Addressing accountability: A Soldier’s dilemma
Posted on March 16th, 2016

Elmo de Silva Mount Lavinia  Courtesy The Island

(The reference to a soldier in this article would include any person in the Armed Forces, who is placed in such a situation).

I refer to the article, written by Mr. Neville Laduwahetty, appearing in The Island Newspaper of 9th March 2016, on the question of “Addressing Accountability”.

While I found this a most educative and valuable contribution to the debate on this very important subject, I would like to reproduce an excerpt from it, on which I wish to add my own comments.

” The circumstances were so extraordinary and unique that commanders away from the battle scene would NOT have been in a position to lay down policy. Furthermore, they also could not have been in a position to give instructions to the Field Commanders because of the fluidity of the unparalleled circumstances presented minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day .Their only option was to leave it to the judgment of those in the thick of the battle to realise the twin objectives of saving the civilians as an integral part of Military Necessity and neutralizing the LTTE to restore the territorial integrity of the State …”

My comments are as follows:

Christiane Amanpour on a war: the dilemma facing forces in the battle field

I watch the Christiane Amanpour programme on CNN, quite often, once, last month (February) the subject was about a movie produced in Denmark titled A WAR (amanpour.com). All Actors are persons in the Danish armed forces, and had fought in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is what they said when talking to Christiane Amanpour. (I have given what follows below in my words as it is not possible to couch this in the words spoken by those, in the Amanpour interview on television). What is said below, by the Danish personnel cum actors, is based on their real experiences on the Battle Field.

One Commander cum Actor tells Christiane Amanpour that when he and his Regiment were fighting the Taliban, in Afghanistan, there was one instance (among many), where his platoons were facing an imminent attack from the enemy. They had to face a ruthless enemy and were outnumbered. The only solution was to bomb the enemy. But since the enemy was amongst civilians, collateral damage was inevitable. Not to bomb was to face annihilation. He is in a dilemma. To safeguard his troops he has to act. He orders the bombing.

When he gets back home, he is sure he will be accused of human rights violations. He tells this to his wife. She screams at him and asks him to lie in the Courts, denying the charge. She says “You are thinking of other children, what will happen to our children, if you are incarcerated”. This portrays the ‘The Dilemma of the Soldier’.

The other Commander cum Actor says that when the Politicians send us out to war, they want us to abide by the Rules of War. But when we are in the thick of the battle it is not always possible to keep to the Rules of War.

Those who preach Human Rights and war, should get into boots and go to the battle front

In this Category should be included the following:

Those in the Geneva Human Rights Commission who pontificate on Human Rights, who have never put on boots, or been on the battle front, particularly when fighting ruthless terrorists.

Those persons in Governmental and Non-Governmental organizations who blindly speak of Human Rights and who have never fought ruthless terrorists or perhaps never held a gun.

The Tamil Diaspora who are able to fool all the people all the time with their diabolical lies.

My own experience in the Volunteer Force (Gemunu Watch) which was for a few years and not in troubled times (I was a sub-lieutenant)

I would challenge anyone who speaks of Human Rights, to be in Army fatigues and boots for just one day in the jungles, to see whether he or she can endure this for even for one day.

The Human Rights resolution against Sri Lanka. When I was under training at Diyatalawa, at that time we had to undergo training in bayonet attack. (The command was in Sinhalese: ‘vamin valakkan (avoid from the left), atchu kaden pahara then (hit with the butt of the gun), pannin (jump) annin (pierce). Though I had no occasion to do this drill in battle, I was too sensitive to even think of doing this, and that partly contributed to my resigning from the Volunteer Force. The point I am trying to make is that we do not consider the mental state of the soldier on the battle front. Does not the soldier on the battle front value his life, just as any of us value ours?

Co-sponsoring the Human Rights violation resolution against Sri Lanka

I consider the co-sponsoring of the Resolution against Sri Lanka, as a gross betrayal of our armed forces, as it was a meek submission by persons, who are not aware of battlefield conditions.

This is an affront to each and every Sri Lankan.

Why do we meekly endorse a pack of concocted falsehoods without challenging them?

Why did we not contest the damnable lies, concocted by the Tamil Diaspora?

Why did we not ask the Chairman of the so called Human Rights Commission to cite any report or inquiry where witnesses cannot be cross examined, and is the basis of unfounded allegations against our Armed Forces?

Is the above not against Natural Justice?

