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Sri Lankan soldiers were acting on orders says Mangala

Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera said the large scale violations by the country's security forces as outlined in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), were due to soldiers most probably following orders.

"Many of these soldiers did not do these things out of their own accord," Mr Samaraweera said in an interview to Sri Lanka's Sunday Times.

"The soldiers who may have been involved had no personal grudge against those victims. They were acting on orders they received. In such an investigation, I would say identifying the command structure is more important," he said.

"I read a report by the British on the Iraq war which says the soldiers were carrying out orders which emanated from the political leadership."

"Particularly a professional disciplined Army like ours, other than a few miscreants would not have carried out such vast scale violations unless they were given political orders."

"I would say in that respect identifying that would be the most important aspect and not creating a witch-hunt against the armed forces who most probably were following orders."

Asked about whether the government was considering the possibility of a hybrid special court, as recommended by the OISL report, which was released on Wednesday, Mr Samaraweera said that option needed to be considered.

"That is also one of the possibilities we have to explore," he said.

"We are talking about a special judicial mechanism. We have proposed that we must have Sri Lankan judges of the highest calibre and independence. However, there is also another school of thought that our judicial system has been run down to such an extent, particularly in the last ten years. We may have a problem in finding suitable people acceptable to all parties concerned."

"In that respect, having experts from abroad as consultants or technical assistance or even as judges may be an option that needs to be considered."

"We have not closed our doors on any of these ideas. Finally whatever we do is not merely to satisfy a few of us. It must be a credible mechanism which is acceptable to all parties concerned. Within those parameters we have to leave our options open for discussion."

See here for excerpts of the interview published on the Sunday Times (bottom of page, blue box).

Reproduced in full below:


Here are brief excerpts from an interview he gave the Sunday Times:
OHCHR RECOMMENDATION FOR “HYBRID SPECIAL COURTS”: That is also one of the possibilities we have to explore. We are talking about a special judicial mechanism. We have proposed that we must have Sri Lankan judges of the highest calibre and independence. However, there is also another school of thought that our judicial system has been run down to such an extent, particularly in the last ten years. We may have a problem in finding suitable people acceptable to all parties concerned. In that respect, having experts from abroad as consultants or technical assistance or even as judges may be an option that needs to be considered.

We have not closed our doors on any of these ideas. Finally whatever we do is not merely to satisfy a few of us. It must be a credible mechanism which is acceptable to all parties concerned. Within those parameters we have to leave our options open for discussion.

ON PREPARATIONS FOR A DOMESTIC INQUIRY: In keeping with the mandate we got in January, we have been talking about a credible domestic inquiry with international assistance. I then appointed a committee headed by Eastern Province Governor Austin Fernando. There were other experts. They worked through the parliamentary elections period to work out the contours of the domestic mechanism. The basic framework was discussed and agreed upon. We decided on a mechanism. It was based on four pillars. They are:

1. Under the statutes to set up a mechanism on truth seeking. In consultation with South Africa a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and non-recurrence will be set up. This mechanism will have two structures. Religious leaders from the major religions will be appointed to a ‘Compassionate Council’ comprising Commissioners. This commission will help to seek the truth for victims of human rights abuses from any community where the perpetrators are not clear to be tried before a judicial system or where they have resulted in discrimination and obtain remedy for any injustice. Further details will be finalised following discussions.

2. To set up an office under the statues with the expertise of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to obtain information about missing persons. We have also proposed to have a judicial mechanism on the Right to Justice. The structure of this will be determined in a consultation process in October.

3. The right for Reparation. For this purpose an office will be set up under the existing statues. This will facilitate the implementation of the recommendation on reparation by the proposed Commission on Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Office of the Missing Persons, the LLRC and any other body.

4. Taking measures to guarantee the non-recurrence of the events that have taken place in the past such as the two insurrections in the south and the war in the north. Special statutes and mechanisms will be put in place for this purpose. A political settlement within a united Sri Lanka to settle the grievances of the minorities should be reached.

Based on this, we will start national consultations with stakeholders. We are not going with fixed ideas. We are only going with a framework. From the time I return from New York, we will form a permanent Committee to guide this process. We will start national consultations from January. Politial parties, victims, civil society and anyone else who is interested. We will discuss how this could be organised within the structures proposed. To put those structures into place within 12 to 18 months. We have also informed our international partners.

TIME FRAME: Basically we have indicated we would like to do it in the shortest possible time frame – 12 to 18 months.
ON WHY THOSE ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN WAR CRIMES WERE NOT NAMED IN THE REPORT: It is a human rights investigation. The narratives talk about the various incidents and various serious instances of Human rights violations. This is not only of Government forces but also the LTTE. There is one section which says the guerrillas were holding people hostage during the last stages of the war. There were children who were shot when trying to escape. It is a balanced report.

They have rightfully left the criminal investigation or the responsibility of identifying those responsible for alleged war crimes. Pursuing them and punishing them has been left to us.

They have also mentioned the importance of taking into account how things came about. Many of these soldiers did not do these things out of their own accord. The soldiers who may have been involved had no personal grudge against those victims. They were acting on orders they received. In such an investigation, I would say identifying the command structure is more important. I read a report by the British on the Iraq war which says the soldiers were carrying out orders which emanated from the political leadership. Particularly a professional disciplined Army like ours, other than a few miscreants would not have carried out such vast scale violations unless they were given political orders. I would say in that respect identifying that would be the most important aspect and not creating a witch-hunt against the armed forces who most probably were following orders.

PRIORITY AREAS FOR CONSIDERATION: The four areas we have identified are equally significant. There are certain things we can do earlier like setting up of a Permanent Office for missing persons. The details have already been finalised. I believe necessary legislation can be brought very soon. Even the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation) machinery. We have to go through the consultation process. We have to make these a fait accompli. Along with it will come many other parliamentary acts which will ease the pressure. Anti-Hate laws, Freedom of Information Act etc. are also on the cards.

A FUTURE ROLE FOR THE MILITARY: We have also been seriously discussing with UN and others for a bigger role for Sri Lanka Army in peace keeping operations. We have been invited to send a battalion to Mali. I believe on the sidelines of the UNGA, US president has invited President Sirisena and other world leaders to discuss a role for soldiers. Otherwise the soldiers in Sri Lanka were forced to do menial jobs for politicians and officials of the last government, bathing dogs, selling vegetables, washing clothes, cooking food etc. The new move will restore their self-dignity.

By making them part of the peace keeping missions in the world we will have our troops receiving professional training and international experience.