20 April, 2024


Indian Response On South African Mediation In Sri Lanka

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

This is the text of answers to a set of questions raised by the Editor, Political & Defence Journal, a diplomatic journal through e-mail.

1.  What are your views on the South African initiative to mediate between Sri Lankan government and the Tamil minority? South African President Jacob Zuma has appointed Mr Cyril Ramaphosa as its envoy on Sri Lanka and he is due in Sri Lanka next month to take stock of the situation.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Colombo of April 20, President Zuuman told the South African Parliament on February 13 at the request of Sri Lanka Government he was appointing Cyril Ramaphosa as South Africa’s Special Envoy to bring about peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Ramphosa is expected to visit Sri Lanka in May 2014.

Ramaphosa, deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), is probably the ideal man for the job of a mediator. He headed the ANC negotiation team in talks with the National Party government in Pretoria at the end of apartheid regime. He was also the chairman of the South African Constituent Assembly which finalised the post apartheid constitution.  Now he is a potential presidential candidate.

The Sunday Times has also published an interview with R Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the South African mediation issue. At the invitation of South Africa he led a TNA delegation to Pretoria.  He has explained that President Rajapaksa had sought South Africa’s help in resolving the reconciliation process when President Zuma visited Sri Lanka to attend the CHOGM in November 2013. South Africa had invited the TNA delegation as a part of this initiative.

For a long time Sri Lanka had been against any foreign initiative for resolving the Tamil issue, whether it was insurgency or reconciliation. Of course, India had been an exception to this; even Indian involvement had been muted ever since its political and military intervention (1983 to 90) failed to yield expected results. And the Norwegian-led initiative did not fare any better.

Even on the specific issue of South African style of reconciliation, Sri Lanka had shown its reluctance as late as May 2010. According to a BBC report of that period, while answering a question whether the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)’ would be similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella termed it an alien experience. The government would be looking to “an indigenous approach, something home grown” to address the issue of reconciliation and lessons learned in the country’s Eelam conflict, he added.

Sri Lanka had to change its rigid stance after it was repeatedly hauled up before the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) for its flawed ‘indigenous’ approach to human rights violations and accountability. The UNHRC scrutiny had exposed the deficiencies of Sri Lanka’s much touted LLRC process in resolving the issues of accountability and reconciliation. Apparently, this had prompted President Rajapaksa to involve South Africa to in the process in order to gain some credibility.

2. What is the Indian response to this development?

The South African initiative would probably take shape only after Ramphosa’s visit to Colombo next month. So it is too early to talk of Indian response to the initiative. At the same time, India had been stressing the need for resuming the stalled reconciliation process which had been delayed by the negative tactics adopted by President Rajapaksa.  He formed yet another parliamentary select committee (PSC) to make recommendations on the issue. With most of the opposition parties including the TNA boycotting the PSC, its credibility has been eroded even before it finalised its recommendations.

India’s stress had been on resuming the political process for reconciliation and considers the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution fundamental to the process. During the last UNHRC discussion on Sri Lanka, India’s representative Dilip Sinha explained the Indian stand. He said, “… much more needs to be done by the Government of Sri Lanka towards a meaningful devolution of powers. It needs to continue to take specific measures towards broad-based, inclusive, meaningful and genuine reconciliation with the minority Tamil community.” He called upon  on the Sri Lanka Government “to make purposeful efforts to fulfil its commitments, including on the devolution of political authority through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and build upon it….As the closest neighbour with thousands of years of relations with Sri Lanka, we cannot remain untouched by developments in that country.”

India should be happy if South African mediation can bring this about. India has excellent relations with South Africa rooted in their shared history of struggle against colonial masters. They are also active members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) initiative. So India would probably have no objection to South Africa chipping in to trigger the political reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. And we can expect South Africa to keep India in the information loop when it undertakes mediation in Sri Lanka.

On the flip side, strategically South Africa’s entry into Sri Lanka introduces yet another external influence in what used to be India’s sphere of influence. However, the Indian sphere of influence is undergoing rapid change on two counts: the entry of China in South Asia (including India) and the expanding Indian interest in Southeast Asia with the implementation Look East Policy. So we can expect India to take South African involvement in Sri Lanka in its stride.

In any case, a new government is likely to come to power in New Delhi shortly. And India’s Sri Lanka policy is likely to undergo some change at least in form (if not content). So it will be better to watch the situation as it develops rather than speculate about India’s response at this stage.

