locked up in our cells in threes and fours in the evening, a jail guard who was a communalist searched the cells carefully and took away all objects that could be used in our defence. We heard the sounds coming from the Welikade during the 2nd massacre. About 10.30 or 11.00 PM, the doors were suddenly opened and senior prison officials came into the lobby. We were asked to collect our things. We were taken to the office and our properties were returned to us. It was like a dream. We didn’t know what was happening.
As we were being taken out Superintendent Ratnayake came to me and was visibly very upset. He apologised for what had happened to Tamil prisoners and added that we were being moved to a safe place. One prison official told me that there had also been plans to use Sinhalese prisoners in a similar massacre at Magazine prison on the 27th, and we should be grateful to SP Ratnayake for being alive up to this moment. We were taken to the office of the Commissioner in charge of Welikade and Magazine prisons. There were military vehicles around. I saw Deputy Commissioner H.G. Dharmadasa issuing instructions to prison officials. I knew him as the Superintendent of Bogamabara prison, Kandy, when I was there 10 days 1976. Tamil political prisoners who had spent several years there regarded him a gentleman. When I saw him I felt comforted.
Finally we were taken to Katunayake airport in a closed vehicle. We sweated and some among us urinated inside. It was hours before soldiers took us out one by one to urinate. We had been through an agonising time with much uncertainty. It was when finally the aircraft touched down in Batticaloa that we cried and hugged each other. We felt we had come home. I related this to H.W. Jayewardene at the 1985 Thimpu talks, when he would not accept the idea of a Tamil Homeland. I pointed out that they had themselves sent Tamil people to Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna after every instance of communal violence.
*University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka – Supplement to Special Report No.25 – Date of Release: 31st May 2007
Shivshankar Menon, National Security Adviser of India, visited Colombo from 8 – 9 July, 2013 to participate in the 2nd NSA-Level Meeting on Trilateral Cooperation on Maritime Security between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Although security conference was the main purpose of Shivshankar’s visit, he also took the opportunity to convey India’s concerns about attempts made by the Sri Lankan government to dilute 13 A by robbing provincial councils powers over land and police. 13A came about through the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987. India is insisting that the 13A was part of a joint agreement and any changes being made should be first discussed by both countries.
At present, Provincial Councils have certain powers over State land. Under paragraph 1:3 of Appendix II of the Thirteenth Amendment, alienation or disposition of State land within a Province to any citizen or to any organisation shall be by the President but only on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council. It may be recalled that in the case filed against the former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, for transferring state land to Water’s Edge Golf Company, one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva held that the transfer was illegal was that the advice of the Western Provincial Council had not been given. The Government is now considering deleting the requirement of advice and also taking back many other land powers devolved.
Although Police powers have been devolved to a certain extent by the Thirteenth Amendment, Provincial Councils are unable to exercise those powers as the Police Commission Act, No. 1 of 1990 which provides for the establishment of a National Police Commission and a Provincial Police Commission for each province has still not been brought into operation by successive Governments. The government wants to completely take back Police powers.
On 14 November, 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. It was certified on 14 November, 1987. The Act recognized Thamil an official language and English a link Language and established Provincial Councils. Provincial Council Act No 42 of 1987 laying down the procedure to be followed in Provincial Councils was also passed.
Under the Thirteenth Amendment, if a Bill on a subject devolved on Provincial Councils is to be passed by Parliament, the Bill has to be referred to all Provincial Councils for their views. If all Provincial Councils agree, then the Bill can be passed by a simple majority. However, if one or more Provincial Councils do not agree, then the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the provinces which did not agree. If passed only by a simple majority, the Bill will be law only in the provinces that have agreed.
The government now wants to amend Article 154 (G) 2 and 154G (3) of the constitution that sets out the procedure for making any amendments to the provincial council’s list of powers. If this is affected, it would make devolution completely meaningless and a mockery.
There are 11 sections to the 154G and most relevant in this respect are Sections (2) and (3).
Section (2) reads as follows:
Article 154G (2) – this provision requires a Bill to amend or repeal any provisions of the 13th Amendment to be referred by the President “to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon”. If “every Provincial Council agrees to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill could be passed with a simple majority. On the other hand, if “one or more Councils do not agree to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill needs to be passed by a 2/3 majority.
Article 154 G (3) is similar to 154G (2); it deals with the Provincial Government List. It is couched in the same mandatory and prohibitive language as Article 154 (G) 2.
Under the heading “Statutes of Provincial Councils,” Section (1) says “every Provincial Council may, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, make statutes applicable to the Province for which it is established, with respect to any matter set out in List 1 of the Ninth Schedule (hereinafter referred to as “the Provincial Council List”). This statute making power is important and without this power the Provincial Councils are not institutions of devolution of power.
The demarcation between devolution and decentralization rests on this matter, if otherwise or without this power the Provincial Councils would be mere instrument of decentralization only.
After holding talks with the government, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is apparently returning home empty handed like others before him. The government is in no mood to give any concessions although President Mahinda Rajapaksa during and after the war promised full implementation of 13 A plus. However, he never spelt out what 13 A plus means. While domestically playing the “patriotic card” he continues to dupe the countries that helped him to win the war against the LTTE on devolving power to Thamil people.
Now a concerted campaign of disinformation is carried by the Sri Lankan government to create a fear psychosis among the Sinhalese about provincial council system that has been in existence for 26 years. The LTTE spectre is also resurrected by ultra-Sinhala chauvinists who claim that a Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Thamil National Alliance (TNA) will lead to separation. And what Prabhakaran failed to secure Thamil Eelam through bullets the TNA will do so by the ballots. It is also claimed that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant. All these objections are raised only after the government was forced to conduct elections for the Northern Province Council after a lapse of 23 years!
Hard-line Sinhalese racists also claim that Sri Lanka was forced to sign the agreement under duress without consulting the people (read Sinhalese) following dropping of dhal bombs over Jaffna by the Indian air force fighter planes!
Both during and after the war ended India has repeatedly stressed its expectations that the Sri Lankan Thamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens. And India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect. But those expectations appear to be in ruins.
According to news reports Mahinda Rajapaksa categorically told Shivshankar Menon that he will proceed with his own agenda. He has told Menon the Parliamentary Select Committee PSC) will deliberate on the proposed amendments, if any and he will abide by the recommendations of the PSC. As for his earlier promise to implement 13 A fully, he said that promise was for the people (read Sinhala) and not for India, UNO and the international community.
In the meantime Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, has spoken his mind in an interview to the government mouth piece the Daily News. Unlike others he does not mince his words. He has rejected devolution and wants the total abolition of 13 A, of course for the wrong reasons. Below is some extracts from his interview:
“…It is nothing but true and correct that in the North and East there must be the same percentage of the majority community. When 78% of this country comprises Sinhalese how does such a vast landmass in the North become 98% Thamil? Isn’t this unnatural? This was forced. Natural growth was prevented.”
“…No I don’t believe in devolution because of the above points I mentioned. If devolution is for administrative purposes that is of course legitimate. But if one thinks that devolution would provide an answer to the national problem that is something that I don’t agree with…I think that’s [the complete repealing of the 13th amendment] the way forward…”
“This again I see as a reaction to some of the claims and things done by the minorities. We shouldn’t let these things come out. Remember the majority community is 78% but if some 8% or 10% of the community tries to bring various issues all the time it creates a suspicion among the majority community. It creates insecurity within the majority community and obviously there will be sections reacting to that. This is what happened…” (‘I Deplore Any Form of Extremism’, Daily Mirror July 4, 2013)
In any other country the open exhibition of such blatant racism by any state functionary would have earned him outright dismissal. But, in Sri Lanka Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is adored as a Sinhala hero by Sinhala extremists! The UNP has openly accused him of financing outfits like the Bodu Bala Sena.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his much publicised interview is openly calling for the structural genocide of the Thamil people. Racists like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are unable to stomach the domination of Northeast by Thamils and Muslims who together form more than 80% of the population. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wants to change the demography of Northeast. It is he who is behind the accelerated Sinhala colonization of both the North and East, especially the Northern province. To carry out his genocidal grand plan the functioning of the Northern Provincial Council is an obstacle. Hence his call for the total abolition of 13 A.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has stacked the PSC with his puppet Ministers who have openly made statements in support of diluting 13 A. Those Ministers who were against truncating 13 A have been left in the cold. That includes Tissa Vitarana who chaired the All Party Conference (APC) Rajitha Senaratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and SLFP strongman and MP Reginald Cooray. These Ministers boldly called the move to dilute 13 A a blatant attempt to scuttle devolution and assert Sinhala political hegemony over the people of the North.
