BY GAGANI WEERAKOON
President Maithripala Sirisena is to spell-out his plans on the continuity of the alliance with the UNP today at the 66th Convention of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) at the Campbell Park in Colombo.
The 66th Convention today will be crucial, as the party is already facing a challenge of deciding its path to future elections with the majority of its stalwarts threatening to either quit the government if it continues to be a UNP-SLFP joint government.
The government is lready crippled by many of SLFP seniors, with a massive vote base, joining the Joint Opposition, following party deciding to oust them from their respective organizer posts and President Sirisena having to appoint a host of fresh electoral and district organizers.
According to party sources, the 66th Convention also faces a threat of a lower crowd as opposed to previous two years, with no proper organizing and propaganda plan in place.
Several Ministers and deputy ministers have already threatened to quit the government and according to Deputy Minister Arundika Fernando, at least 10 including himself will sit in the Opposition following the convention.
It was in the midst of this that former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa invited Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan to his official residence at Wijerama Mawatha last Tuesday (29).
According to well-informed sources, this one on one meeting went on for almost one hour behind closed doors with not even aides allowed in.
MP Namal Rajapaksa said, the meeting was a cordial and formal one and the invitation was extended by the former President as he did not get a chance to meet Sampanthan for ‘proper talks’ for a while.
According to close confidantes of Rajapaksa focus of the talks were on the new Constitution and the Constitution making process.
Sampanthan had, as insisted by him on many occasions, said that he would not let the country be divided, yet it is important to have greater power sharing arrangements.
Rajapaksa on the other hand, has also shown interest in the constitutional amendments and had insisted about Joint Opposition members remaining in the Constitutional Assembly, despite ally Wimal Weerawansa and his party leaving the process.
War crimes charges
Sri Lanka faced a fresh case of war crime allegations, when a Human Rights groups in South America filed war crimes lawsuits against former Sri Lankan General Jagath Jayasuriya, who was the Ambassador to Brazil.
According to foreign media reports, the suits against Jagath Jayasuriya are based on his role as a commander in the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. They allege Jayasuriya oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.
Jayasuriya had diplomatic immunity in the countries where he was ambassador: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname. Carlos Castresana Fernandez, the lawyer coordinating the effort, as was quoted by foreign media, has stated that suits were filed last Monday (28) in Brazil and Colombia. Petitions also will be filed in Argentina, Chile and Peru in the coming days, he had said, adding that authorities in Suriname refused to accept the suit.
“This is one genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something,” Fernandez said. “This is just the beginning of the fight.”
The criminal suits, were spearheaded by the human rights group International Truth and Justice Project, an evidence-gathering organization based in South Africa. Fernandez, the coordinating lawyer, was one of the attorneys who worked on international cases against Argentine Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla and Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He has also helped indict many Guatemalan war criminals and organized crime members, including former President Alfonso Portillo.
The suits say Jayasuriya was Commander of the Vanni Security Force from 2007 to 2009, one of the bloodiest periods in a war estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people. The UN estimates between 40,000 and 70,000 died in the final phase alone.
According to the suits, Jayasuriya oversaw an offensive from Joseph Camp, also known as Vanni Security Head Quarters, which the papers claim was a notorious torture site. The International Truth and Justice Project said it interviewed 14 survivors of torture or sexual violence at the camp. According to the group, victims described hearing the howls of detainees at night, which the suits contend Jayasuriya would have been able to hear.
With foreign media reports indicating that Jayasuriya has fled Brazil, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement clarifying the situation and confirming that Jayasuriya was in fact on his way back to Colombo as directed by the Ministry with his diplomatic term coming to an end.
Meanwhile, Kate Cronin-Furman – a postdoctoral research fellow in the International Security Programme at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs in an analysis stated that:
“If domestic accountability for war crimes seems unlikely, so do international criminal trials. Sri Lanka is not a member of the International Criminal Court and is an unlikely candidate for the creation of an ad hoc international tribunal. That’s where cases like the one, activists are trying to launch in Brazil (and in the other countries where Jayasuriya held an ambassadorial post) come in.
Although domestic Courts generally only have jurisdiction over crimes that occur on national territory, many countries assert universal jurisdiction over serious violations of international law.
