By Izeth Hussain –
George Rupesinghe(GR) in his letter in the Island of October 13 makes two points of great importance on which clarifications are necessary. The first point is that the US has been pushing its geopolitical interests through the UNHRC. It seems to me, on the contrary, that India was the prime player behind the UNHRC Resolution, and that the US acted as India’s partner to push primarily India’s interests and not those of the US. The premise behind my thinking is that all the great powers would concede that Sri Lanka belongs to India’s sphere of influence. A further factor of importance is that after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the US has been trying to build up a special relationship with India, the main purpose of which is to contain China. A further factor of importance for the future is that Russian intervention over Syria probably signals that Russia now wants to play a role in international relations that befits a great power. Here we must bear in mind that the very special relationship that India built up with the Soviet Union has continued with the successor state of Russia – at least such was my impression during my spell of service in Moscow from 1995 to 1998. The US and the Western powers could have anxieties that India could play a central role in a new power configuration in Eurasia. For such reasons it seems to me inconceivable that the US engineered the UNHRC Resolution without regard to India’s interests. My guess is that those interests were of primary importance.
The second point made by GR, on which I want to concentrate in this article, is that in focusing on the final stage of the war the UNHRC Resolution conveniently ignores all the horrors perpetrated by the LTTE in the past. This fact, he points out, is not lost on the majority of the people, and he concludes eloquently: “If ALL the crimes, by all the parties, including India, are not fully investigated, one thing is certain: this tumour of deliberate injustice will grow into a cancer that will wreck community relations in Sri Lanka beyond repair”. GR is here articulating a view that is probably held widely, and passionately, by the majority of the Sinhalese. Before commenting on it I want to make a clarification. The war crimes investigations proposed cover the period 2002 to 2009. They would cover therefore two of the greatest horrors perpetrated by the LTTE: the forcible recruitment of child soldiers, and what seems to me the historically unparalleled horror of using no less than 330,000 Tamils as human shields, arguably a feat worthy of Adolph Hitler. So it would appear that the principle of equity has not been forgotten. But the problem is that the LTTE leaders who perpetrated those horrors are safely dead and therefore it would be only those regarded as war heroes by the Sinhalese who would be arraigned for war crimes. That certainly would reek of injustice. It would not be quite the best way of promoting reconciliation.
I must declare that I myself was for long opposed to war crimes investigations at the present stage. It seemed to me that the processes involved would be deeply divisive and run counter to the process of truth and reconciliation, to which priority should be given, postponing war crimes investigations to a later stage. The assumption there was that reconciliation is possible at the present stage, an assumption based on a false analogy with what happened over apartheid South Africa. There the white South Africans recognized and acknowledged that they had been in the wrong in practicing apartheid, and therefore the whites and the blacks were in total agreement over the fundamentals. Here neither the Sinhalese nor the Tamils will acknowledge, or even recognize, that they have been in the wrong except to a marginal extent. The basis for a process of truth and reconciliation as in South Africa quite simply does not exist in Sri Lanka at the present stage. Reconciliation here will require a process of long duration which has to be preceded by two essentials: a political solution to the ethnic problem and a fully functioning democracy as in the West, under which the Tamils could come to feel that they are assured of fair and equal treatment on an enduring basis. Consequently action over war crimes should not be postponed to the indefinite future. It should be made part of the long and difficult process of reconciliation.
So there is a case for investigating war crimes now. But what might be done about what appears to be the grotesquely invidious treatment to which the Sinhalese are to be subjected under the UNHRC Resolution, which GR believes will wreck our ethnic relations for the future? My answer would be two-fold. First of all we must recognize that there is no viable alternative to implementing the Resolution. The alternative would almost certainly be the imposition of sanctions by the US and the EU, the consequences of which would hit the common people hard, and the consequences of that are incalculable – something that we had better not risk in the national interest. In my last article I pointed to two incontrovertible facts. A refusal to take action over crime would mean that ours is to that extent a quasi savage society. A refusal to take action over crimes against the Tamils would be tantamount to the establishment of a case for Eelam.
Above all, we must look at this problem from a commonsense point of view. What after all do the US and other members of the international community require of us? It is simply that we take action over what are regarded as crimes under international humanitarian law. I regard the Darusman Report to be a deeply flawed document, and that the dead in the final stage of the war amounted to around 7,000 rather than the absurdly exaggerated figure of 40,000. But we can surely assume that war crimes would have been perpetrated and a prima facie case does exist for investigations to be carried out. The Resolution may be discreditable to the last Government but not to the present one, and above all, in so far as it requires action against crime, it is resoundingly a people-friendly Resolution. We must therefore apply it as fully as possible in the interest of the Sri Lankan people.
But what about the crimes committed in the period before 2002? I believe that that is something that we must handle at an entirely domestic level, keeping the international community at bay. Dealing with the crimes of the past should be seen as part of a nation-building process, and a nation can be built only by the peoples who are to constitute that nation, not by foreigners. We did have a Sri Lankan nation for some years after Independence, but it became increasingly a Sinhalese nation with the minorities being in Sri Lanka but not of it. The cost of having a Sinhalese nation in a multi-ethnic Sri Lanka has been very terrible: a 26-year civil war which has left a 100,000 dead. Worse could well follow unless we now get down in earnest to building a Sri Lankan nation. For that there has to be accountability for crimes committed by the Sinhalese and by the Tamils as well. .But what about our third ethnic group, the Muslims? I must confess, alas, that we too have contributed in no small measure to the Sri Lankan tragedy by siding consistently with the Sinhalese racists in all their egregious idiocies.