The PSC is being boycotted by all the main opposition parties – the UNP, the JVP and TNA. Even some of the partners of the UPFA coalition like the LSSP, CP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) are opposed to the exercise. Now, the PSC is largely a cabinet subcommittee of ‘yes men’ appointed to rubber stamp changes to 13A.
The UNP has decided against joining the Parliamentary Select Committee since the government had not clearly set out its stand on the future of the 13th Amendment. Unlike in the past UNP is taking a principled stand on the ethnic issue. It wants full implementation of 13 A.
J.R. Jayewardene is called an old fox for his cunningness. But, Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than J.R. Jayewardene. After finishing the LTTE with Indian arms, radars, intelligence, training etc. he is now biting India’s hands! He thinks he does not need India’s help anymore since China is at his feet! He has signed a defence agreement with China and apparently he perceives India as the enemy country.
It will be interesting to see the next move by New Delhi. India cannot keep on parroting the mantra that “Thamil community should lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect” without concrete action.
It is time India acts decisively and backs words with deeds. Soft diplomatic approaches, mostly behind the scenes engagements have failed to domesticate Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is determined to follow his own agenda to impose Sinhala hegemony over the Thamil people and reduce them to the status of third class citizens.
There are many options open to India. One option is to announce boycott of the CHOGM scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year. That will send a message to Mahinda Rajapaksa that India means business. It can also take over Kachchatheevu ceded to Ceylon in 1974. It must be very clear to India by now that Sri Lanka never understands sane advices.
Prime Minister Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood the mindset of Sri Lankan politicians and read the riot act. But, sadly her successors have failed to follow her bold diplomacy and no nonsense foreign policies.
On July 05, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a proclamation reconstituting the Northern Provincial Council. He had asked the Commissioner of Elections to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council. The Commissioner of Elections has fixed July 25 – August 01 for receiving nomination and election is likely to be held in September 27, 2013.
As I write the TNA has not nominated its candidate for the post of Chief Minister, but ex-Justice C.V. Wigneswaran is likely the choice. (This article was written two weeks ago)
Mahinda Rajapaksa true to form will use the entire government machinery to win votes. The Sinhala army is already engaging itself in canvassing votes for the ruling party. Appointment of graduate teachers put on hold for years is taking place now. In June this year 1,300 Samurdhi Development Officers have been recruited for all districts in the Northern Province. One hundred Samurdhi Development Officers selected for Jaffna District were given appointment letters by Namal Rajapaksa who is the unofficial MP for Kilinochchi district. A few IDPs also will be resettled in their homes during coming weeks. Other carrots will also be dangled before the voters. However, these gimmicks on the part of the ruling party are bound to fail. There are thousand reasons for Thamil voters who live like slaves under a military dictatorship to vote against the openly racist government. They have been treated like dirt by the Sinhala army of occupation. Their self-respect, dignity and fundamental freedoms have been flagrantly violated.
Sri Lanka never understands sane advices. Late Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood this very well and took appropriate actions. It appears India is running out of ammunition to deal with Sri Lanka.
As stated above, JR was called a wily old cunning fox, but Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than his predecessors. The UNO let him go scot free not once but twice! Not only did he benefit from LTTE’s unofficial boycott to win his election, but also finish the LTTE with Indian help! Now that he has signed a defence agreement with China, Mahinda Rajapaksa calculates he does not need India any more!
After listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long, in the morning, who will ask : “What is Rama’s relationship with Seetha?”
Those who have studied deeply and listened diligently will never speak Foolish words, even when they have wrongly understood a matter. – Thirukkural 417
The title of this article is a Tamil expression. Years ago, the late Sivaram Taraki wrote an article in Tamil, under the same title, explaining how every Singhalese politician since 1948 has viewed the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and gradually changed their position to deny Tamils’ rights. In fact, this popular article was translated and became available in English as well.
- The armed struggle started in 1983, came to a complete halt after Mullivaghzal in May 2009.
- Since Mullivaighzal, when we look at websites, especially those published in Tamil, we find news items covering – arrests, torture, killings, rape, disappearances, Sinhala colonisation, new Buddhist temples, military camps and also destruction of churches, temples and mosques.
- Former combatants and the people are in detention centres and internment camps
- Majority of the Singhalese in the South and the Rajapaksa regime publicly say that there is no ethnic conflict as such, in Sri Lanka. They don’t want even a Provincial Council governed by the Tamils.
- The international community continuously reminds us that they are in favour of a solution within a united Sri Lanka.
- Presently Tamils are divided into many organisations and groups. Therefore, there is clearly no unity.
Ignoring all these realities – certain diaspora organisations and some individuals say that they will not accept anything other than a separate or independent state. This is like asking in the morning, “what is Rama’s
relationship with Seetha?” after listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long.
Considering the realities and facts given above, every Tamil should earnestly realise their duty to do something to save our people and our hereditary land. If we fail to do this at the earliest, in another few years, there will be neither an ethnic group nor a nation known as ‘Tamil’ in the island. We will end up like the Tamils completely eliminated in Burma! Is this our intention?
What is our position today?
There is no doubt that since 1948 about 80-85% of Eelam Tamils have supported the idea of an independent state. Like other oppressed peoples, it is not necessary to give up this ideology. For nearly three decades, we had parity with every Sri Lankan government. We were in negotiations on an equal basis, cease-fire agreements and other documents were signed as a legitimate party in various peace processes. But today, does the Sri Lankan government recognise us as a people or as a nation? or even as an ethnic group? On the so-called victory day speech on 19 May 2009, President Rajapaksa clearly said that there is no minority in Sri Lanka!
No-one can deny Sri Lanka’s formidable ‘diplomacy’, allowing President Rajapaksa to remain in office successfully, even without granting the so-called home grown solution to the Tamils, promised to the international community.
The Parliamentary Select Committee – PSC is an eye wash, designed to deceive the international community. It was well predicted that this time-buying tactic would continue until the successful completion of fully fledged Buddhisation, Sinhalisation and militarisation in the Tamil hereditary land.
This is where some of the diaspora organisations and individuals are making mistakes. Statements they make about political solutions are widely circulated to the international community by the Sri Lankan embassies with the intention of proving that Tamils reject any form of reconciliation other than independence.
Presently, there is no genuine socio-economic, cultural or political empowerment for the people who have been living in the North and East for generations, centuries and millennia. The people are managing their lives without any institutionalised help from the diaspora.
Those who are for independence should understand that we are at the edge of a mountain. If we don’t act wisely or don’t call on our neighbour to help us, it will be the end of our political struggle which lasted for more than six decades.
Security Council and the referendum
In the past, I have explained and written a lot about the referendum that some of us are demanding. Once again, any referendum for independence, especially within a country in conflict has to be decided by the UN Security Council. This was the case with Eritrea, East-Timor and South Sudan. We should also remember that China and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. Do any of us believe that China and Russia will support our demand to have a referendum?
