Sathiya MoorthyThe Sunday Leader, Colombo, 30 April 2017
- Lord Justice Sales has ruled that the 35-year-old Sri Lankan, identified only as ‘SV’, probably consented to the torture in as part of a ruse called ‘self-infliction by proxy’ or SIBP
- According to his submissions, the man had ‘felt intense pain from the first burn’ before falling unconscious while receiving other burns
- Truth be acknowledged, it had begun as far back as the Fifties, after the ‘Galle Face violence’ against peaceful Tamil protestors
- But so refined has the techniques of asylum-seekers become. Sri Lankans were/are no exception in this regard
- Independent of G. L. Peiris’ reference to the subject, and the Opposition-driven attaching to it, the British court’s verdict on the ‘self-inflicted’ torture by a Sri Lankan to obtain political asylum in that country needs to be probed for other leads of a personal and political nature. Taken to its logical conclusion and in an honest way by all stake-holders, it can impact on the on-again, off-again national and international discourses on Sri Lankan probe(s) into war-time deaths and disappearances.
In the case before the British Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Sales has ruled that the 35-year-old Sri Lankan, identified only as ‘SV’, probably consented to the torture in as part of a ruse called ‘self-infliction by proxy’ or SIBP. A ‘cooperative and clandestine’ doctor might have put him under general anaesthetic while heated iron rods were placed on him, the Judge had concluded.
In the view of Lord Justice Sales, who was in majority with a brother Judge on a three-Judge Bench, an earlier tribunal hearing was justified in highlighting the ‘highly unusual’ type of scarring as a ‘central implausibility’ in his account. The Judge asked how the man had not experienced any significant infection as a result of the burning, implying that a doctor was attending to the wounds and treating the man for infection-related issues, well in time.
According to the case records, the man had arrived in the UK on a fake passport, obviously after the conclusion of the ethnic war back home. He claimed to have been detained in the aftermath of the infamous terror-attack on the Katunayake airport in 2007, for alleged links to the LTTE. He had dated his torture to August 2009, three months after the conclusion of the ethnic war. According to his submissions, the man had ‘felt intense pain from the first burn’ before falling unconscious while receiving other burns.
The man’s claims were backed by a medical report from a professor, and sought protection against deportation as he feared ‘a real risk of persecution’. The tribunal promptly raised doubts about the man’s LTTE’s links and his alleged detention and escape from the country. Dismissing his appeal, Lord Justice Sales said the tribunal had ‘conscientiously balanced the probabilities of infliction of the scarring by SIBP and by torture’. It was entitled to assess that SIBP was the ‘only real possibility’ that could not be discounted, the Judge ruled.
The man has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, but Prof. G. L. Peiris, former Foreign Minister and founder of the Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), a face of the Joint Opposition identified with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has flagged additional issues flowing from the British court finding. Peiris is a legal and constitutional expert, and he has asked the basic question about the British court referring to the possibility of a medical professional aiding and abetting with SV, both in inflicting the burn wounds and treating him. He too has asked for identifying the doctor and probing him to find out evidence to such other cases of ‘self-inflicted torture’ for the asylum-seeking.
The British court’s finding is unsurprising to most in the common know of things in the country during the war years and even afterwards – as the time-line in SV’s case would show. Truth be acknowledged, it had begun as far back as the Fifties, after the ‘Galle Face violence’ against peaceful Tamil protestors. Sri Lankans, especially Sri Lankan Tamils, who became the first-generation, post-Independence citizens host countries like the UK and other nations in Europe, belonged there. There were of course, genuine cases, where those that went to these countries for higher studies chose to stay back there, for reasons of professional/career betterment, economic reasons, or simply falling in love with a local and marrying him or her and settling down there.
In the years and decades after the conclusion of the Second World War, the consciousness of Europe was easily pricked if someone were to talk about torture, political or physical back home. That would soon change, and tight immigration rules would slowly but surely creep in, in the aftermath of West Asia-centric plane-hijacking, terror-training and safe-houses through the Sixties and Seventies. The reasons for immigration-tightening have only increased in Europe and elsewhere since. But so refined has the techniques of asylum-seekers become. Sri Lankans were/are no exception in this regard. Maybe, they have a few lessons to teach counterparts from elsewhere.
