OPINION, BY TREVOR GRANT.
The elaborate public façade carefully constructed by new president Maithripala Sirisena, with the hidden assistance of India and the US, is crumbling by the day, revealing the discomforting truth that Sri Lanka remains a brutal regime dominated by a military mindset.
The civil war may have ended seven years ago, with the chil
ling state-sanctioned slaughter of up to 70,000 innocent people on the blood-soaked beach of Mullivaikal, but there is no end in sight to the war on Tamils, who still suffer under the boot of Sinhalese military occupation in their homeland.
In fact, contrary to Sirisena’s deceptive words about justice and reconciliation, military might is clearly as important now to the government as it was when its army, air force and navy combined in early 2009 to massacre these innocent refugees from the war while they huddled in schools, hospitals, temples and out in the open, in hastily-dug foxholes by the beach.
Nothing could be more obvious after the recent elevation
in the country’s public life of two men who, if the world was a place where justice served us all rather than a powerful elite, would be now be living off porridge in a cell at The Hague.
They are Major-General Jagath Dias, who was recently promoted to chief-of-staff of the army and war-time army commander General Sarath Fonseka, who was promoted to field marshal, the highest rank in the military, and then, last month, appointed by the government to a seat in the parliament and a cabinet post.
Dias and Fonseka are two of the Sri Lankan army’s most notorious accused war criminals, shown in any number of international investigations to be responsible for the calculated attacks on the 300,000 civilians cynically herded into so-called ‘no fire zones’ and then set upon by the army’s powerful array of weaponry.
Dias is a particularly unsavoury character. This rotund, mustachioed veteran of the 57th division was fingered by the international community soon after the war, chased out of his post-war diplomatic job in Germany after being threatened with a war crimes’ prosecution. He was also refused visas by the US, UK and Australian governments because of his reputation.
What set him apart from your garden-variety war criminal, and elevated him to pre-eminence among Sinhalese extremists, was a stunning allegation about his role in the death of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Not long after the war, the Sri Lanka Guardian’s defence investigator laid before his readers a grisly story of wild-eyed, primeval revenge after Prabhakaran had surrendered to the army in the final days of the war.
This is what he wrote: “The LTTE leader was said to have suffered the sadistic attack of having a hot metal rod shoved up his anal tunnel, and he met his ultimate death by having the upper portion of his skull chopped with an axe while he was alive and struggling with the pain of anal penetration.
“Major General Jagath Dias personally undertook the gruesome task after verbally abusing him in filth and manhandling him in anger.” Published photographs of Prabhakaran’s body showed a deep wound in his forehead. In images released by the Sri Lankan Army, the wound was covered by a blue check cloth.”
While Dias was a hero to the former president and fellow-Sinhalese chauvinists, Fonseka had a more chequered post-war path. He challenged Rajapaksa at the 2010 elections and for his trouble he was stripped of his rank, his medals and jailed for more than two years. He had three years added to the sentence for stating in an interview that the defence secretary and the president’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had ordered the execution of Tamil prisoners of war. He later retracted the statement under pressure, and was let out of jail well before serving his full sentence.
Now Fonseka sits in a comfortable padded seat in parliament, gleaning all the material benefits of a cabinet post as minister for regional development and giving statesman-like interviews to overseas publications that mostly fail to mention that he’s got the blood of 70,000 murdered Tamils on his hands.
Of course, the same is true for the new president who, in an attempt to woo the Sinhalese vote, boasted during the election campaign last year that he was acting defence minister during the closing months of the war, and thus bears self-declared command responsibility for these war crimes, along with the Rajapaksas, Fonseka, Dias and other senior government officials and military officers.
Little wonder that Sirisena has been working so assiduously to stop international judges being admitted to any war crimes’ panel. Indeed only this week, he was reported to have hauled his foreign minister over the coals for suggesting to the US last week that Sri Lanka was open to the idea of allowing international involvement.
Everything you need to know about Sirisena is there for all to see as he brazenly reneges on his own government’s pledge in a UN resolution a few months ago to allow international input on the panel.
The façade is crumbling and Sirisena is now running for any rabbit hole he can find. However, he can’t hide the reality that nothing has changed in Sri Lanka, except the name of the president.
Yet the most shameful behavior in all of this comes from major western powers, including the US and UK, and middle powers such as Australia, who continue to lie to the world about change for the better in the island nation, in order to further their own geo-political aims.
For the likes of the US, it’s about reducing Chinese influence in the country and region, and, for Australia, it’s primarily about stopping Tamils fleeing persecution in boats that end up in our waters.
These governments don’t care that they are actively protecting accused war criminals. Indeed, it’s just another glaring example of the international complicity that continues to aid and abet a genocide that’s been perpetrated against the Tamils for almost 70 years.