Gotabaya must face justice in this land or another

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The short, yet disastrous Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency came to an inglorious end when he fled the country in the morning hours of 13 July. He leaves behind a country in ruins having destroyed the economy, delivered a sovereign default for the first time in history and ushered in political chaos and anarchy. 

The man who came into office promising vistas of prosperity has ensured that Sri Lanka has been dragged back by many years, if not decades, in development. Now that President Rajapaksa has fled the country, it is up to the rest of us to pick up the pieces after the damage he caused.

It is not that the electorate did not know who Gotabaya Rajapaksa was when he was elected in November 2019. During his tenure as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence he was accused of numerous crimes including the killing of journalists, abduction and assault of journalists and activists and involvement in specific war crimes such as the white flag incident. He was also accused of corruption with several indictments regarding corrupt military procurements, embezzlement at the Urban Development Authority and the building of a monument and museum for his parents with misappropriated State funding. 

Despite all these known accusations and proven track record of brutality, criminality and corruption, 6.9 million Sri Lankans gave this man an unprecedented mandate to become the Executive President of the country. Later his brother’s party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was given a thumping mandate in August 2020 to change the Constitution and add even more Executive Powers to the Presidency. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not an autocrat who grabbed power through force, but one who was granted power on a platter with the endorsement of an overwhelming majority of the electorate.

As Sri Lanka attempts to turn a leaf on this painful chapter we must reckon with our own mistakes as an electorate. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not an alien that was placed on the highest office of our land but a product of the suspicion, fear, racism, bigotry and apathy that manifested in our society.  Creation of suspicion and fear among communities, the open racism and hostility towards the Muslim and Tamil communities, the naked Sinhala-Buddhist hegemonic superiority projects, the apathy towards corruption and mismanagement are all part of the reason Gotabaya Rajapaksa ascended to high office. 

As the country attempts to move forward from these dark times it is necessary to acknowledge these systemic fault lines in society and ensure that they are mitigated to prevent reoccurrence. To do so, it is imperative that Gotabaya Rajapaksa be held accountable for his crimes. 

The numerous deals that were made between the Rajapaksa family and the Sirisena- Wickremesinghe administration between 2015-2019 prevented justice being delivered in many emblematic cases in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa was accused of involvement. These included the killing of Lasantha Wickremetunga, abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, enforced disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, abduction, holding to ransom and killing of 11 men by the Sri Lanka Navy and many more such emblematic cases. 

During the Yahapalana regime, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were actively involved in scuttling investigations and preventing prosecution of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Their deals guaranteed a safe exit for the leaders of the Yahapalana regime but witnessed the Police officers who investigated, the prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Department who prosecuted and the journalists who reported on Gotabaya’s crimes being mercilessly persecuted by his administration. The best case in point is the incarceration of SSP Shani Abeysekera for 11 months.

In order to prevent the recurrence of such crimes, Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If the Sri Lankan Judiciary is incapable of doing so, as they have proven time and time again, such prosecutions should be done internationally. All those who stand in the way and attempt to make deals with perpetrators must be exposed. If Sri Lanka is to even start making progress towards progress it needs to hold its leaders accountable, especially for the crimes they have committed.

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Disclaimer: Gotabaya must face justice in this land or another - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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