Scotland and Quebec are two completely different issues. The Scottish referendum is going to take place in accordance with the British government and Quebec had two referenda, both conducted by Canada itself.
Therefore we should not waste time and energy on something sprouting from our ignorance. There are some people who claim to be strong supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE and its leader Pirabaharan, but who never paid attention to his speeches, statements on the Indo-Lanka accord, his respect and friendship with both India and the international community. If they wish, they can still find these speeches, especially what LTTE leader Pirabaharan stated in the Suthumalai declaration of 4th August 1987 and in Heroes’ Day speeches on 27th November 2002 and 2008. Also his press conference of 10 April 2002.
Those who are familiar with Palestinian issues will not gamble our lives and the land. The Palestinians are openly supported by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – OIC which consists of 57 Islamic states. There have been numerous resolutions in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and various other Inter-governmental bodies supporting the Palestinians. Despite this massive and widespread support, Palestinians have been unable to achieve their goal as yet.
Consider the Palestinian question – do we have the support they have, of any single state? On the contrary, we have disastrous disunity among us.
LTTE on the Provincial Council
If anyone has doubts about the LTTE’s position on the Provincial Council, I advise them to read the book, “Will to Freedom”, written in 2001 by Adele Balasingam, wife of the LTTE advisor Anton Balasingham. The subject is clearly mentioned on pages 256 to 258 (“LTTE Strategy and Premadasa’s agenda”). Indeed, it is true that the LTTE had a pre-condition within their stance towards the Sri Lankan government, that the 6th amendment should be withdrawn. This should not deter anyone from seeing the positive value put on the Provincial Council.
Also we should consider the reasons why the LTTE registered a political party known as “People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers – PFLT” in 1989 and took part as an observer in the All Party Conference – APC organised by the Sri Lankan government.
Those who do not know these realities and facts are misleading the innocent people. These individuals promote their own selfish thinking as the political aspiration and policy of the people of the North and East. This is opportunism, taking advantage of a political vacuum.
Those who eliminated LTTE
During the recent “Delhi conference”, I got a chance to understand more realities about the present politics of the Tamils. This is really interesting and provides food for thought. However we cannot gamble our present situation.
It is obvious that the LTTE was successfully eliminated by a well co-ordinated and calculated strategy engineered and operating from various corners in different colours and shapes. One important factor was the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations, leaders, academics and intellectuals. These organizations have colluded and collaborated closely with successive Sri Lankan governments. They helped create the reality today : the LTTE is no more on the scene and Rajapaksa says that ‘there is no ethnic problem’ in the country, humiliating the international community and India, who recognize the existence of the ethnic problem.
Some diaspora Tamils say that those who collaborated with the Sri Lankan government in eliminating the LTTE should convince Rajapaksa’s regime of the need to respect equal rights and obtain whatever is possible for Tamils. This position may be based on emotions, anger and frustration.
The crisis proves that the Tamil National Alliance – TNA, should be strengthened and internationalised. No-one but Rajapasa’s supporters will be against this idea. For further objectivity, the TNA should extend their invitation to important personalities like retired Judge Mr. Vigneswaran and other Tamil intellectuals and academics.
When we talk about the TNA, some people panic and over-react. Some say that the TNA should be registered immediately. Even this appears to be a difficult issue, if we consider the circumstances in which the TNA was established. The TNA is an umbrella body, however those who stood in the elections used the ‘house’, which is the election symbol of the Federal Party (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi).
Is it necessary to register TNA?
The majority of the people who want the TNA to be registered as a political party, were not initially members of the TNA. In fact those members or organizations were with the Sri Lankan government, notably, the TULF – Tamil United Liberation Front and the PLOTE – People Liberation Organisation of the Tamil Eelam. Now it is believed that these two parties which never won any elections in the recent past, are eager to contest future elections on a TNA ticket.
It is obvious that the TNA was born due to the reluctance of the TULF. The LTTE which co-ordinated the forming of the TNA, wanted to have a multi-party organization, rather than registering the TNA as a single political party.
Therefore the present dilemma is that, if the TNA is to be registered, those parties who were with the government in the past may become office bearers of the TNA. Then there is no guarantee that these members will not twist their position and rejoin the government.
In such a scenario, what is the way forward? At the time of the “Delhi Conference”, we were able to gather another piece of valuable information. When the diaspora organizations and some individuals were invited to participate in this conference, they told the organizers that, if the TNA participated in this conference, they too would participate. This shows the popularity of the TNA among the people locally and internationally.
These facts further prove the urgent necessity of internationalising the TNA. The TNA has to materialize this at the earliest. There are more than 700,000 Tamils from the North and East abroad. The TNA could bring unity among the majority of the diaspora Tamils.
As a first step, the TNA should establish branches in every country and give the responsibility to the right people with the right qualifications – popular figures among the people with wide experience in politics. This will enable the TNA to hear the voice of the diaspora Tamils and have close contacts with Ministry of Foreign affairs in each country. This will give an opportunity to the TNA to feed the right information on local politics and the realities of the people, to the international community. This will also prevent every Tom, Dick and Harry giving false, unrealistic and confusing information to the international community.
Internationalising the TNA doesn’t mean isolating the diaspora organizations which are already in existence. They can continue their usual tasks that they have mastered for years – lobbying, demonstrations, solidarity, Tamil education, cultural programs, sports meets and observing Heroes’ Day and other important days.
Once the political task has been started through the TNA, elected by the people, it will prevent brain-washed individuals who are under the surveillance of the security forces, from harming our political aspirations, locally and internationally.
Also we should be acutely aware of the present task undertaken by the Sri Lanka government representatives. Presently, Prof G. L. Peiris travels around the world, working hard to ban the LTTE in countries where it was not banned and recruiting propaganda experts and companies in an attempt to counter the Tamil lobby.
This shows that there is no guarantee that the year 2007 will not be repeated among the diaspora. Here I recall that in 2007, many Tamil activists were arrested and tried in Europe and other countries.
Considering all these factual and impending realities, the TNA should take the leading role locally and internationally. Activities led by other organisations will be easily countered by Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, since 1948, we Tamils have been gradually losing our fundamental rights, land and properties. This erosion has been systematically carried out by all Sri Lankan governments, and to some extent with the help of Tamils. Let us not make the same mistakes again and again.
“When wicked dogs bark at the luminous Moon, what can the Moon do?”
“Dogs bark and the Moon continues to be luminous”
Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London – Colours of Change: Stephen Champion
‘Colours of Change‘ is a retrospective of the photographer Stephen Champion’s work in Sri Lanka over the past 28 years. It is immediately clear that this exhibition is not the work of a shoot and run fly-by, but of an artist intensely dedicated to his muse, the island and its peoples, in all of its contradictions. In his own words, his long-standing relationship with Sri Lanka has taught him to “love the plastic as much as sea”. Champion’s work not only displays a great passion for the country but an acute understanding of its diversity and nuance: geographical, historical, political and cultural.
Champion’s depth of knowledge, combined with his ability to ask questions and allude to wider narratives within a single frame, has some fascinating results. One photograph that particularly stands out in this regard, pictures a group of young Buddhist monks strolling, seemingly unnoticed, past sun-soaked western tourists. What makes this composition clever is that, through a simple, understated comical juxtaposition of characters, volumes are spoken about the uneasy relationship between Sri Lanka’s rapidly growing tourist industry and its traditions.
As with the above mentioned photograph, Champion’s eye for capturing the island’s idiosyncrasies and the subtle absurdities of the day-to-day is present throughout much of this exhibition: The young man posing like an 80′s pop-icon beside a ramshackle bus stand; the auto rickshaw emblazoned with London’s East end colloquialisms-”Lovely Jubbly, Del boy, Geezer”; The charming grin of a Nuwara Eliyan worker, clad in a lilac suit jacket and sarong with a chemical sprayer tucked under his arm.
