By Arun Kumaresan –
A Chilcot findings and Lessons for Sri Lanka – lack of accountability process and normalization of violence and utter impunity
Chilcot Inquiry named after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, also commonly known as Iraq inquiry was tasked inquire into the role of Britain in the Iraq War. The inquiry was announced on June 2009 by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The committee had broad terms of reference to consider Britain’s involvement in Iraq between mid-2001 and July 2009. It covered the events leading to the conflict, the subsequent military action and more impotently its aftermath with the purpose to establish the way decisions were made both by the political and the military leadership It was also tasked to determine what happened and to identify lessons to ensure that in a similar situation in future.
British media channels highlighted the purpose of this inquiry was to seek justice for the unfortunate loss of lives of 200 odd British soldiers who had made the supreme sacrifice during the US led invasion to Iraq. They wanted to know the rationale behind Tony Blair’s government committed its’ troops.
This has relevance in post-independence Sri Lankan history that was characterized by turn of events leading to spilling of blood and loss of life in violent circumstances. We witnessed three major ethnic riots; two Marxist led revolutions and the 30 plus years of Tamil militancy. All had one thing in common. Tens of thousands of military and police personal; tens of thousands of revolutionaries and militants; tens of thousands of civilian who were either caught in between, on suspicion or in the rage and emotions both in and outside the area of direct battle; – lost their lives. They had one thing in common of being SRI LANKANS.
Nationalistic fundamentalism or Ideological extremism may it be; the instruments used to establish their respective end points represented violent barbarism. Both state and non state apparatus need to take equal blame for this anarchical approach. State took cover under perceived legitimacy to govern and non state entities took cover under the justification of perceived need of nationalistic demand or based it on an ideological necessity.
The foundation towards accepting criminal behavior as a norm commenced in 1958 during the communal disturbances. Going even by the conservative estimates 300 to 500 civilians were killed and many wounded. It was said, nearly 70 percent killed were Tamils and corresponding balance were Sinhalese. Those who were the cause for this death and injury are known in legal parlance as “Criminals”. They were never brought to justice (the prosecutions were symbolic and limited to figures in single digits). Nationalistic instincts for both Sinhala and Tamil sides gave these criminals room and space to cover their criminal conduct as a nationalistic necessity and they were allowed to remain in the society. Then leaders from both sides for the first time laid the foundation to immune the Sri Lankan society to invariably accept some forms of crimes carried out in the name of race. The political leaders were never made accountable for both their actions and inactions.
The JVP’s ideological campaign in 1971 and 1989/90 challenging the writ of the government was responded with force. The methods and tactics that were used by both sides were brutal and came into much criticism. Non-regular paramilitary forces, with political affiliations, operated for the first time side by side with the state apparatus in 89/90. Outside North and East population woke up to see pile of bodies in the centre of the towns; a method used to instill fear on the general population. Civil society remained silent due to the fear of reprisals. It is pertinent to mention when in 90’s hostilities restarted in North and East after IPKF withdrawal, bodies of soldiers started coming to deep South. A comment that was frequently made by the Sinhala villagers was that ‘they (armed forces members) deserve it for what they did to our children’.
Tamil militancy from Alfred Duraiappa killing in late 70’s to 2007 fought out on nationalistic sentiments took tens of thousands of life. Suicide bombing and targeting civilians became a norm. Violent unconventional methods were used. Soldiers were sent into battle to augment political image of the leadership and had to pay for it with their lives. Military procurements were made under the pretext of providing the combatants and became a good source to fill the pockets of some corrupt military and political leadership elements.
The resultant of this repetitive cycle’s violence has led the society into an immune mindset or mode that sees violence and crime both as a norm and a way to resolve conflicts at all levels – from domestic thro local, regional and at national level. It also has a major impact to disunite society both in the race and religious paradigm. We should understand there is a population with active skills and hands on training in crime. These wrongdoers have escaped justice.
Political leadership too has escaped scrutiny since 1958 for their complicity and in fact has been the main beneficiary of this violent mindset of the society. Killing and maiming has become part of conduct of politics. Udathalawinne massacre, killings of Lasantha Wickremathunge and MP Raviraj, purported killing of ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen, attempted protection of a rapist and murderer in Tangalle etc, etc, stands testimony to the culture of utter impunity.
LTTE’s killing of about 30 Buddhist priests at Aranthalawa, is quite correctly, used to highlight the brutality of Tamil militancy and also to fuel the anti-Tamil nationalistic emotions. However, we often forget the 50 JVP linked Buddhist priests who lost their lives in 1971 and around 700 Buddhist priest lost their lives in 1989/90.( Out of this 50 odd who then supported the government were targeted by JVP and the balance were leaning to JVP ). Most of them at the time of death did not have an offensive weapon in their hand. Even these venerable men in robes were not spared.
Why we are in this terrible state? Our political leaders of all shades and opinion were never were made accountable for their action or inaction. They were never given a mandate to rule by sword. Military leaders were never made accountable for the heavy loss of lives of their troops and other questionable deaths. We have become a nation who neither fears spilling of blood or loss of life. The immunity on our mindset needs redirection. When dealing with a past that is characterized by violence and lawlessness, there should be an inclusive and comprehensive approach to break cycles of violence and combat impunity.
The need of the hour in Sri Lanka is a forthright forum, similar to the Chilcot Commission. The purpose of this commission is not to seek punitive action or for the referral of findings for further judicial evaluation. Any such attempt will make the establishment of a commission a non-starter. Commission should talk to all stakeholders without any distinction may it be victims, perpetrators and by standers. This should be made a forum to facilitate all who live with guilt for promoting violence and causing death and misery either through active participation or through passive support to vomit their guilt in confidence. The commission should shed light into the failures and gaps in the areas of governance, conduct of politics and hate politics, complicity of security establishment in politics and the ineffective law enforcement and judicial mechanisms to enable fresh policy initiatives to create frameworks of conduct and capacity build these institutions.
The commission whilst seeking answers for the past failures should also compile a record of names of all Sri Lankans died in unfortunate circumstance since 1958 due to inter-racial, ideological and nationalistic conflicts. A copy of this must be deposited at an appropriate place with respect to be a grim reminder of our failure to build a nation based on values espoused by the great religions. On a selected day may the clergy of all faith, political leadership of all entities, security apparatus and the civil society congregate and resolve not to repeat the same mistakes, in the name of race, religion, ideological, nationalistic or for the sole purpose to remain in power and to make solemn vow to break the repetitive cycle of violence that we are still in. Morally most of Sri Lankans have a fair share of guilt for the active or passive support on issues the violence sought foundation. The findings will enable us to show genuine remorse and enable us to move in a spirit of unity.
If we respect the constitutional provision of ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana’; we should practice the great philosophy of Gautama Buddha to its letter and spirit that epitomizes peaceful co existence and tolerance and ensure this sermon that we are blessed to hear very often; ‘Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu’ – may all beings be happy and free from suffering is practiced at our doorsteps. We as a nation have suffered enough.