Image courtesy Rightsnow
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality”.
John F. Kennedy
The D day in March has passed us by having placed a heavy hand as expected. The intensely canvassed process for a yes or no to the resolution has ended with a yes to the resolution with 23 voting for it, 12 nays and 12 abstentions. Various permutations can be made to make the voting appear weighted for the ‘yes’’ camp or in favour of the ‘No’s’. Regardless of how it is viewed, the onus is placed on the Sri Lankan government to get out of this ‘situation’ that is dissipating so much of the country’s energy and its finances. Needless to state that accountability by itself will not result in reconciliation. A convergence of hearts and minds in the true spirit of reconciliation has to become the inspiration for those in the government, the minorities and all Sri Lankans. Sri Lankans have a moral responsibility to review the controversial UNHRC Resolution with objectivity. To exploit the peace dividend the accountability issue has to be resolved comprehensively with honesty and sincerity. To achieve this, we the people, as a whole, must stir the ‘moral imagination’ within us, and have our antennas turned inwards to bring greater clarity to our thought processes.
The Government and its advisors together with the Tamil community must study the many options available for reconciliation. It would be imprudent to choose defiance instead of cooperation to the process outlined in the UNHRC resolution. Sri Lanka must also awaken to the reality that winning elections within the country is not the only barometer for its acceptability as a credible sovereign nation. The dialogue on the issues raised by the UNHRC must be inclusive of all the ‘actors’ relevant to the process. Offer of balanced advice irrespective of the source must be accepted even if it be at variance to ‘government thinking’.
“Accountability and Reconciliation”: Time for reappraisal
Demand for ‘Accountability’ is with reference to the ethnic war. It would be foolish to insist that in the last days of the war overkill did or did not take place at all. The ‘enemy’ the Sri Lankan State faced was no amateur and in the last stages every possible foible was adopted to get the better of the Sri Lankan forces. The LTTE put children with no training in the front line to face the full force of the army; they fired on those who tried to flee to the state line for refuge; even if they did hoist the white flag it would have been difficult to assess the sincerity of the move because the LTTE was capable of taking the offensive when the defenses of the government forces were down. It was without doubt a tricky situation. If one is truthful it will be admitted that the state offensive was taken to the terrorist forces in its entirety and not for appeasement. In a war one kills or gets killed or wounded. What is required is to seek an independent fact finding mechanism to investigate the events of the last days of the war. Perhaps the matter can then be put to rest and those affected appeased through an internationally acceptable format.
This is not to say that controversial issues related to accountability can be easily swept away. The Tamils having surfaced from a traumatic war are searching for information about their kith and kin amongst the missing persons. A credible and effective mechanism that will make a start to give information of missing persons is vital. Details of individual cases may not always be available, in which case, some form of collated information, even if it be in general terms will go a long way to appease the grieving relatives.
However, regarding those who surrendered to the forces towards the end of the war and after the government should be able to give details of their present status. It is noteworthy that many were rehabilitated and inured with skills for earning their livelihood. The information of the unaccounted persons has to be available, especially because the reference is to a post war situation when it would have been feasible to keep the necessary records.
Sinhala Buddhist constituency, Tamil Nationalism, Agents ‘Provocateurs’
The mind set of the government and the Sinhala Buddhist constituency claiming primus inter pares has to change; equally the Tamil minority must move on from orchestrating stubborn adherence to Tamil nationalism and Eelam ideology. However, cohabitation is neither interchangeable nor acceptable with subjugation of ethnic and religious minorities by the majority. The constitution states explicitly of the equal status to all the people and this must be adhered to the spirit and letter in the document.
It is counterproductive to encourage agents ‘provacateurs’ within the government to speak at tangent to the professed policies of the government for reconciliation. Extremist religious organizations have mushroomed with hostile attitudes to ethnic and religious minorities. Provocative speeches and acts of violence are made with impunity. That the leadership is given by members drawn from the Buddhist clergy representing one of the most tolerant philosophies in the world should make a case study for sociologists. Psychologists too must investigate the system that works on double speak –reconciliation and retraction through ‘agents’. If reconciliation is to become a living moving spirit then the call is for sincerity on both sides of the divide.