Another common Motif in Champion’s work is the placement of solitary human figures within landscapes, often silhouetted or turned away from camera and frequently involved in agricultural activities- Fishermen in Jaffna and Puttalam Lagoons, a farmer gazing across his land in Meddawachchiya. This device provides these picturesque, catalogue-friendly landscapes with a human context, not only breathing life into the images but also providing us with a glimpse into the particular regional relationships between the people/s and their natural surroundings, soil or sea.
A reality that cannot be ignored about this retrospective is that the period it covers aligns closely with Sri Lanka’s civil war. Unsurprisingly therefore, the spectre of war and of the country’s fragile post-war peace loom large. At times war and its impacts are inferred to rather than approached directly-war is treated as an ever-present rather than a subject in itself. This is particularly true of many of the images from Jaffna, from the razor-wire fence that cuts across our view of Jaffna Lagoon to the uncomfortable emptiness of the city after curfew. At other times Champion deals directly with the conflict, both in its corporeal brutality and its wider costs. This area of his work undoubtedly includes the most immediately evocative imagery in the exhibition: a child tagged with the words ‘wounded calamity’; the trickle of blood emerging from beneath a closed door; the twisted, blackened carnage of war. One inspired piece of curatorship is the pairing of two images. In the first, a young female LTTE (Tamil Tiger) cadre struggles to hold up her rocket launcher as if dragging around an unwanted extra-limb; in the second a young women with a prosthetic limb glares directly into the lens. This is a story in need of no further explanation.
Given the scope of this exhibition, both in terms of time scale and subject matter, there are moments when one yearns for a more contextualisation. Having said this, Sri Lanka is not a country lacking in polemicists and perhaps, in allowing the space for interpretation, Champion has purposefully sought to avoid becoming embroiled too closely in the island’s politics-to remain the artist-observer.
‘Colour of Change’, taken as a whole, provides a compelling visual record of a tumultuous period in Sri Lankan history, an insight into the essence of everyday life within the country, and, more than anything, the story of an artist’s ever changing relationship with his muse.
A former female LTTE cadre
Tourists and monks on the beach
The Law used to Advance Injustice
I fled Sri Lanka first under LTTE death threats in March 2006 and a second time in August 2011 after detailing election malpractices in Pitfalls in the President’s Alliance with the EPDP – A Visit to Kayts on Elections Day (Leader 24.07.2011). If I had been untruthful, the EPDP’s Minister Devananda had recourse to defamation charges; instead he abused his powers and got the police to collude on trumping up criminal charges. This is not uncommon in a country where the police are mere tools of the state, used even to murder opponents. The law is frivolously used. [For example, writer R. Tharmaratnam of London recently reported how EPDP Lawyer Rengan Devarajan filed a case against building supervisor Mr. G. Yogaratnam at the BARNET Courts in the UK. On 7 May 2013 when the case was called at great cost to Yoganathan, Devarajan faxed from Jaffna at the last minute claiming he had mistakenly thought the case to be fixed for June. No explanation having been proffered for suddenly remembering, the perceptive judge dismissed the case. That is how the EPDP uses the law against opponents].
Being Attacked in Exile
I presently teach at Michigan State University as a professor. I keep up my interest in Sri Lanka and write regularly of the government’s and its Tamil stooges’ work against Tamils. My articles usually appear in the Lankan print media so that they are subject to the legal system, however eviscerated and in its death throes.
I recently commented on Devananda’s weak commitment to devolution and his willingness to work with Sinhalese extremists in withdrawing the powers of the Provincial Councils prior to the Northern elections. I have commented on his friend K.T. Rajasingham who has been reported (Leader, 25.11.2007) as asking the President for funds to run a propaganda TV station and news portal for him. I have also commented on the government fomenting Buddhist fundamentalism through sham outcries against beef stalls and liquor shops, while allowing Tamil paramilitary stooges to run liquor stalls in the Vanni, keeping them open even on Full Moon Poya Days.
These articles have angered the Devananda-Rajasingam duo. K.T. Rajasingham went so far as to call up my friends after my article on his Asian Tribune as a propaganda sheet. He claimed that I am interested in the University of Jaffna Vice Chancellor’s post coming vacant in March 2014, and have therefore apologized to Devananda and asked for his blessings to return for the position.
I emphatically deny this. I have not communicated once with him over 2 years. In my eagerness to serve my beleaguered Tamil people, I once thought that I could do some good by leading the university. But that experience diminished me. To hold even the most minimal administrative position in a Sri Lankan university one has to submit to the murderers in authority. An engineer cannot function ethically in a job where the political authorities are implicated in murder and corruption of all sorts. Though I may still wish I could do some good for the University of Jaffna, I cannot compromise my personal integrity by dealing with the unsavory characters who control appointments. I will return to Jaffna when I am ready to retire.
Devananda’s Demand that I be Sacked
With Rajasingham’s intrigues failing, on 07.06.2013 Devananda lengthily wrote a complaint with strategic untruths to Prof. T.H. Curry, the Associate Provost of Michigan State University. Devananda introduced himself as MP and longstanding Cabinet Minister for four terms, Secretary General of the EPDP and continuously [sic.] elected as MP. He alleged that I was appointed VC on his recommendation despite coming third in the Council elections; that after my appointment, I made a deal with LTTE terrorists and on LTTE instructions fled without assuming my duties; and that I later, returned and applied again, but this time he refused to interfere because “such interference would be ultra vires [sic.] and undemocratic.”
Devananda continued, after the person with the highest votes was appointed, I wrote articles “containing fabricated and concocted facts attributed to [him] and [his] party … for the purpose of tarnishing [his] image and [his] party’s popularity;” that in “one unsubstantiated, baseless, defamatory piece of writing” I had insulted a section of the society supportive of him “in an obscene language [sic.] instigating social disharmony.” He went on that “such provocative writing that would cause to break the public peace [sic.] is a criminal offence punishable under section 484 and 485 [sic.] of the penal code. Accordingly the law enforcement authorities filed a lawsuit against him in the magistrate’s court of Kayts, Jaffna. … On being served with the notice to appear before the court … he fled the country [sneakily] and sought sanctuary in the US.”
Devananda ended his letter saying “I respectfully request you to reconsider your decision to continue employing a person who has been issued with an open warrant for a criminal offence. …Further by allowing him to use the office of your university [sic.] as a protective cover to carry out malevolent activities against others is in violation of the moral code of conduct and ethics of a high ranking institution like Michigan State University.” The letter, he says, was copied to “all Board of Trustees [sic.]”, Vice President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, President [sic.],” my Dean and Department Chairperson, and numerous others, including the US Embassy and the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC.
Michigan State University Responds
The letter was replied by Attorney Michael Kiley, Associate General Counsel for the university on 10.06.2014:
“Secretary General Devananda: I write regarding the commentary about Dr. Hoole that you addressed to associate Provost T. Curry in an email that was copied to scores of other persons.
“The essence of your long complaint is that Dr Hoole is the subject of a criminal warrant because he authored a “writing [that] insulted a section of the society supportive of [you] in an obscene language instigating social disharmony. Such provocative writing . . . is a criminal offense. . . .”. You offered no factual support for your characterization of Dr. Hoole’s language as “obscene”. More salient, the asserted bad conduct would in this country implicate the exercise of “free speech”. Such is protected, not criminalized. Dr Hoole may or may not have published offensive comments at your expense, but such would have no bearing on his status at MSU.
“You asserted that Dr Hoole fled the jurisdiction. (Some would make a similar claim directed at you in connection with kidnapping and other unlawful conduct affecting Stanley and Mary Allen in 1984, the Choolaimedu incident in 1986, and the allegations stemming from Kilpaul, Madras in 1990. Michigan State University will not presume to sort through the particulars of personal and/or political differences between you and Dr. Hoole. There is no properly issued court order emanating from a tribunal recognized as having jurisdiction here. We decline to credit assertions having an adjudicative character.
