22 April, 2019

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A Sri Lankan Truth And Reconciliation Commission?

By S. I. Keethaponcalan –

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

One of the completely unexpected outcomes of the recently concluded Colombo Commonwealth Summit was the ignition of a dialogue on the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Sri Lanka. The source of this idea is the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma to Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Summit in November 2013. Some suggest President Zuma mooted the idea. This is possible, because South Africa has been trying to get involved in the conflict resolution and/or reconciliation process in Sri Lanka for a while. Others believe that it was President Rajapaksa who wanted to “learn” more about the South African experience of the TRC. Either way, it seems that both presidents have discussed the idea of a TRC in Sri Lanka and currently, the Sri Lankan media suggests what could easily be termed the Sri Lankan Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SLTRC), may be instituted in the near future.

Not Ready

Given the prevailing socio-political realities of the country, one could argue that a South African style TRC could be problematic and most probably will fail, if reconciliation is the true objective of the proposed mechanism. Sri Lanka has been grappling with the idea of reconciliation for almost half a decade since the end of the war in May 2009, with no noticeable result. In fact Sri Lanka has already become a failed case of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, it seems, ethnic communities are further polarized now than before. The primary reason for the failure so far, is that the country is not ready for reconciliation.

Reconciliation essentially is a post-conflict concern. Once basic issues of a conflict are resolved, the parties can focus on repairing the broken relationship, which is crucial to securing the peace achieved through conflict resolution. This is exactly what happened in South Africa, which was a true post-conflict society where the fundamental issues were resolved through peaceful means and the peace agreement produced a win-win situation for both major communities.

Sri Lankan Reality

The Sri Lankan scenario is different. The end of the war resolved the problem of violence; not the conflict. Sri Lanka therefore, is not a post-conflict society. Most of the reconciliation mantras in Sri Lanka are only pretensions and some of them are politically motivated. That’s exactly why they failed to produce greater ethnic harmony. One therefore, can safely argue that any reconciliation mechanism, including a truth commission, introduced without addressing the basic issues of the conflict most probably will fail. Moreover, a truth commission in Sri Lanka at this stage has the danger of sidelining the real issues. The real issue right now is not the “truth.”

Post conflict societies which prefer reconciliation take advantage of different tools available. Naming and shaming, collective amnesia, and affirmative action are some of the other popular tools. South Africa opted for a truth commission largely due to its cultural and religious backdrop. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC) was founded on the Christian notions of confession and forgiveness. Sri Lanka’s culture and traditions are markedly different from that of South Africa. This author feels that at this stage, knowing the horrible details of the conflict and violence will not help heal psychological wounds of the victims. It could in fact exasperate the prevailing animosity.

Even in South Africa, some victims refused to forgive and reconcile after listening to the confessions of the perpetrators. This kind of response could be overwhelming in Sri Lanka. Even after the South African experience there is no concrete evidence to suggest that truth will lead to reconciliation.

Collective Amnesia

It is imperative to note that the victors in Sri Lanka originally preferred collective amnesia as the post conflict method. The government constantly reiterated the need to forget and move forward. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was constituted only to mitigate the international pressure on the question of an international investigation. That’s one reason why the LLRC could not make any positive impacts on ethnic relations. The SLTRC could also suffer the same fate.

Of significance is the fact that it was the “threat of prosecution” that encouraged perpetrators of violence in South Africa to appear before the TRC. Some of these people had the real danger of being prosecuted and punished by the legal system of South Africa. They preferred amnesty in exchange for the truth. In Sri Lanka however, a large number of LTTE cadres have been rehabilitated and released. The presumably hardcore members of the rebels who are still in state custody could be offered an opportunity (or forced) to appear before the SLTRC, if the idea becomes a reality. However, no members of the Sri Lanka armed forces are in danger of facing prosecution. Therefore, it is not clear who will come forward from the South to appear before the commission. This reality could lead to the apprehension that the proposed commission could become a one sided affair which in turn will fuel more ethnic animosity instead of reconciliation.

Clash of Ideology

At this point in time, the SLTRC also looks like an improbable scheme. First and foremost, the very conceptual foundation of the SATRC runs counter to the ideology of the Sri Lankan government. The SATRC was founded on the notion that knowing the fact that all parties to the conflict committed atrocities would promote racial empathy and reconciliation. In Sri Lanka the government believes that it fought sort of a holy war against one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world and in fact it was argued that the Sri Lankan soldier fought the war with an AK-47 in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. A genuine South African style TRC would totally damage this conception.

