| by Sebastian Rasalingam
(January 05, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) The long awaited “lesson’s learnt and reconciliation commission (LLRC) report”, based on extensive public hearings in front of six eminent individuals, (weighted by the westernized legal profession) is now before the public. The mandate of the commission included an examination of (a) why the cease-fire agreement (CFA) failed, and the events up to 19th May 2009 and (b) the lessons that could be learnt thereof. While these two objectives seem entirely reasonably, a much more onerous task, namely to (c) identify the institutional, administrative and legislative measures needed to ensure no recurrence of hostilities and promote national reconciliation has also been included. It is noteworthy that (c) does not contain the words ‘constitutional measures’.
The positive aspects of the report.
Clearly, a commission such as this, which looks at the last Eelam war (CFA to Nandikadal) when individuals who managed the war as well as those who were in the crossfire could be interviewed, can provide a very valuable record for posterity. That commissioners, “Colombo lawyers”, experienced in evaluating evidence are involved here is actually a very positive aspect. This may be termed the empirio-historical contribution of the commission. This is particularly important in establishing the professional (or other) conduct of the warring factions as well as the partisan (or other) nature of international players who had their own axes to grind.
|Army excesses and Police brutality are common in Sri Lanka, and it occurs irrespective of ethnicity, to wit the JVP suppression. The LLRC shows that the modern SL army is more professional and humane.|
These international players have been the most vocal in demanding investigations of alleged war crimes. Evidence gathered from witnesses, and documents tabled including those from the International Committee of the Red Cross, have enabled the commissioners to debunk the claim that the a genocidal war, intent on deliberately targeting the Tamils had been carried out. Instead, the government had gone to extreme lengths to feed and provide medical supplies to even the enemy. The modus oparandai used to set up ‘safe zones’ , their partial success, and how people surrendered to the army are documented in detail. Furthermore, alleged disappearances of LTTE suspects who surrendered to the army are documented. Some who were imprisoned ostensibly for ‘three days’ have been held without trial for over an year. Even though things are not as bad as in Guantanamo Bay or in the hands of the Cheney-Rumsfeld forces in Iraq, they could be better.
Clear lessons can be drawn from these events. A lesson that should be learnt is that the army can be kind, helpful, and efficient in providing help and succour to the Internally Displaced People (IDP). Instead of drawing the right conclusion, the commission thinks that the army should be disengaged from civil-society activities. I disagree and explained the important civil-society role of the army in the reconstruction and reconciliation in my article of the Island, November 10 (Army kadaigals in the North-bane or boon?).
Army excesses and Police brutality are common in Sri Lanka, and it occurs irrespective of ethnicity, to wit the JVP suppression. The LLRC shows that the modern SL army is more professional and humane. Even in Canada, unbelievable police brutality towards protesters was recorded during the G20 meeting held in Toronto. So, even if the commission comes up with administrative and institutional measures to correct these, I am of the view that only the general improvement in public morality will finally lead to improved standards in handling prisoners.
Where the report fails.
The report fails lamentably when it comes to telling us what to do to ensure reconciliation. As already noted, the commission fails to recognize the positive effect of allowing the erstwhile soldiers to mingle with the local Tamils, IDPs (that they helped to free from the LTTE) by engaging commercial and other enterprises. This narrow view is a clear result of the Colombo-Lawyer mentality.
Except for Mahinda Rajapaksa, all others have signed the report in English. The report reflects the perspective of the Colombo class which had for more than half a century argued that the solution to the country’s ethnic problem is devolution. The introductory material reflects the naive view that the conflict is a post-independence phenomenon triggered by the “Sinhala Only act”. The language issue was the bone of contention and not the cause of the problem. When ever a Tamil service was introduced by the government, the Federal Party and its heir the TULF went about discouraging Tamils from using it as they wanted to establish discrimination. In the sixties, when I worked in the Malay Street education department, as a Tamil I know that many wanted to learn sinhala, but we were threatened by ITAK activists. During the LTTE times, Tamil officers in government could face death. The Banda-Chelva apact was presented in Tamil manifestos of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi as merely the first step to Arasu (soverigniety). More recently, when Sinhalese police officers were given Tamil training in Tamil Nadu, the TNA objected and stopped it. And yet, Prof. Sasanka Perera, a Colombo academic just recently bemoaned the lack of Tamil services and blamed the government for it.