“I wish you well in your work as Minister of Traditional Industries & Small Enterprise Development.”
Advertising their Own Evils
It is a sorry state of affairs when a minister claiming lengthy experience does not understand democracy. I did not see these letters until after Mr. Kiley replied. As expected of those behind a strong research institution, Counselor Kiley quickly researched facts and found out who the Minister is. By his behaviour when Sri Lankan freedoms are under scrutiny by the UNHRC, and by involving the State Department, Devananda has attracted attention to the evil nature of our government, leading to wider knowledge of his skullduggery in the Allen couple kidnapping and the Choolaimedu and Kilpaul incidents. When such a person is a longstanding cabinet minister, what is the world to think of the genocide allegations pending inquiry?
Minister Devananda has now written again, asking the university’s legal counsel by what authority he had replied the letter to the Associate Provost. That is excellent advertisement for President Rajapaksa and his arrogant cabinet – that the Rajapaksa cabinet includes men wanted for murder and kidnapping as senior ministers who are associated even with the kidnapping of two US citizens.
I welcome you to this lecture under the National Interest Module of the inaugural MPhil/PhD Programme of the Kotelawala Defence University. The topic of this lecture is “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns”. As we all know, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Our citizens are enjoying the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, it must be understood that as with any other sovereign nation, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and our prosperity. As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as Defence, Foreign Policy, Economic Affairs and internal Law & Order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them.
A viable National Security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support. Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The Government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.
In the course of this lecture on Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns, I will examine the following areas:
Sri Lanka’s overall National Security context
The primary threats to our National Security at present; and,
The strategies that are being formulated in response to these threats.
The Context of National Security in Sri Lanka
In the first several years after the achievement of Independence, National Security did not need to be a primary concern of the Government of Ceylon. As an independent Dominion of Great Britain, and as a non-aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, there were few pressing threats that the Government had to deal with. As a result, the attention given to National Security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country’s Defence apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the Government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots. The need to strengthen law enforcement and the Armed Forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d’‚tat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the Defence apparatus by the Government. Due to fears that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighbouring countries during this period, funding for the Armed Forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.
As a result of the weakening of the military, the country was not in the best position to deal with the first major threat to its National Security when it erupted in 1971. This was the first JVP Insurrection. Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the Special Branch of the Police in 1970, had left the Government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation’s military was overstretched. In response to the Government’s appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union. Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences. One of the most crucial from a historical perspective was that National Security became a much greater concern both for the Government and for the general public. As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding National Security was one of its foremost priorities.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest ever threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and East but effectively all over the country. The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life, loss of property, and countless lost opportunities to achieve economic development. The law and order situation deteriorated as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld. By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. As a result of the increasing instability and violence, people began to lose some of their freedoms as more and more intensive measures had to be taken by the state in trying to uphold public security.
As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. During the early stages of the terrorist conflict, India trained LTTE cadres in training bases established in Tamil Nadu. Many of the leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state. It is also important to note that several international Non Governmental Organisations that were based in the North and East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists. These demands would have gravely affected Sri Lanka’s sovereignty if granted, and the Government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed. By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the state and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.
As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to National Security by the Government also increased. For the first time, the appointment of a Minister of National Security was seen as necessary. The strength of the military was also significantly enhanced, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats. With its improved capabilities, the military was able to make more and more progress in fighting the terrorism of the LTTE. For the first time, we also saw changes within the structure of the military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a Joint Operation Command to coordinate the three Armed Services, Police and Intelligence Services in counter terrorism operations. The military used battle formations for the first time, and the requirement for a National Intelligence Bureau to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level was also understood and subsequently brought into being.
In 1987, the very successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the Government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna. This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi operation, and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July of that year. This led to the induction of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to the North of Sri Lanka, where it got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE. After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in October 1990, and fighting resumed between the LTTE and Government Forces.
Although there were several periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country. The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat. Specialised units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, as well as the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and East. However, in addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians in the rest of the country. Large bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands. Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked. In order to contain this very serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.
In 2002, the next major development in the conflict was the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under mediation of Norway. This event can also be viewed as the next major phase in the internationalisation of Sri Lankan affairs as a result of the conflict. The Peace Process that was entered into by the Government of the time was facilitated by Norway, with the support of the representatives of major donor countries, namely the European Union, the United States of America and Japan. Together with Norway, they comprised the four Co-Chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process. A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country; assassinating its key opponents including Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and carrying out occasional attacks against civilians.
In 2006, increasing provocations by the LTTE culminated in its threatening of a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This was a crisis that affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the Humanitarian Operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.
The Humanitarian Operation required significant strengthening of the military to enable its success. During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive capabilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and light aircraft. Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of Army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its 9 Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded.
Because of the internationalisation of the Sri Lankan situation during the previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the Humanitarian Operation. By keeping the Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on ground, and by skilfully managing our relationships with other nations, it was possible for the war effort to continue unimpeded. Nevertheless, towards the end of the war in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted to intervene in the military campaign, although they did not succeed. Efforts by such parties to end the Humanitarian Operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE’s international network had on foreign capitals. Many in the international community wilfully ignored the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka was duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the Government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although the initial Resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.
Today, Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens. The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict lost us countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about the war; tourists did not visit the country, and many of our best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which were in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when we reached Independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. This is because they did not have a major conflict to contend with. Sri Lanka’s prospects on the other hand were greatly curtailed as a result of the war. This is why the biggest responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka even today, in the post war situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development. The maintenance of National Security is therefore of the utmost importance.
The National Security of Sri Lanka needs to be addressed in context of the history of this country and the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of our population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can uplift their standard of living is also critical in order to prevent internal problems recurring in the future. Creating a favourable environment for Sri Lanka internationally is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of our physical assets and safeguarding the nation’s democracy are also critical. Considering this overall context, it is clear that National Security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation’s Defence, Law and Order, Foreign Policy and Economic Policy. These four areas need to come together in the creation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy. This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfil its potential.
Present National Security Concerns
There are several potential threats in today’s context that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about. These include:
The possible re-emergence of terrorism
The emergence of other extremist groups
The creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence
The challenges of maritime security and border control
The growth of organised crime
Foreign interference in domestic affairs
Non-traditional threats through technology driven new media, including social media.
In discussing terrorism, it is first of all important to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem that the Government of Sri Lanka was confronted with as a result of the LTTE over the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small organisation of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities. At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a result of its extensive international network. Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of 2009.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues that needed to be dealt with. First was the problem of nearly 300,000 internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE’s human shield during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation. This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat. Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years of neglect under the LTTE’s dominance was another significant issue that had to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the IDPs in their places of origin. One of the most important issues was dealing with the nearly twelve thousand surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres. The Government took the bold step of rehabilitating nearly all of them so that they could become productive citizens in future. The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.
Amongst other post war achievements has been the disarming of other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force on movement, fishing, high security zones etc., have all been removed. Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear beyond doubt that normalcy has been restored to the people.
Despite all of these very positive developments, however, the threat of terrorism re-emerging still persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE’s success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country. As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and parts of Europe. These countries granted asylum to these immigrants, and later granted them citizenship. As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils in other countries. A small minority of this population supports the LTTE even to this day. Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at various times during the war, comprise the LTTE’s international network.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s former procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause through peaceful means. However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran’s ideology of violence. Nediyawan’s group, was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly or the Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil Coordinating Committee, Based in Norway, this group has been working with other international groups to promote the LTTE’s separatist cause in many parts of the world. The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets of the LTTE’s international organisation, including its media networks such as Tamil Net.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a “Government in Exile”. This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is to lobby foreign Governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Transnational Government” has about twenty “Ministers” and “Deputy Ministers”, and was formed with assistance of an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners who have been helping the LTTE for many years. There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE, where one third of its members loyal to Nediyawan, went against the leadership of Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.
