Gotabhaya “Gota” Rajapaksa the Defense Secretary, Presdent’s Brother, and arguably most powerful man in Sri Lanka made an extraordinary speech today in which he claimed that the Sri Lankan Government had, as part of its census, conducted a survey into how many people had been killed in the civil war. He also admitted for the first time that human rights abuses may have taken place or, as he put it so artfully, “during the three and a half years of humanitarian operation, the Sri Lankan military had to be expanded at a rapid pace. In the circumstances, it is possible that a few individuals who lack the capacity to withstand the pressures of the warfare with the required composure may have been recruited.”
Clearly the Government of Sri Lanka is realising that it’s previous line (that no human rights abuses) took place, has lost all credibility. But their new approach is also worthy of incredulity – to claim now that they have identified and named every single missing or dead person is patently absurd.
The Sri Lankan Government does not have a good record when it comes to counting civilians in the north and the east. As the UN Panel of Experts report made clear, they “deliberately and purposefully underestimated the number of civilians who remained in the Vanni”, so when the President’s brother says the census shows very few people died, does he draw this conclusion by comparison with the “deliberately and purposefully underestimated” figure or the true figure?
As so often with the Rajapaska regime, we have more questions than answers. This only underlines the urgent need for a credible, independent process to uncover what really took place. Until this happens, the best information we have is the UN Panel of Experts’ report, which concluded there was credible evidence that “tens of thousands” – even “up to forty thousand” – civilians were killed.
Much like its flawed and discredited Lessons Learned & Reconciliation Commission, this seems to be yet another attempt by the Rajapaska regime to stall for time while it continues to tighten its grip on the country and commit flagrant abuses.