By B. Kavindu M.H. Peiris
Sri Lanka has faced various crises from time to time. The Head of State could enforce security forces in the event of such an unstable manner. Did not our security forces come forward in all those crises risking their lives to protect the lives and property of the people? Another challenge the security forces are currently facing are the allegations by the public that they are protecting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the members of his family. Protesters say the security forces are there not to protect a political family but to act in good faith.
The Tri Forces are established under supreme law which is the Constitution of this country. Accordingly, protecting the sovereignty of the country, national security, well-being of individuals, civil security, and property security can be identified as the primary responsibilities assigned to the Tri Forces of the country. In addition, the forces are also bound to perform relevant duties from time to time in emergencies. It is no secret the Tri Forces, individually and jointly, are playing a unique role in safeguarding the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
Protecting territorial integrity
The Sri Lanka Police are fully responsibility for maintaining law and order. However, the task assigned to an armed force is completely different as the job is spread over a wide area. It is reasonable to say the Armed Forces are directly responsible for the national security of this country as it is their primary responsibility.
Many people are unaware of the proper meaning of martial law. This does not apply to any Sri Lankan civilian. As per Article 2 of the Army Act of 1979, officers and other ranks in the regular, regular reserve, volunteer, and volunteer reserve categories are subject to martial law. The most important thing to know is that subjecting a member of the military to martial law means that person is subjected to different and specific duties and expectations than the average civilian.
The legal authority required to maintain the Tri Forces in Sri Lanka is entrusted in each of the Tri Forces Acts. These are the Army Act No. 17 of 1949, the Navy Act No. 34 of 1950, and the Air Force Act No. 41 of 1949. Although there are many similarities between the Army and Air Force Acts, the Navy Act is significantly different. This is because most of the duties assigned to the Navy are concentrated around the oceans and the provisions of the Navy Act, which are unique to them, have been introduced. In addition to ordinances, the Minister of Defence has imposed certain regulations on each of the Armed Forces through Gazette Notifications.
Compared to a civilian every person who joins the military is bound by two main legal systems. That is, to the Constitution as an ordinary citizen and the law as a member of the military, which is broadly described in the relevant Military Act. The military of any State must comply with internationally recognised conventional martial law and international humanitarian law, as well as other Conventions adopted by the United Nations from time to time. It can also be pointed out that a member of the Armed Forces must be questioned before an international tribunal.
The process of transforming an ordinary civilian into a soldier is not an easy task. Young people who are recruited as soldiers or cadets to join the forces must complete very hard training. These officer cadets are appointed to the Authority by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services. As far as their appointment, promotion, removal, and retirement are notified in a Government Gazette Notification. In addition, appointments, promotions, and dismissals of other rankers are made by the powers vested in the Commanders of each Force.
The Military Police is a special force set up by the Armed Forces to investigate the misconduct of members of the Armed Forces. They shall enforce the law against any military officer or another ranker who commits any of the offences referred to in the respective Acts, which constitutes a military offence as described in each of the Military Acts and any other criminal offence not described therein. There is also the possibility of arrest, interrogation, and detention.
The Judge Advocate General
The judicial system presented to a member of the military is different from the judicial system presented to a civilian. Depending on the rank of a military member, there are two main methods by which charges can be prosecuted: the Log Courts and the Court Martial. There are three main types of log courts: the Commander’s Log Court, the Commanding Officer’s Log Court, and the Second Commanding Officer’s Log Court. A Major in the Army, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, and a Squadron Leader in the Air Force can be convicted on any charge by such a tribunal. The Court Martial has the power to enforce the law on offences committed by officers higher than the aforementioned ranks in the three-Armed Forces. There are three courts-martial: the Great Court Martial, the District Court Martial, and the Field High Court Martial, which have full authority to impose sentences ranging from the death penalty to imprisonment, dismissal, and reprimand.
A member of the security forces is assigned to a particular duty on a specific order or command. Military law makes it very clear that in the event of any member of the Armed Forces disobeying or disregarding that order, the full responsibility shall be personally borne by the member of the Armed Forces. It is possible to prove that the responsibility of a commanding officer who gives an illegal order extends to the Commander of an Armed Force.
We must be extremely aware that a member of the military, participating militarily or otherwise, in the event of a state of emergency is empowered through the Rules of Engagement on what they can and cannot do in those powers. Through the rules of intervention, a special explanation has been given of the minimum force to maximum force that can be applied by a soldier. In addition, their powers and functions, including counter-insurgency and combat duties, are broadly defined.
Recently, a group of people has made some attempts to disseminate the most misleading information, saying that protesters should carry the national flag to fight and then the members of the military will be deprived of the ability to shoot them. In such a case, if the Armed Forces fired at the “national flag”, false information circulating on social media claiming that it was a war crime. The logical argument here is that if a terrorist carries the national flag to protect his life, will the security forces be barred from attacking the terrorist?
In terms of Article 30 (1) of the Constitution, the executive powers are vested in the President of Sri Lanka. The President will be the head of Government, the head of the executive branch, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services. As mentioned earlier, many parties in this country will realise how foolish it is to make misrepresentations about the duties of a military officer.
A State Army is obliged to protect the Head of State who is elected by the people’s sovereignty and not to protect any Head of State personally or protect his or her family members. The members of the military do not act against any civilian who is a peaceful protest, but by the powers vested in them for national security, property, and public security, they can have the ability to exercise the necessary proportional power from the lowest to the highest level.
The responsibility of the Tri Forces in this country is not personal, but public service, and they are legally bound to do so. The State authority must carry out its official responsibilities. The Forces are obeyed or accepted, not a personal order issued by the Head of State but for an official order issued by the Commander-in-Chief as they are officially attached to the position.
