30 October, 2020

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Don’t Re-Traumatise The War-Traumatised: Dons

A group of Sri Lankan university academics who took different positions during the war fought between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE have called upon the Sri Lankan government, all political parties, the UN and other international bodies and sponsors of the UNHRC resolution to place the needs and concerns of those who suffered during the war at the forefront of any mechanisms that will be put in place in the future.

Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda

Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda

Sending a letter to the President, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights they said;”This relates not only to their protection, but also that their psychosocial needs and wellbeing should drive the investigation and accountability process.”

“We must also ensure those who have suffered human rights violations do not get ‘re-traumatised’ through this endeavour and that psychosocial support for those who need it is provided before, during and after the process. In this regard we emphasize that what is required is not simply a judicial process or a punitive process of investigation and punishment, but a process that will consider and respond to all the different needs of those who have been affected by the war such as their material, emotional and social protection needs. This means approaching the issue of justice from the broadest possible perspective. We strongly urge all parties involved to desist from efforts to use the suffering and trauma of these people for engaging in political grandstanding. We also urge the Sri Lankan state and the UN to ensure that the process of accountability is made meaningful for the victims of war and not simply as an exercise in image building for any individual, group or organisation.” they further said.

We publish below the letter in full;

To:

H.E President Maithripala Sirisena
Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister
Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Hon. R. Sampanthan, Leader of the Opposition
Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Your Excellency and Honourable Sirs,

SRI LANKAN UNIVERSITY ACADEMICS APPEAL TO THE AUTHORITIES REGARDING THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON SRI LANKA

One of the greatest challenges facing the new government today is that of reconciliation between ethnic and religious communities. This challenge is all the more formidable because ever since the end of the war in 2009 in Sri Lanka, the ideology of the ruling regime reinforced ideas of Sinhala majoritarian supremacy and the suppression of minorities. It is in this context that we need to respond to the recent UN Human Rights Council Report on Sri Lanka and the resolution to which the current government is a co-sponsor.

We, the undersigned, took different positions during the war fought between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. Some of us were opposed to the war, while some of us were of the view that the LTTE had to be defeated militarily. However, whatever our differences on the war, we are of the view that the conduct of the Sri Lankan state after the end of the war and the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009 exacerbated existing ethnic tensions in the country. No war can claim to have been fought cleanly. All wars claim victims and leave losers. The latest UNHRC report documents with strong evidence the human rights violations that occurred during the last stages of the war. Even otherwise, our own observations and experiences provide evidence of the tremendous losses, suffering and trauma to which our fellow citizens, especially in the North and East were subject. The efforts especially by the last regime, to gloss over these losses have been the greatest barrier to national reconciliation. It created a situation where any attempt to acknowledge the loss and trauma of war and violence were depicted as ‘anti-national’, pro-terrorist and unpatriotic. It is time that these notions are once and for all put to rest. The Sri Lankan state which has claimed victory in this war, a war which we must remember was fought against its own citizens and was the result of historical failures in state-building, has an undeniable responsibility to respond to these instances of human rights violations.

We are strongly of the view that it is therefore necessary to acknowledge the loss, suffering and trauma of this war. People who were subjected to human rights violations deserve to have their story heard and acknowledged. It is also noteworthy that this report documents human rights violations also in the South of the country. The grief and loss of those whose rights have been violated cannot simply be ignored or swept aside through the rhetoric of ‘defeating terrorism’ and ‘protecting the sovereignty of the country’. Attempts by certain groups, individuals and the media to portray this report as ‘anti Sri Lanka’ are particularly disturbing since it suggests that some Sri Lankan citizens are less worthy or more expendable than others. It is for this reason that we strongly oppose attempts to undermine investigations into human rights violations during the war and to hold accountable those who were responsible for such violations. We find attempts to frame such interventions as ‘western conspiracies’, attacks on sovereignty and insulting to ‘war heroes’ as particularly damaging towards reconciliation and healing. We would like to draw the attention of everyone, especially those who are resisting current efforts to investigate human rights violations, to Sri Lanka’s international obligations to uphold human rights of all its citizens.

