Major General Shavendra Silva with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena | @MaithripalaS/Twitter
Major General Shavendra Silva with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena | @MaithripalaS/Twitter
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President Sirisena has made it abundantly clear that the Sri Lankan military will not be held accountable for wartime violations.

Sri Lanka’s abysmal record in dealing with alleged war criminals is well documented. And, with the recent appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva—an alleged war criminal—as second in command in the Sri Lanka Army, the South Asian nation has drawn fresh international ire.

In 2012, he was removed from a UN advisory committee due to alleged war crimes and other egregious violations.

That same year, he was prevented from assuming a diplomatic position in South Africa. Yet, in March 2017, Silva was appointed adjutant general of the Sri Lanka Army.

His recent promotion attests to the fact that in Sri Lanka, the more things change the more they stay the same.


Also read: Race for absolute power in Sri Lanka will signal a proxy war between India and China


History repeats itself

In October 2018, Sri Lanka entered a period of profound crisis. President Maithripala Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with his erstwhile ally Mahinda Rajapaksa, an alleged war criminal who served as president from 2005 to 2015. The coalition government that had ruled for the past several years deteriorated. Chaos and confusion engulfed the country for over seven weeks; Sirisena and Rajapaksa trampled the constitution and Sri Lanka lacked a functional government.

The crisis appears to have settled—the coup attempt failed—and Wickremesinghe has been reinstated as prime minister.

In the days leading up to the crisis, an important development went largely unnoticed. The United Nations (UN) requested that the commander of its peacekeeping force in Mali, Sri Lanka’s Lt Col Kalana Amunupure, be sent home.

The request was the result of new evidence pertaining to his human rights record—his involvement in crimes against humanity that were committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

And Amunupure was not the first to face such accusations.

His repatriation was the result of efforts by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), an organisation that has done excellent work to record the egregious human rights violations committed by Sri Lankan security personnel.

ITJP has continued to document major violations which have occurred since Sirisena became president in January 2015.

In a press release, ITJP mentioned: “For the first time, the UN has asked the Government of Sri Lanka to repatriate a peacekeeper because of his participation in alleged war crimes during the country’s civil war.”

Amunupure played a notable role during the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war and it would be utterly naive to think he doesn’t have blood on his hands. Of course, a deeper and more thorough examination of Sri Lankans hoping to become UN peacekeepers is long overdue.

After all, the consistent shelling of hospitals and the slaughter of Tamil civilians (among a range of other appalling human rights violations) have been documented extensively through credible investigations and reports.

The Tamil Tigers too committed wartime violations, but virtually most of their leadership died during the war—it is widely believed that the majority were killed extrajudicially by Sri Lankan government forces.


Also read: Rajapaksa’s dark legacy looms large over Sri Lanka and won’t clear anytime soon


Zero accountability policy

Accountability for Sri Lanka’s wartime abuses—if at all—is guaranteed to be a long, hard slog. And let’s keep in mind that there is not going to be any real accountability through a purely domestic (Sri Lankan) judicial mechanism. In such a milieu, an international mechanism is essential.

Sri Lanka, of course, doesn’t want such intervention. President Sirisena has made it abundantly clear that members of the Sri Lankan military will not be held accountable for wartime violations.

What is more, significant security sector reform—which the country urgently needs—has never been on the agenda. Besides, given the recent political crisis in Sri Lanka, it is clear that the window for meaningful reform will remain closed in the foreseeable future.

Sirisena, unsurprisingly, has promoted alleged war criminals on other occasions and will probably continue to do so.


Also read: How ‘armed gangs’ have tried to influence elections in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka


Much ado about repatriations

Repatriations obviously don’t constitute justice. They are, however, reminders that the way the country’s civil war ended remains relevant.

These war crimes allegations aren’t going away. In fact, Sri Lanka’s continued failure to address wartime crime foments impunity in a country that has already witnessed much violence.

In recent times, Tamil affairs have ostensibly gained currency because Colombo had sought to placate international actors, deflect international pressure and differentiate itself from the Rajapaksa regime.

But the fact remains that Colombo doesn’t care about addressing Tamil grievances. And Silva’s appointment sends a very clear message to the Tamil community: Tamil issues don’t matter to the central government. They certainly didn’t when Rajapaksa was in power. And, now that he’s out of power, they still don’t.

The author is an Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. Follow him on Twitter @taylordibbert.

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. A biased article. People like Taylor Dibbert and others like him, who happen to always come from countries that aren’t in Asia, constantly place the LTTE on a pedestal. Are you serious? The LTTE committed some serious war crimes that not only affected Sri Lanka but put the rest of the South Asian region in jeopardy after their violence affected India as well as the Maldives. Why do these people constantly support the terrorists who engaged in mass murder, suicide bombings and guerrilla warfare tactics? Are these people aware of the fact that the LTTE used child soldiers and they are the very people that started using suicide bombing that Islamist terrorists now use to attack both Muslims and non-Muslims around the world? I really don’t understand these people. How can they support terrorists? Ethnic harmony needs to prevail in Sri Lanka but that does not mean accepting and giving a pat on the back on the terrorists that aimed to destroy the country. That was a war. What did you think was going to happen in a war? This article makes it sound like a war can be fought without any bloodshed. That’s not possible. If one does not want war then they should not create or instigate war. I think the world needs to be reminded that the Sinhalese and Tamils were living peacefully until the British colonisers came. The problems we see today in Burma, southern Thailand and Kashmir were all created by the British colonisers as well. Their tactic of “divide and conquer” has created a lot of problems in the Asian region. The Print, you’re an Asian media outlet yet you’re happy to publish articles like this that aim to destablise and undermine the Asian region. I’m happy with freedom of expression but constantly churning out articles biased articles like this is silly. Where’s the other side?

  2. An article incredibly biased! The LTTE was responsible for some of the most gruesome acts terrorism, including the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and Crimes. It is well known on how they treated Sri Lankan Army prisoners and earlier when the India forces were active in Sri Lanka, perhaps some of the worst atrocities were committed on Indian POWs, including literally burning them alive! They used children as warriors and suicide bombers. They even treated their own Tamil rivals with extreme brutality. It was perhaps one of the most brutal terrorist organisations to exist in these times and they financed their operations with drugs smuggling, human trafficking, extortion etc

    Therefore no mercy to be shown to such terrorists and to those who support them. Sri Lankan Army literally had to fight inch by inch to defeat them and in the process they did what was required by any professional force to do so. Yes, civilians do get killed in war, unfortunate but a fact of life. But here a large number of these civilians were the eyes and ears of the LTTE which also recruited its cadre from these very civilians.

    A lot of false propaganda is being unleashed by LTTE surrogates who are using their financial muscle to discredit Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces. But what is most important is that now there is peace in Sri Lanka and people on both sides are trying to forget and move on. By being part of such false propaganda you are trying to destroy the peace.

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