3. Does India think that Pretoria will succeed where others have failed? 

Answer to this question is in the realm of speculation for reasons given earlier.

South African mediator will be facing a difficult task, if we go by Indian and Norwegian experiences of the past. But unlike them, fortunately South Africa does not have to deal with either Prabhakaran or the LTTE. It has to deal with the TNA, which despite its periodic fulminations, has enough moderate elements who want the reconciliation process to succeed. The same applies to Sri Lanka, though President Rajapaksa seems to have been unduly influenced by the post war triumphalism that is preventing the adoption of a pragmatic approach. He will have to rethink his approach.

Both the government and the TNA will have to move from their frozen mindsets and be prepared to move forward for reconciliation. This is where South Africa is likely to encounter major problems. Apart from this, there are structural issues connected with the reconciliation process.

For instance, if South Africa suggests a solution based upon its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) model it may not be acceptable to Sri Lanka. Mrs Naveneetham Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who had participated in the TRC in South Africa, in her annual report on Human Rights issued released on February 24, 2014, had explained that it would not be “permissible for any truth mechanism to grant amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights, including gender-specific violations.”  Unless Sri Lanka is ready to accept such conditions TRC cannot become a reality.

She has suggested “any such truth commissions should be complemented by comprehensive and coherent transitional justice mechanisms and processes that include prosecution, reparations, vetting and other accountability or reform programmes.”  For achieving productive results, the South Africa mediator will have to cobble up a model that includes some of these major aspects.

Other questions

There are three other questions:

a.       Will Rajapaksa be more sincere in meeting the Tamil aspirations this time as he has failed in the past?

b.       How will India cooperate in this South African initiative because its cooperation is vital for any sort of reconciliation?

c.      Is it a tool of the Sri Lankan president to deflect pressure from the international community after UNHRC vote?

Some of these issues have been partly answered in earlier questions. These questions can be fully and meaningfully answered only after the South African mediator visits Sri Lanka and meets with the stakeholders, and a new Indian government takes charge in New Delhi.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: colhari@yahoo.com   Blog: www.colhariharan.org

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 5

    As master of deceits The president Rajapakse might have sought South African’s help to mislead UNHRC Chief but this time his luck cannot be guaranteed. SA abstained in the last UN HRC resolution but, once, the president’s tricks are surfaced his new tactic may backfire on him.

  • 5

    A.Judging by the unabating political, socio-economic, cultural and environmental oppression of the Northeast (and the overall human rights violations of all spheres of life in the whole country), one can easily say that ”involving South Africa” is a ploy to buy time to carry on macerating the soio-economic-environmental fabric of the Northeast.

    B.1.”Sri Lanka had shown its reluctance as late as May 2010”?
    No, as late as September 2013 when it refused South Africa to have a meeting with some SriLankans in Colombo and hence it was then held in Singapore.

    2.”The South African initiative would probably take shape only after Ramphosa’s visit to Colombo next month” ?
    If the elected NPC is still powerless, South Africa is ”going along” with Sri Lanka unless it lays a condition that South Africa initiative will not even start before the elected NPC is allowed to function as the other elected bodies in the South.

    3.Prabakaran and the LTTE certainly wanted separation. But the Rajapakses have NO intention of letting Tamils have even the most basic life – occupying army is not only blocking farming and fishing but supporting pavement hawkers from the South in large enough number to strangulate the businesses in the North, particularly in Jaffna where the HSZ(6,000+ acres) is also being converted into tourist spot catering a large variety of clientele.

    4.Pl remember the Rajapakses haven’t yet publicly condemned the BBS activities, but continue to comply with their requests, starting with halting Family Planning, going on to establishing special unit in the Police for religious matters, ……
    Nobody needs a lantern to see these ………….

    C.In November 2009 South African Foreign Minister visited Sri Lanka and MenikFarm camp and said ”I visited the IDP camps today and was impressed by what I saw in the camps” at a dinner hosted by the External Affairs Ministry, 11 November 2009 – this is when aid agents and Opposition MPs had restricted access to the camps and ”favourite visitors” were taken to a ”prepared” camp – Sara Sydner(CNN) challenged the President on this in early 2010 at a press meet.

    Whether the South African Foreign Minister misplaced the notes prepared by her research assistants or failed to ask them to research the situation, we don’t know.

