By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Whatever one may think of the LLRC and NORAD reports, it is incontrovertible that two of the three major players in the last stage of the Sri Lankan conflict have undertaken and undergone a preliminary audit of sorts—the Sri Lankan state and the Norwegians– while the third (and the second in importance) has not, and not even thought to. There has been no equivalent from within the Tamil civil society or the ‘Tamil nationalist movement’.
While they continue to raise what each side may feel are legitimate issues and grievances in the soft polemics and manoeuvring between the TNA and the Government over their dialogue and participation in the Parliamentary Select Committee, the TNA’s increasing strident rejection of the LLRC report is altogether another matter of a different order. Distressingly, it permits the discrediting of more moderate and legitimate issues and concerns that the TNA may be raising. Thus the TNA’s ‘rejectionism’ may work to permit the rejection of the TNA as peace partner. Most sadly it forestalls the possibility of a pro-reform coalition of a cross-ethnic, cross-party character, which can support the implementation of the LLRC ‘framework’ (as the report terms it). That framework is a minimum programme for the reconstruction of Sri Lankan consciousness and citizenship along the lines of civic republican nationhood. It is also, arguably, the Sri Lankan reading most congruent with what we may term the Asian reformist or Asian Realist perspective of the Lankan situation.
The TNA has seen the LLRC report’s (alleged) negatives as outweighing the positives. What is particularly noteworthy and lamentable is that regards the absence in the LLRC Report of a call for independent accountability hearings into the last stage of the war and the corporate conduct of the Lankan armed forces (as distinct from inquiries into episodes of excess and criminality) as a lapse that outweighs the Report’s acknowledgement of Tamil grievances, the identification of policy measures that gave rise to them, and the need to redress those grievances fairly (as contained in the segments on ‘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’).
Thus, for the TNA today, the issue of broad-gauge accountability is of a higher priority than the long standing, deep-rooted socio-political grievances of the Tamils. I venture to suggest that had Appapillai Amirthalingam and/or Neelan Tiruchelvam been alive, they would not have rejected but would have constructively engaged with and leveraged the LLRC report.
I wish there were a more delicately diplomatic way of putting this but there isn’t. The call for an international investigation into the last stages of the war by anyone –such the bulk of the Tamil Diaspora, Tamil civil society and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)–who did not and still does not condemn the LTTE’s crimes and atrocities, internal executions and secret prisons, child soldiers and fratricidal murders, terrorism and totalitarianism, is as if most of German society did not criticise the Nazis and Auschwitz even after WW 2 ended, and called instead for an international inquiry into the fire-bombing of Dresden by the Allies!
No such inquiry will be countenanced by any Sri Lankan administration, nor would any Asian administration cooperate with any similar inquiry in their cases. Indeed the advocates of such an inquiry would be hard put to name a single administration anywhere in the world, including in the West, which has or would agree to a similar venture, in the matter of their own wars and armed forces.
Sri Lanka remaining quintessentially a democracy in an increasingly democratic world, it is the untrammelled right of any political party or individual to reject the LLRC report’s conclusion that individual instances of probable crimes and human rights violations should be independently investigated but that there was no evidence of systemic, systematic traducing of international humanitarian law. However, any political party that does so must also balance the exigencies of external or parochial constituency pressure with the larger de-legitimisation that results from crossing such a thick red line, not only of national security and core strategic interest, but of the broad and basic social consensus.
The issue of an international mechanism on accountability for the last stages of the war is the dividing line that defines the mainstream from the fringe, and in a more existential sense, the inner from the outer. It constitutes the perimeter of the polity.
While it is perfectly legitimate to call for such an inquiry, it would be far more correct and realistic to emulate the example of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who represents that institution which has been the most successful in history in the matter of combining the universal with the particular, the global with the national. His Eminence having just provided an example of ‘soft power’ as countervailing force, has pointed to the unfinished tasks of building a durable peace, welcomed the LLRC Report and its potential, and urged its expeditious and determined implementation.
The authentically concerned liberal or progressive reformer, whose motivation is the opening or widening of space and pushing forward of process, rather than of denunciatory posturing, extends a qualified support to the LLRC findings and recommendations, urging a compressed, time bound action plan and monitoring, rather than damning it out of hand and calling instead for an international inquiry.
Those who adopt a rejectionist stance towards the LLRC Report run the risk of reducing their political capital as serious i.e. responsible, moderate peace partners. They also risk the heightening of perception or misperception of themselves as an agency of external, non-Sri Lankan interests in a Cold war against the country. What this activates is a ‘push factor’, which functions contrary to the ‘pull factor’ which must necessarily prevail if political dialogue, ethnic reconciliation and nation-building are to succeed.
What lies at the heart of the difficult dialogue between the TNA and the GoSL? It is a problem within the ‘collective unconscious’ (as Carl Jung would have it) of the two undergirding communities. The Sinhalese for their part must recognise that at least from the 1980s, the ethnic question has been externalised (as repeatedly pointed out at the time by Mervyn de Silva in the Lanka Guardian), and that in the globalised 21st century, which is an Information Age, insisting on the ‘purely internal’ is pure delusion. Similarly, the Tamils must realise that there is a contradiction between on the one hand, their legitimate desire to be treated as equal citizens with an irreducible minimum of political and cultural space, and on the other, to be negotiated with as if they were representatives of another/their own country or a nation recognised by the world community.
It is impossible to urge on the one hand, equal treatment as Sri Lankan citizens, and moderate autonomy as a socio-culturally and historically distinct community calling for a reform of the Sri Lankan state and its policies so as to permit such incorporation, and on the other hand to regard oneself as a proto-state in equal relationship to the Sri Lankan state which is a legitimate political unit in the interstate system.
The Tamils may regard themselves as a nation (hence ‘Tamil National Alliance’) but this is unshared and unlikely to be shared. It is by no means recognised as such within the international community. The Tamils are not even recognised as a non-sovereign nation under foreign/alien/external annexation and occupation. The TNA does not represent a separate polity or political unit equal to the Sri Lankan state. It represents a political sub-unit, a sub-polity, a periphery or a unit which is striving to engage with – and must certainly be engaged by –the much larger part so as to constitute and cohere into a better, more equitable, open and capacious whole.