Sixty-five-year-old Rtd. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, also a former UPFA MP says he is against the UN resolution cosponsored by the government. “As the Chief Coordinator of the Federation of National Organizations, consisting of experts such as Shenali Waduge, Dharshan Weerasekara, Shamindra Ferdinando, Kalyana Thiranagama and Dr. Wasantha Bandara, I have compiled a dossier with facts, statistics and letters obtained from various diplomats and reports from international NGOs and vetted by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva to prove that there were no war crimes committed by the security forces. Another organization, the Global Sri Lankan Forum, headquartered in Dubai is sponsoring their cause to fight against alleged war crimes charges.”
He adds, “I have a list of ‘traitors’ and when a new government takes over, if possible, we will file a case against them for treason. If proved guilty they will be sentenced to death.”
? The former government and security forces were defensive about the allegations levelled against them on alleged war crimes whereas the international civil societies and Tamils of the North and East urge the UN to probe alleged human rights violations that took place during the war period and beyond with proof. Since these weren‘t addressed by the then government, don‘t you think the country is in a fix, facing the resolution sponsored by the super power?
A: When I was in Geneva during the UNHRC session last month, the entire pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora coming through various NGOs were saying that Tamils are discriminated in Sri Lanka. They claim genocide, torture and rape camps run by the military. I am asking you, are you being discriminated? What about the Sinhalese in the North who cannot settle there, aren’t theydiscriminated? The Tamil Diaspora says since the Tamils are discriminated they want a federal State. I am totally against these accusations. We don’t have that feeling of hatred. To me all Sri Lankans belong to one family.
People should understand that we won the war and it was Germany with 17 other countries that tried to propose a resolution against us at the UNHRC but it was defeated by the non-aligned countries. The first ever resolution was a positive. We were congratulated for defeating the war.
? But at that time there wasn‘t any evidence coming out but eventually it did emerge. Victims‘ families began to question what happened to their loved ones who were with them during the last phase of the war and they went about looking for those who surrendered and imprisoned. Can‘t that be the case?
A: Those were compiled later on by the Tamils living overseas. Why did Mahinda Rajapaksa lose in the election in 2015? It was because he didn’t listen to the West. The West wanted us to halt the war and smuggle Prabhakaran out. The Tamil Diaspora was angry with Rajapaksa for killing him and that is why former US Secretary of State John Kerry said they are part of the victory when Rajapaksa was defeated. How can he be part of ousting Rajapaksa?
? There are several protests being held in the North and they are urging the government to release the list of people who surrendered to the security forces. They say they handed over their loved ones personally in good faith and have the names of military officials. So do you think these are bogus claims?
A: Such incidents are inevitable, but those individual offences against people are not war crimes. Offences committed by some are not war crimes. When you say war crimes, they are systematically planned by the high command and then executed. The claims that there were genocide, enforced disappearances, rape camps and deliberately not sending aid to the Tamil areas are defined as war crimes and that never occurred in Sri Lanka. We are against war crimes claims but crimes committed by individuals should be dealt with definitely.
? Did the Rajapaksa regime deal with those ‘individual‘ cases as you call them?
A: Why not? There were several Court Marshall cases and soldiers were sentenced to jail. My point is that if some soldiers have committed crimes, they should be dealt with according to the prevailing judicial setup.
? So you think Court Marshall for crimes committed by the soldiers is sufficient?
A: Why not? Also there are civil cases. In the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy rape case the accused soldiers were sentenced to death.
The government also gave the order to dig the mass graves. So there are enough and more verdicts by the judiciary.
? Don‘t you think the current government is dealing with individual cases too?
A: We are living in peace now because we have eradicated the LTTE. We should respect our soldiers, but we don’t do so. The government wants to take them to the International Criminal Court (ICC) with false war crime charges levelled against them. The UNHRC report shows seven charges against our security forces and that is bullshit! We have denied all those seven charges with proof. Earlier, we hired international human rights experts such as Sir Geoffrey Nice, Sir Desmond de Silva, and John Holms who said soldiers did not commit war crimes. Why didn’t Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera forward that document to the Human Rights chief Zeid Raad Al-Hussein?
? What about the murder of ‘Sunday Leader‘ editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen? Why didn‘t the former government probe such murders and disappearances?
A: Those are not war crimes.
? But these cases are also alleged to have links to the security forces and you have not addressed them. Don‘t you think so?
A: There are thousands of cases still not attended to and you are talking about Ekneligoda. Is he a journalist first of all?
? Journalist or not, why don‘t you condemn his disappearance?
A: You said he was a journalist and I am saying he is not. He wrote only one article. I saw his wife Sandya in Geneva. From Geneva she left for Paris.
? What do you mean by that?
A: She went to Paris to see her husband. That is the truth.
? Are you sure he is in Paris and how do you know it?
A: Many people have seen him there. It’s okay if she has gone to see him.
? If what you say is correct, why didn‘t you or the Rajapaksas get him down or publish his photograph because his ‘disappearance‘ has ruined the reputation of the security forces?
A: True. We failed to bring him down, but now we cannot do anything about it. Over his disappearance, 13 soldiers were remanded. Under section 296 of the Penal Code the body of the missing person should be found or there must be an eye witness to charge or remand someone. However, the soldiers were remanded without any charges. Also Major General Chaggi Gallage was not issued visa to travel to Australia.
? There were no ‘fair‘ trials under the Rajapaksas and people of all communities lost faith in the judiciary. This has been acknowledged by many in the South too. Haven‘t you heard so?
A: There are sections of the people who are against the soldiers and politicians against the UN resolution.