The present Sri Lankan government has successfully built the image of an unyielding protector of the country and the military. Its leaders have repeatedly declared that they will go to any extent to protect the armed forces. A truth commission on the other hand will force the government to introduce at least a few members of the armed forces to accept responsibility, because blaming the LTTE alone will not bestow any credibility to the proposed commission.

This will not be accepted by the nationalist elements of the Sinhala polity. Especially, in an election year the government cannot take the risk of antagonizing the very heart of its vote bank. Therefore, it is difficult to anticipate actual launching of a Sri Lankan TRC in the near future. It will continue to remain a mere theoretical conception.

Truth Commission of the Victims

However, what is less risky and perhaps could be of value is a truth commission of (or for) the victims. The SATRC accommodated both perpetrators of violence and victims into the TRC process. Selected victims and applicants of amnesty were allowed to make presentation before the Commission. In Sri Lanka, role of the perpetrators of violence in the proposed mechanism could become a real problem. A truth commission of the victims on the other hand may have several advantages.

First, victims from all communities could be invited to give evidence and it is clear from past experiences that all communities will be eager to tell and record their stories. This will easily make the process inclusive. Second, hearing the accounts of horrible violence and consequent humanitarian crisis from the victims themselves has the potential to make a positive psychological impact on the nation, which could in the long run pave the way for national reconciliation. Such a commission could also achieve the very basic objective of a truth commission; promoting the understanding that no community can claim that they are the only victims. Third, this approach will also shift the focus from the perpetrators to the victims.

Sri Lanka after successfully terminating the war moved on to other issues such as development rather quickly without paying adequate attention to the victims of ethnic violence. A truth commission of the victims with a complimenting mechanism for reparation may facilitate personal reconciliation, which could form the foundation of national reconciliation that should follow conflict resolution.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    10

    You are writing your own view.

    In our eyes, LLRC was run by LTTE Tamils for the benefit of LTTE – Tamils and their overseas supporters.

    • 3
      1

      Jim nutty, how is your lady. Is she happy with u…stop u r noncence nutty. Whole world know u nutter and modaya…please stop..

      • 0
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        J Muthu the DONKEY:

        Read what Dr. Narendran Rajasingham has written. I agree with him.

        All LRRCs are for the SELECTIVE TRUTHs.

        IT is to support a certain special interest group such as LTTE Tamils and their supporters.

        That is what the Author needs.

        • 7
          0

          Why argue when Sri Lanka has no impartial justice system, how can the truth come out; let alone reconciliation. Sri Lanka is ruled by liars with criminally inclined courts, police, armed forces etc.

          Truth by impartial investigators has to be imported!

          • 1
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            MaRa regime has always been saying that they want a home grown solution to the ethnic problem.

            How can they now do a U-turn for a TRC imported from South Africa?

        • 0
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          It is your kind that wanted and got selective truths revealed. It is your masters that will move heaven and earth including searching every bag at BIA to try and catch any more videos of the real truths from escaping this country. So shut up and go to hell you lying scoundrel. All your justifications trying to find dirt on everything and everyone reminds me of the mentality of the old SLFP tearing down everything to the lowest common denominator to justify their own policies and actions. There has never been a proper accounting of the blood spilled in this country by different governments. Some day there has to be an accounting or else the blood will continue to be spilled in larger and lager amounts. Violence begets violence and the spiral will go on. This so called peace will not last in this blood soaked island for long.

    • 0
      0

      JimNutty:
      Since when have you got the right to refer to all Sri Lankans as “we?” No one of any decency would want to come within a hundred miles of you.

    • 0
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      In your eyes it looks so. I understand because you are blind. Blind to truth blind to justice blind to law blind to order. Multiple blindness. Very difficult to treat. Then how can you expect to see a view. You are simply imaging things not seeing. Because you are totally blind.

  • 0
    0

    You say here, that South African Truth and Reconciliationw was according to some Christian principles.

    but, read well and see, Mandela wanted to prove that Africans were savages as westerners would think and Africans also had a good culture and he used some Good African principles which Forgave even the enemy.

    You need to read well.

    Talk talk BS, that it was based on Christian principles.

    CRUSADE WARs never thought about forgiving to others.

    Even the POPE PIOUS XII was not cannonaded. that is the Christian kind of Forgiving.

    You know how evangelists forgive home sexuals and how anglicans had done in their history, See how they killed people against them. Tell me why protestants and catholic killed each other for ventures in IReland ?

