Colombo Telegraph

OHCHR Report & Catch-22 Situation Of The Sinhalese Liberals

By Suraj Dehiwatta

There is no doubt reading through OHCHR report with its detailed findings on human rights violations and violations of international law, would make even the staunchest Sinhala Buddhist nationalist with conscience, to reflect and to be introspective, which was perhaps the reason for somewhat mellowing overtones of that hardcore nationalist, Udaya Gammanpila, as evinced by his interview with Ravaya newspaper last week. But what about Sinhalese moderates, by which I mean not the self-serving vociferous NGO types masquerading as the “Civil Society”, but the ordinary Sinhalese who empathize with the plight of the Tamil people, who believe in an equitable solution to the ethnic problem, who also believes in accountability for the wrongs done to the fellow citizens. It is some of these people who have so far carried the liberal torch in the Sinhala social media sphere, and who have come under intense pressure from Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists who make up the vast majority, just as Tamil communalists and secessionists took lion’s share in the Tamil social media sphere during the civil war and immediate post-war period. Perhaps the dilemma faced by Sinhalese moderates is a reflection of what their Tamil counterparts faced /facing.

The Sinhalese moderates, just like rest of the “South” and arguably Tamils of the North East are beneficiaries of the end of separatist conflict, which was brought about by a huge cost of lives of both civilians and the armed forces. These are same people who had live in constant fear of LTTE bomb attacks or aerial attacks, who were afraid for the lives of their children until they return home safely, who were afraid to use public transport during their daily travel. But to convince their fellow Sinhalese that this is a reflection of what their Tamil fellow citizens were undergoing at the same time, such as the constant fear of aerial bombardment, extrajudicial killings and in the final stages of battle, shell attacks, so far proved futile in a highly ethnically polarized environment. Therefore they are placed in an unenviable position.

The main detractors of the OHCHR report are Sinhala Buddhist Nationalists, with Jathika Chinthanaya lobby being the most vociferous among them. Their argument is OHCHR itself is a tool at the hands of powerful nations of the West who themselves stand accused of far greater crimes against humanity, which are not punished or given the same prominence as Sri Lanka. This sentiment is echoed somewhat by former President Rajapaksha in his statement as well. Further the fact that there cannot be an independent corroboration of witness testimonies, that people living under political asylum in the west might try to exploit the situation by giving an exacerbated picture of what actually took place, cannot be ruled out. Hence despite the accusations leveled, throwing their full weight behind the report would leave them open to accusations of treacherous conduct. The Sinhalese liberals therefore should try to act as a moderating force by attenuating the influence of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist and bridging the divide with Tamil moderates, thereby facilitating true reconciliation. But the situation is increasingly becoming problematic as the pro- Mahinda Opposition try to whip up xenophobic nationalism.

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