Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s recent remarks on the Channel- 4 video film on the final days of the war did not turn out to be a bombshell as it deserves to be. At a time when the government is struggling to avert the possible pitfalls of the allegations of war crimes, Kumaratunga stated that her son Vimukthi, was ashamed to call himself a Sinhalese and a Lankan, after he saw Channel-4’s documentary called “Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.”
In her address at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute entitled ‘Economic Development, Inclusive Societies and Peace’ she said: “I shall remember till the end of my days the morning when my 28 year-old son called me, sobbing on the phone to say how ashamed he was to call himself a Sinhalese and a Lankan, after he saw on the UK television a 50-minute documentary called ‘Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ which I also had the great misfortune of seeing. My daughter followed suit, saying similar things and expressing shock and horror that our countrymen could indulge in such horrific acts.”
Surprisingly, not a single minister of serious stature in the Government contested or protested her remarks or called her a “traitor” as she had implied that the allegations of war crimes were true. Had these words been uttered by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other UNP leader the entire ruling party would have pounced on him and branded him a traitor. However, being well known for her ferocity of words against her adversaries and having remembered how they had submitted before her during her tenure as President they seem to have thought it to be safer to pretend not to have heard of her speech.
However, one might argue that it is natural for a cultured man or a woman to be ashamed of being identified with a fellow citizen who had been accused of horrendous crimes. This argument was put forward by a highly popular politician as far back as May 1985, when the security forces were accused of killing 23 youth and even burying some of them alive in Natpittimunai in Kalmunai. The Communist Party’s Sarath Muttettuwegama, the then MP for Kalawana raised this matter in the Parliament and when the National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali denied it ,he said “I am ashamed as a Sinhalese to hear about this crime and I as a Sinhalese pray your denial to be proved correct”
Even for a cultured Sri Lankan to be ashamed of the incidents shown in the Channel-4 he or she has to be satisfied of the veracity of the contents of the film. However, in a journalistic point of view the film contains a false balance in its structure, with visuals to prove the alleged atrocities of the security forces but none to prove those of the LTTE, though the producers themselves had claimed that the rebels too had committed war crimes. Thus, the commendation of the film by the pro LTTE elements, irrespective of its passing references about the outfit’s crimes, is obvious.
If the background narrations are omitted many visuals of the film could not be attributed to the Sri Lankan security forces. On top of all these an irony is that the film does not target the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who deserves the credit to the overall strategic planning of the decimation of the LTTE leadership under the rock-solid political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and with the well balanced politico-military coordination by the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Had he still been with the Government the Channel might have targeted him as well.
However, as Minister Champika Ranawaka had said no one can rule out that war crimes took place during the war. Especially, in a place where hundreds of thousands of civilians had been herded by the retreating combatants along with them and the combatants had disguised themselves as civilians, reports on civilian deaths cannot be ruled out. However, since the withdrawing LTTE did not take the civilians along with them in the east a catastrophic situation in respect of civilians did not arise there.
War is killing people. It is not something done out of love. The motivating factors for the individuals in a war are hatred, anger and fear which always tend to disregard laws and ethics. This is the point where excesses take place. Even after the Operation “Riviresa” which marked the beginning of the downfall of the LTTE, though 15 years back during Mrs. Kumaratunga’s presidency, there were allegations of disappearance of more than 600 persons.
Today’s irony is that pro-Tamil and pro-LTTE people seem to be fond of believing the visuals (crimes against Tamils) as authentic, while those who prayed the decimation of the LTTE and those who hate Tamils seem to pray otherwise. Yes, we have many things to be ashamed of.