    • 1
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      @Jimsofty, you are a mad hatter. Angoda might have some medicine for you. You are absolutely nuts. Get some help. Also drag Fartima Fukushima with you. You make a wonderful couple.

  • 0
    2

    What is the truth? Whose truth are we seeking? Is there one truth or many truths? Is truth relative or absolute? Who wants to know the absolute truth?

    Who are our equivalents of Nelson Mandelas , Desmond Tutus and other such giants, in our country on both sides of the communal divide?

    Until we want to know the absolute truth, without a hidden agenda behind it and are reconciled enough to forgive everything, however unpalatable it may be in the process leading up to it, a ‘ Truth and Reconcilation Commission’ will only reveal more of what I would call ‘highly selective and partisan truths’ being currently peddled and hence more rancour. There is no demand for the ‘ absolute truth’ in this country yet. The truth we will tell the future, will only be a foundation for less forgiving, less reconciliation and more rancour!

    Forgiving should be the process that should precede the attempt to find the ‘ TRUTH’. This is a concept that is beyond the comprehension of the ‘ noise makers’ and ‘ trouble makers’ who are the ‘ opinion makers’ in this unfortunate country.
    Those who come forward to tell ‘ The Truth’ will be labeled traitors, crack pots, liars and hypocrites, and in this process many simple folk who are the repositories of the truth will be driven further back into the wilderness.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
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      Are you really ready for the absolute truth? Your master MR might come into some criticism , despite all your lauding that is :)

      • 0
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        Absolutely!

        Dr.RN

    • 0
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      We don’t need Mandelas in Sri lanka but Tamil parties rejected the LLRC and ridiculed it.

      LTTE always rejected any settlement. TNA, the proxy of the LTTE, do the same. They listen to the voice of their masters in the west.

      Sambanthan, Sumanthiran gang go through the back door to get favours for their relatives and friends from the government. TNA never lose their political capital which is the so called Tamil problem.

      Further Lankan problem is not similar to South Africa.

      • 0
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        Mokkan these things are beyond you better keep to your areas of expertise. Mokkan education is very important

      • 0
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        Sinka-Nalam

        never wanted to live in Canada but the slaves of the Brits in Jaffna chased me here.

    • 0
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      Very well said Dr.RN.

  • 3
    4

    Dr Keetha,

    You make some relevant points.

    I agree that the edict of confess and be forgiven worked well for the Christian South Africa. We have no such ethos in Sri Lanka. I doubt the idea of confess and be forgiven will work either for the Tamils or for the Sinhalese.

    However the bigger issue when comparing the South African experience with the situation in Sri Lanka is this – in SA the aggrieved came to power and it is they who forgave the perpetrators of crime (who lost power). Whereas in Sri Lanka the aggrieved are still without power and the perpetrators of crime are still in power. A TRC will go the same way as the LRRC did – nowhere. An independent inquiry under the auspices of the UNHRC will be the only credible way out of the present dilemma for Sri Lanka, methinks.

    • 3
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      “However the bigger issue when comparing the South African experience with the situation in Sri Lanka is this – in SA the aggrieved came to power and it is they who forgave the perpetrators of crime (who lost power). Whereas in Sri Lanka the aggrieved are still without power and the perpetrators of crime are still in power.”

      Exactly. I wanted to make the same point.

  • 0
    1

    The Rajapakse regime, in their congenital prevarication, will play cat and mouse with issues by saying they agree to a T&RC but to be manned by Sri Lankans of their choice. That, as we all know, is a time-wasting non-starter. The ideal location for a real truth finding inquiry will be the UN.

    R. Varathan

  • 0
    0

    The Rajapakse regime, in their congenital prevarication, will play cat and mouse with issues by saying they agree to a T&RC but to be manned by Sri Lankans of their choice. That, as we all know, is a time-wasting non-starter. The ideal location for a real truth finding inquiry will be the UN

    Kettikaran

  • 2
    0

    The situation in Sri Lanka obviously is different to South Africa. Dr Keetha fears or feels that a TRC of the South African type might fail. It is not the type which is important but the essence or the main principles. I remember when the proposal of the LLRC was first mooted at a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prof Pieris argued that it is of the South African type. It was not. However it had its own merits. Likewise, if there is going to be a new TRC, of course mooted to again to circumvent the international pressure that would also be a further step in my opinion. Keetha has expressed that it might exacerbate the animosities. Yes it might, in the short run. But it would be useful in the longer term. We will not find the ‘absolute truth’ in one stroke, even if there is such a thing. What we should seek at best is a progressive approximation. What Keetha has proposed at the end as a ‘Truth Commission of the Victims’ may appear practical. But it might deliver an easy escape route to the regime.

