By Somapala Gunadheera –
Despite the Government’s seeming nonchalance towards the pending UN investigation into the war crimes, allegedly committed during the Elam War by both sides, no sane person can doubt the dire consequences that this country would have to suffer, in case the overture is mishandled.
A balanced approach to the solution should begin with a consensus on the following parameters:
- Dealing with war crime is a prime duty cast on every civilized nation.
- Such crimes should be dealt with strictly under International Humanitarian law, regardless of personal interests.
- It is the duty of every member of the UN to facilitate investigations.
- The State concerned should be generally in charge of the operations, unless it forfeits that right through proven misconduct.
- In that context, the investigators should be appointed by the State concerned or with its consent, as far as possible
- The appointees should be aboveboard, unbiased and equal to the task.
No one can dispute these presumptions unless that person is ignorant, misguided or pursuing a narrow personal agenda. It is a function of the Ministry of External Affairs to keep itself abreast of these guidelines vigilantly and to ensure that the proposed investigation is properly due and that it is conducted according to established rules, with no avoidable damage to the good name of the country. But has our MEA discharged that responsibility, ever since the last Geneva Resolution was passed? Unfortunately, there has been no sign to indicate that any meaningful action has been taken to live up to that expectation, avoiding embarrassment to the country.
The present imbroglio could have been avoided if prompt action was taken to implement the proposal that the High Commissioner of India made soon after the Resolution was passed. He had said, “We, believe that it is imperative for every country to have the means of addressing human rights violations through robust national mechanisms. The UNHRC’s efforts should therefore be directed towards encouraging and enabling Sri Lanka to investigate all allegations of human rights violations through comprehensive, independent and credible national investigative mechanisms. Sri Lanka should be provided all assistance it requires in a cooperative and collaborative manner. I must also add here that the primary responsibility for protecting human rights lies with national institutions”.
Commenting on this statement, I made the following observation in my article on, “Take the bull by the horns”, published in the Island of April 11, 2014. “A sagacious Government would assume the leadership assigned to it by the Resolution and take the initiative of appointing the Investigating Panel in consultation with the HC/UNHCR. Ideally it should consist of members of international repute, the majority of them, if not all, being representative citizens of Sri Lanka‘’.
What followed was a grim silence. Was the MEA working deftly to exploit the push given by our Big Brother’s representative to take control of the probe? Was it negotiating with the Commission to appoint a Panel that was unbiased and representative? Nothing was heard from Geneva until the HC suddenly announced the appointment of the Panel. In a way, it was not possible to enter into negotiations in the face of the defiant attitude the administration was maintaining at home and abroad. It was the typical “Come for a fight” of the rustic challenger.
Anticipating this scenario, I made this comment in my above article. “Now that the genie has got out of the bottle, the first priority ought to be to put it back before any more damage is done. Bravado and demagogy is not the answer to the problem. The need of the hour is honesty, tact and dexterity. The world order is such that, whatever their own faults may be, the Super Powers will have their way in the end. The brunt of challenging them will have to be borne by the hapless citizenry in the long run.”
Our response to the UN initiative is so mismanaged that we now face the hilarious situation of our Ambassador in Geneva opposing the investigation point blank, while our Government with a two thirds majority in Parliament, is suspending its judgement on issuing visas to the Panel, pending the ruling of the Legislature. The decision of Parliament is a foregone conclusion, even if the entire Opposition were to stand against it.
The question is what predicament will the country face after the ‘foregone conclusion’ is implemented. There is no doubt that in the present acrimonious atmosphere, investigation by a visiting Panel would open a can of worms. That is a contingency that the MEA ought to have taken timely action to prevent. That failure has now resulted in a sticky situation. But shutting out the investigators from our shores will result in them having to depend on the unchecked evidence of dubious and biased witnesses – a repetition of the Darusman scenario. In addition, the country will lose face internationally and be cast in the role of an oppressive regime.
Evidently, we have worked ourselves into a corner and there appears to be no going back. The only alternative may be to devise a way of rearranging the dynamics of our plight to open a new vista that would lead to reconciliation with the UNHRC. The nucleus of such an approach is inherent in the counter resolution of the JVP. That is by deciding to hold a convincing and incisive investigation ourselves, on a strict timeframe. Such a move calls for international acceptance on the Panel and its methods but that status cannot be obtained through make-believe investigators and hide-and-seek methods. If an honest effort is made in this direction and a mutually acceptable Panel is appointed, we may be able to put behind us the snare into which we have worked ourselves through years of inaction and mismanagement.
Other countries in the region have learnt to live with their differences and stolen marches over us while we were preoccupied with incessant, parochial battles. Let us make the UNHCR Resolution a mirror to look at ourselves critically, understand one another’s motivations, correct our wrongs and live in harmony as a united nation. Finding the truth should lead to reconciliation, away from the clutches of foreign interests seeking to make us cat’s paws to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire.