Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

The verdict sans representation

The Jury’s verdict comes in. “Guilty” is the call of the day. And next you proceed to execute the sentence. So it is that in a country that hardly executes convicted criminals, we are executing after a trial where the accused was not represented.

Let us look at what this court case is, which seems extra-ordinary. As accused, we have “combatants” of a pro-scribed organization. Well the verdict is clear-cut right? “Guilty” we shout in unison, but wait… let us now listen to the defense Counsel, yes the lawyer who has not turned up for the trial thus far.

The proceedings discover the following background story to the climate in which the Accused has been in. The organization which is named the LTTE has a long history of forced recruitment. With a well known record of extreme use of violence, they are also notorious for recruiting children as combatants. In areas which were un-fortunately under their control, it is well known of the rule that exists demanding the “patriotic” act of sending one member from each family to join their ranks. This is in no way a choice but a mandatory rule which must be obeyed at any cost. In instances where some have stood up, it is well known that the LTTE threatens young people’s lives as well as their families’ lives. So it is that many combatants find themselves joining the ranks of this organization. Well of course joining ranks mean bearing arms against any and all who would oppose the LTTE. So the Accused finds him/her self classed as a combatant. For these combatants it is either comply or suffer the consequences. Running away is not an option as that would mean lodging for the family members left behind in LTTE torture prisons.

It is in this context that we must look at the latest “combatants” joining the LTTE ranks these days. The news of a dramatic rise in “employment” in the Vanni region is because of this reason. Young people including children are being given “vocational” training in arms so that the falling ranks of the LTTE are bolstered. Now, in this area, this is the only trade made available for many trapped between the Army and the LTTE. This is also the same place where shelling and firing from both sides fall, with no discrimination. No one of course will own up to doing this, especially not “liberators” (claimed again by both sides). So these “combatants” are trained, armed and sent to die.

Now the “patriotic” prosecution takes the stand. Patriotic, noble and without stain… purer than anyone else, all cleanly white-washed….. but nevertheless no better than a tomb. The patriots in the name of nationalism, call for more blood shed. Though not forcibly recruited, there are soldiers who are nevertheless young and ill-trained sent to their doom. The Sinhala youth, from the rural areas are sent to lubricate the war machinery with their blood by these patriots. While the patriotic leaders sit pretty in air-conditioned rooms, hundreds of maimed Sinhala youth lie in hospitals, whom the media does not report about. Only a small subset of these injured, those who are able to bolster the morale are allowed to speak to the world, the rest… not even the families know.

Very soon, when the truth gets out, there will be weeping and crying among the Sinhalese (in all probability suppressed and not visible), much like what is happening in the Vanni, where daily funerals take place where the old bury the young (this is happening even now in the rural areas of Sri Lanka). The old will have to work to support the young.

Therefore, we now again look at the Accused combatants, who are sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of somebody. They are entering the slaughter field as a duty to save their families from the “liberators”. It is hard to mince words when it comes to looking at the LTTE as the “liberators” of the Tamils, since all they are now doing is to just liberate the people from their lives and land, and our patriotic leaders are helping the LTTE to do this by supplying the means of liberation.

And then we have the “diaspora”. Another grand set of patriots, buying up the blood of these innocent Tamils with their money contributions to the LTTE. Living abroad in relative luxury and safety, poisoning the minds of their own children with the glorious stories of this liberating organization, they contribute to the blood and tears of the young and old in the Vanni. Sinhalese should not forget that they are the ones responsible for creating this diaspora!

Now the jury must consider the case, the case of the “guilty” combatant. They are caught between opposing forces, caught in the terror of those who would do what ever to protect themselves, caught in the fear for their lives and in the duty of keeping their loved ones safe. Should the forcibly recruited civilians be treated as combatants?

We are in a unique scenario. Our own citizens have been forcibly recruited by a brutal outfit and asked to sacrifice their lives. How are we treating them now and how will we treat them later? According to the law, they should be treated as combatants, but is it morally right to treat them as combatants? Just because someone is forced to carry a gun, should he/she be treated as a combatant? This is a grey area and I know we can argue and debate without an end…

But may be we are in a situation where we should think beyond the domestic or international laws. We should get out of the boxes we are in and think morally and humanly. Otherwise we will be able to equate most of the Tamils trapped in the war zone to an LTTE combatant, for they are probable recruits.

Is the jury able to see how the balance between a civilian and combatant is tilted? How the civilian becomes a combatant? The decreasing number of civilians (from the military’s point of view) could directly be proportional to the rising number of combatants. A civilian today can be a combatant tomorrow according to the situation in Vanni and the law of war. Does that mean the Regime has the right to eliminate the person tomorrow or today and call him/her a combatant? People in the south rejoice when they hear the number of deaths of LTTE cadres, some even light crackers. Do we not realize that most of the dead cadres are youth forcibly recruited by the LTTE? Will we be able to think twice before putting down the gavel and crying “guilty”?

Sadly both parties in the conflict are passing the ball to each other on safeguarding the civilians. We cannot put the Government and the LTTE at the same level. Government has the primary responsibility towards its civilians, but not the LTTE. This is a great opportunity for the Government to show solidarity and win the hearts of the people who are trapped in the war zone by pausing the offensive or truly working on a system to allow the civilians to come out, even to the point of being humble to accept a foreign intervention. As ridiculous as it sounds, without pausing the offensive, we cannot expect the civilians to come out. Safe routes alone will not enable the people to come out, when there are artillery flying continuously over their heads. If the liberation is for the people, then there should be people left alive to liberate.

We need to think before rejoicing, think before giving the verdict and think as a “human being” and not as a “Sinhalese” or “Tamil”.