    Reconciliation in Sri Lanka is a process, perhaps a very long one. But any new commission appointed should bring the perpetrators on both sides and not only the victims before it. In addition, there should be a major resolve to punish the blatant perpetrators of human rights and humanitarian law. This is where the international pressure is important (not intervention). The commission could be national and international, perhaps 50-50. It is true that this goes against the basic premises of the present regime. That is what reconciliation needs at this hour.

    • 1
      1

      Laksiri, this essay shows that Keetha does not have enough knowledge in the subject area. He is an Idealist. Nothing new and did not touch any crucial point in this article. But the title is big as PROFESSOR. [Edited out]

  • 1
    0

    Reconciliation must be achieved within the people who live in SL, not by the Diaspora, who wan’t peace as they now perceive it in their adopted homeland. What was good for SA, is not good for us.
    After a 30 year blood bath, one cannot expect reconciliation in 3 years, this process is one that the future (our youth) must take on, because the current leaders are conceited in their views that will never change.
    So my suggestion is to set up a youth council from all walks of life, race and religion to come together and work on what’s important to them and strive towards achieving it. This way they will seek advise from their elders where necessary rather than be told what they need in the future.

  • 0
    0

    a few foreign diaspora donkeys barking does not a conflict make .

  • 1
    2

    “Tamil problem” is the political capital of the Tamil parties. Christian churches support terror in Sri Lanka. All Christian denominations backed LTTE terrorists.

    Tamil grievances always vanish whenever UNP, pro-American party, comes to power.

    Sambandhan was holding National flag with Ranil only but UNP did more damage to the Tamils. LTTE and UNP had honey moon when IPKF arrived to find a final solution.

    We have no parallels with South Africa. Now Sri lanka is needed to the West for their military expansion. They created the LTTE to carve out an area for their military purposes like East Timor under the Christian Churches. That is failed but West is still continue to achive their goals by intimidation and other techniques.

    If Mahinda shows GREEN flag to the West, they will stop all the “Human rights” shoutings. Not only that they help or they send their forces to kill all the Tamils or chase all the Tamils.

    West cannot get a foot hold in Sri lanka peacefully but Tamil fools dont understand the nasty West. India is the main barrier to the Western military expansion in the region. That is why LTTE, the coolie boys of the Catholic Church went against India which was the only nation tried to help the Tamils to live in peace with Sinhalese.

    Peace in Sri lanka is not the subject of the WEST!

    • 1
      2

      Well said Sivananthan.In the last NPC election,Samapnthans said “we will give pain to those who gave us pain”.As long as they are in the thinking of “giving pain”,reconciliation is impossible.

    • 0
      0

      Sinka-Nalam:

      never wanted to live in Canada but the slaves of the Brits in Jaffna chased me here.

      You are living in the West after being chased by the Slaves of the Brits . Are you not grateful that the West has offered you a sanctuary from the Slaves of The Brits. Was you application for Asylum refused by the Brits just Like the War Criminal Karuna.

      According to you peace in Sinhala Lanka is the job of your Boss the Thug MR.
      After March 2014 MR will be waving the White Flag and at least he will not be shot while surrendering .

      So Sinka-Nalam when are you going back to Chilaw to start your Translation Job.

  • 1
    1

    Before finding the truth and false of the last stages of war, Sri Lankan leaders including Rajapakse agreed that Tamils of Sri Lanka have been discriminated and the devolution of power to the North East Region of Sri Lanka is the only way to find a solution to the conflict. Once that is come in to reality both Sinhala and Tamils can enjoy peace and this will give an environment where true reconciliation can succeed.

  • 2
    1

    Keetha,

    The quality of this article is weak. So, I thought to comment on it critically. Since he is a Professor at Salisbury, there should be something new in his writings. One cannot see this in this article.
    My comments for this article follow Ethics of Writings, (Theoretical) Approach and your Subject Knowledge.

    In the very first sentence of this article you have written, ‘completely unexpected outcome’(s). As a so called ‘academic’ and following the ethics of writings, what’s wrong with you if you have started this article as ‘It is to welcome or a positive outcome of the Commonwealth Summit…etc. Your opening sentence clearly shows that you are a Traitor. There are some ethics as an academic for you to follow. If not what is the difference between the writing of the journalists and the academics.
    It is better not to be a pessimistic.