    But dear Mr Ramaphosa, please do your homework before you come to Sri Lanka. PLEASE.

  • 4

    R Hariharan needs to consider writing a report on Hindia’s meddling in this island.

    Why did Hindia chose to create LTTE, support, train, arm, and finance it and provide unlimited propaganda for its long term survival?

    Why did Hindia stop short of annihilating LTTE when it invaded this island in 1987? Had Hindia made an sincere effort then, it could have completely avoided destruction in between 1990 and 2009.

    Will the Colonel agree to a War crime investigation that covers the period from 1987 and 1990 during which IPKF perpetrated war crimes in the North East, given that he was the Military Intelligent chief in this island?

    What was Hindia’s direct and indirect role in the war between 2005 and 2009? Surely the Colonel is privy to some off the record briefing.

    Hindia continued to maintain a façade during the war that it was for a negotiated settlement and it would not allow victory either way. Why was Hindia lying to the Tamils?

    Does any of the South Block Chanakya regret for what they did to the entire island, from 1971 to date?

    In case if you have forgotten,let me remind you of Hindia’s part in the destabilisation of this island through LTTE and sundries,
    setting one Tamil group against another,
    IPKF’s war crimes,
    persuading Sri Lanka to take on the LTTE with least regard to the safety of innocent people ……..
    providing political cover for the Sinhala/Buddhist racist state, …………….

    • 1

      Veddha the Hunter crying foul because passa is in the driving seat.

      It’s the islanders who have always gone to a rather troubled India for assistance (good/bad) and also later waving the US/China amigo brand.
      Remember the JVP and assistance given to Sirima government and subsequently letting the very JVP hides there – a repeat of independence forefathers and for ages.

      So India through “affection” does it all for the well being of the
      spice islanders.

      Now you are screaming for assistance- suffer a bit longer please.

      happy hunting veddha talai idi.

  • 3

    Vingeswaran’s glorification of LTTE had its desired result. EPDP carder found dead with throat cut. Tamil diaspora makes its 3rd attempt to revive LTTE (re DBS).

    • 1

      Hey man, don’t quote DBS Jeyaraj any more because he is now a paid mouthpiece of. Rajapaksa. After his first article on the subject people don’t take him or what he says seriously. Many I know no longer read what he writes. The man has been bought over lock, stock and barrel by Rajapaksa. In Sri Lanka today money can buy anybody and that includes journalists who were once fears pillars of independent journalism. DBS is now a running dog of Rajapaksa.

      • 2

        You are a typical ghon demala aren’t you?

        • 1

          The truth is bitter and the real truth cannot be swallowed, thus all the vindictive language of demala etc….you Sinhalese have lost much logic in arguing an issue.

          • 1

            If you read the article you would see TNA also agrees with DBSJ. TNA was shown evidence gathered.

            Its not that I have lost logic. Its just that after a while it becomes tiresome explaining the same things to babies.

        • 0

          Clever response! I envy your ability to rationally argue your point. Well done, mate.

      • 1

        I agree with Piranha…

        I too see a sudden change in DBSJ after his visit to the Island.


    • 0

      Did DBS send flowers to EPDP “cut-throats” family using Dogclass or Raja Inc Credit Card?


  • 2

    When did Sri Lanka ask South Africa to mediate discussions with the TNA.
    Sri Lanka only asked assistance to set up a reconciliation committee similar to that of SA.
    It was the TNA that asked the South African government to mediate and as I understand they have told TNA to participate in the PSC.
    There should be no out side parties involved in a domestic matter.

    • 0

      Know the facts before commenting, my friend. It was Rajapaksa who asked Jacob Zuma to help in organising a Truth & Reconciliation type commission to resolve the war crimes issue in order to avoid a UNHRC investigation. It was Rajapaksa’s cunning plan to avoid being found guilty of war crimes. Now it appears that the TNA is ready and willing to partake in it Rajapaksa is seeing some trap in it. That’s why his unofficial spokesperson “fast until death” fame megamouth, Wimal Weerawansa, is voicing opposition to the TRC. Whatever happens it won’t be long before Rajapaksa’s ass is fried in the electric chair.

  • 1

    Will Hariharan accept “mediation” on the “Kashmir problem”?
    Or,will he voice the ‘official line’ that it is an ‘internal matter’ of India?

  • 0

    There is a school of thought that the reason the United States intervened so decisively in Kosovo was because both belligerents in that conflict were ethnically “white”. There was a sense that unlike in the case of an atrocity in African, the West needed to show leadership in Kosovo. Looking the other way when atrocities were committed against the Kosovo Albanians would have diminished the humanity of all “White” people; it would have made them all look uncivilized. May 2009 was a violent conflict between “brown” people. It is India that should have shown leadership in this conflict. It chose not to intervene and instead looked the other way. As a direct result, the Channel 4 video makes all brown people look inhuman. It makes them all look uncivilized. The Indians can try to distance themselves as much as they want, but the fact remains that the guys pulling the trigger, and the guys getting shot in the back of the head in the Channel 4 video are ethnically indistinguishable from the nations that comprise the Indian Union: the Bengalis, the Marathis, the Punjabis, and the Tamils etc. Isaipriya looks like the quintessential Indian “brown” girl. It is the inaction and unprincipled stance of the Indian government that has allowed the US to fill the void of leadership.
    The next time I hear the cliché that Ceylonese Tamils have an “umbilical cord” attachment to Tamil Nadu I’m going to throw up. If Eelam is born, it will be born attached by an umbilical cord to the US not to Tamil Nadu. The Tamil people don’t need to apologize to anyone for this reality. Of all the nations in South Asian (not “nation states” but “nations”), no one has endured more pain and suffering and war and human loss in the name of freedom than the Ceylonese Tamils. They need to now focus on the Cingular task of survival. If that means asking for the Americans for help, if it means forming an alliance with the Americans, then they don’t need to apologize to the Indians for doing exactly that. It is the complete failure of leadership of the Indian government that has caused the Tamil people to look elsewhere for relief. If that relief comes from the US, then everyone in South Asian needs to understand that the Ceylonese Tamil people will naturally become a loyal ally of America.

  • 1

    Solution to all these problems is dividing India in to different countries and address the political needs of every one concerned. If TamilNAdu separates from India, then all the Tamils have a country.

  • 2

    Hariharan’s article looks very much like a political propaganda for the govt that is going to lose the soon to be federal election.

    Looks like a ploy to bait Tamils.

  • 1


    The South African model is a world away from what we need in Sri Lanka.
    What people experienced in South Africa was not Genocide but years of discrimination. But we what we had in Sri Lanka was mass killings and we cannot have RECONCILIATION before ACCOUNTABILITY and those who are Gulity of Genocide cannot be a part of RECONCILIATION.
    It is too early to talk about Indian Response and we have to wait a new Government to take over with a new set of policies. Not the deception practised by the Corrupt Congress Government.

  • 0

    The South African experiment is one more in the many deceptions Mahinda Rajapakse resorts to in a continuing exercise of calculated
    prevarication. He may think he has fooled the country and the world for a decade – beginning with Tissa Vitharna’s PSC. Vitharna’s sincere and laborious effort, which had many features acceptable to the Tamils, was sabotaged by Rajapakses – placing the JHU in front.
    But once the matter is internationalised, Rajapkses cannot control events. The Libyan lesson and Gadaffi’s removal is a classic example of this. Before outsiders force his hands, it is in his interest to provide all necessary resources and power to Wigneswaren’s NPC to function effectively and forthwith. The lack of it will take the country, once again, towards separation which the TNA is not in favour of. But the more radical elements in Lankan Tamil politics will settle for no less as one can see from the opposition to Wigneswaren from his own Tamil colleagues in the NPC and outside in the Jaffna Peninsula. If the NPC is allowed to function freely and independently much of the heavy pressure on the Rajapakses will abate. Rajapakse can delay Tamils their justice but he cannot forever deny them this.

    R. Varathan

  • 0

    There was reason for India to intervene in the affairs of Sri Lanka. The periodic communal pogroms saw more than 150,000 seeking refuge in Thamil Nadu. This is not a laughing matter. It was a huge burden on the state government. Added to this J.R.Jayawardena turned towards US for military help to deal with insurgency. In turn JRJ was prepared to lease the Trincomalee oil facilities to US, allow US to install and operate Voice of America radio station etc. If a man is seen kissing his wife, the neighbour will look the other way. But if that man beats his wife and she raises cries, the neighbour is bound to intervene to stop the beating. This is the reason why Sri Lanka is on the dock accused of alleged human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is rogue state in the eyes of the international community.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.