Whilst accusing the UNHRC of being bias towards the state, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne has denied allegations that he and the Sri Lankan armed forces committed war crimes during the armed struggle against the LTTE which ended in May 2009.
“We are not war criminals”, said Gunaratne in an interview conducted by Ceylon Today. Addressing the interviewer, he claimed to have served his “country and its people and even you are walking freely today because I spent my entire youth in the jungle fighting the terrorists”.
Gunaratne was commander of the Sri Lankan army’s infamous 53 Division during the 2009 massacres, in which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were murdered. The unit he headed is accused of numerous abuses, including sexual violence, summary executions and the disappearance of those who surrendered to the military.
He disparaged the findings of the UNHR Commissioner Michelle Bachellet’s report, on the deteriorating human rights conditions on the island, as “very pathetic” and “full of nonsense”. Questioning the credibility and impartiality of the findings, he asked the institution to stop basing their report on “bogus information”.
Citing the efforts of the Sri Lankan government, which later proved to add little or no progress to the intended transitional justice and accountability promises under the now withdrawn Resolution 30/1, Gunaratne alleged that the UNHR Commission had failed to consider the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, the Paranagama and “various other commissions”.
When asked about his reaction to the state being referred to the International Criminal Court, Gunaratne replied, “I am not scared of anything as I am not a war criminal” and that he will “face it” in the event that he is arrested whilst travelling overseas. “Who cares,” he added.
“I have done my part now it’s up to the government and the foreign ministry to clear my name,” he responded when questioned on how he will clear his name from the UNHRC report.
In answer to a question about the government’s inability to clear allegations against top military personnel, including Jagath Jayasuriya and Priyanka Fernando, Gunaratne claimed that he and the other accused military officials “have been trying to clear our names, however, when the UNHRC does not accept it, what could we do?”.
He was also interviewed on other issues, including the increasing militarisation. In particular, in relation to the need for the staggering numbers of new military recruitments, he commented that though the Sri Lankan Army “ended terrorism” and reduce “separatist ideology”, “there is a segment of the international Tamil Diaspora who wants to resume it and we have to look after that area”.
When queried about plans to develop Jaffna and Vanni districts, he claimed that the “lion-share during the Government under Mahinda Rajapaksa went to the North and the East. “The renovation of the rural tanks will be undertaken by the Army,” he added.
Among the questions put to the Defence Secretary was the legitimacy of the Sinhala-only National Anthem which was sung during the Independence Parade earlier this month, contrary to the Sri Lankan Constitution. When the interviewer challenged him of the requirement to sing the anthem in Tamil too, he responded saying, “As far as we are concerned, there is only one National Anthem”. “It’s the practice”, he added.