By Munza Mushtaq
COLOMBO – As Sri Lanka’s security forces make massive inroads against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a top United States constitutional lawyer may prove to be an impediment against the military’s accomplishments if he triumphs in getting indictments against two of the island’s very high-profile military officials, both US citizens who are spearheading the offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
If constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, a former associate deputy attorney general, is successful in what could be termed as anything but a mundane task, Sri Lanka’s controversial Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and army commander Sarath Fonseka will be the first US citizens to be tried for genocide.
Fein has over the past few weeks been preparing a 1,000-page model indictment against both US citizens for allegedly violating Section 1091 of the United States Criminal Code.
The model indictment is scheduled for publication within two weeks and will be presented to the US Congress, the Department of Justice and the State Department.
The lawyer represents Tamils Against Genocide, a non-profit organization based in the United States, whose mission is to obtain US or international indictments against the two US citizens or green card holders currently serving in the government of Sri Lanka for alleged complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, against Sri Lanka’s civilian Tamil population.
The US criminal code punishes genocide, torture, or war crimes perpetrated by United States nationals and non-nationals. Extra-judicial killings may also be sanctioned in US courts under the Torture Victims Protection Act.
The move comes at a time when the government is mulling an end to the three-decade long ethnic conflict with the LTTE, which has been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka, which has a population of approximately 20 million.
The government security forces on Sunday captured Mullaitivu town, in Northern province, dubbed as the LTTE’s final bastion following a month-long battle. The capture of Mullaitivu comes just days after security forces consolidated and overthrew the rebels from Kilinochchi, which is the LTTE’s headquarters.
Fonseka, in a special address telecasted live on national television, announced that the Tigers were now confined to a 20-by-15 kilometer area, indirectly saying an end to the ethnic strife was very close.
However, while the military onslaught showed no signs of slowing, Fein, delivering a public lecture in the US, stressed that the situation in Sri Lanka was actually not a war against ethnic groups but was in reality a systematic genocide against Tamils by the Lankan government. He said global attention needed to be shifted from the war onto the innocent lives which have fallen to the guns of the Sri Lankan army.
Fein claims he had evidence that points to the systematic deprivation and isolation of Tamil civilians.
He also presented statistical data which claimed to show the Sri Lankan army responsible for at least 3,000 extra-judicial killings and the disappearance of civilians between November 2005 to December 2008. “That is nearly three murders and three disappearances every day,” he said.
For its part, the Sri Lankan government has appointed commissions of inquiry, but they are bogus panels, he charged.
As many as 189 military camps have come up in Tamil areas and no one could wriggle even a finger there without the permission of the Sri Lankan military.
He also disclosed that he had with him thousands of documented evidence, which showed that at least 1 million people had suffered in the form of starvation, deprivation of medicine and displacement due to the ongoing war in Sri Lanka. He noted that the situation had led to a countless number of civilians suffering from psycho-social trauma.
While stressing that garnering support from US politicians for his cause would likely be difficult, he expressed hope that the US media would stand by him.
He also urged the Tamil diaspora to unite and look for cracks within the Rajapaksa government, which will help the case in prosecuting government officials who were responsible for the alleged genocide against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
Fein accused the Sri Lankan government of labeling the genocide as counter-terrorism and getting international approval for it. “The model indictment is an effort to make the US and the international community takes notice of the genocide,” he reportedly said.
Despite Fein’s consistent accusations against the two high-profile officials, Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, who functions as the secretary general of the government Peace Secretariat and who is also the human-rights secretary, has challenged the charges and also announced his willingness to engage in public debate with Fein over the issue.
Sri Lanka’s former foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera has also found fault with the United States government and maintains that the US owes an explanation to Sri Lankans for the undemocratic conduct of American citizen Rajapaksa.
Samaraweera, in a strongly worded statement, emphasized that the US, which preaches the importance of democracy, media freedom and the rule of law to the world, should be ashamed of Rajapaksa and his repeated threats on journalists.
The former minister, who serves in the island’s 225-member legislature, noted that Rajapaksa, being an American, cannot be permitted to use resources belonging to the Sri Lankan state, including national television, to spread hate and destroy democracy.
However, a senior Tamil politician had a contrasting opinion when he claimed that despite the charges, in reality the Tamils were not facing a genocide situation in the country and in particular the war-torn North and East provinces.
V Anandasangaree, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, reportedly told civilians in the Northern province of Jaffna that the government was not committing any acts of genocide against Tamils and all such charges were “rubbish and made for petty gains”.