Another prominent LTTE-linked group emerged out of the British Tamils Association, which was active since 2001 in supporting the terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In 2006, the leader of the BTA, Arunachalam Krishanthakumar, alias Shanthan, was investigated on suspicion of supporting terrorist activities. As a result of these suspicions about the BTA, the British Tamils Forum was formed in 2006 to carry on the same activities in a new guise. The BTF acted as an umbrella organisation that mustered support from the immigrant Tamil community and local British politicians for dividing Sri Lanka. With Shanthan’s arrest by British authorities in June 2007 for providing material support to terrorism and his conviction in April 2009, as well as the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the role played by the BTF needed to be changed to suit the post-war environment.
As a result of this, the Global Tamils Forum emerged in February 2010, with many of the same members as the BTF. The head of the GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam”. Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, Foreign Governments and International Organisations. He is known to have visited LTTE strongholds in Sri Lanka in mid-2000 to conduct training for selected youth who were earmarked to take up overseas appointments for fundraising and propaganda for the LTTE.
Under Father Emmanuel’s guidance, the GTF has successfully influenced a number of politicians from various political parties in European countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF has courted officials within international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and various international non-governmental organisations to obtain their support. Part of the success of the GTF in these activities can be attributed to the involvement of influential pro-LTTE foreigners in it. These include Mrs. Joan Ryan, a former British Parliamentarian who has become the Head of the GTF’s Secretariat.
Yet another group that is active internationally in supporting the separatist cause is the LTTE Headquarter Group, which is based in France and headed by Vinayagam, a senior intelligence cadre who managed to escape during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. This is a group that is known to engage in Human Smuggling, with some of its past operations including the sending of the “Sun Sea” and “Ocean Lady” vessels from South East Asia to Canada in 2009 and 2010. The members of this group generally maintain a low profile and their movements are kept to a minimum as most of them have been issued Red Notices by Interpol for their involvement in criminal activities. They also keep their distance from both Nediyawan’s and Rudrakumaran’s groups, but maintain links with the GTF.
All of the LTTE-linked groups are coordinated by the GTF and united by one overarching objective. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective. These include:
The winning of international opinion for the separatist cause,
Increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in various areas; including pushing for international investigations into war crimes and claims of genocide, and by encouraging international monitoring of the national reconciliation process,
Undermining all efforts of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to create a better future for its citizens through reconciliation and economic development, and
Continuing to push for the resumption of conflict through reorganizing local pro-LTTE elements within Sri Lanka.
Some of the efforts of these LTTE-linked groups have been successful to a certain extent in that despite the war having ended four years ago, the internal affairs of Sri Lanka have been kept at the forefront of the UNHRC’s Sessions as well as at the top of the agenda of several prominent international NGOs even in the recent past. It has to be noted that many of those who create this pressure by claiming to be human rights activists and victims of state repression are actually trained LTTE cadres and operatives who are now fully engaged in propaganda activities. It is very important to understand that their attempts to put pressure on the Government through international bodies such as the UNHRC and non state actors such as international NGOs is designed to strengthen those who work against Sri Lanka’s interests.
In this context it is important to realise that there are groups even within the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka that obtain funding from the LTTE’s international network and pro-LTTE elements overseas, which more or less openly talk about achieving the very same objectives that the LTTE had. Though they appear to have a democratic face, their actions and remarks clearly show that the extremist separatist ideology has not yet disappeared. Their ultimate objective is achieving the division of Sri Lanka. As a result of their actions and statements, it is very much a possibility that certain radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt to take up arms in the name of separation. This is a major National Security threat that needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In addition to the threat of terrorism, Sri Lanka also faces a potential threat from other extremist groups. These are the remnants of the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies. Some of these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes. There is information that some of these groups have started to link up with the LTTE-linked groups to create further problems in Sri Lanka. Some of their activities include radicalising students and encouraging them to take to the streets in various protests. Though such activities are still in their early stages, they pose another serious National Security concern that we need to be vigilant of.
Another growing concern in the post-war environment is the increasing communalism amongst ethnic groups, which if left unaddressed, could result in the rise of ethnic tensions in the future. During the period of the war, it was not only the Sinhalese and Tamil communities that were affected by the terrorist separatism of the LTTE, but also the Muslims. After the LTTE started engaging in ethnic cleansing in the North in the early 1980s, it expelled the Sinhalese community from Jaffna and soon after turned its attention to the Muslims. Several massacres were carried out at Mosques in the East, and in October 1990, the LTTE expelled more than 75,000 Muslim residents from the North. This was followed by further brutal attacks on Muslims in vulnerable villages near the territory dominated by the LTTE. In this environment, the Muslims also started to organise themselves for their own protection against the LTTE. After the LTTE’s defeat, some of these groups have begun to engage in activities that stem far beyond self-protection. There is some information that some of these groups have even tried to link up with the global Islamic terrorist movement. This is a situation that requires careful monitoring.
On a broader scale, it also has to be acknowledged that one of the consequences of the terrorist conflict Sri Lanka endured for thirty years has been the increased insularity of ethnic groups. Rather than identifying themselves on the basis of nationality, the communities of Sri Lanka have begun to identify themselves on the basis of their ethnicity or their religion. Instead of calling themselves Sri Lankan, they identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Buddhists or Christians. This fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity is most unfortunate, because activists within these communal groups seek minority rights or ethnic rights rather than working within the framework of a common national identity.
The cross-border links that can arise as a result of such insular ethnic or religious identification is also very troublesome. It is clear that there are some in the Tamil community who identify themselves more with the Tamil community of Tamil Nadu than with their fellow Sri Lankans. This has been encouraged by some parties overseas who wish to promote the idea of a greater Tamil Nation. Similarly, it has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration within Sri Lanka. This trend has been particularly prevalent in the post September 11 world, in which there has been a tendency among certain groups to try and influence the global Muslim community towards religious extremism has become visible.
The increasing insularity and cohesion amongst minority ethnic groups has also led to the emergence of hard line groups from the majority community: the popularity of certain political groups and movements can be viewed as being largely a response to this trend. In turn, the emergence of hard line groups in the majority community causes further tensions amongst other communities, which leads to a vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity. Sri Lanka had enough divisions in the past that ultimately led to conflict; we must learn the lessons from our past and ensure that history is not repeated. This is therefore a very serious National Security concern at the present moment.
The maintenance of maritime security is another serious National Security Concern that the Government needs to be vigilant about. As an island, Sri Lanka does not have land borders to worry about, but maintaining maritime security is a serious challenge. In the past, the only maritime security issues that had to be dealt with was the illegal movement of Indians into Sri Lanka and the smuggling that took place between Sri Lanka and South India. Preventing these threats was one of the foremost duties of the military in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, with the development of the LTTE and other terrorist groups in the 1970s and beyond, maritime security became a major concern to Sri Lanka.
For example, it is a well-known fact that the LTTE acquired a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment including artillery, missiles, mortars, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft. None of these items were produced in Sri Lanka, but were brought into Sri Lanka through the sea. In addition to military supplies, the LTTE’s cadres were initially trained at bases in Tamil Nadu. Given the recent activities of LTTE-linked organisations outside Sri Lanka and particularly in Tamil Nadu, this is very much a current threat even today.
