In March 2015, barely two months into his presidency, Maithripala Sirisena pledged a fresh probe into war-time crimes. While firmly ruling out the UN’s direct participation, he said that the views of international experts would be considered, and that domestic investigators would work “efficiently and impartially”. His promise came as a welcome departure from the loud denials of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.

Today, the credibility of the investigations is under serious question.

It all began with news of Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne’s surprise departure to Mexico earlier this month. Dodging the Criminal Investigations Department, which had summoned him to make a statement, he departed to attend the 208th Independence Commemoration of Mexico, officially representing the government.

The CID had summoned Admiral Wijegunaratne after a magistrate court ordered his arrest in late August for allegedly helping a naval officer, who is accused of kidnapping 11 men between 2008 and 2009, flee the country. All 11 are believed to have been murdered later. The Navy officer, Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, is also a prime suspect in the assassination of Tamil legislator Nadaraja Raviraj.

Amidst speculation about Admiral Wijegunaratne’s return, Mr. Sirisena on Thursday convened an “emergency Cabinet meeting”. The local
Daily FT
newspaper reported that Mr. Sirisena made a strong case for preventing the top military officer’s arrest. Some Cabinet Ministers resisted the move,
The Hindu
learns from sources, but were reportedly asked to “remain silent”.

Moral blow to Tamils

For Sri Lanka’s Tamil leadership, which is growing increasingly sceptical of the current government that it propelled to power, the developments have delivered a huge moral blow. “We are very concerned,” Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran told
The Hindu
. “We strongly protest such political interference. It is coming from the highest level… from no less than the President himself. In such a situation, how can ordinary victims expect justice through a domestic judicial process?” he asked. The TNA, he said, would now push for an international element in accountability, and also raise the matter with the UN Secretary General.

Recent events have come at a time when the government’s slow-paced efforts on reconciliation and a new Constitution are eroding the optimism of the Tamils. In a separate move, the Jaffna-based Northern Provincial Council called upon members of the UN Human Rights Council to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court or a specially created international criminal tribunal, if the government fails to fully implement the 2015 resolution by March 2019, a deadline it has committed itself to. “If Sri Lanka is unwilling to fulfil its own commitments, what option do we have?’ asked NPC Opposition Leader S. Thavarajah. In a resolution tabled by M.K. Shivajilingam, the Council also sought a UN-monitored referendum for the “political preference of the Tamil speaking people”.

Speaking to editors of local media on Friday, Mr. Sirisena said he would present his proposals to address post-war issues, including allegations against military personnel and LTTE suspects, at the UNGA in New York later this month. At a public event earlier in the month, the President also said he would make a special statement at the UNGA, asking it to exonerate members of Sri Lanka’s armed forces from allegations levelled against them.

Sirisena, who promised an impartial probe into war-time atrocities , is now seen to be backtracking, leaving the Tamils worried and forcing them to knock at the UN’s doors

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