ACF, UTHR and other matters

I do not understand why Shanie thinks it necessary to drag me into all her columns, but it is even more worrying when, in her column on July 5th, she quotes selectively from an article that appeared in your own paper on the 3rd, to justify her claim that 'The culture of impunity rides on'. In a more rambling column than most, she accuses me of being an apologist who draws red herrings, without quite understanding what a red herring is. The meticulous research presented by UTHR last year makes it clear that the issue of why ACF sent its workers to Muttur and kept them there is not a red herring at all.

A red herring is designed to draw attention away from the principal issue, and neither UTHR nor I have suggested that the murder of the workers should not be investigated. That was made clear in the first paragraph of my article, and indeed in the last, though poor Shanie may not have had the benefit of reading it since the latter part of the article has not as yet appeared.

However, when two wrongs occur, it makes no sense to forget what seems the lesser one due to a need  to concentrate on the greater one. UTHR made that clear in its initial findings, but unfortunately that aspect of the UTHR research has been forgotten, and also its suggestion that the families of the dead workers were not compensated adequately. My own intervention at this stage was to point out that the latest ACF document contains falsehoods and inconsistencies. Those concerned with the truth of what happened in Muttur should look into these and determine whether they were fortuitous or deliberate.

Shanie then claims that there is yet another red herring in the form of the accusation by one counsel that one of the Commissioners was guilty of a conflict of interest. Whilst I hasten to add that I have total confidence in Dr Nesiah, clearly there was a potential conflict of interest, which could easily have been resolved by his resigning from the Centre for Policy Alternatives while he was sitting in judgment in a case in which the Centre was involved. I feel it a pity that he resigned from the Commission rather than from the Centre, but in a case in which there have been so many unfortunate preconceptions, many of which have now been shown to be wrong, it is necessary for those sitting in judgment to be clearly non-partisan. We have therefore to respect Dr Nesiah's decision about his primary interests.

Conversely, since Shanie notes that Chairman Udalagama is a person of undoubted integrity, it is surprising that she ignores the fact that it is by decision of the Commission that the Attorney General's Department still continues its involvement in cases before the Commission. Quite simply, you cannot have it both ways. If you wish to think the pronouncements of the IIGEP totally above board, and correct in all respects, then you obviously disagree with the disagreement expressed by the Commission, which has consistently been ignored by the IIGEP, for instance in issuing its report last September, contrary to its terms of reference. I don't think Justice Udalagama needs certificates of integrity from Shanie, if she insists on keeping the IIGEP on a pedestal that the Commission does not think it deserves, and if she so clearly thinks its decision to keep on with the Attorney General's Department is wrong.

Shanie should, I would suggest, try at least to be logical in her sanctimoniousness. She should also be more circumspect about sweeping statements, such as she makes with regard to yet another subject she bundles into her portfolio this time. She claims with regard to the killing of Joseph Pararajasingham that 'there were several eye-witnesses who identified the killer but the Police have chosen to release this suspect'.

It is possible that Shanie knows more than everyone else does. However, having gone into this case in providing a response to the Committee of the Human Rights of Parliamentarians of the International Parliamentary Union, I believe Shanie has got everything wrong here. The police initially arrested two (Sinhalese) members of the security forces and held an identity parade but they were not identified at the parade, and were therefore released. 

In case Shanie believes that this is another instance of impunity, she should also know that, far from those two suspects being named, subsequently the IPU received information that the killers were supposed to be (Tamil) members of paramilitary groups. That information was conveyed by politicians as coming from family members it seems, not from eye-witnesses. It had not been conveyed by anyone to the police, except by the circuitous route of the IPU, and did not seem to justify any arrest, especially as it seems that the names are of members of different political allegiances. If Shanie could let the CID know the names of the eye-witnesses she cites, and the particular 'killer' she claims was released by the police, I have no doubt that they will follow this information up.

Finally I should note that I am glad Shanie quotes briefly from the pastoral address of Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, and hope that in future she will use his principled but temperate writings as a model. The Peace Secretariat will be using more of that address in the volume it will bring out, entitled 'Lest We Forget', in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the tragedy of July 1983. Perhaps indeed Shanie could give up some of her space over the next few weeks so that that pastoral address can be published in full. In those days, Bishop Wickremesinghe's was a lone voice, unlike now when hollow sanctimoniousness is so fashionable. It would be good for those who now pronounce with so little knowledge and understanding to read the thoughtful words of a man who understood the society in which he functioned and was not afraid to afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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