Can The So-Called War Heroes Take Up This Open Challenge? – OpEd


With reference to: firstly, the interview given by Prof. Emeritus M. Subramaniam, former Indian Naval Marine Commando to a media in Colombo on 13 Sep 2015; secondly, my article on 24 February 2023 titled ‘Pirabaharan is alive – claims and the South’s memory loss’; and thirdly, a response by former President Maithiripala Sirisena during his visit to Jaffna, I am compelled to put forward a challenge to those concerning the matter given below.

Last July, when the former president Maithripala Sirisena visited Jaffna, a journalist questioned him about the death of Pirabaharan and whether a genetic test DNA, – had been conducted. In fact, Maithripala Sirisena had been the Acting Defence Minister for the last two weeks of the war in May 2009.

Sirisena responded to the question saying that he had not been informed, that no matter had been reported to him regarding the death of Pirabaharan, and that he was not aware of a genetic test – DNA had ever been carried out.

It comes to mind that when Sirisena was threatened by Rajapaksa’s family during his Presidency, he said on several occasions that he “will disclose secrets about some opposition politicians”. Now we can understand what these were.

During the end of the war in Mullivaghzal in May 2009, so-called war heroes claimed that the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE was killed and that they had found the body. The truth was that Pirabaharan’s youngest son Balanchandran (12) was detained, shot and killed by soldiers.

However, right from the beginning there was information that Pirabaharan and some of his family members were alive. I was astonished that members of Rajapaksa’s family – especially Mahinda, Gotabhaya along with Sarath Fonseka, Kamal Gunaratne and the military spokesperson claimed that no-one in Pirabaharan’s family had survived and that it was ridiculous for anyone to think that members of this family were still living. To the best of my knowledge, this was a purely political statement, far from the truth.

Sri Lanka won the war

It cannot be denied that Sri Lanka won the war against the LTTE with strong support from countries like – China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, USA and a few others. On 17 May 2009, at the end of the war, the LTTE’s press release said that they had “decided to silence our guns”. Since then, until today no press releases have been issued by the actual LTTE hierarchy, except that the LTTE letterhead was misused by some stooges and we knew who motivated them.

Being a human rights activist and defender for more than three decades, I cannot allow utter lies and deception to spread to the public, claiming that no-one in Pirabaharan’s family is alive. Human rights education doesn’t teach anyone to claim living individuals / people as dead. When the party concerned is living safe and sound, how can I say that they are dead and gone?

Regarding this matter, I have been interviewed by a few popular Tamil media with over one hundred thousand spectators. In those interviews I have said that Pirabaharan’s family is alive. Also, I said that I am in touch with them.

Working with UN Human Rights forums and other forums for more than three decades, I have never heard of any human rights organisation or activists submitting a case to mandate holders of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR concerning Pirabaharan or members of his family. Of course – the case of his youngest son Balachandran who was extrajudicially killed by Sri Lankan soldiers was well reported and human rights institutions and organisations consider this act a war crime.

One of the subjects taught in human rights is that in a democratic society, even so-called terrorists or those suspected of terrorism have the right to human rights protection. If we take for granted that Pirabaharan is a terrorist, he and members of his group have a right to human rights protection enjoyed by others in Sri Lanka.

Terrorism and Terrorist

After the 17th century, the terminology ‘terrorism’ and “terrorist” came into use only in the late 1970s. During the same period ‘state terrorism’ also came into use. The revolt by the Janatha Vimuki Peramunai – JVP, was a class struggle to capture the whole country in 1971. This was termed an insurgency, whereas Tamil militancy which took up arms for their ethnic identity in exercise of their right to self-determination, accepted under the UN covenants and conventions, was branded as terrorism. In warfare, there are not many differences between terrorism and insurgency.

The question is: During the so-called ‘Gota war’, did they respect International Humanitarian Law – IHL? The two main components of war: Jus ad bellum which refers to the conditions under which States may resort to war or to the use of armed force in general, and Jus in bello – the justness of how the war is fought, regulating the conduct of parties engaged in an armed conflict, are set out in the UN Charter of 1945.

Considering these factors, what happened to the fake body shown to the public as Pirabaharan? Is the authority answerable to this question? Once again, here I would like to insist that even terrorists have the right to human rights protection. I pose the same question with regard to the other LTTE cadres in the conflict, who were raped, killed and their bodies dumped everywhere in Vanni.

The general obligations imposed by international humanitarian law, as a result of both custom and treaty, have been summarized by the International Committee of the Red Cross. They include the following:

* Parties to the conflict must endeavour to facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased upon request of the party to which they belong or upon the request of their next of kin. They must return their personal effects to them.

* The dead must be disposed of in a respectful manner and their graves respected and properly maintained.

* With a view to the identification of the dead, each party to the conflict must record all available information prior to disposal and mark the location of the graves.

Did Sri Lanka respect these fundamental obligations during Mullivaigzhal in May 2009? Now, even ordinary citizens can see how the Rajapaksas behaved in Mullivagzhal. When all these international norms and standards were ignored, the acts are considered as war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

I have met some top LTTE cadres whose photographs were displayed as dead by Sri Lanka in May 2009. None of those names were reported to mandate holders of Disappearances or Arbitrary Killings, of the OHCHR. This shows how the Rajapaksas gained votes, by showing fake photos. This truth is well known to many members in the military and other forces.

To be frank, here I am not talking about the many thousands of civilians who were killed and disappeared during the war or the end of the war in Mullivaghzal. Those are different cases which are dealt with by UN mandate holders, human rights organisations, activists and by the UN Human Rights Council.

Challenge under international observers

This situation makes me challenge the Rajapaksa family – Mahinda, Gotabhaya along with Sarath Fonseka, Kamal Gunaratne and military spokesperson – that I can prove physically that Pirabaharan and some members in his family are alive – also, some LTTE commanders whom Sri Lanka claimed as dead.

I can take this challenge on four conditions. One, only those whom I have named here can come forward for the challenge. Secondly, this will be done in front of international observers – members of international human rights and humanitarian institutions, and in the presence of some of ‘The Elders’. Thirdly, once it is proved that they are living, those who took up the challenge should be able to support the cause of those involved, whom they considered dead. Finally, whoever loses the challenge should bear the financial cost of this milestone. I am ready for the challenge at the earliest. The logistics can be discussed via international observers when one of the named above, or all can agree to these four conditions. I am anxiously waiting for their reply.

As far as terrorism is concerned, we have seen so-called terrorists eventually become heads of state and receive the Nobel Prize as well. Two good examples are – Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Yasser Arafat of Palestinian State.

In Sri Lanka it is a joke that everything is terrorism. One cannot deny that since the end of the war until today, regarding politics not a single bullet has been fired in the North and East other than by the security forces. But the extremists, who target the vote bank in the South, beat the drum of terrorism – day and night.

The Tamil leaders and members of the Tamil Congress and Federal party who fought non-violently for the right to self-determination or equal rights from 1948 until early 70s were lucky that they were not branded as terrorists. One reason was that during those periods’ extremists like Sarath Weerasekara, Vimal Wirawansa, Uthaya Gampila and a few others were not in politics. Otherwise, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and G.G.Ponnambalam would also have been branded as terrorists.

These extremists cannot be blamed! They have no knowledge of civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. They are only worried about elections and the vote bank like some Tamil politicians.

I look forward to meeting the challenge spelt out in this invitation.

Hope the Southern politician will consider all these factors and allow citizens to live with peace and dignity rather than in continuous turmoil

S.V. Kirubaharan

S.V. Kirubaharan is the Founder General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR.

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