We therefore call upon the Sri Lankan government, all political parties, the UN and other international bodies and sponsors of the UNHRC resolution to place the needs and concerns of those who suffered during the war at the forefront of any mechanisms that will be put in place in the future. This relates not only to their protection, but also that their psychosocial needs and wellbeing should drive the investigation and accountability process. We must also ensure those who have suffered human rights violations do not get ‘re-traumatised’ through this endeavour and that psychosocial support for those who need it is provided before, during and after the process. In this regard we emphasize that what is required is not simply a judicial process or a punitive process of investigation and punishment, but a process that will consider and respond to all the different needs of those who have been affected by the war such as their material, emotional and social protection needs. This means approaching the issue of justice from the broadest possible perspective. We strongly urge all parties involved to desist from efforts to use the suffering and trauma of these people for engaging in political grandstanding. We also urge the Sri Lankan state and the UN to ensure that the process of accountability is made meaningful for the victims of war and not simply as an exercise in image building for any individual, group or organisation.

It is in this context, that we are especially concerned that the process for investigation and accountability that is undertaken is independent and legitimate. Given the serious erosion of judicial independence in Sri Lanka in recent times, we are of the opinion that a purely domestic process cannot ensure justice or inspire confidence especially among the affected people. Neither do we think that the mere presence of international actors can ensure this. We call upon all those responsible to learn from similar processes in countries such as South Africa and Cambodia and to apply those lessons to the processes and institutions that are to be established in Sri Lanka.

We, the undersigned, reiterate that how we deal with the human rights violations during the wars could be the single most meaningful intervention towards the all important and badly needed task of reconciliation, healing and rebuilding our country as one which is truly democratic, inclusive and pluralistic. Without acknowledging our past wrongdoing we will be unable to move forward as a country and society.

Signed
Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda – University of Colombo
Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri – University of Colombo
Dr Neavis Morais – Open University
Dr Mahim Mendis – Open University
Dileepa Witharana – Open University
Dr Harini Amarasuriya – Open University
Dr Harshana Rambukwella – Open University
Dr Farzana Haniffa – University of Colombo
Dr Theodore Fernando – Open University
Prof Gameela Samarasinghe – University of Colombo
N.G.A Karunathilaka – University of Kelaniya
Sithumini Rathnmalala University of Moratuwa
Dr Aboobacker Rameez – South Eastern University
Dr Prabhath Jayasinghe – University of Colombo
Dr Pavithra Kailasapathy – University of Colombo
Dr Jeyasankar Sivagnanam – Eastern University of Sri Lanka
Dr Sengarapillai Arivalzahan – University of Jaffna
Dr Sumathy Sivamohan – University of Peradeniya
Athula Kumara Samarakoon – Open University
Dr Ruwan Weerasinghe – University of Colombo
Dinesha Samararathne – University of Colombo
Upali Pannilage – University of Ruhuna
Dr Janaki Jayawardene – University of Colombo
Dr A.W. Wijeratne – University of Sabaragamuwa
Dr Romola Rassool – University of Kelaniya
Dr Chandrabose Suppiah – Open University
Dr Dinuka Wijethunga – University of Colombo
Dr D.H.S. Maithripala – University of Peradeniya
Dr Kaushalya Perera – University of Kelaniya
Prof Neloufer de Mel – University of Colombo
Dr J. Kennedy – Eastern University of Sri Lanka
Dr Shyamini Hettiarachchi – University of Kelaniya
Chandraguptha Thenuwara – University of Visual and Performing Arts
Dr Jeyaratname Jeyadevan – University of Jaffna
Dr S. Krishnakumar – Open University
Prof Priyan Dias – University of Moratuwa
Dr Ranil D Gunarathne – University of Colombo
Krishantha Fredricks – University of Colombo
Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan – Vavuniya Campus
Ravi de Mel – Open University
S. Selvarajan – University of Jaffna

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