He who pays the piper calls the tune, even though devoid of veracity

Co-sponsoring of this Resolution, could have been avoided if those responsible had some idea of battlefront conditions. My experience of international institutions, it is that you do the bidding of those who pay the Piper. I can say this with some knowledge of how international organizations are financed and function. There was an instance, when the US authorities refused to pay the American Contribution for maintaining The World Customs Organization (WCO), as there was a dispute between the American Authorities and the Secretary General of the WCO, who was a Senior American Customs Officer, and was on secondment. The American annual contribution was twenty-five per cent of the Total Cost of maintaining the WCO. The balance was shared by the hundred and forty eight other member countries. T
he WCO management was contemplating terminating operations of the Organization, if the American contribution was not forthcoming. The Secretary General of the WCO, resigned and the issue was settled.

Do armed forces personnel have no Human rights?

Those in the battlefront are also human beings, but are more subject than others to immense stress and strain. If they do not fight for the safety of all of us, who will?

That is why Sir Winston Churchill said, during the Second World War, “Never in the field of human conflict, have so many, owed so much, to so few”. We could say the same of our Armed Forces.

Elmo de Silva

Mount Lavinia

 

2 Responses to “Addressing accountability: A Soldier’s dilemma”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    I think I’m qualified to give a professional opinion on this.

    This is actually the nation’s dilemma. Ultimately the issue is – the military or the politicians.

    Soldiers have done their best and saved the nation. Now it is the turn of legal experts, politicians and people to do them justice.

    Neville has written many informative and good articles on the subject. However, the following is false on Sri Lanka’s case.

    [Quote] The circumstances were so extraordinary and unique that commanders away from the battle scene would NOT have been in a position to lay down policy. Furthermore, they also could not have been in a position to give instructions to the Field Commanders because of the fluidity of the unparalleled circumstances presented minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day .Their only option was to leave it to the judgment of those in the thick of the battle to realise the twin objectives of saving the civilians as an integral part of Military Necessity and neutralizing the LTTE to restore the territorial integrity of the State. [Unquote]

    Sri Lankan military chain of command was in full control of the well-disciplined army right throughout the war until this date. At no time did the army start freewheeling, acted against instructions or omitted instructions from the top. Ceasefires were imposed by politicians in April and May, 2009 which the army followed to the letter, the government declared a civilian safety zone/no fire zone, even specified that heavy weapons will not be used (an operational decision), put a few offensive brigades on reserve in the last few days, declared the war was over and showed absolutely no sign of insubordination by army personnel. Seven years is far too late to assert otherwise.

    Responsibility for all acts and omissions corresponding to war committed by soldiers rests with the commander in chief.

    The commander in chief enjoyed the credits of winning the war; now he has to take responsibility for it. You cannot evade responsibility and take only credit.

    Putting the blame on soldiers for possible acts of war crimes puts the military (and security of the nation) in peril. If soldiers and officers take ad-hoc decisions in the battlefield just 200 km away from the Capital while in constant contact with the chain of command by communication devices and with no proof of break of the chain of command, and acts in serious contravention of the international law, it is a seriously flawed army. Such an army will be dismantled and/or put under the very external forces (and their pawns) that try to destroy the country. It cannot be allowed.

    Politicians (including the commander in chief) come and go, but the military must stay in tact. All soldiers and officers (hence the nation’s defenders) must be protected by casting responsibility higher up in the chain of command. No Sri Lankan uniformed soldier committed any act of war crime (a few did commit excesses relating to sexual violence, etc. and all of them have been investigated and punished by 2011).

    This is the case even if Neville’s statement is true. If the circumstances made soldiers and officers make decisions without the opportunity to consult the chain of command, and such action resulted in peace to the nation, whom should we protect?

    I sincerely appeal to nationalists to be wise and careful on this very delicate issue. We must defend the military at all cost (emphasised) to continue to save this nation; not politicians.

    This is not the dilemma of soldiers (they have done their duty). This is the dilemma of the nation that doesn’t know the difference between who protected it and who amassed all the credit for it (but refuses to take accompanying responsibility).

  2. Dilrook Says:

    On a related matter, did the then acting defence minister backstab the then president way back in May 2009 (and again in 2014) by not carrying out what was expected of him as acting defence minister while the commander in chief and the army commander were on totally useless foreign trips at a crucial juncture?

    What if the happenings of May 17 night and 18 happened on May 15 night and May 16? Then Sirisena would be in the dock. Obviously, he was advised by good legal counsel and possibly by his secret master – Chandrika – to extend the 48-hour ceasefire, which was supposed to have ended on May 15, thereby leaving the last difficult act to his superior. Did he then have the audacity to rush to the airport to receive his superior to a hero’s welcome knowing very well the most important task of finishing off the war for good remained unfulfilled?

    The new constitution must ban the commander in chief and the army commander from leaving the country within six months of military confrontation.

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