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The Culture Of Impunity

( December 22, 2013 - Colombo - Sri Lanka Guardian) Unfortunately, one gets the impression that Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka is not entirely based on its original scriptures as preached by Lord Buddha but often in so far as the attitude towards the Tamils is concerned the teachings of the great Buddha are superseded by the myths of the fanatical authors of the Mahavamsa written nearly 1300 years after Lord Buddha and 800 years after the war where the Sinhalese king Dutu Gemunu vanquished the Tamil king Elara some 2300 years ago. To a repentant Dutu Gemunu for having massacred thousands of Tamils, the Mahavamsa says that he was consoled by the saints thus: "From these deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven....Unbelievers and men of evil were they (the Tamils), not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee thou wilt bring glory to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways..." This has since influenced Sinhala nationalism and to a great extent the Sinhala chauvinist consciousness. This also marks a precedent for the impunity justified by the Sinhala chauvinists in so far as crimes and injustices against the Tamils are concerned.

The kind of impunity that Dutu Gemunu enjoyed does not apply in this 21st century in the treatment of humanity. The notion that a Head of a State can do no wrong enjoying impunity was thrown out with the execution of King Charles I of Britain in 1649. Having lived in the second century BC Dutu Gemunu was fortunate in that except his conscience no accusation of war crimes and crimes against humanity haunted him with no media either national or international, the international community, or human rights activists. There was not the rule of law, a highly advanced justice system and a civil society that the modern Sri Lankan society deserves but unfortunately lacks. It is unfortunate that these aspects of a modern civilised society, if at all, hitherto built are being systematically demolished by the Rajapaksas in order that their dynasty could ruthlessly enjoy a climate of impunity.

To get the picture right in the current context, one has only to substitute President Rajapaksa who claims to be Dutu Gemunu's successor. As to whether Rajapaksa is repentant after the wanton massacre of at least 40,000 Tamil civilians in Mullaitivu alone, is now evident in the treatment of the IDPs in the concentration camps. Rajapaksa continues to thrive on the victory over the Tamil militants engineered through the massacre of the Tamils and the impunity that he, the members of his family and his sycophants enjoy emanate from this. Further they are given a free hand both by the chauvinist sections of the Sinhala polity and the innocent Sinhala masses for the threat of the return of the LTTE is painstakingly kept alive by the fallacy that only the Rajapaksas can combat the ruthlessness of the LTTE. The ignorance of the masses both Sinhalese and the Tamils is an advantage to them. The cheap triumphalism that is being displayed is evidence of this. If the intended process of truth and reconciliation is to be genuine it is important that the ordinary Sinhala people are told of the genesis of Tamil militancy.

We are not here referring to the kind of rejuvenation of the LTTE being engineered by the defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the latest tactic to keep the fears of the Sinhala people alive and to demonstrate to the international community that the LTTE is still a live threat also as a ruse to free the Rajapaksa dynasty from accusations of war crimes.

Besides the absence of even the semblance of any genuine democracy there is the complete breakdown of the rule of law, the justice system, corruption, crime, abuses of human rights, disappearances, the attacks on religion and places of worship, murders of media persons, attacks on newspaper offices, breaking up of peaceful demonstrations, protests and dissent through the deployment of the army, police and hooligans. Go no further, take the classic example of the recent assault on the referee by the "first second son" at a rugby match with impunity. Then there is the most recent case of the top ranking officer in the prime minister's office being involved in the importation of a huge consignment of narcotics going scot free only with his resignation. We will not be surprised if the prime minister himself or his close relatives are involved. Drug dealers, murderers and other criminals are protected by the Rajapaksa government as long they are their sycophants.

The situation of the Tamil people is very much worse. After the war the lot of the 350,000 IDPS has not improved one bit be it the area of housing, education for the children or health. They cannot live by roads financed by the Chinese alone. Substantial areas of cultivable lands are being taken over with temples destroyed.

Near relatives of those who have disappeared are still in search of them. LLRC has not brought anything meaningful to allay their anxieties and fears. In fact the investigation into disappearances did not constitute the terms of reference of the LLRC but was taken up as a matter of course. Further causing the disappearance of a human being is not a penal offence so that the perpetrators can go on with impunity. So far no information is available on those who disappeared. Even if their near relatives will never see them they must be at least given the opportunity for a closure.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Chaloka Beyani, at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka from 2 to 6 December 2013 had this to say: "..However, a significant number of IDPs still live in protracted displacement, and tens of thousands others who have returned or have been settled elsewhere in the North live in very precarious conditions and need more durable housing, access to social services, and the creation of livelihood opportunities. Of equal importance is an environment allowing the resettled and remaining IDPs to exercise their property rights, receive information on missing family members and access legal services. While former fighters have been formally demobilized and rehabilitated, they continue to face difficulties in terms of durable solutions as monitoring and control measures by security forces limit their ability to find employment...."

With the army of occupation well entrenched the abuse of Tamil women and children has become part of the culture of impunity with most victims not prepared to come forward in fear of being exposed to publicity. Many women through fear of death are "used" as comfort women.

Torture is still rampant in the north as in the south and is practiced with impunity.

Whenever there is international outrage on a crime against humanity the president appoints a commissions to keep them quiet. As much as the LLRC, the commission appointed previously to inquire into the execution style murder of the 17 aid workers in Muttur of the French Action Against Hunger, by the state security forces in 2006, the murder of the 5 university students by shooting by the army in 2005 and also the murder of nearly 60 school girls by aerial bombing in Killinochchi was another façade doomed to failure. Rajapaksa to give this commission a semblance of fairness appointed the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), a group of individuals nominated by international donor countries notably the European Union with Justice PN Bhagvati as its head. The proceedings of this commission were undermined and sabotaged by the then attorney general with the full backing of the president. The members of the overseeing IIGEP resigned and left in disgust and nothing came out of the proceedings of the commission. It is interesting that the attorney general who played the key role in undermining the proceedings was later to appointed to head of the LLRC.

In actual fact, the President is in no way bound to implement any of the recommendations of a commission, although appointed by him, if they do not suit his whims. This was recently confirmed by his media minister and sycophant Rambukwella, who in response to the resolution the European Union Parliament had recently passed calling on the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission in full, stated that the Government would decide which recommendations can be implemented and when.. Further he stated: "The LLRC was formed not for anyone else but by the President to address our own issues for own people so we will see about it". Rajapaksa takes the international community for another long ride. This means that that the crimes against humanity by the Rakjapaksa dynasty will continue with impunity.

Even Japan's Special envoy to Sri Lanka Yasushi Akashi considered good enough for Sri Lanka who has visited Sri Lanka on more than 15 occasions enjoying its proverbial hospitality often does not know what he is talking about. In the wake of Chinese hostility, Akasi could not on this occasion of his visit give the Sri Lankan government a clean bill of health, however puerile, in relation to its human rights record as has been doing on previous occasions.

It is time that the international community woke up to the implications of a presidential commission in Sri Lanka and the prevailing culture of immunity.

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