After the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, real victims were too traumatised to stay back. But there were others who would piggy-back ride on the claims and fears of the real victims. If they had apprehended violence of the ethnic kind against them in the future, such fears were not unjustified either. But they would rather leave Sri Lanka as genuine citizens, then flush or otherwise destroy their passports before appearing before the Immigration authorities in the landing airport, or travel on a fake passport, rather than appearing before the host authorities, either in their embassies in Colombo, or on arrival, with their genuine cases in hand, told a different story.
When Europe began closing in on them, though not owing mainly to the LTTE links of a majority of the Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka but to global conditions, meant that the former would look far away at Canada, for instance. When Canada too got tired of the ‘boat people’, and started checking the illegal departure of ‘boat people’ in faraway South-East Asian boarding-points, the Sri Lankan Tamils would look closer, to Australia.
Now, reports say, Australia too is tightening its citizenship laws, for those that land on their soil just like that. In between, Australia too worked closely with Sri Lanka and South-East Asian nations to stop the ‘boatpeople’ (invariably travelling only in ‘leaky’ and over-loaded boats), to stall their progress at mid-sea. In doing so, Australia also got into some kind of avoidable diplomatic hiccups with third nations, but to the Government of the day in Canberra, protecting the nation’s open sea-borders was even more important.
Western nations, it would now seem, has begun acknowledging that many of the claims to political asylum-seekers from the Sri Lankan Tamil community were ‘economic refugees’, seeking asylum for ensuring personal prosperity than anything else. It also suited them, as with SV now, to be heard talking ill of the Sri Lankan State where they would be listened in to, or get caught by the security forces and even suffer actual torture, if it would help them achieve their ‘real’ goal. Again, not all of them would fall into this category, but there can be no denying that they, too, were and are for real.
Whether for reasons of probity or politics, flowing from their discomfort with the war-winning Rajapaksa regime, the international community (read: West) would not hear out his Government’s genuine pleas with the attention and respect that they deserved, and act upon them. Even while insisting on an independent, international probe into war-crimes and war-time disappearances or missing persons, the West, acting through the UNHRC, among others, would not concede the demand to help identify Sri Lankan Tamils in their nations, and re-establish their true identities and re-visit the overall claims about genocide-like killings and other civilian disappearances.
Leaving aside the political motives and the shifting-of-goalpost approach of the Rajapaksa regime, the duly-appointed Justice Paranagama Commission even more specifically urged the West to cooperate in identifying the ‘missing’ Tamils in their midst, some of whom at least might have assumed aliases and new identities. Despite their occasional tough posturing while visiting Sri Lanka, or at the bi-annual UNHRC sessions, which have become as ritualistic as the annual sessions of the parent UN General Assembly, no western Government with a strong Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora presence even seems to have acknowledged the Paranagama request, leave aside responding and cooperating with it.
All of it happened around the time the authorities apprehended (legally or otherwise), Kumar Gunaratnam going by a new name, Noel Mudalige, an Australian citizen by then. Born to a Tamil mother, he however was a Sinhala-nationalist JVP militant leader. His modus operandi in obtaining non-Sri Lankan citizenship should be an object lesson to intended asylum-seekers and also government authorities wanting to stall it, and across the world. But Kumar Gunaratanam’s was not a lone-wolf case, as there were others, more especially Tamils and LTTE cadres at that, who would do it again, and again, and again – and some of them would get caught at it, too.
Today, Sri Lanka has a friendly government for the West to do business with. They have been demonstrating it all the same at successive sessions of the UNHRC, where they keep co-authoring the war-crimes resolutions for extension of time and ‘inadvertent’ dilution (?) of operative clauses, one at a time. The incumbent regime in Sri Lanka too thus feels comfortable and confident, yet burdened by international laws and commitments to oblige, if not obey.
Maybe, the Sri Lankan Government should work on the international community, and work through them at the bilateral level, to unravel the mystery of the missing persons. At times, dead persons from the concluding part of the war too may reappear from their ghost-like present. This is what the West wants of Sri Lanka, and this is what Sri Lanka as a State is committed to find out, whoever is in power, and whenever.
There is however a saving clause, for the ‘self-inflicted’ types especially. Even as Justice Sales might have been writing his judgment in the ‘SV case’, British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered snap polls to the nation’s Parliament. Across the democratic world, that is also the time when law takes a snooze, especially at the enforcement level, and real politick takes the front seat. It has happened in every country where the Sri Lankan Diaspora reside and decide, which way the election results should swing, even in select constituencies and for select seats and candidates. It was not any different in the UK earlier. Will it be different this time round?