| by Shanie
“The moody mountain frowns, aloof, detached,
What was your crime, you little mountain town?
Just that you lay upon the Armies’ route;
Two tracks met here by whim in ancient time.”
– Norman Morris writing about the plight of civilians in a Sicilian town during World War 2 (1943)
(December 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Government has laid to rest doubts some had that the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission would not be released to the public, or only selected parts, if at all. President Rajapaksa did the right thing in releasing it in full. But public scepticism about the political will to implement the recommendations of the LLRC still remains. The LLRC made interim recommendations over fifteen months ago. A committee under the chairpersonship of Mohan Peiris, then Attorney General, was appointed to oversee the implementation of those interim recommendations. That committee appears to have been largely ineffective. The Friday Forum, in a statement, noted that they had written to the chairperson of the committee inquiring about the progress made in implementation of the LLRC’s interim recommendations and had received no response. The LLRC itself in its final report lamented that in respect of one of their interim recommendations, no concrete action appears to have been taken. It is this lack of a will to take action on the interim recommendations of the LLRC that gives rise to doubts as to whether LLRC’s recommendations will be implemented at all.
A diversionary tactic
There is a further reason for anxiety. The JHU, a constituent political party of the governing coalition, has gone public stating that the LLRC has exceeded its mandate by proposing that political steps be taken to devolve political power to further the cause of reconciliation. It is not a question of the JHU and its cabinet minister in the government misreading the mandate of the LLRC. The question is simply that the JHU does not recognize that there is any need to devolve power to the regions and thereby give political strength to areas where the minorities are in a majority.
The President’s mandate to the LLRC was clear. Every single one of the five items in the mandate would have justified the LLRC making the recommendations they made for national unity and reconciliation. But specifically, the LLRC was asked to recommend institutional, administrative and legislative measures needed to ‘prevent a recurrence of such concerns (arising from the events in the last phase of the war) in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among communities.’ The warrant further gave the LLRC a blanket authority to make any recommendations in respect of any matter that they had inquired into in respect of the warrant. The JHU, and the other narrow-minded nationalists on all sides of the ethnic divide, who unable to have a broader vision for Sri Lanka, must know that there was general agreement in the country when the President stated in the warrant that a need had arisen for the country to learn from its recent history, lessons that would ensure that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflict in the future and that people are assured of an era of peace, harmony and prosperity. As the LLRC commented, their mandate was not just to ‘look back at the conflict Sri Lanka suffered’ but also to ‘look ahead for an era of healing and peace building in the country.’
It is in this spirit that the Commissioners stated in their preamble that “Sri Lanka now faces a moment of unprecedented opportunity. Rarely does such an opportunity come along without equally important attendant challenges. This is especially true of any meaningful effort towards post-conflict peace building following a protracted conflict. Sri Lanka’s case is no exception. Terrorism and violence have ended. Time and space have been created for healing and building sustainable peace and security so that the fruits of democracy and citizenship can be equitably enjoyed by all Sri Lankans. To this end, the success of ending armed conflict must be invested in an all-inclusive political process of dialogue and accommodation so that the conflict by other means will not continue.”
The Commissioners further noted that if the people’s expectations were to become a reality in the form of a multi-ethnic nation at peace with itself in a democratic Sri Lanka, the Government and all political leaders must manifest political will and sincerity of purpose to take the necessary decisions to ensure the good-faith implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. “Based on what it heard from the people, the Commission is confident that the citizens are ready and willing to support consensual approaches advancing national interest, national reconciliation, justice and equality for all citizens, so long as the political leaders take the lead in a spirit of tolerance, accommodation and compromise.”
Another source of concern regarding the implementation of the LLRC recommendations is the veiled attempt being made to divert attention to other issues. Dayan Jayatilleka writing in The Island this week seeks to introduce a new element. He says, “Two of the three major players in the last stage of the Sri Lankan conflict have undertaken and undergone a preliminary audit of sorts—the Sri Lankan state and the Norwegians– while the third (and the second in importance) has not, and not even thought to. There has been no equivalent from within the Tamil civil society or the ‘Tamil nationalist movement’. The country knows and Jayatilleka knows that the third major player in the conflict was the LTTE. Does Jayatilleka equate the LTTE with Tamil civil society or the non-LTTE Tamil nationalist movement? We are aware that before their demise, the LTTE claimed to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people. From what he writes now, does Jayatilleka accept that claim which many Sri Lankans, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, rejected outright? Or is it a case that since the LTTE is defeated, it pays politically to equate the Tamils with the LTTE? Of course, over the thirty years, very few of the political parties, and many individuals in civil society, were willing to take a public stand to reach out for reconciliation across the communal divide. In many cases, this was due to the fear of being humiliated and labeled a ‘traitor’ by one side or the other.
The inter-ethnic conflict has existed since Sri Lanka’s independence from colonial rule, even though the war might have been fought over the last thirty years. Two weapons were used during the war and the wider conflict. The war was fought using military strategy and weapons. The wider conflict saw the use of psychological abuse and hate to beat down anyone or any group advocating accommodation and goodwill in resolving the conflict. This happened before the defeat of the LTTE and it is happening now as well. Anyone or any party representing the minorities advocating rights for the minorities or devolution was immediately termed as representing ‘the LTTE rump’; any Sinhala person doing so is an LTTE-lover and a ‘traitor’. Unfortunately leadership for this communal abuse came from parties and individuals allied to the governing coalition. We still have to travel a long way for national reconciliation. As the LLRC report acknowledges: “The Commission was also reminded that despite the lapse of two years since the ending of the conflict, the violence, suspicion and sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life. Delay in the implementation of a clearly focused post-conflict peace building agenda may have contributed to this situation.”
The overriding need then is to set up a credible mechanism (not on the model of the Mohan Peiris Committee) to implement the recommendations of the LLRC. It must be a mechanism that will work within a defined time-frame and have authority to ensure that the recommendations are carried out, It must function in an open and transparent manner.
The failure of all political parties
The LLRC finds all political parties and their leadership failing in their duty to promote national reconciliation, justice and equality for all citizens. They are collectively responsible for the violence that had and continues to envelop our society. We would suggest that our religious leaders, with a mere couple of exceptions, are also culpable in this regard. Martin Luther King’s words ring so very true of our society: “We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” The Commissioners suggest that all parties, not just the Tamil civil society as Jayatilleka suggests, engage in self-appraisal of their complicity in promoting this conflict over the years.
The LLRC says the need is for a political solution to the National Question. This can come about only if there is a political will on the part of all. In the light of the government and the TNA both seemingly having “non-negotiable” conditions for their negotiations, it may not be a bad idea,, as happened in Northern Ireland, to have an independent mediator acceptable to both parties and to the SLMC, who also need to be brought into the negotiations as the largest party representing the Muslims. But negotiations can succeed only if there is a political will on the part of all sides to find a solution that will ensure justice for all.
It is appropriate to end with this final recommendation of the LLRC: “A collective act of contrition for what happened would not come easily to either party. It would come only if they are ready to make a profound moral self appraisal in the light of the human tragedy that has occurred. Seeds of reconciliation can take root only if there is forgiveness and compassion. Leaders of all sides should reach out to each other in humility and make a joint declaration, extending an apology to innocent citizens who fell victim to this conflict, as a result of the collective failure of the political leadership on all sides to prevent such a conflict from emerging. Religious leaders and civil society should work towards it and emphasize the healing impact it would have on the entire process of reconciliation.”