Posted on June 15th, 2018

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”
– Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

Although it is an open secret that the service personnel in powerful countries in the world such as the US and the UK have committed many war crimes, most of which have gone unpunished, these countries with the assistance of the UN at the behest of the Tamil Diaspora aggravated by the demise of the LTTE in Sri Lanka have consistently accused the heroic Sri Lankan armed forces to have allegedly committed grave war crimes including genocide. As Chomsky stated and quoted above; for the powerful nations crimes are those committed by other nations on whom these wrongdoers have assumed the role of judge and the jury as they consider that no other country in the world could have the audacity to accuse them of such war crimes.

Recently Sri Lanka’s Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake declared in Colombo, that he has already set up a Directorate of Overseas Operations” to defend the Army against war crimes charges made in the international arena but he seems to have penetrated into the role of foreign affairs confined to the Government indicating that the Government has totally failed all these years to use political diplomacy and strategic communication techniques with international players to erase the tarnished image of the nation and help to rebuild it, and therefore as the Army Commander, he is taking over the task to protect the Army personnel from such frivolous charges.. Gen. Senanayake, addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka on 10 May, in addition to his announcement of setting up a ‘Directorate of Overseas Operation’ which he established in April, stated that in the absence of adequate support from those outside the Army which may mean the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and / or the Presidential Secretariat which are entrusted by Sri Lanka’s Constitution to engage in international affairs, the Army considers its necessary to have an organization or a think tank of its own, to defend the institution in the context of the grave war crimes charges. Thus it appears that the Sri Lankan administration has failed to perform that task by itself and that the Government’s failure resulted in setting up a ‘Directorate of Overseas Operation’. Globally, Foreign Ministries are generally expected to maintain ‘Think Tanks’ and ‘Research Units’ to deal with issues of this nature. Maintaining the international image of a nation is entrusted to that nation’s Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister or the President. In the United States, Department of Defence does not get involved in foreign affairs but provide a supportive role. In fact the US Department of State as in India has a separate unit called ‘Bureau of Research and Analysis’ an investigative unit for the use of the Government of the United States for its overseas operations activities.

It is to be noted that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution titled Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” on 1 October, 2015, Resolution 30/1. This has been described by some critics as a constitution amendment project for Sri Lanka. Interestingly, it was cosponsored by Sri Lanka, which was indeed an erroneous move which may have been done as a reconciliatory gesture. In 2017, Sri Lanka obtained a two-year grace period to implement the resolution, further confirming the country’s acquiescence with Resolution 30/1.A former Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona criticized the move stating that:  Sri Lanka, for its part, may not have adequately addressed some of the allegations or orchestrated its message contradicting the Channel 4 documentaries, the media stories and the perceptions that were mounting. There was considerable opportunity to do so without appearing to toe the Human Rights Council line…But these opportunities were not used, ignored or simply dismissed. Significantly, well-resourced LTTE support groups kept up the anti-Sri Lanka campaign using influential members of the Western political establishment, the NGO community and the media.” Some of the provisions of the 2015 Resolution 30/1 have transgressed the mandate of the Council. For example, it welcomes the Government’s commitment to devolve political authority by taking necessary constitutional measures, affirms the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators, encourages the government to accelerate the return of land to civilians and end the involvement of the military in civilian activity, etc.

In conclusion, it must be stated that it is praiseworthy that the Army Commander is making a genuine effort to preserve the dignity of the heroic armed forces of Sri Lanka where the strategy adopted by the Foreign Ministry and Presidential Secretariat has turned out to be ineffective.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo)


  1. Dilrook Says:

    Indeed a great move by the army commander. Political clans ruined the war crimes issue for Sri Lanka trying to secure their clans’ future at the expense of the military. Political clans come and (hopefully) go but the military remains. It has to clear its name and follow international law in dealing with the matter.

    Mahesh has proven over decades that he is a leading war hero and a very responsible leader. He must go ahead.

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    Unfortunately his efforts will be hampered by the dictatorial orders of the President.

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