? There are old women, mothers and sisters in the North who are urging the government to tell the truth about their loved ones who had disappeared or surrendered to the security forces. Who are they in your opinion?
A: Do you know that many of those “missing” people are living aboard?
? Isn‘t this an assumption? Do you have any proof?
A: How many were killed by the LTTE? We don’t know.
? People were urging the former government to probe what happened to their loved ones. But there wasn‘t any action. Why did you leave these people to protest for so many years?
A: The Paranagama Commission took action and they tried to do something.
? But that commission also came under criticism and even Paranagama told the media that there were some cases that need to be studied with foreign expertise because there were elements related to international human rights laws and they need to look into them.
A: After the war you cannot attend to all these cases over the counter quickly. The Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and Paranagama Commission were initiated. When you compare the missing persons’ statistics the figures are bloated. My concerns are not individual cases but war crimes allegations only. The Paranagama Commission used reputed international experts and they said the government did not commit war crimes and there are seven reports produced by them.
? What did you do with those reports?
A: Let me give you an example how humane we were. Soosai, the LTTE Sea Tiger leader, killed many Naval officers and made their wives widows. But his wife and children were apprehended on the sea at about 11.30 p.m. We could have killed and dumped them in the Dvora boat locker. But we saved them and now they are living happily in Colombo.
? But how can you kill a woman and her children because of Soosai?
A: He was an enemy and we could have killed his family. If we are human rights violators then our action should not be that.
Prabakaran or John Kerry did not know about Soosai’s family. We also apprehended Tiger combatants when they dived in the sea when we approached them, but we captured them with nets and handed them over to the Trincomalee Harbour Police. I have gone with the ICRC to the LTTE controlled area to get the soldiers who were taken hostage by the LTTE after they ran over army camps. When I brought them to our boats their condition was horrible. Their eyes had been removed, tongues and genitals slashed. Their dead bodies had been returned after torturing them.
So, when you see a soldier’s pregnant wife’s belly cut open and the foetus taken out like a fish cut into pieces by the LTTE, what is the mental status of that soldier? They can also go to extremes, but we don’t condone those actions. On the whole, security forces never committed systematic war crimes. I am angry because more than 50 per cent of the Tamils are living among the Sinhalese and claim that they are discriminated. The Tamil Diaspora is trying to establish an Eelam using the UN. Even Prabakaran could not achieve it through terror and everybody congratulated me for saying this.
? So crimes that took place during the war are not considered war crimes in your opinion?
A: There is a distinct difference between war crimes and individual crimes. After the terrorist attack in France they bombed Syria and the French said they are with the government. People never went against them.
? That happened between two countries and France didn‘t fight their own people. Did they?
A: I am explaining to you about patriotism.
? Tell us about the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) of which you are the coordinator. Who is the president and other members?
A: I am the coordinator and there is no president or vice president. Shenali Waduge, Dharshan Weerasekara, Shamindra Ferdinando, Kalyana Thiranagma and Dr. Wasantha Bandara have compiled a dossier with facts, statistics and letters obtained from various diplomats and reports from international NGOs and vetted by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva to prove that there were no war crimes committed by the security forces. We have the Global Sri Lanka Forum founded in Italy and the executive committee based in Dubai, UAE. There are branches in Australia, Japan, Israel and France.
? Are you collecting funds to fight the UNHRC claims?
A: We are grouping ourselves to show that Zeid’s report is full of contradictions, lies and omissions and to expose that we have compiled a factfile.
? What response did you receive?
A: They don’t reply immediately. I saw government representatives seated there in Geneva and the NGOs registered with the UN. I observed that only I spoke for 90 seconds in two general debates and I find many separatists Tamil pro-LTTE groups coming through various NGOs including persons like Dr. Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Nimalka Fernando and Sunanda Deshapriya who spoke against the government and soldiers.
? Don‘t you think persons like Dr. Saravanamuttu reached out to the masses through the Consultation Task Force to compile a report? It was the people who spoke of their loved ones and urged for a probe. They found out the people from all communities have an issue related to disappearances and killings. Shouldn‘t that be appreciated rather than seeing them as people working against the government?
A: I am disturbed to hear some of these NGOs telling that young Tamil women are being used as sex slaves in our army camps. Do you think it’s correct? Persons like Nimalka Fernando should deny such claims.
? Can‘t these crimes take place as you say as ‘isolated incidents‘?
A: They are still claiming even now that Tamil women are being used as sex slaves. If we come to power these traitors should be charged with treason. That is what I would advise the government that comes to power next time. These people are traitors letting down the entire country and the armed forces.
? Aren‘t these claims of abductions, torture and enforced disappearances and ignoring their plea are also part of letting down the country?
A: They are not asking for justice. They are asking for a separate Tamil homeland.
? Do we see people asking for Eelam or justice?
A: In that case the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) should also shout and as I told you these are no war crimes but if there are incidents treat them as isolated cases. Even the Sinhalese and the Muslims have lost their loved ones, but they don’t call them war crimes.
? So do you admit that none of their worries were addressed anyway?
A: The government should address them and take judicial decisions. In other countries it takes years to establish the truth but only we are being rushed by everybody because we defeated the LTTE.
? Do you think that the only way to stop the ‘traitors‘ is to have a military style government?
A: I cannot send anyone to gallows, but I have a list of names. When the next government comes to power, we will file cases against them for treason. If the charges are proved beyond reasonable doubt, the punishment would be death. We don’t need a military government to do that. Anyone can file a case against anybody.
? So, you think people here should be ‘disciplined‘ not to be traitors?
A: Yes. I think as in the US, Singapore and UK, people here must be given military training to be disciplined.