Colombo, Human Rights, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

Detailed response to Jeevan Thiagarajah’s ‘Settling conflicts after the war and doing what is right’

When I read Jeevan Thiagarajah’s piece published on Groundviews a few days ago several questions sprung to mind. Why is the article trying so desperately to be apolitical? How can we solve conflicts if we cannot even acknowledge that certain groups, i.e. the government, the LTTE, the paramilitaries, are responsible, in different ways, for the humanitarian emergency and rights violations we are faced with? The author mentions preventable deaths- how would he define them? By speaking of preventable deaths, are we as ‘caregivers’ subscribing to the logic of the state and the LTTE that some civilians will have to be sacrificed as collateral damage, i.e. are expendable?  

It is unclear what the author means when he states ‘it requires a willingness on the part of the community representative of CHA to seek to lead people in peril to safety and security.’ Is he speaking of the potential role of the CHA in protecting civilians? I however am more interested in finding out about the contribution of the CHA to the ‘post-war’ initiatives of the government in the North and East, such as the construction of ‘welfare villages’, which in many instances contravene humanitarian and human rights law. As a concerned citizen I would like to learn more about the ‘silent strides that have been taken in reconciling competing claims and needs’, particularly since according to information from the field it appears that all decisions are being made with the military imperative taking precedence over civilian welfare and adherence to basic human rights and humanitarian standards.

To state that reports which ‘float to foreign capitals’ are based on ‘perceived indiscretions’ belittles the suffering of the victims of human rights violations and downplays the grave nature of these violations. It is indeed cause for concern that the Executive Director of a humanitarian agency refers to the failure to observe basic humanitarian standards as ‘indiscretions’. The same applies to the comment about ‘feeling of gross injustices’. Mr. Thiagarajah, I have a ‘feeling’ the families of those who have lost loved ones, those whose husbands, sons and daughters have disappeared, those who have been detained without charge under the Emergency Regulations for extended periods, and journalists and human rights defenders who have been attacked or have fled the country due to threats to their lives would disagree with you; gross injustices committed in this country by both state and non-state actors amount to more than a mere feeling.

You speak of respecting ‘the cost of losses and those who lost’. May I point out that what many citizens of Sri Lanka, particularly minorities, are concerned about is respect for their communities and the individual members of those communities. While not commenting on the intentions of the current government, the message sent by its policies and actions is that minorities and those who express dissent or challenge the state are sub-citizens (who have limited or no rights), as opposed to the supra-citizens (persons who are unconstrained by and above the law) who formulate these policies.

I agree with you that we need to avoid the pitfalls of the past- however, you mention only the tsunami. What about development and reconstruction processes in the Eastern Province? In the East the government proceeded under the misguided notion that initiating conflict-blind development projects without addressing the political grievances of the different communities would stabilize the region. The result- inter and intra community conflict and a region that continues to be volatile.

While appealing to god might provide emotional succor I’d suggest that one might be more successful in ‘doing what is right’ by adopting a proactive and courageous strategy which addresses grievances of communities and places political issues on the national ‘post-war’ agenda.