The organised trafficking of persons or human smuggling is another significant maritime security issue. Organised groups, some of which are connected to LTTE-linked organisations, have lured many people seeking better economic prospects into this lucrative illegal operation. During this year alone, more than 440 such people have attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally. Having sold their properties and handed over all their wealth to the operators of these schemes, the victims of human trafficking find themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of others, travelling to countries that will most often refuse them entry. In order to make a compelling case for their acceptance by border control authorities abroad, such economic refugees often concoct stories about being persecuted in Sri Lanka, thereby damaging the country’s reputation. Furthermore, the mechanisms of human trafficking have enabled trained terrorists to escape justice in Sri Lanka and flee abroad to safe havens, from which they may once again attempt to cause problems to the country through other means.
A further consideration with regard to maritime security is the protection of our maritime assets. One of the problems Sri Lanka has faced in the maritime domain after the defeat of the LTTE has been the increasing incidence of pirate fishing in Sri Lankan waters by South Indian fishermen. These fishermen use illegal practices such as bottom trawling to maximise their catch. This causes serious damage to the healthy fish stocks in Sri Lankan waters, and also adversely affects the livelihoods of our own fishermen. These fishing boats that enter Sri Lankan waters illegally have also been known to engage in other criminal activities including drug smuggling. Protecting our waters from these fishermen, as well as from others who might seek to exploit our other oceanic resources including oil and gas, will be one of the key maritime security challenges for Sri Lanka in the future.
Somewhat farther afield, the threat of international piracy is also a concern for Sri Lanka’s maritime security. Many of the world’s most important Sea Lanes of Communications are located in close proximity to Sri Lanka, and both the newly built Hambantota Port as well as the Colombo port are ideally situated to service the hundreds of vessels that cross these lanes on a daily basis. The reach and sophistication of the pirates originating mostly from East Africa has been increasing in recent years. This factor undermines the security of these Sea Lanes and could pose a serious problem to shipping in the region in the future. This will have an impact on the country’s economic security as well, and is therefore another challenge that needs to be monitored.
With regard to border security, one of the concerns Sri Lanka has is the possibility of the country being used as a transit point for transnational crime. The arrest of certain elements connected with extremist regional terrorist groups in India and Pakistan have shown that they have used Sri Lanka as a transit point from which to coordinate their activities. Some who are known to have been temporarily sheltered in Sri Lanka by an International Organisation after claiming refugee status in the west, are known criminals who engaged in illegal activities such as credit card fraud, drug smuggling and counterfeit currency printing abroad.
Organised crime in Sri Lanka is another issue that needs to be addressed. As a result of the rise of terrorism and the insurrections Sri Lanka experienced over the last forty years, and the response required from the state, a considerable amount of arms and ammunition inadvertently fell into the hands of criminals. This led to the rise of the underworld, which is now engaged in a number of organised criminal activities including drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom and financial frauds. There are also groups that engage in seizing land illegally. Tackling the challenges posed by organised criminal groups is another priority for the state.
In today’s environment, the possibility of foreign interference in our internal affairs remains a significant National Security concern. With the involvement of countries like India, Norway, and the United States of America in Sri Lanka as a result of the terrorist conflict, matters relating to this country’s internal affairs have gained increased visibility within the international community. India in particular is very sensitive to what is going on in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern state of Tamil Nadu. Especially during the elections cycle, Sri Lanka figures large in its power politics. In the recent past, we have seen even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu attempting to pressurise the central government into opposing Sri Lanka internationally. This is a serious threat to Sri Lanka’s security, and perhaps even its sovereignty.
Furthermore, as a result of the rapid economic and military development of countries like India and China in recent decades, the entire Asian region has become increasingly important in global affairs. Because of Sri Lanka’s important geostrategic position within the Indian Ocean region, a great deal of attention is therefore placed upon it in the present era. There is a possibility that some western powers wish to have a Sri Lankan Government that is closely aligned with their interests, and will seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny so that it cannot pursue the independent course it is following at present.
A third factor that has led to Sri Lanka’s increasing importance in the international arena involves regional power politics. The issues between India and Pakistan, and the issues between India and China are particularly sensitive in this regard. With the rise of China as a world economic leader, there is a widespread belief that India feels insecure and is seeking to align itself with the other powers that seem similarly threatened by China’s ascendancy. The likelihood of the United States showing more interest in the region and aligning more with India is a factor that may affect Sri Lanka. Further, its establishment of a base in the Maldives is also changing the complexion of the region. These are developments that need to be monitored from the point of view of Sri Lanka’s national security.
The final threat to Sri Lanka’s National Security that I will highlight during this lecture is the emergence of technology driven new media including social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites on the Internet. We have seen the potential of this new media to destabilise nations and affect serious change in the case of countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt etc. Although the likelihood of events such as the Arab spring transpiring in Sri Lanka is minimal as a result of it being a democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership that enjoys a very large electoral majority, this is yet another threat that needs to be monitored. Particularly due to increasing Internet penetration and computer literacy in Sri Lanka, many of our youth are familiar with social media and use it as a tool to gather information as well as propagate ideas. Those with vested interests can exploit social media to cause problems in Sri Lanka by propagating certain ideologies online and mobilising and organising people. This can be done with a minimal physical presence, and therefore forms a threat that is difficult to contain through the traditional tools of national defence.
National Security Response
Considering the foregoing threat assessment, it is clear that despite Sri Lanka being in a post-war situation in which most people are only concerned about economic development, National Security remains very much a core concern for the Government. In addressing the challenges discussed above and developing a comprehensive National Security Strategy, it is important for the Government to take a holistic view and incorporate many of its elements into a single policy framework.
In terms of internal security, the best response to most of the threats that we face is the development of the Intelligence Services. Sri Lanka has two primary intelligence arms: the State Intelligence Service and the Defence Intelligence, which comprises the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Directorate of Naval Intelligence, and Air Intelligence. In addition, the Police maintains the Special Branch, while the Special Task Force also has its own Intelligence Division. Furthermore, the Terrorist Investigation Department and Criminal Investigation Department of the Police also work closely with the other Intelligence agencies on matters relating to National Security.
In the past, the lack of strength and coordination amongst these various intelligence services used to be a serious issue. It is essential that they work together under a unified command structure in order to improve coordination and enhance capabilities. Towards this effect, one of the efforts undertaken by the present Government has been to bring these intelligence services under the Chief of National Intelligence, who reports directly to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. This has streamlined coordination and improved cooperation amongst the intelligence agencies.
Another important development in this regard has been the augmenting of resources allocated for the Intelligence function. After the war, the number of military intelligence units have been increased and each Security Force Head quarters now has its own Intelligence Unit. The Intelligence personnel are being afforded more and more training in order to enhance their capabilities and capacities, and as Sri Lanka moves forward, it is hoped that the Intelligence agencies will be able to keep track of and contain domestic National Security concerns.
Furthermore, although the requirement for offensive military operations no longer exists in Sri Lanka, it is of the utmost importance that our security measures are not relaxed. Although the military is not engaged in law enforcement activities, and although their visible presence has been greatly reduced, it is essential for the military to be placed in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka. Particularly in the North and East, where we know that there are still potential threats to National Security, it is essential to have a significant though unobtrusive military presence. Some recent efforts of international elements to reorganise pro-LTTE elements in the North underscores the need for this. For example, the recent arrest of some youth in Jaffna and Chennai who had been recruited by a Chennai based LTTE-linked group funded by the LTTE’s Europe based network, shows the utmost need to remain vigilant in this regard.
It must also be underscored that as a Sovereign nation, Sri Lanka has every right to place its security elements in any part of the country it so chooses. While some in the international community talk about the so-called militarisation of the North and East, and some political parties in Sri Lanka decry the presence of the military in these areas, it must also be understood that the people of the North and East mostly have a very cordial relationship with the military. Since the end of the war, the military has been involved in a great deal of reconstruction work, and they have also supported the people of the area to resume their livelihoods. They have provided equipment and material for agriculture, fishing and various types of assistance for small business development. The increased attention given to Civic-Military affairs also helps National Security because it helps the Armed Forces to win the hearts and minds of the people in the former conflict areas.
