Don’t Rehabilitate Sri Lanka’s Tarnished Military
The Hindu recently ran a curious interview with Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. The exchange includes various softball questions and glaring omissions. This piece won’t address all the problems with the interview, but let’s look at some key issues.
For starters, Senanayake makes several outrageous statements that aren’t even contested. For example, in response to a question about security sector reform, Senanayake notes that “[W]e want to discipline the society. We believe that by disciplining the society these problems will not be there. It has happened all over the world. But when we do it, it is interpreted differently. That is why you are asking that question.”
Additionally, Senanayake’s defense of sustained militarization in the Northern and Eastern Provinces is preposterous. He argues that the military is involved in civilian life because Tamil civilians don’t have the capacity to perform certain duties. He goes on to assert that drugs and human smuggling justify militarization.
Then Senanayake finishes that response with an ambiguous, unhelpful statement. “In the north, definitely there is a reduction in our troops. We are in the process of right-sizing. This does not mean downsizing. The number may be the same but the deployment is different,” he says.
The ongoing, systemic abduction, rape and torture of Tamil civilians – by the Sri Lankan security sector – isn’t covered at all.
The timing of such a soft interview is also odd. Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war officially ended on May 18, 2009. Nine years ago, Sri Lankan military forces crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were slaughtered in the process. And, while both sides have been accused of international humanitarian and human rights law violations, virtually all the LTTE’s leadership died during the war (and are widely and credibly believe to have been killed extrajudicially).
Sri Lanka’s military has been plagued by well-founded allegations of horrific abuses – including war crimes – for the past nine years. The government has shown no genuine interest in security sector reform. Pervasive militarization and the concomitant lack of accountability for past abuses has ensured that human rights violations in the country’s north and east remain widespread.
Why go so easy on such a rotten institution?