By R.M.B Senanayake –
I attended a seminar held at SEDEC by Caritas on the 30th. I went for it because it showed that the government is keen to engage with civil society on the issues spotlighted in the LLRC report. The Keynote speaker was to be Mr. Anura Dissanayake, the Additional Secretary to the President who is the official in charge of implementing the LLRC recommendations. He however did not attend and instead Dr Chandradasa of the Presidential Secretariat addressed the gathering. Dr Chandradasa pointed out that he is a Presidential adviser on a different subject but had come to the rescue of the organizers. He showed slides which displayed the various recommendation of the LLRC Report, how their implementation had been entrusted to different Ministries and progress in the implementation. He promised to make available this document to the participants. He said that the LLRC Report has been translated into Sinhala and Tamil and are posted on the presidential websites www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk and on www.priu.gov.lk. Since the report is valuable to promote reconciliation is it not necessary for it to be printed and distributed to the people? After all the reconciliation requires that the two communities know what happened and what was wrong with the way that the country was then governed.
Reconciliation however is not only a process of implementing a series of administrative actions. It is a process of healing to be administered with all parties first publicly acknowledging their guilt. The LLRC had pointed out that the first step is the collective acknowledgement of guilt and contrition for the suffering we have caused each other, But as Jehan Perera in his speech pointed out the suspicion is remains among those in power that the Tamils are still pursuing their goal of a separate state. A policeman had told him that the Tamil people are still bent on this goal. The only way forward for Reconciliation is to have trust. Suspicion of the worst undermines such trust. The TNA has stated publicly that they do not seek a separate state. Maybe the Government could enter into an Agreement where- in the TNA promises to give up any demand for a separate state in return for the Government devolving power to the Provincial Council of the North under the 13th Amendment and both parties agree to co-operate in running the Provincial Council. The government should abide by its commitment to empower the Provincial Council and allocate resources to it without any discrimination and based on the recommendations of the Finance Commission set up for the purpose. The Government should do so not because of the pressure of the International Community or India but because it believes that the devolution of power is the solution to the problems of language and ethnic discrimination suffered by the Tamil community
But the first priority is to accept the collective guilt for the past sufferings endured by both communities. The Tamil people suffered in 1983 from the failure of the State under President J.R. J to protect them from marauders and the Sinhalese suffered from the terrible atrocities carried out by the LTTE. Both communities and their leaders must accept the guilt. Interestingly Mr. Sumanthiran who responded to the keynote speaker stated that the Tamil National Alliance was not averse to tending a public apology. The LTTE did resort to brutal crimes not only against Sinhalese civilians but also against Tamil leaders and intellectuals like Neelan Tiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Ketheeswaran and many others. The TNA was silent then for fear of the LTTE. But it is time for the TNA to admit that their silence in the face of the savage and brutal killings of the LTTE deserves a public apology from them. Similarly the Sinhalese political leaders of today deserve to acknowledge their predecessors failure to protect the lives of the Tamil civilians who suffered in 1983 and before when they resorted to Sayagraha. Both political parties – the SLFP and the UNP were guilty. Even the British colonial ruler did not resort to the use of State violence against the Satyagrahis in India. So as suggested by the LLRC the leaders of both communities have to tender public apologies- the Sinhalese political and civil society leaders for the injustices perpetrated on the Tamils from 1956 onwards and the Tamil political leaders for the crimes of tithe LTTE. Who will take the initiative? Perhaps the Buddhist hierarchy could as part of an Inter-Religious Council start such a process to draft a collective apology. Perhaps it could even be a joint document prepared by a broad front of Sinhalese political parties and the TNA. Whatever happened in the last stage of the war could be left out since there is no agreement about them. Perhaps the TNA and the Opposition political party groups could get together to work out mutual apologies on behalf of the two communities.
The allegations against the Army during the last stage of the war are denied by the authorities. I as a Sinhalese would like to believe that no such crimes took place. Similarly the Tamils would prefer to believe that such crimes were in fact committed by the Army. Even if we ignore the International Community we still need a credible investigation into the allegations and a domestic Commission with power and credibility may be appointed to determine the truth as suggested by the LLRC which pleaded that they could not do so themselves. The truth must necessarily lie in between what is believed by the Tamils and what is believed by the Sinhalese. Apart from the question of accountability the truth would have to be determined as a necessary pre-condition for reconciliation. Since the LTTE also committed crimes during the war including crimes against the Muslims as a community it is not possible for any party to plead innocence. So after the truth is ascertained there could be an agreed amnesty for all those who committed crimes during the period of the war.
The vexed issue of the amalgamation of the North and East should be dealt only with a Referendum as originally agreed upon. Any further devolution of powers should be reserved for the future to be decided after a study of the experience under the present scheme