On Friday, in a Sri Lankan court room, the ex-head of the Sri Lankan army, Sarath Fonseka, was sentenced to three years in prison. His crime: alleging that his own forces committed atrocities during the conflict with Tamil fighters.
Anyone that watched Channel 4’s airing of footage, supposedly shot during the last weeks of the fighting, that shows refugees shot, field hospitals including those run by the International Red Cross targeted by rocket fire, and thousands of refugees herded onto a sand-spit with no fresh water or shelter, will have been horrified by the actions supposedly committed by the Sri Lankan army.
However, the allegations of the former commander centred on an episode where Tamil rebels, wishing to surrender, were given instructions by the army to advance, slowly, with a white flag held over their heads. Several of the group were shot. Allegedly by the armed forces.
The simple fact the the head of those armed forces was the one person within government to air these views should, by itself, warrant an investigation. The head of a victorious army is not likely to shun his own troops without significant reason, and a UN panel of experts stated in a report earlier this year that these allegations were “credible”.
However, the Sri Lankan government, headed by President Mahinda has always denied the charges, and the judgement comes after Mr Fonseka argued with the President and his brother, the Defence Secretary, after a newspaper published an article in which Mr Fonseka said that the Defence Secretary had given an order that none of the rebels should be taken alive. Mr Fonseka has stated that he was misquoted.
Mr Fonseka is also serving a thirty-month sentence for running for a political position while still a soldier, and has been stripped of his rank and medals. However, his wife, a senior member of the Sri Lankan opposition, says that there is still hope: The three-judge bench reached a split verdict, and one judge dissented from the government view.