With regard to the work of the Defence services in the post-war environment, it is also essential to expand the responsibilities of the Navy and the Coast Guard. The protection of Sri Lanka’s maritime borders is of the utmost importance, and there is a great deal of responsibility on these two institutions to safeguard our seas. The Exclusive Economic Zone Sri Lanka enjoys needs to be protected, as it is a vital economic asset. The Navy needs to get more naval assets so that it has the ability to patrol or dominate the blue seas. It is also important to improve the Navy’s surveillance capabilities through augmenting its Radars and adding a new air surveillance capability. The Air Force, too, needs to improve it capabilities with regard to surveillance operations.
Another aspect of internal security that needs to be mentioned is the rectification of weaknesses that we used to have with regard to the national identity system. Because it was a manual, paper-based system, criminal and terrorist elements could very easily obtain forged identity cards. This enabled the terrorists to operate throughout Sri Lanka under various names and aliases; this is why the threat of suicide bombings and other attacks in the rest of Sri Lanka was such a pressing problem during the period of the war. To address this critical weakness, the Registrar of Persons Department was brought under the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development, and a new identity card system that uses biometric information will be introduced shortly. Similarly, the problem of people coming into Sri Lanka and staying here illegally under false pretences will be addressed through the introduction of a proper border control system in which biometric information will be incorporated into the passport and international standards used for identity verification.
From the point of view of domestic security, perhaps the most critical aspect will be the achievement of national reconciliation and the forging of a common Sri Lankan identity. Economic development is an absolute necessity in this regard. The fact remains that unless people enjoy a reasonable standard of living, peace and reconciliation are very difficult to achieve. This is why the Government has spared no expense or effort to develop infrastructure and build up the North and East to a high standard. This will enable the benefits of peace to flow down to the people of those areas. When people know that they have the opportunity to achieve a better future for themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will waste their time on violent ideologies. The achievement of economic development and national reconciliation are therefore two of the key areas of focus of the Government in the present national context.
Finally, with regard to external threats, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka maintains cordial relationships with its allies. Despite the present pressure from Tamil Nadu, it is essential to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with India. Relations with the many countries that helped us in the past, both in economic terms and through political support, should be strengthened further through skilful diplomacy and further development of mutual ties. It essential to further strengthen the existing cordial relationships with powerful nations such as China and Russia, which have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council and can influence any international action on Sri Lanka more significantly than other nations. In this overall context, it is very important that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka needs to be realistic. It is essential for Sri Lanka to have close ties with certain powerful nations in the international community in order to safeguard its National Security interests.
During the course of this lecture I have outlined the overall context of Sri Lanka’s National Security concerns; identified our most pressing threats and discussed the broad outlines of the Government’s strategy to deal with all these issues. Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and strong in the future is for all of us to put aside the differences of the past; unite as Sri Lankans, and work towards a better future for ourselves and for each other.
The government’s decision to celebrate May 19 as a day of victory and the country’s second Independence is another one of its actions that has polarised the Sri Lankan people. Whether by accident or design, it is ironic that through its continuing actions the government that reunified the territory of the country should also be the one that fosters the divisions between the people. I was in Mannar on that day that marked a watershed in the modern history of the country, and saw that the Sri Lankan people were divided in their attitudes. There was no collective remembrance of loss, but a reinforcement of the separation that has overshadowed the post-Independence era.
While the government was celebrating with military march pasts and air and sea shows in Colombo, in Mannar there was real action that was reminiscent of what happened during the war. A group of people who had gathered to commemorate those who died in the last battle, were prevented from doing so by armed military personnel and police with guns pointing. It is reported that 15 of them were arrested and only released on bail late at night. Earlier the state media had reported that such commemorative meetings were illegal and warned anyone commemorating the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was liable to be arrested.
However, the Tamil political parties in the opposition said they staged the remembrance for those who died in the final battle. This was where the top LTTE leadership were killed. In this charged context, the decision of the Catholic Church in Mannar to commemorate all victims of the war was pragmatic. Whenever Tamils have tried to commemorate the death of their loved ones, the government has taken steps to prevent this. The military in particular is sensitive to commemorations of the LTTE being held in the guise of commemorating the civilians who lost their lives. However, the reality is that the two groups of LTTE and civilians were often mixed. Especially in the last days of the war, the LTTE forcibly recruited children, some as young as 12, and this included the children of Mannar.
Mannar is the only one of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts that has a Catholic majority. With its unique cultural attributes, it is a celebration of the country’s cultural and religious diversity which must not be made into a weakness when it is a strength. Unlike the Tamil political parties who had called on the people to commemorate the war dead amongst the Tamil population, the Bishop of Mannar requested the clergy in the area to commemorate all victims of the war, and not just those who were Tamil. By implication, this would have included those of all three ethnic groups, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and also the fighting personnel on the two sides, the government and LTTE. It is a testament to the strength of Sri Lanka’s diversity, that it was a minority group that decided to commemorate all who lost their lives as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President.
This year’s victory celebration by the government was focused on the valour of the armed forces and the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapakse viewed the military parade and pledged that there will be no room for those who tried to divide the country. He said, “We will not allow a single inch of the land that you won by the sacrifice of your life to be taken away.” The past fortnight saw a build up in the mass media to remind the people of those days of blood and bombs and how it all has ended. The contrast with the peaceful situation of the present will continue to bring in the votes of a grateful nation.
But the unfortunate reality is that the support of the Sinhalese majority for the war victory and the government’s celebrations has not been matched by any kind of equivalent support from the Tamil minority. They too have been beneficiaries of the peaceful situation that has followed the end of the war. They are now safe from the ravages of child recruitment and terror tactics that the LTTE brought to bear upon them. But they also wish to mourn their loved ones who are no more with them, to find out what happened to them, and also to regain their dream of enjoying equal rights in which they also have the right to decide. These are all matters on which the government appointed LLRC has made recommendations on but are not being followed by the government.
Four years after the war’s end the political solution that the leaders of government promised during the time of the war has yet to materialize. The LTTE has been replaced by the Sri Lankan military who govern them in conjunction with the civilian administration. The Northern Province, where the first gunshots of the war were fired and where the last of the rebel fighters fell, has still to enjoy the right of elected provincial governance even to as limited an extent as the other eight provinces do. A government ally has filed action in the Supreme Court calling on it to abolish the system of devolution of power for the entire country. In this context, there is increasing skepticism whether the promised Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year will actually take place.
The civil war ended in 2009 but four years later the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation and to heal the wounds of war. At the present time it also appears that Sri Lanka is moving backwards, and not forwards, in terms of securing the Rule of Law. The impeachment of the Chief Justice process eroded the rule of law and usurped the pre-eminence of the Supreme Court in its role of interpreting the constitution. This has impacted negatively on the rule of law and by extension the protection of human rights and political accountability. There is also the rise of inter-religious tensions fanned by government allies. A new dimension of inter-communal unrest is the rise of Buddhist extremism that has targeted the Muslim community and taken on an open and frontal confrontational approach.
Sri Lanka could have been a very different country today. There is a need to recognize that although the civil war ended in 2009 the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation through an inclusive process of political negotiations and a sincere effort to heal the wounds of war. If the recommendations of the LLRC appointed by the President had been followed, the government could have changed course last year. Government leaders would have ceased to further engage in ethnic triumphalism and instead focused on commemorating all victims who lost their lives in the senseless conflict. They could have utilized the occasion of May 19 to resolve that never again would such bloodletting be permitted to take place. This would have been a commemoration that all Sri Lankans, respecting multi ethnicity, equal rights, and the safety and dignity of all, could have taken part in as a united Sri Lankan nation.