Ordinary human beings
Members of the military are also ordinary human beings. They are also plagued by family problems, their children’s problems, and economic problems. Perhaps their family members have also taken part in the anti-Governmental protest. At this point members of the military are also helpless as they cannot make decisions on their own. This is because they have taken on this noble duty for the betterment of the minds of the whole of Sri Lanka.
For more than three decades, the war environment in Sri Lanka has had a long history of destroying the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) ulterior motive of establishing a separate state of Tamil Eelam. It was a time that brought death to even the most powerful leaders of the country, who claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and filled us with dark memories today that still haunt us and brings pain to us.
There is much that we as a nation have lost in examining the history of the thirty years of war. The LTTE massacre near Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, massacre of innocent civilians in Gonagala village in Ampara, massacre of Aranthalawa monks, attack on Orugodawatta oil tanks, terrorist attack on Central Bank, LTTE airstrikes on Inland Revenue Department building and the Bandaranaike International Airport, LTTE attack on then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, LTTE attack on former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, suicide bomber attack on former Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka near Army Headquarters, LTTE attack on Lakshman Kadirgamar, LTTE attack on Jeyaraj Fernandupulle, LTTE attack attack on Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was then the Secretary of Defence are well illustrated by the aforementioned casualties.
Ridiculing War Heroes
The heroes of the country who sacrificed their youth to liberate Sri Lanka from the clutches of the LTTE during the period from Black July 1983 to 2009 are sure to earn the respect of the entire Nation. Our forces did all this for the sake of our freedom, without expecting anything in return. However, today we have forgotten that history. The war hero was forgotten. We as a country are in such a tragic situation that their sacrifices are ridiculed.
On 14 July 1991, a truck loaded with LTTE explosives was speeding towards the Elephant Pass camp where he and his comrades were staying. Realising the impending catastrophe, he acted swiftly to prevent it and to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. He was later honoured as Hasalaka Gamini. On 19 May 2012, he was awarded the Parama Weera Vibhushana, the highest honour bestowed on an Army Officer, for his heroic sacrifice in defending the motherland. In addition, S / 2 R 00077 Lance Corporal Rupavathi HM from Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps who laid down her life for the motherland on 9 August 1996, in the area of Keeramale, will go down in history as the first female war hero to write her name in gold letters in the history of the motherland.
Those sacrifices illustrate the role played by the security forces in bringing peace to the entire nation. True peace in a country can only come from the right tactics and courageous leadership. Under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa, then President of Sri Lanka and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and under the direct supervision of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then-Secretary of Defence, with the full organisational strength of General Sarath Fonseka, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunathilake who were then the Commanders the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickramaratne, our security forces were able to end the war.
Major General Kamal Gunaratne, Brigadier Chagi Gallage, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, and Colonel Nishshanka Ranawana who were the Commanding Officers of the 53rd, 55th, 57th, and 58th Divisions, commanded the Northern Humanitarian Operations, led the troops to victory in the war at a time when the LTTE was considered invincible. Finally, this noble humanity was able to fulfill its promise to their country on 18 May 2009, by defeating one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world.
Not only the three Armed Forces but also the Sri Lanka Police and the Special Task Force, including the Civil Security Department have rendered commendable service in securing the lives and property of the people during the war. In particular, the Special Task Force did its invaluable work in strengthening the aristocracy and protecting public places in Sri Lanka, including embassies.
Three decades of brutal war transformed into a humanitarian operation in the end. At that time, they were our war heroes, the guardian deities of the land. However, today, in the eyes of the entire country, it is the “Eight Pass Army” who are siding with the Government. There is no doubt that they are fulfilling their responsibility for the country despite all this, whether in the bunker or on the roads, even when we are travelling or having fun with our family members. How many wives are there in our society who are waiting for their husbands to come home, husbands who are waiting for their wives, children who are waiting for their parents to come home, and parents who have given these noble people to the nation? Aren’t we doing this in contempt of their sacrifices?
We must give due respect to the war heroes such as Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Major General Janaka Perera, Major General Parami Kulatunga, Major General Hamangoda, Major Lalith Jayasinghe, Brigadier Bathiya Jayathilake, Brigadier Wijaya Wimalaratne, Lieutenant Colonel Muthalif who was the former Commanding Officer of the Military Intelligence Corps, Admiral Clancy Fernando, Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, Squadron Leader Tyrone Silvapulle, Lieutenant Colonel Fazli Lafeer, Lieutenant Colonel Neomal Palipana, who fought to sacrifice their today for our tomorrow to defeat the LTTE. If not for their sacrifices to liberate the country, our motherland Sri Lanka will be torn apart by terrorists. Listen to your conscience! As a country, shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves?
With 24,000 heroes from Army including 25 women soldiers, 1160 from the Air Force, 443 from the Navy, 3000 from the Police, and 456 from the Civil Security Department, a total of nearly 30,000 heroes breathed their last for us on this planet and nearly 14,000 became permanently disabled. These heroes are the real owners of the freedom we enjoy today. Our security forces are courageous and unwavering in the face of challenges. Remember! They will never be discouraged by false allegations. Despite all the insults, will continue to serve our motherland today, tomorrow, and in the future as they did then.
Sons and Daughters of Mother Lanka! Undoubtedly, the Nation will be honoured for this noble task that you have always performed. We are also forever indebted to you for your immense sacrifice in safeguarding the sovereignty of the country.
B. Kavindu Maheen Harshana Peiris is a final year undergraduate currently reading for the degree of Bachelor of Laws (Honours) in the Department of Law from the School of Law, Policing and Forensic at the Staffordshire University, United Kingdom.
Note: Please note that all content is written after due diligence and does not reflect the opinion of any Government or private institution or university except the author’s personal opinion.
By B. Kavindu M.H. Peiris