THE SRI LANKAN government is claiming an all-out victory in its recent campaign against the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Even as the United Nations voiced concern over the increasing number of civilian Tamil casualties in the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army, pressure is building on the nation’s hardline Sinhala leadership over its allegedly genocidal acts against the Tamil minority. Former US Deputy Associate Attorney General Bruce Fein has compiled evidence he believes is sufficient to prosecute Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and army chief Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka under the United States Genocide Accountability Act. Gotabaya, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is a US citizen and Fonseka is a US Green Card holder.
Fein, associated with a US-based group, Tamils Against Genocide,was on a private visit to Chennai last week. Speaking to TEHELKA, Fein says he has prepared a 1,000-page model indictment against Gotabaya and Fonseka for submission to the US Department of Justice. “Since Gotabaya and Fonseka assumed office (in 2005), there have been virtually one to three extra-judicial killings daily in Sri Lanka,” states Fein. These, he clarifies, do not include LTTE casualties. “My work has nothing to do with the LTTE,” Fein says.
Comparing the present conditions of Tamils in Sri Lanka to the sufferings of the Jews under the Nazis and of the blacks during the apartheid era in South Africa, Fein says: “The national identity cards given to the Tamils are almost like the Star of David badges the Jews had to wear during the Nazi era.” He alleges that the cards are meant to identify Tamils easily so the government knows “whom to kill”.
Conditions have allegedly worsened over the last three years. People are abducted in “mysterious white vans” that have no license plates, Fein says. The abducted are never heard of again and are counted among the thousands of ‘disappeared’ persons. The genocidal intent of the Rajapaksa regime can be established through its various discriminatory policies against the Tamils. “The government has been creating conditions intended to promote their physical destruction,” claims Fein, arguing that many Rajapaksa policies constitute genocidal acts under US law. The blockade on transporting essential commodities to Tamil areas is one example, Fein says, for the starvation it has caused to the north Lankan civilian population.
GOTABAYA RETIRED from the Sri Lankan army in 1992, having served in it for 20 years. He then moved to the US and worked as a computer systems administrator at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 to assist Rajapaksa during his presidential campaign. Ever since his brother became President, Gotabaya has been part of his core group and is urging Rajapaksa to pursue a military solution to the 25- year-old ethnic conflict.
‘The national identity cards help identify Tamils easily, so the government knows whom to kill’
‘People are abducted in mysterious white vans, with no license plates. They are never heard of again’
‘The government has complete authority over the perpetrators of genocide: army, police, thugs, army deserters’
The model document, if accepted in the US would make Gotabaya the first US citizen to be tried for genocide
Sri Lanka’s Tamils have suffered repression at the hands of the Sinhalese since the 1940s. Soon after achieving independence from British colonialism in 1948, the Lankan government passed the Citizenship Act by which about a million Tamils lost their citizenship and voting rights. Later, Sinhala was made the country’s only official language, placing Tamils at a disadvantage, particularly for government jobs. Moderate Tamil politicians failed to impact the government to change its policies. Finally, in the 1970s, Tamil youths took to an armed struggle.
In 2002, Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Ranil Wickremasinghe, entered into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. Rajapaksa withdrew from the ceasefire in January 2008. Since then, the country has been plunged into bloodshed.
In his model indictment document, Fein seeks to establish the motivational context and the processes of the genocide under the Rajapaksa regime. Detailing the charges against Gotabaya and Fonseka, the document notes that “the alleged acts or omissions were committed with specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such, under the pretext of counter-insurgency warfare”. The document describes the victims of the alleged genocide as “Hindu-Christian Northeast Sri Lankan Tamils (HCNSLTs)”. Different forms of genocidal tactics against the HCNSLT have been recorded, among them large-scale abduction, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, artillery shell attacks and systematic deprivation of essential foods, and medicines.
The army’s powers to enforce ad hoc restrictions on “who and what goods can and cannot pass” over arterial roads to reach the HCNSLTs, media censorship on the happenings in Tamil areas, and the ban on petrol are part of Fein’s genocide charges against Fonseka and Gotabaya.
Tamils face “complex bureaucratic procedure” to travel abroad or within the country, especially in government-controlled Jaffna peninsula. “The process takes two to three months, whereby the application may be rejected. The army or government-sponsored paramilitaries are known to have murdered the applicants, the majority of whom were male.”
Fein’s priority now is to satisfy the US Department of Justice that a prima facie case has been made out and get the US Government’s support for forming a grand jury to prosecute Gotabaya and Fonseka. “I hope to have a grand jury set up in about three to four months time,” he says. If the jury indicts the accused, then the stage would be set for bringing Fonseka and Gotabaya to stand trial in the US.
Meanwhile, the situation of journalists in Sri Lanka is turning worse. Media sources in Colombo said at least 10 Sri Lankan journalists have fled the country. Senior journalist Lasantha Wikramatunga was assassinated by unknown persons in Colombo earlier this month — government hit-men are suspected. Senior Sinhalese journalist Sunanda Deshapriya has taken refuge in Chennai, where media persons have formed a forum called Journalists Against War to protest the violence on the Press under the Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka.