By Dayan Jayatilleka –
In a shocking example of “backsliding” that goes well beyond that which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the Government of Sri Lanka, the official 30-page response of the Government to High Commissioner’s Michelle Bachelet’s report on Sri Lanka, completely abandons, contradicts and denounces the diagnosis in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) Commission, headed by former Attorney-General CR de Silva, and appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
On page 3 of the GoSL response, in a section entitled “II. Opinions on “Context and Significance of resolution 31/1”, the Government angrily rebuts the diagnostic definition in the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s Report about the backstory of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. The relevant segment of the Government’s rebuttal reads as follows:
(i) The GoSL rejects the assertion in paragraph 7 of the report that “Sri Lanka’s armed conflict grew out of progressively deepening discrimination and marginalization of the country’s minorities, particularly the Tamils”. It is also incorrect to insinuate that the conflict affected only certain sections of the population, which is a blatant violation of the Principle of Non-Selectivity. Some of the issues confronted by Sri Lankans are colonial legacies and the divide and rule policy adopted…
(iii) Further, the UNSG’s Special Representatives on Children and Armed Conflict and the Working Group of the UN Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict had recorded that the LTTE had used Tamil children as combatants. Any attempt to attribute the war waged by the LTTE to alleged “discrimination and marginalization” of Tamils, therefore, should only be perceived as an attempt to justify and legitimize the ruthless terrorism unleashed by the LTTE on the people of Sri Lanka including the Tamils themselves.” (p3)
The GoSL therefore clearly rejects, with very considerable vehemence, the assertion that “Sri Lanka’s armed conflict grew out of progressively deepening discrimination and marginalization of the country’s minorities, particularly the Tamils”. (ibid)
The Government goes on to denounce any such assertion as a justification of the LTTE’s terrorism: “Any attempt to attribute the war waged by the LTTE to alleged “discrimination and marginalization” of Tamils, therefore, should only be perceived as an attempt to justify and legitimize the ruthless terrorism unleashed by the LTTE…” (ibid)
This rebuttal makes absolutely clear that the Government of Sri Lanka currently rejects any attempt to understand, interpret and/or contextualize Sri Lanka’s armed conflict as arising from or having anything to do with “discrimination and marginalization of minorities, particularly the Tamils.”
The alternative explanation proffered by the Government is that “Some of the issues confronted by Sri Lankans are colonial legacies and the divide and rule policy adopted…”. (ibid)
Is this the view of the government as a whole, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa or it is an imposition of the view of the hardliner, ultra-nationalist Gotabaya Presidency upon the Government? Or has the Government converted to the view of the ruler?
This is a vital question because the stand taken in this official GoSL response to the UN High Commissioner’s report is in complete contradiction to the perspective on the origin of the conflict as expounded in the LLRC Report, which the Government still mentions.
The LLRC Report cut like a surgeon’s knife through the old questions as to what the grievances of the Tamil community are, which of them are genuine and legitimate, and how they differ from the grievances of the Sinhala community. This was done in excellent segments entitled ‘Grievances of the Tamil Community’ ‘The Historical Background relating to Majority-Minority relationships in Sri Lanka’ and ‘The Different Phases in the Narrative of Tamil Grievances’ (pp291-294, 369-370).
The LLRC Report is notable for its clear and unambiguous identification of the causes of the Sri Lankan conflict and crisis, the resolution of which remains the central challenge before the country. The LLRC Report undertook a diagnosis and provided a prescription:
“The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people. The country may not have been confronted with a violent separatist agenda, if the political consensus at the time of independence had been sustained and if policies had been implemented to build up and strengthen the confidence of the minorities around the system which had gained a reasonable measure of acceptance. A political solution is imperative to address the causes of the conflict…” (p 291, articles 8.150, 8.151)
The Gotabaya regime has not merely disowned this enlightened perspective of the LLRC while paying lip-service to the Report, it has gone as far as to denounce this diagnosis as justificatory of LTTE terrorism!
This is “backsliding” of the most drastic sort. All the Lessons Learnt by the state and society through decades of conflict have now been unlearnt by the Gotabaya regime.
Given this Great Retrogression to the discourse of the early 1980s, which is less excusable than in the early 1980s because the country has gone through the collective experience and had reflected on its causes—as evidenced by the LLRC Report– it is only natural that there arise fears of a possible recurrence of the cycle of conflict and suffering in Sri Lanka. Those fears and warnings are credible, and therefore also the efforts to prevent recurrence.