Sri Lankan Prime Minister and war criminal, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has given a speech warning people not to be distracted by comments made by Karuna Amman and to focus on what is “politically important” to defeat “foreign conspirators” who prevailed in the 2015 elections.
Rajapaksa further stated that “Karuna may have given up murdering people, but the yahapalana cabal has not given up trying to divide the country”.
“[If] people cast their votes on the basis of various minor distractions, we will lose everything, our country, our nationhood, our religion, our culture and the future of unborn generations”, Rajapaksa claimed.
A “minor distraction”
Rajapaksa’s statement follows controversial comments made by Sri Lankan government-backed paramilitary leader Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias Karuna Amman) who boasted of killing “2,000 to 3,000 Sri Lankan Army personnel in one night at Elephant Pass” during the armed conflict.
Throughout Rajapaksa’s statement, he accuses the yahapalana government of attempting to divide the country and claims that in 1989 they had given “lorry loads of weapons and gunny bags full of cash to the LTTE”. He further blames the yahapalana camp for the 2002 ceasefire which is framed as ceding the “Northern and Eastern provinces” to the LTTE.
Rajapaksa claims that Karuna helped to identify Prabhakaran’s dead body and that he had given up killing people.
Karuna, is a close ally of the ruling Rajapaksa regime, and is accused of a litany of crimes including kidnappings, extortion, and executions, many of which took place with the complicity of Rajapaksa’s government, after Karuna had defected from the LTTE.
Prosecuting “war heroes” on “trumped-up charges”
Rajapaksa asserts that the “assumption of power by the yahapalana government in 2015 was akin to having been taken over by a hostile foreign invading force”. He claims that by co-sponsoring UN Resolution 30/1, which vowed to bring about reconciliation and accountability, the yahapalana government were conceding to their “foreign masters” and pursuing the prosecution of “war heroes” on “trumped-up charges”.
This allegation comes despite numerous statements from the President, Maithripala Sirisena, that his government was committed to the protection of all war heroes from foreign forces”. In March 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report highlighting that “virtually no progress” was made towards accountability for war crimes.
The report also raised concerns over the on-going reports of abduction, torture and sexual violence, institutional failures within the criminal justice system, ongoing harassment of human rights defenders since 2015 and the military’s continued occupation of civilian land.
Since becoming President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has threatened to withdraw from any global body which pursues the prosecution of Sri Lankan soldiers for war crimes and has pardoned the convicted war criminal, Sunil Rathnayake. Rathnayake who responsible for the Mirusuvil massacre where eight Tamil civilians were killed including three children.
Rajapaksa also blames the government for jailing “leading Buddhist monks”. One of the first acts of the current administration was to pardon the extremist Buddhist monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena. Gnanasara was serving a sentence for threatening the wife of the disappeared journalist, Prageeth Ekneligoda.
Office of Missing Persons
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister also attacked the creation of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) which he claims, “was rammed through Parliament without leaving room for any debate”. Rajapaksa asserts that the OMP is “inquisitorial body that can issue summons, examine witnesses, and collect evidence”. He states that the OMP “can search without a warrant any armed forces installation, police station, or prison and take into their possession any document or thing they deem necessary”.
This description of the OMP is at odds with the views of international legal experts such as Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) who described the OMP as having “no teeth”.
Sooka maintains that the limited progress towards reconciliation has been stunted by the inability “to deal with criminal accountability”.
The ITJP has documented the names of at least 293 people who were seen surrendering to the Sri Lankan military and have seen been disappeared. Among those is Father Joseph, who was last seen boarding a Sri Lankan military bus with several LTTE cadres whose surrender he had facilitated.
"We have reached out to the OMP and said, "truth lies within your hands" you can subpoena the Sri Lanka commanders who were there on those days to find out about these victims whereabouts. They have failed to act," Sooka said.
In 2018, the yahapalana government-appointed Mahinda Samarasinghe to head the OMP, a politician who has denounced reports of enforced disappearances.
Suresh Sallay, a general in Sri Lanka’s Intelligence Service, has since filed a complaint against Yasmin Sooka for alleged “defamatory remarks” relating to the detention of a Tamil doctor.
Sooka has stated that “Impunity is now so deeply embedded that it’s impossible to talk of any kind of institutional reform.
The families of the disappeared in Mullaitivu have asked the international community to “urgently come forward and help investigate the Sinhala chauvinist government’s genocide by establishing a special tribunal” and to take the government to the International Criminal Court to seek justice. The families of the disappeared have been continuously protesting since the 20th February 2017, over 1200 days ago.
Rajapaksa claims that the country should focus on what is “politically important” and applauds his brother on his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This statement comes despite growing concern over Sri Lanka’s militarised response to the coronavirus from groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Shavendra Silva, the head of the Sri Lankan army, who is currently subject to US travel sanctions due to his role in overseeing war crimes, led Colombo’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak on the island. Silva was the head of Sri Lanka’s notorious 58 Division, an army unit that committed grave violations of international law. They engaged in the repeated bombing of hospitals, widespread sexual violence, torture and the execution of surrendering Tamils.
Read his Rajapaksa’s full statement here.