Brazil’s legal code allows its Courts to try anyone present on its territory for crimes that Brazil has treaty obligations to punish, like genocide or torture. Of course, as an ambassador, Jayasuriya has diplomatic immunity. To pursue criminal charges, Brazil would have to ask Sri Lanka to waive his immunity, something the Sri Lanka Government is extremely unlikely to do. This fact makes Jayasuriya’s unceremonious departure a puzzling choice. Ambassadors lose their immunity when they step down. If one of the Latin American countries decides to proceed with an investigation, he could then become subject to an international arrest warrant. At that point, he would have to avoid the territory of any country whose government would be willing to arrest and extradite him.
If Jayasuriya’s worst-case scenario is that he has to exercise some caution in his vacation planning, what is the value of attempting to launch a universal jurisdiction prosecution against him? It’s true that the effect on him is negligible, especially when weighed against the gravity of the crimes of which he is accused. But stronger effects may be felt elsewhere.
For the Sri Lanka Government, exceedingly conscious of its international reputation, the embarrassment of this episode may prompt a rethink of its long-standing habit of rewarding its ‘war heroes’ with plush diplomatic posts.”
Jayasuriya who addressed media upon his return to the country said he was not responsible for anything and in fact is in possession of a letter by then commander Sarath Fonseka where he was ordered to stay away from operational activities.
Fresh crisis arose, when Field Marshal Fonseka, now a politician, dropped a ‘war crime’ bombshell saying he will testify in ‘any court’ against Jayasuriya and prove that he was involved in ‘war crimes’.
“When I was the Commander I did receive certain complaints of crimes committed by Jayasuriya’s brigade mostly to do with crimes perpetrated on those detained during the war,” Fonseka told reporters.
Fonseka was also accused by human rights groups of being involved in war crimes during the final stages of the nearly three-decades-long war that ended in 2009
“I did not put Jayasuriya in-charge of a fighting brigade. His job was to defend the Army’s bunker lines and to be in-charge of supplies to fighting brigades in the battle front. I have details of crimes committed by his brigade,” the former Army Chief said.
Fonseka said he was on the verge of ordering an inquiry against Jayasuriya before he ceased to be the Army Chief. The Field Marshal turned Minister also said it was important for Sri Lanka to maintain the good name of its Security Forces.
Fonseka, in his quest to avenge his arch rival Jayasuriya, who became the Army Commander after Fonseka being imprisoned, seems to have forgotten that he earlier said that he as the Commander would take full responsibility for everything that took place during the last phase of war and that his Army was not involved in war crimes.
His comments however, stand in contrast to those of his Cabinet colleagues with Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne asserting that charges against Jayasuriya were of a very general nature and the Sri Lankan troops did not commit any crimes during the war.
It was not an unknown secret that Fonseka despises Jayasuriya on personal grounds. Things did not go unnoticed when he refused to shake hands with Jayasuriya, who was the Chief of Defence Staff at the time when the former was made the Field Marshal of Sri Lanka.
It was not many years ago that then Opposition member, now a powerful minister of the same Cabinet where Fonseka is holding a Cabinet portfolio, Mangala Samaraweera said, that he (Fonseka) was only fit enough to be the Commander of the Salvation Army.
With recent developments, many voice their opinion against Fonseka on social media platforms justifying both Samaraweera’s sentiments and Rajapaksa’s actions.
This, according to legal experts, would have a greater impact of Sri Lanka, as this was the first time a government member came out openly accusing and directly naming a member of the military of committing war crimes.
With this, President Sirisena, the SLFP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Party United National Party too would be compelled to voice their stance on the situation, whether they too, believe Sri Lanka’s military members have committed war crimes.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya and Minister Champika Ranawaka, who believed to be a strong supporter of President Sirisena have already voiced their concerns.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) said, today the government should represent on behalf of the rights of former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya as he was a government servant and had acted legally according to international laws.
JHU stated that General (Rtd) Jayasuriya did not carry out a private duty, but he carried out a collective responsibility as an Army Officer of the Sri Lanka Army belonging to the legally and democratically elected government.
“The government should intervene in the case filed against the former Army Commander. He performed a duty of the Army. The government has a responsibility to represent on behalf of this government servant. The duty he performed as the Vanni Commander is legal and conforms to local and international laws. He carried out a collective responsibility to protect the President, Cabinet and the people in the country. He contributed to bring in peace to the country”.
The Party said if there were moves to file war crime allegations against the Army heads, people in the country would be compelled to demand legal actions against 12,000 LTTEers in Sri Lanka.
“About 12,000 LTTErs who surrendered to the Army during the war were released by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa without any observation or proper procedure. People in the country would be compelled to demand legal action against them instead of reconciliation if Army heads were taken before Court for war crimes. It is a regrettable situation,” JHU said.