Controversy over war crimes charges on Gen Jayasuriya Will opportunists exploit situation? | Sunday Observer

Controversy over war crimes charges on Gen Jayasuriya Will opportunists exploit situation?

A lawyer hired by International Truth and Justice Project, a South Africa based group with rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka’s backing, recently filed criminal law suits in Brazil and Colombia against General Jagath Jayasuriya, then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to six Latin American countries, pinning war crimes charges over his role during the final phase of the war.

The cases charged him with commanding military units in the North that killed, tortured and made thousands of Tamil people disappear.

General Jayasuriya ended his two year term in Brazil and returned to the country the next day after the law suits were filed. The incident created ripples in the local political scene and the Joint Opposition had a field day calling upon the Government to protect war heroes.

Upon return, in a newspaper interview, Gen.Jayasuriya thrashed the former Army commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, saying that he should take responsibility if there were war crimes during the final stages of the war. Field Marshal Fonseka in a subsequent press conference retorted that ‘he was ready to testify against General Jayasuriya’.

The Sunday Observer spoke to a cross section of political leaders and civil society members on the latest turn of events.

Excerpts of the interviews:

JVP MP Vijitha Herath

Someone’s guilt of a crime can be established after a proper investigation. If someone is making such allegations against a public figure due to a personal vendetta, and seeking international involvement to try such person, that would be in the least interests of the country.

If one believes there have been crimes related to war, there are domestic mechanisms to seek truth. Such matters should not be referred to any international tribunal, whether it is related to former Army Commander Gen Jagath Jayasuriya or anyone else. That is the stance of the JVP.

If there is hard evidence over an incident that is claimed to have happened, a complaint must be made without waiting for someone else to do it. As a Field Marshal and a Minister, Sarath Fonseka should have taken the initiative to report the incidents long ago and ensure punitive action to the offenders.

When such irresponsible statements are made, bankrupt politicians try to take undue advantage. The war crimes allegations have already reached international stage, however, we don’t think Field Martial Sarath Fonseka’s comments will have serious implications.

We believe the Government is duty bound to clarify the matter, without beating around the bush and making statements to please the gallery. The Government must act with responsibility. If not, the opportunists waiting for some opening to grab power, will exploit the situation to play on the people’s emotions.

Minister Mano Ganesan

The Government’s position on the comments of Minister Sarath Fonseka is that, those were his private comments. It was not the stance of the Government. If Minister Sarath Fonseka had any substantial evidence against Jagath Jayasuriya, he should have made complaints long before, without waiting till Jayasuriya exited Brazil.

We have heard his opinion on the white flag issue during the 2010 elections, and later his accusations against Shavendra Silva and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The Government has ruled out any international investigation, that every possibility of wrongdoing can be charged locally. The current Government has brought back the rule of law, and any person irrespective of their status is equal before the law. If Minister Sarath Fonseka has evidence against anyone, he can make a complaint to a local body. I am sad that some have given this issue a political twist.

Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

If there is evidence of serious violations they should be investigated and once investigated if the hard evidence uncovered warrants prosecution, there must be prosecution irrespective of the current or former status of the individual. This is clearly reflected in the general and particular recommendations of the Consultative Task Force on Reconciliation of which I was the Secretary. Our willingness and ability to act in respect of war crimes and crimes against humanity is surely a measure of how seriously we take our obligations as a responsible member of the international community and of our commitment towards a decent and civilised society.

Leader of the EPRLF (constituent party of the TNA) and former Jaffna District MP Suresh Premachandran

Minister Sarath Fonseka complained that there had been war crimes. He said Jagath Jayasuriya was responsible for Rathupaswala, and for some massacres that happened in Jaffna. He is a Minister and a Member of Parliament. He has openly said that Jagath Jayasuriya has to be convicted for war crimes. The former Army Commander who directed the war is complaining that he committed war crimes.

Definitely, the government must take action on this matter. But, the President, Prime Minister and the Minister have said they don’t want to conduct any investigations on this matter. I do not understand how the affected people can seek justice in such a situation.

The Government is totally depending on the Sinhala vote, next year will be election year. So, whatever statements made now are in tune with the upcoming elections. They feel that the time is not conducive to inquire into army personnel’s conduct. Southern politicians don’t wish to antagonize Sinhala voters.

But, we expect the Government to properly investigate the war crimes matter. The Government has promised the UN Human Rights Council that they will do it and in fact, incorporate international judges also.

JHU National Organiser Nishantha Warnasinghe

The JHU doesn’t hold the opinion that the forces deliberately committed war crimes at the final stages of the war. But, if there were isolated incidents of wrongdoing, they must be investigated. It can be in the form of a military court, martial or a civil court of law, provided there is hard evidence.

The law must be equal to all

There was a huge international call… to drag our state leaders, defence secretary and war heroes before international courts of justice. The previous government clearly rejected this call and the current government too has rejected any attempt to take our war heroes before international war crimes tribunals.

Subsequently, there was a call for a Hybrid Court, comprising international judges, lawyers and prosecutors to probe allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. The JHU clearly expressed our objection to establishing such mechanisms. President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Foreign Minister have already emphasized the Sri Lankan stance.

We have not become a signatory to the Rome Statute. Therefore, we are not bound to hand in our military officers to international courts. However, there is a risk of prosecution if you happen to be in a signatory country. General Jagath Jayasuriya was head of mission in Brazil when the law suits were filed against him, initiated by a group based in South Africa - International Truth and Justice Project- a brainchild of Yasmin Sooka. The war heroes face a danger of being arrested overseas in such instances.

This is something the Sri Lankan Government must pay attention to. We must be cautious when our ex-military officers are appointed to foreign missions in the West. The Pro-LTTE diaspora is highly organized in the West.

Not just Sri Lankans, the Israel Prime Minister too faced a similar threat of arrest in Britain once. There was also an attempt to arrest the Indonesian leader at the Heathrow Airport, in UK.

Gen Jagath Jayasuriya made a statement upon return to Sri Lanka that Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka must take responsibility if there were war crimes during the last phase of the war. It was to this that Field Marshal Fonseka responded in even harsh words. We do not condone both these statements and believe that all must exercise restraint and not make such incriminatory statements.

We have a collective responsibility to safeguard the interests of the country. We must also keep in mind that this is a gold mine for the opposition groups who want to rouse people’s emotions and score brownie points. The way the Joint Opposition MPs are behaving is abhorrent.

Everyone, the Buddhist clergy included, must think of the broader interest of the country. If we get divided the forces backed by the LTTE will win.

None other than the former President declared that the war could not have been won if not for Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. It was he who said Fonseka was the best Army Commander in the world. And it is not correct to project a different picture now. His dedication and determination should not be given less value today.

We are also happy that the Government has cleared their position that Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s statement did not echo the stance of the Government and it was only a personal opinion.

President CWC Muthu Sivalingam

We have not discussed this matter among the party hierarchy. As far as the statement made by Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka is concerned we don’t wish to comment at this particular point of time.