Provincial Councils: Institutions to facilitate speedy reconciliation
An elected Provincial council with an administrative staff is available for putting in place strategies for reconciliation. For a start the doctrine of triumphalism on display has to be removed from the minds of the southern polity. Even today, five years after the end of the war, in between the announcement of election results of the Southern and the Western Provincial Councils, the TV channels aired scripts from the LTTE ‘high noon’ to keep the phantom of the tiger threat alive. This is no way to begin the reconciliation process. Although Nazi Germany was wiped out there still linger persons espousing Nazi ideology. A reality the country must live with. The effective way to win the people over will not be to put a High Security Zone which make intrusion into much of the land belonging to the poor in the North. Houses must be given to shelter them, food must be put in their mouths, hospitals must have doctors and medicines freely available as well as well equipped schools for children. Opportunities for earning their livelihood must be creatively worked out to restore the wounded identity and dignity of the Tamilians. Five years down the road, time for handouts is long past. Government must learn to look out for constructive contributions amidst a plethora of available recommendations. While undoubtedly, infrastructure is an integral part of the relinking process it is essential to bear in mind that many other inputs must be made to activate the path to reconciliation. For a start the government must stop viewing the North as a “terrorist area’. It is this perception that makes it necessary to keep a large army in place, a military Governor as the Executive, a Chief Secretary who should have been obliged to resign to give place for the newly elected NPC to advice on a new nominee to the President. Resurgence in new thinking must come in.
It is unfortunate that the government has not been able to exploit the well aired goodwill of the newly elected Chief Minister. He has unreservedly offered to work in amity with the Centre using ‘intellect’ and not ‘emotions’. His dialogue with the President has been issue based sans rhetoric. He is quoted as having said, “We have to approach our issues with due wisdom and proper diligence;” This is to my recollection the first time Tamil politics has moved out of the didactic and made a distinction between immediate and fundamental problems. It is equally relevant to note that it is probably this attitude that prompted the NPC to undertake a comprehensive and professional needs assessment of the Northern Province. Here is an opening for both the centre and the PC to work together. Democratic governance, land rights and demilitarization and finances of the provincial councils are some of the the key issues. It is up to the government to meet these demands at least halfway. CM Wigneswaran has laid emphasis on the hope that the “Centre will work with the NPC to achieve peace and reconciliation”. The government response has to be clear. Is the President willing to work with the NPC? If so, democratic principles of governance must be put in place. A matter of primary importance is to establish the principle of collective responsibility of government; there has to be one spokesperson, one alone to be appointed to announce the decisions of the Executive. Others holding positions of importance should be debarred from making policy statements or speak for the government. Discordant voices give wrong signals and hamper the positive moves attempted by the parties to reconciliation.
Diplomacy – professional cadres a high priority
Fine tuning our diplomatic skills to resonate with our visions and aspirations has become critical. We have to work with professional men and women trained in diplomacy who can make studied decisions instead of offering responses to placate politicians. Tracing past remissions of other contending parties will remain unproductive. Sri Lanka can least afford to fritter away time on this. While it is true our dignity is injured, it has not however, inhibited us from committing fresh acts of rights violations. It makes no sense to make mathematical calculations on the results of the resolution and come up with results that add up to a positive for Sri Lanka. Many amongst those countries that abstained from voting for the UNHRC Resolution are friends of Sri Lanka. Perhaps they abstained to indicate that the pace and quantum of steps taken towards accountability, reconciliation, human security and human rights are inadequate. The government must be forewarned and be prepared to adopt planned strategies towards rectifying the situation. The pervasive superiority rated Sinhala Buddhist phantom has to give way to policies for engagement with pluralism.
Listening to criticism, reviewing and responding on the basis of information that the UNHRC’s review process brings out or fails to do is the only way for movement forward to work towards future prosperity for the country. It will be a pragmatic exercise to implement the LLRC recommendations and activate effectively the 13th Amendment both of which will go a long way to bring about reconciliation within the country and with the international community.