Sri Lanka rejected calls for an independent probe into war crimes committed during its thirty years civil war. The External Affairs Minister –G.L. Peiris- also said they did not need international policemen to solve internal issues.
The country’s war ended in May 2009 with both Governments’ troops and Tamil Tiger rebels accused of using brutal and inhumane tactics. Efforts of reconciling the country’s culturally diverse population have been made but Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Paris, Dayan Jayatilleka, tells Radio France International’s Rosslyn Hyams they have not been entirely successful.
RH: Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka from Sri Lanka, we are still talking about reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka today. It is still a hot international subject because it seems that there is a struggle in a sense. What do you think is holding back the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka today?
DJ: Well, there is a struggle, you are right. It is been slowed, you may say held back, but slowed, by a number of factors. Firstly, the hangover of mentalities of thirty years of war. So there is a kind of a siege mentality that has yet to be deconstructed and replaced by something else. The second thing is that the Tamil parliamentary party, the Tamil National Alliance, which is in fact the pre-eminent representative of the Tamil people of the North and East, has not yet seen fit to make any kind of criticism of the Tigers and of Mr. Prabhakaran. So there is a perception among the Sinhalese majority that the TNA has not established a clear enough firewall between itself and the secessionist lobbies located mainly in the Tamil Diaspora. Now on the Sinhalese side of course there is hard-line opinion; as you find in any society there are ultranationalists within institutions and within civil society. So I would say the extremes in both ethnic communities, the majority and the minority, are an important factor of obstruction. Nonetheless there is a process of dialogue between the Tamil National Alliance and the Government of Sri Lanka.
RH: Do you not think that the burden is really on the Government? And observers of Sri Lanka are very concerned that if steps to reconciliation are not taken urgently and particularly for example questions of accountability during the thirty years of the war and particularly the last couple of years of the war, war crimes, etc. are not addressed and the government does not provide for institutions that are perceived as viable, credible, open and transparent, if the government does not put this in place, there can be no hope for reconciliation and that there could be a resurgence of violence.
DJ: Well, I think this is really mixing up issues. Sri Lanka has been a democracy, however embattled a democracy, from 1931. As such, the main channel, arena, instrumentality of reconciliation has to be the democratic process, has to be parliament; has to be a dialogue between legitimate political parties. So it will be in the domain of conventional politics. The issues of accountability, war crimes, etc. that is very complicated. If you take Brazil, it is just a few weeks ago that Brazil –which I consider an exemplary progressive democracy- has begun a commission of inquiry on the conduct of the junta which ruled from 1964 to 1988. There is a reason for this. There is a reason why Bangladesh is only now looking into certain atrocities committed thirty years ago. Societies take their own time. There are varying rates of maturation of these issues. And any reopening of who did what to whom, can turn into a virtual slanging match. Reconciliation, I believe, has to be a roundtable between established political parties elected by the people.
RH: Do you not think that the Sri Lankan Government is perhaps dragging its feet in setting up the kind of bodies apart from the first commission they set up which could actually move towards as you say really tackling alleged war crimes later on?
DJ: Well, I cannot think of any society which two years after the successful conclusion of a war over a secessionist or terrorist movement has a full on inquiry into the conduct of its armed forces. Now mind you, I use the word “full on” meaning that the entirety of the conduct of the armed forces during the closing, victorious stages of the war is the subject of inquiry. I do not think that is going to happen and I cannot see any place where it has happened! However, specific incidents and crimes in Sri Lanka have been investigated before and should be investigated. Now that is different. If there is incident A, B, C which can be pointed to — and there are such incidents– I do believe that is perfectly in order and in fact quite necessary for there to be an independent judicial process, a Sri Lankan process, but a judicial process of prosecution.
RH: As you say, Sri Lanka still would not accept any kind of international assistance, advice, guidance or particularly, not an international inquiry?
DJ: Well, all the examples of international support have been in the case of failed States or of transitional justice, meaning a negotiated, externally mediated settlement of an armed conflict. Now that is not the case in Sri Lanka. What you have is an outright military victory by an elected democracy. So I really do not see the need for any international component. I think Sri Lanka will probably handle this its own way and at its own time, whether under this or any other administration.
RH: Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Paris. Thank you very much.