By Malinda Seneviratne –
There’s talk of constitutional reform. A lot of talk. There’s talk of what should go in and what should be taken out. People were appointed to gather ‘public opinion’ and the gatherers, as always, represent a particular segment of the entire ideological spectrum. A tiny segment, let’s remember. But since it is ‘public opinion’ that is filtered by panels that are essentially made of people who share such slant, it makes it easier to say ‘this is what the people say (not us)’.
A lot of talk, a lot of experts, a lot of statements about who is going to help draft the constitution but still no draft. Maybe this is why C.V. Wigneswaran has got hot under the collar. See, that’s what happens when you do the sleight of hand number – even those you think are on your side (read ‘federalists’ or ‘separatists’) get edgy. Wigneswaran blurts out his angst thus:
“Accountability for the war crimes allegedly committed in the last phase of Eelam War IV must be established before the Sri Lankan government formulates a new constitution,” he insists. There’s more: “The constitution planned by the government will not be drafted to the Tamils’ satisfaction unless accountability issues were satisfactorily addressed prior to that”. An interesting theory that. As a former judge of the Supreme Court, no less, would know that one does not necessarily follow the other or rather the absence of one does not necessarily imply that the other is doomed (in terms of the outcome that he, Wigneswaran, prefers).
On the other hand, to the extent that Tamil nationalists in general have viewed (erroneously) the state to have some kind of Sinhala-slant and have seen any ‘solution’ that doesn’t deliver all demands as the end result of deceitful intention, Wigneswaran is merely robbing lines from his chauvinistic forefathers. To be expected, one might say. After all, could there ever be any ‘solution’ this side of ‘Eelam’ that would satisfy such people, even if they call themselves ‘moderates’ when they consider Prabhakaran a hero and are loathe to acknowledge the fact that the LTTE is a terrorist organization which killed their ‘moderate’ forefathers?
Strip his ‘concerns’ of Eelamist baggage and Wigneswaran actually has a point, i.e. on the issue of ‘satisfaction’ and not ‘accountability’ and certainly not about the whether or not part of it which is all about conjecture.
First, let’s talk accountability (‘again’ I should add, for it is a word that is tossed around a lot and in extremely careless ways). There’s a key term that the likes of Wigneswaran interject into the ‘accountability discourse’: last phase (of the Eelam War IV). If human rights godfathers and godmothers were to time-travel back to the eighties and nineties (but especially the eighties), enter ‘defencee briefings’ during the tenures of J.R. Jayewardena, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga, they would be horrified. Well, the truth is that they already know about all that. But if we are talking about accountability, then all crimes against humanity, all extra-judicial killings, each and every case of abduction and torture should be investigated. For example, the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam (how about say a fraction of the zeal demonstrated to find Lasantha Wickramatunga’s or Thajudeen’s killers being shown in finding the Tamil Congress leader’s murderers?).
Even if we were to leave aside such ‘random’ cases (and we should not, by the way) there were ‘general instructions’ that were given to commanding officers at every level of the military apparatus. There are probably many senior military officers still in service (and other retired but still alive) who could speak of that time and how things were done. A lot of people died. Are their lives less important than those who died in the ‘last stages’? Should not those responsible for designing the counter-terrorism measures adopted by the respective governments be held accountable? Or else, is it a case of crimes committed more than, say, 10 years ago worthy only of footnoting or les? Well, if that’s the case then all that anyone scared of ‘investigation’ should do is to ensure that things get dragged for another three years. That’s how justice works?
No. That’s wrong. We are talking about a 34 year long war (from the killing of Mayor Duraiappah to the elimination of the LTTE’s leadership in May 2009). Even if Wigneswaran is only bothered about those who were killed in the hostage rescue operation carried out in 2009, the larger interests of justice are not served by limiting investigation into a particular time-slice. Neither would it be served by an accountability discourse that appears to be fixated on fixing a single party in a war where multiple forces were engaged in.
So it cannot be only Wigneswaran that wants ‘accountability’. I, for one, wants accountability issues addressed with respect to all war crimes committed by all war criminals, including assassinations and including the 1988-89 ‘bheeshanaya’ (Period of Terror) and including the operations of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. I could say ‘do that before you talk about constitutional reform’. Maybe I should, considering the machinations of a motley crowd of federalists who suffer from Sinhala-phobia and are anti-Buddhist that are in the thick of stirring this reform soup!
Now for ‘satisfaction.’ What on earth made Wigneswaran think that constitutional reform is nothing more or nothing less than an exercise to satisfy ‘Tamils’ as per his own longings? Constitutional reform cannot be reduced to satisfying the aspirations of anyone at the cost of robbing anyone else. It cannot be an exercise where land theft is legalized in the name of ‘reconciliation’. It cannot be an effort to paint myth as fact or history. Outside of all this, which is the language of separation, constitutional reform has to be about democracy and therefore addressing issues of representation and accountability. Giving Wigneswaran several pounds of flesh just to satisfy his chauvinistic greed will not yield political stability. It will not yield reconciliation. It will not only neglect serious flaws that have little to do with communal angst, it will certainly fail to satisfy other communities. Trying reconciliation after that!
There have been two occasions when Governments thrust amendments down the people’s throats, once at the behest of the island’s historical enemy, India (The Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987) and once by a leader who sought to rule until death (the 18th Amendment). The first saw anarchy unleashed. The second was overturned through an election. If there’s a rush this time by a minority of leaders suffering from ignorance about history and other hang-ups (evidenced by anti-Buddhist, anti-Sinhala sentiment) to satisfy communalists such as Wigneswaran, it is 88-89 that could get repeated, not January 8, 2015.
Satisfaction. Yes, that’s important. It has an antonym. Several in fact. Disappoint. Dismay. Disillusion. All of these can slip into something more than a knitting of eyebrows or a sign of resignation. Wigneswaran and the Tamils in this country have a say and they need to be listened to. Their proposals must be taken up and assessed on several counts including the true dimensions of grievances and the relevance of ‘solution’ to stated ‘problem’. They don’t, however, make up the entirety of the population. That cannot be ignored either. Just like accountability, satisfaction annot be cut into convenient slices and dished out selectively. Does not yield peace or reconciliation. Anarchy, though, could be expected.
*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: malindasene. Blog: malindawords.blogspot.com.