Sri Lanka president resorts to hate speech against rights activists

Bringing back chilling memories of a period when dissenting voices were shamed as traitors and hunted down, the president of Sri Lanka has accused rights activists of being 'supporters of Tamil Tigers', while admitting his involvement in delaying justice on criminal violations.

In a special meeting with media heads, President Maithripala Sirisena branded human rights organisations that expose details of ongoing violations in the country as LTTE sympathisers.

His anger was particularly levelled at activists who provided the UN rights body with documented evidence of ongoing torture, abductions, sexual violence and military intimidation.

“These people have gone to Geneva and told the human rights council that serious violations have been committed this year too,” said President Maithripala Sirisena.

“There are several non-governmental organisations (NGO) sympathetic to the LTTE, which make damaging statements in Geneva to the international. As far as I am aware our country does not have such a bad record.”

Myanmar and Sri Lanka

The president claimed that leaders from powerful states have hailed Sri Lanka alongside Myanmar as a model country that has restored democracy.

“When I met UN officials and state leaders in 2015-2016, they told me that only two countries that can be shown as prime examples to the world in restoring democracy, upholding freedom and human rights. They are Sri Lanka and Myanmar."

However, Myanmar has failed to maintain its good record.

“In 2017 September when I met them at the UN, they told me that only Sri Lanka has that status today.”

Therefore, in 2017 Sri Lanka was granted an extension of two years to fulfil its commitments on accountability and justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of its war against Tamil Tigers in 2009.

President Sirisena described such crimes as “things that happened earlier”.

“If there are issues about things that happened earlier, we have an opportunity to take the necessary steps.”

Activists who campaigned for accountability and upholding the rule of law, during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa ousted in 2015, were persecuted by the regime as Tamil Tiger supporters.

Many who managed to survive, including members of JDS had to leave the country.

Illegal interference

Addressing media heads, President Sirisena also admitted that he had intervened to delay justice in many cases implicating leaders of the former regime.

His advice to the police chief and the prime minister was not to file cases “that would be a waste” against former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and other alleged perpetrators including members of the military.

According to him several investigations have concluded by 2016.

“The attorney general sent all the files to the inspector general of police. I told them not to file cases that would be a waste, before getting them scrutinized by other senior lawyers.”

President Sirisena’s intervention has been heavily criticized as illegal by senior human rights lawyers who highlight that the president has no authority to overrule the attorney general (AG).

“The AG is the state prosecutor who has full authority on filing a case,” attorney at law Chandrapala Kumarage told JDS.

“There is no legal procedure that allows external lawyers to re-examine a recommendation by the AG to file a case on a crime investigation.”

Chandrapala Kumarage emphasized that the police chief was also wrong to hand over the files to the president.

“The president is not the prosecuting authority. This is serious.”

At home and abroad, Sri Lankan government leaders claim that the country’s judiciary is independent since it adopted the 19th amendment to the constitution in 2015, which aims to restrict powers of the executive president.