Groundviews

Reconciliation without Truth in Sri Lanka?

South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation commission presided over by Desmond Tutu. Human Rights activists who looked forward to Reconciliation and peace at the end of the civil war in 2009, expected the LLRC (The Lessons learnt and reconciliation commission) to play the same role. But it did not due to various reasons. The main obstacle being that witnesses who came forward to give evidence before the commission were not given protection. There can be no peace or national unity without reconciliation and reconciliation has to be based on Truth and Accountability.

When the parents and relatives of those who disappeared during the war, want to know what happened to their loved ones, they need to be told the truth, however painful if may be.  Instead, telling them “The war is over. Now don’t dig up the past and ask useless questions. What’s the point in revealing what happened, it will only lead to anger, hatred and division. Therefore forget the dead and disappeared and help us to go forward with our plans for economic development” is not going to help building national unity.

No war can be fought or won with “zero civilian casualties”. The international community and the UN know  this. What is expected from the Sri Lankan government is evidence that civilians were not targeted and killed intentionally and also that those who surrendered were not tortured and killed. There is only one man who can prove this to the international community, but that one man has been locked up in prison. In an interview with the BBC, a powerful politician went to the extent of saying that if the ex-army commander tried to testify before a war tribunal he could be executed as a traitor! Why? It could be asked whether those in power are trying to cloak their own guilt.

Why is there so much panic over the Ban Ki Moon Panel Report or the Darussman Report as it is now called. It has been dismissed as a mere personal advisory report and therefore not valid. Prof. Peiris has declared that the government will not respond to the report. Perhaps it has been already confined to the dustbin as one learned minister suggested. And yet there has been a series of protests and hysterical outbursts of patriotic anger against the report. The President himself set the ball rolling saying that he would happily sit in the electric chair to save the war heroes, perhaps including General Sarath Fonseka. A million signatures  were collected to protect our brave president from Ban Ki Moon. It is reported that at least a few people signed the anti-Moon petition mistaking it for an anti-Mervyn (Mervyn de Silva, the notorious minister) petition!  On May Day thousands of workers were made to march shouting slogans against Ban Ki Moon, as if he and the UN were somehow responsible for all their grievances including the rising cost of living and low wages. Why has the government created such panic among the  masses, exploiting their ignorance to whip up anti-West , anti  UN feelings? While the government has denounced the report to the Sri Lankan public it seems to carry on secret talks with the Secretary General. This has given rise to questions doubting the regime’s sincerity. Is the Rajapakse regime using the Panel Report “to ignite patriotic hysteria locally?” in order to drown all its sins?

Today, some have ridiculed Ban Ki Moon as Monkey Moon and referred to the 3 members of the panel as mere puppets of the pro-LTTE International forces working against Sri Lanka, helped by the Tamil Diaspora. But it should not be forgotten that Darussman who is ridiculed as a puppet today was not so long ago invited by our President as one of the 10 Independent International Group of Eminent Persons(IIGEP) to observe the COI proceedings.

The (Commission of Inquiry) COI was appointed by the President in 2006 to probe 15 cases of alleged Human Rights violations. Soon however the International Experts pulled out from monitoring the proceedings of that presidential commission due to many obstacles they faced. What happened to that COI report? No one seems to know.

Although the UN panel report has called for the appointment of an international mechanism to probe credible allegations of war crimes committed by the LTTE and the Sri Lanka army, the Secretary General has said that such a mechanism cannot be set up without the consent of the Sri Lankan government or a decision from the member states of the UN. So there is no need to panic and Sri Lanka can bravely and courageously respond to the Report and tell the world the Truth. Once the Truth is out the international community cannot blame the Sri Lanka government for getting rid of terrorism, for after all, almost all countries helped Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE.

In fact if at the end of the war, we had set up a credible national mechanism to deal with human rights accountability, we could have avoided Ban Ki Moon’s call for an international mechanism. Even now it’s not too late to face the Truth. Only by facing the truth can we put an end to all the allegations that are made against the country.

Once the Ban Ki Moon report is laid to rest, the government will be able to move forward towards peace and national unity. The first step towards that goal should be to introduce a political solution that satisfies the Tamil people. Tamil people living in the North and East, other than those who are being looked after by K.P, Douglas Devananda, Karuna and Pillayan, complain that there is no one to look after their needs.  Building hotels and army camps, demolishing cemeteries, planting Bo trees where there are no Buddhists, not releasing the list of detainees and generally the militarization of the North and East are not steps taken towards reconciliation they point out. All they want is to live in peace as equal citizens of this country. And so a political solution is a must.

America, most of the Western countries and India supported the Sri Lankan government to defeat the LTTE on the understanding that a political solution would be offered to the Tamil people once the Tigers were destroyed. Although Prabakaran demanded a separate state of Elam, that demand did not come from the majority of the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka. It was believed that once their grievances were looked into and solutions offered there could be lasting peace in the country where terrorism would not be able to raise its head again.

But now, two years after the death of Prabkaran, Tamils are still being suspected and treated as potential terrorists. This situation has to change and the Tamils must be treated as equal citizens of a united Sri Lanka that can then move towards peace and prosperity.