Britain awards compensation for colonial crimes against humanity – Sri Lanka must now submit its claims


– Shenali D Waduge –

After 63 years of consistent denial despite overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence of British war crimes and crimes against humanity in British colonies, the wheels of justice have finally turned against Britain which has now agreed to pay £20m to 5,228 Mau Mau torture victims for crimes against humanity committed during colonial rule under the British Empire.

Though the amount payable i.e. $5,891 per claimant in a country i.e. Kenya, where the average national income per capita is $821, is minuscule given the scale of suffering endured by Kenyans through torture and was brought about via an out of court settlement, it nevertheless provides a sound moral precedent for future claims against Britain.

The pain of the Mau Mau rebels cannot be any worse to the pain suffered by 50 plus nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. If the Allies and Jews closed ranks to seek compensation from Germany and Japan for World War 2, the residents of former British colonies have hundreds of years of pain and suffering to complain about that needs to be addressed and dealt with by appropriate compensation and apology.

International Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Western Colonial Crimes

It is also an appropriate time for the International community led by the Afro – Asian and Latin American block of nations that suffered most under brutal western colonial occupation beginning with the ill fated sea voyage led by Christopher Columbus in 1492 to America, and followed thereafter by a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for several centuries, to spearhead a global campaign calling for the establishment of an International Truth and Reconciliation Commission charged with powers to collect evidence from all round the world of western colonial crimes, document it on a country by country basis, and recommend the tender of both apologies and suitable compensation wherever relevant by the perpetrators to the people and countries affected by rapacious colonialism.  The authoritative panel of such Commission must comprise outstanding jurists and scholars with impeccable scholarly and human credentials.

India’s Claims for Reparations

India has claims that cover hunger and starvation as tools that killed 30million Indians ( Bengal famine (1943 – 1944), massacres on unarmed protestors e.g. Jallianwala Bagh massacre (also known as the Amritsar massacre) in India (1919), while the Boer Genocide in South Africa killed close to 30,000 Afrikaaner women and children in British concentration camps, the Tasmanian genocide that reduced black aborigines from 5000 to just 75 where British were ordered to kill every black in sight.

British Crimes against Humanity in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka we have our own gruesome stories of British crimes where Sinhalese Buddhists protecting their lands were massacred from village to village, paddy fields and cattle killed, a British officer wrote “Much care was taken to sweep the country bare of everything, for the purpose of denying the inhabitants the means of subsistence.” 10,000 Sinhalese died in the 1817 Uva Rebellion. There is also the rebellion of 1848 where large numbers of Sinhalese were also slain. We cannot also forget the thousands of innocent elephants that were killed for pure fun (hobby) by the British troops stationed in Sri Lanka.  Hunter, Samuel Baker even wrote a book on it “The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon”.

The time has now come for Sri Lanka and other former colonies to be compensated for British crimes against humanity, Mass Murder and Genocide. The lists of these crimes are not subject to killings alone and it is now up to the Government of Sri Lanka led by the Ministry of External Affairs to document our claims on behalf of all our ancestors.

Ministry of External Affairs

However, there is an issue that raises our concern and that is the nature of those holding office who subscribed to the “unwinnable war” syndrome not so long ago.  Our external affairs Minister was one such and there are many others holding high profile posts who never voted for the President and therefore their allegiance to what the electorate  voted the President to do and what they are not doing or doing contrary to the Mahinda Chintanaya raises questions of their credibility.

In case many have forgotten or have become mesmerized by liberal slogans, Sri Lanka is an Asian country, it belongs to the Asian region, its culture and religion belongs to the Indian civilization and it is that ethos that can never be eliminated or become part of any  bargaining tool.

Any public official including Cabinet Ministers who is reluctant to say that true RECONCILIATION must start when Sri Lanka’s culture and identity and the manner of governance was usurped and replaced with something foreign and people forced to follow religions that were alien, should either resign and relinquish their post because their personal idiosyncratic views are not going to be supported by the Sri Lankan tax payer. 

All those who wish to copycat Western norms, western thinking and behaviors are welcome to do so in a western climate – not in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must remain culturally Asian in ethos. We will take all the good that can be used to improve systems but we do not need to turn our back on a rich Buddhist civilization that was far superior to that of the West and existed far before the Western civilization was even born.

There are many amongst the former colonies who continue to function like old ‘colonial servants’ unable to carve out their own niche and create their own destiny using the foundation that our ancient civilization had built. What the colonial rulers did was to destroy the memories of our grand past and replace the heroes of our ancient civilization with heroes and heroines of the West only.

Why would we still want to hero worship people who do not belong to our DNA? Why would media purposely black out all Asian news to only project news of the West and why would a handful of politicians also function to what suits the West? The answer lies in the remunerations and rewards that come with promoting Western ideals and culture. However our officials cannot and should not be functioning to the tune of various forms of gratification and it is time that we take stock of the situation and realize that our history is something we need to take pride in, our heroes drawn from our people we need to know about, our inventions and discoveries need to be revisited. It is not for nothing that Sri Lanka was once known as the granary of the East, that our ambassadors were warmly welcomed with red carpets in far – away places like Rome and Xi’an (China). Sri Lanka was once a highly respected nation in the then existing pre-colonial world order.

We need to bring back the former legacies and create our own national destiny.

Scintillating start from Ranawiruwo

The ranawiruwo gave us a scintillating start by eliminating the main obstacle that stopped Sri Lanka from progress. The other obstacles lie amongst us, in people who wish to remain eternal colonial servants and ever ready to barter away key assets of Sri Lanka, awaiting the country to be recolonized – in fact helping that recolonization to take place.

Is this what Mahinda Chintana is all about? We doubt so because it is with the Buddhist block vote that the President stands leader and it is left to him to ensure that the traditional culture and ethos of Sri Lanka remains intact and he must take bold decisions to ensure people following different NGO created Chintana are removed. The country will do far better than to have traitors and fifth columnists misleading the state and our people.  

The same can be said of the situations in countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa – who also need to break away from the colonial mentality.

We are now at a stage where there is a precedent created in compensating the Mau Mau rebels – it is now time for Sri Lanka to join the nations of Africa, Latin America and other Asian nations to make our claims for reparations. We cannot turn our back on our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives at Uva (1818) and Matale (1848) among others, for our country’s freedom and erase them from our collective memory. The fight for justice must continue until Britain engages in a catharsis and then tender an apology and reparations.

Moral Courage

The Ministry of External Affairs must take the lead in this endeavour and if it is unable to handle it then suitable people with fighting qualities and backbone must be placed in charge of this all important Ministry to take the country forward in the international arena.