The report naively suggests that power devolution to the minorities is the step needed to bring about reconciliation.
A problem can be solved only if the causes of the problem are correctly identified. The commissioners did not have the mandate, the mindset, or the historical scope, to address the issue correctly. The so called national problem is not a minorities problem, but a problem between the government of Sri Lanka and the landed upper caste Tamil leadership. This problem already arose between them and the Imperial (British) government which introduced universal franchise in 1930. The SLFP in 1957 not only introduced the ‘Sinhala only’ (with ‘reasonable use of Tamil’) bill, but also a bill forbidding caste exploitation. The absentee landlords of Jaffna living in Kuravakaddu (cinnamon gardens) had been uneasy for a long time with the creeping liberalizing power of the Colombo government (see Dr. Jane Russell’s historical writings). Such liberalization would ultimately dethrone them, and power will move to local (possibly low caste) Tamils in the North and the East. They realized that this can only be arrested by physical geographical separation where they, the Vellala Tamil leaders rule Eelam, while we the under castes continue to work for them. Moral sanction for this is found in Hindu orthodoxy as well as in a caste-compliant church which elects only Pillai-class priests to its upper strata. Ahilan Kadirgamar writing just recently claimed that nothing has changed in this society of exploitation. Only a few months ago Pearl Thevanayagam, a pro-LTTE writer often appearing in the Sri Lanka Guardian defended and extolled the caste system.
So, the LLRC report proposes giving the provincial councils more power claiming that this will reconcile the minorities. I am not ready to talk for the minorities. But as a Tamil who has seen the worst side of our society, I know that the TNA and other Tamil leaders simply want geographical separation so that they can run the show as they did from time immemorial, exploiting the landless ‘lower castes’, while they are the land lords and upholders of Arasu. The TNA leadership has not admitted the error of annihilating Tamil leaders from the time of Duraiappah to Kadirgamar. Do we want local VIanniyar chiefs with their personal fiefs legally justified as “provincial councils”? We Tamils do not want it, just as the Sinhalese do not want Mervyn de Silva types enthroned in local fiefdoms. The constitutional proposals of the LLRC are outside their mandate. If those proposals of the LLRC are implemented, there will be no reconciliation.
There are many lessons that the LLR commissioners have to learn.
The cause of the ‘national problem’ in Sri Lanka is the deliberate promotion of separatism by the landed aristocracy of the Tamils. It is was in 1935 that G. G. Ponnambalam declared that he is not a Ceylonese but proud to be a ‘Dravidian’ (Hansard, 1935, Column 3045). It was in 1949 that SJVChelvanayagam called for separation of the ‘exclusive Tamil homelands’. The CFA is assumed to be a failure by the commissioners, and they ask why it failed. In fact, the CFA was not a failure for the LTTE. It was crafted by the LTTE to achieve certain objectives, and that document was given on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. It was ‘taken’ by Ranil Wickremasinghe. Neither Ranil, nor the TNA, or Chandrika Kumaratunga appeared before the commission.
The basic political perspectives of the LLRC are flawed. Commissioners are jurists and not representative of the Lankan Tamils or Sinhalese. While the LLRC recommendations regarding missing persons etc., should be carried through, its political recommendations are the time-honoured, failed dicta of the Colombo elites. The causes of the national problem, and its resolution must be examined by a wider commission which includes the views of people who naturally sign in Sinhala and Tamil, and are not mere lawyers, but businessmen, ordinary farmers, rural teachers, nurses, postmasters and others of the civil society.