    Further you have failed to follow any approach, such as realism or neo-realism, constructivism…etc to defend your argument. This argument seems more idealistic and with lack of evidence. Eg, you have written under the sub topic, NOT READY, that ‘unfortunately, it seems, ethnic communities are further polarized now than before.’ But you did not give any examples.

    As you rightly said it is not possible to COPY-CUT due to the different nature of both regions. But there may be some sprits that we could follow according to the nature of South Asian culture, society and the politics from South Africa as Prof. Laksiri Fernando (an eminent political scientist in the country) mentioned in his comments. However, your task is here to explain the difficulties in making reconciliation in the country.

    I hope you could remember that during the war period you argued that Swiss-model of federalism should be implemented in SL in order to solve the ethnic problem. This is impossible. I would thank that your present claims in regard to Reconciliation seems that SL is not in a position to implement the system what SA followed directly.

    As a professor at Salisbury University at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, you should address at least, what are the challenges that SL government face in its preparation for Reconciliation or why the SL government not ready for the reconciliation. Because the Delay is very clear and it is mentioned by many.

    You talk about the Truth, but you never explain in the entire article, what you mean by Truth. For the readers this make difficult to understand your claim.

    You have pointed out that Sri Lanka …, is not a post-conflict society. What does it mean? Then what society is Sri Lanka? Is it a post-violence society? There are scholars just telling something new but they are not in a position to prove. Hope you are not one of them.

    • 1
      1

      You UOC whatever,
      Are you a genitor in UOC? This is just a opinion page moron. you and your theory. I know what kind of theories you teach in UOC. Go write definitions to your BS theories from you little well.
      I think Dr. K has a point.

      • 1
        0

        you have to tell the point of Geetha.
        What kind of theories are we using?

    • 1
      2

      I thought the truth commission of the victims is a useful new idea. You did not either read teh article or could not understand.

      • 2
        0

        What did you understand from his article?

    • 1
      2

      UOC LEC,

      Your criticism of Dr Keethaponcalan appears personal and even I feel ‘communalist.’ I am particularly writing this because you have even implicated my name. If it is a genuine academic criticism, you should have written in your actual name without hiding behind a pseudonym. That is the way to conduct academic debates. It is also superficial to say that he should have followed a particular approach! From where did you learn that all articles (in this case, mainly an opinion piece) should follow a particular scheme?

      It is disgraceful for you to call him a ‘Traitor’ just because you don’t agree with his first sentence.

      • 1
        0

        Laksiri,
        Commenting without my actual name does not mean that my comments are neither academically relevant nor I am not a genuine academic but may be not an eminent like you.

        There is a reason why I hide my name. Its because of my security reason. He has a lot of contacts with arm groups. I know Keetha very well since late 1990s. Though both we are from the same religion and the same ethnic group, there is no doubt that he is a communalist.

        If he is a scholar like you, I could comment by revealing my name. But He is not

        I know how much he act against to the other communities (Sinhalese and the Muslims).

        I have implicated your name not in a wrong way. I have mentioned what you have written.

        I did not say that he is Traitor in my comment but from the (pessimistic) way that he started his writing one could assume that he is a traitor. Of course he is a Traitor.

        • 0
          2

          A Sinhala coward trying to hide behind a Tamil name.

          • 1
            0

            Muni,
            Better to comment or respond to my comment rather than talk about me.

  • 0
    0

    Dr Keethapongalan has hit the nail on the head. But stubbornness from either side of the conflicting parties can only distance the two. We need to tread warily since we are fast approaching the crucial UNHRC which will decide our fate for a long time to come.

  • 0
    0

    This is the same Keethaponkalan who [Edited out]
    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 1
    0

    Dr:

    Truth can only be told by Some One who is honest and has nothing to hide.
    MR is a liar and has a lot to hide and that is why he borrowed billions to Bribe, to Clean the Country of any traces of his Crimes.

    “Sri Lanka after successfully terminating the war moved on to other issues such as development rather quickly without paying adequate attention to the victims of ethnic violence. A truth commission of the victims with a complimenting mechanism for reparation may facilitate personal reconciliation, which could form the foundation of national reconciliation that should follow conflict resolution.”

    Accountability is a Pre Requisite in Sri Lanka and everything else is secondary. We cannot move on until the perpetrators are behind bars.
    But a combination of factors have combined to deny us the opportunity of bringing those guilty of the Genocide to Justice but the pendulum is now swinging in our direction .

  • 0
    0

    “Rajapaksa who wanted to “learn” more about the South African experience of the TRC.”

    bloody hell he will be learning for ever ….indefinitely
    the ask more time to learn…

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