Who is Mahinda Rajapaksa? Hero or war criminal? Sri Lankan leader stands accused

 

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was once a human rights activist, campaigning with the mothers of the “disappeared”. Now, he is accused of presiding over war crimes and crimes against humanity, and his government actively prevents the families of the “disappeared” from protesting.

To his supporters, Mr Rajapaksa is still a Sinhala Buddhist hero. Larger than life-sized posters that appeared after the government’s victory in the civil war in 2009 consciously play on ancient historical heroes.

Frequent comparisons are made between the triumphant President and Dutugemunu, the ancient Sinhala King who defeated “invading Tamils” more than 2,000 years ago. “It took 13 years for Dutugemunu to regain lost territory and establish total sovereignty over Sri Lanka. But it took less than three years for Mr Rajapaksa to achieve the same goal,” boasts Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence website, adding rather ruefully that kings were “not restrained by issues of human rights”.

After the war ended, Mr Rajapaksa boasted that his “troops went to the battlefront carrying a gun in one hand, the Human Rights Charter in the other”. That is not, however, the conclusion of legal experts at the United Nations, who said in a 2011 report that, “the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law” and accused the government – and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels – of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN said up to 40,000 civilians may have died in the last months of the civil war; and possibly up to 70,000, according to a 2012 UN Internal Inquiry. The majority of the killings were attributed to government forces, directly under the control of the President’s much-feared brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary.

Many say “Gota”, as he’s referred to for short, was the real brain behind the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, not the shy, affable President. Some even question how much Mr Rajapaksa knew about what was being done in his name. But four-and-a-half-years later he has yet to hold a single person accountable for war crimes and ongoing human rights abuses, including allegations of rape and torture committed by the security forces against their opponents this year.

There’s no question that Sri Lanka is run by a family dynasty now, with a third brother, Basil, as the minister for economic development, a son being groomed as the heir apparent and many other relatives in key positions of power. Allegations of corruption, nepotism and concentration of power have begun to erode some of the popular support for Mr Rajapaksa among the Sinhala majority on the island. However, the Rajapaksa clan knows it has domestic support, so long as it’s valiantly defending mother Lanka against its powerful enemies, be they Tamil separatists or meddling foreign journalists in the pay of the terrorists. In short, it needs an enemy to stay in power.

Judging by their reception in Sri Lanka, one might think the Channel 4 News team is now public enemy number one. The journalists were greeted by protesters at the airport and their hotel and were mobbed in a train trying to go to the north of the island.

It looks as if there’s some disappointment that the Sinhala people didn’t spontaneously come out to show their opposition, but it’s hard to say if that’s a sign of decreasing support on the war issue. Most Sinhalese are still in denial about what happened at the end of the war; few human rights reports are translated into the local language and many ordinary people, who have relatives who served in the army, understandably don’t want to know the full extent of the horror.

Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Leeds

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London