A new controversy in the political sphere : BASIL STIRS UP BASIL | Sunday Observer

A new controversy in the political sphere : BASIL STIRS UP BASIL

Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa stirred up a hornet’s nest last Sunday, by admitting to crimes being committed by the military personnel during the time of war. He said, although the military forces, as a whole, did not commit ‘war crimes’, individuals from armed forces might have committed ‘crimes’ in the war zone. The controversial statement by the former Minister has given rise to a new controversy in the political sphere as the subject of war crimes has always been a contentious issue. The Sunday Observer spoke to several politicians and civil society representatives seeking their views on Rajapaksa’s statement.

Desperate attempt to attract minority votes

Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka

Basil Rajapaksa has made this statement with the sole purpose of attracting minority votes, which they failed to derive during the last two elections. In order to obtain votes, Basil Rajapaksa has betrayed the entire Sri Lankan Army.

This is damaging to the Army, as an institution, since no one individual is mentioned. When I spoke about war crimes, I specified individuals, so that the institution was not betrayed. What Basil did was the complete opposite.

When I pointed out certain wrongdoings of specific individuals relating to war crimes, I was branded as a traitor. I was criticized harshly and my dummies burnt.

Now, I am asking them, what would be their action against Basil who is one of their own? Where are the tears shed for war heroes? These were all carried out for political advantage, always.

Why can’t he make the same statement in the South?

Gamini Viyangoda-Co-convener, Puravasi Balaya

The statement made by the former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is an acknowledgement to war crimes being committed during the regime of his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

My question is, why is he making this statement in the North, instead of making it in the South, where he maintains that no war crimes have been committed. Maybe, he has realized that he had no support from the voter base in the North. Nevertheless, it is a good statement by him.

At the same time, the idea of such a statement being made by him should be to facilitate investigation into the matter.

There is an urgent need for a mechanism of inquiry into these allegations on war crimes. Then it would be possible to come to an informed conclusion on whether they were ‘crimes’ or ‘war crimes’.

We do not know whether these crimes were committed as a policy of the state or not.

That is the reason why we have been requesting the authorities to investigate the matter, alongside the international community. Now that Basil Rajapaksa admits to crimes being committed, the international community would pressurize the motion towards an investigation.

Whether the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions on Sri Lanka would be changed depends on how the international community would look at Basil Rajapaksa’s statement. However, the possibility of a domestic inquiry is strengthened by this statement.

Unnecessary statement contributes to collateral damage

Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara- Convener, Federation of National Organizations

I believe the statement by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa was not necessary as it would contribute to collateral damage. There was terrorism in the country and we crushed it.

This was an achievement that the international parties failed. Therefore, the international bodies should congratulate us instead of accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes.

Sri Lanka has not committed any war crimes and there is no necessity for investigations into such matters. There is no need to make excuses to the rest of the world, either.

After Nazi Germany surrendered to Soviet Union and the Western Allies, marking the end of World War II, there was no investigation into war crimes committed in the war zone.

Individual crimes by soldiers can be considered war crimes

Dr Jehan Perera –Director, National Peace Council

I actually don’t know whether former Minister Basil Rajapaksa made this statement or whether it was misreported. If he actually made the statement, it was a good thing to happen, especially, since the former Government was stating there were zero civilian deaths during the war, in the immediate aftermath.

UNHRC has recommended Sri Lanka to conduct investigations into allegations on human rights violations and war crimes being committed. On these grounds, Basil Rajapaksa admitting to crimes being committed is not adequate, he should convince the Joint Opposition (JO) to support the formation of the Truth Commission to investigate whether war crimes have actually been committed. The Truth Commission would act as a reliable body for fact finding. Basil Rajapaksa and the JO should support the setting up of the Office of Missing Persons and also the Office of Reparations, to offer compensation for those who lost loved ones during the war.

Even if these crimes were committed by individuals of the armed forces, they fall under the category of war crimes. As a result of this statement, UNHRC would pressurize the local government more, to conduct investigations into the matter. However, foreign governments would not get involved since they understand, these are difficult matters.

Basil knows Gota cannot be saved from war crimes allegations

Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne– Leader, Nawa Sama Samaja Party

What we can realize from the statement made by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is that the Rajapaksa clan has probably realized their younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa cannot be saved from the allegations of war crimes.

Basil Rajapaksa was not directly involved in these incidents, he is just attempting to purify himself. It is a tactic by the Rajapaksa family to establish their dominance once again.

They are trying to create an image for Basil Rajapaksa as being different to the rest of the family, that he is capable of understanding minority issues and indicate potential leadership ability in the future.

However, his statement was not successful and the crude attempt to balance the family reputation is laughable. People of Sri Lanka should not be misguided by his statement. Nevertheless, he is admitting to crimes being committed in the war zone.

The level, quantity and quality of the crimes may vary, but this has provided grounds for the international community to pressurize the Government to conduct an in depth investigation into the matter. Now the authorities can call in Basil Rajapaksa for questioning.

A truly independent, in depth investigation should not be influenced by the Rajapasksa family.

Therefore, there is a need for international war crime investigation into the matter, which can perhaps be a joint collaboration between the local Government and International Organizations, such as UNHRC.

Basil coming out of his shell

Mano Ganeshan- Minister for National Co-existence Dialogue and Official Languages

This statement indicates that former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is coming out of his shell and self imposed restrictions. The reasons may lie in the realization of the fact that the Rajapaksas couldn’t win the last Presidential election due to the alienation of the minority. Now they are keen to catch up with the Tamils, Indian origin Tamils and the Muslims, to gain political mileage. Therefore, this statement can be a damage control exercise. However, irrespective of the reasons behind the statement, I welcome the statement made by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, which would now contribute to a real-time peace and reconciliation process.

When it comes to the allegations of crimes levelled against the military forces, no one in their right minds would blame the military forces- at large. We need to understand that a few people within the forces may have violated the law and committed these crimes. It is these individuals that we have to identify and bring to book. We cannot blame the armed forces as a whole for acts committed by these individual wrongdoers.



He should now produce evidence

Ajith P Perera - Minister of Power and Renewable Energy

My standpoint on this statement is that if the former Minister Basil Rajapaksa possesses knowledge and evidence on these ‘crimes’, it is his duty to inform the police. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence against any individual officer committing war crimes in the war zone.

Therefore, for Basil Rajapaksa to make such a statement, he should be able to prove with evidence. If this is not possible, it is an unpatriotic and opportunistic statement made by him in Jaffna, in order to expand his voter base.

Basil Rajapaksa is a Minister of the former Government, brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Therefore, his statement will open new opportunities for pro-LTTE groups to accuse our Forces. Also, it would encourage anti Sri Lankan groups within and outside the country. However, I do not think this would bring about any change to UNHRC resolutions, which are finalized.

Also, it is difficult to distinguish between ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes’. Only a competent court could differentiate between the two.

Statement will increase pressure on war crimes investigations

Suren Perera– Human Rights lawyer

According to International Customary Law, criminal responsibility lies with individual officers, while commanding responsibility lies with commanding officers and the Army as a whole. Therefore, these are war crimes.

Now, former Minister Basil Rajapaksa has admitted to some crimes being committed during the war. If the international community takes this seriously, there would be more pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate the matter. The international community is not going to take these as just ‘crimes’. These took place during a war, in a war zone and there were intentional killings, which makes them war crimes.

However, since Basil Rajapaksa is currently not a state official, his statement is not considered as a statement made by the Government. Therefore, there will be no changes to UNHRC resolutions.