14 October, 2019

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The Flawed Western Approach To Reconciliation

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Reconciliation is a process where former adversaries in a conflict or war come together and forge new relations after the conflict has been ended. Sri Lanka’s ethnic war was terminated by military means in 2009. The Western world, including the United States of America, was involved in the conflict as well as the peace process. However, when the government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to mount an all-out attack on the LTTE to finish it off, most of the Western states either tacitly supported the war efforts or remained silent. They preferred termination of the rebels. Such an attitude, they believed, would facilitate resolution of the ethnic conflict and also would help them to remain relevant in Sri Lanka. Both did not happen as Rajapaksa government refused to address political concerns of the Tamils and leaned drastically towards a block consisting of China, Russia and Iran.

Resolutions

Consequently, sponsored by some of the leading Western states, a series of resolutions were adopted in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) since 2012. The resolutions essentially, demanded a credible investigation, preferably an international one, into allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. The Western states that supported these resolutions maintain that a mechanism to investigate alleged violations was recommended, only to promote “reconciliation and accountability” in Sri Lanka. These states are fervently focused on the investigative mechanism and believe that a credible investigation will bring reconciliation to this divided society. Since, they do not have other proposals or projects for reconciliation, one has to assume that these states believe that an investigation leading to prosecution alone would facilitate reconciliation. This is exactly why the push for an investigation as a sole means to reconciliation could be illustrated as a flawed approach.

Investigation

West has been investing on an impossible or a highly unlikely project. There is absolutely no possibility for an international investigation in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala majority community, which has the capacity to make and unmake governments believes that suggestions for an international investigation are conspiracies of the West, undertaken on behalf of the Tamil Diaspora or the “Eelamists” against the people of Sri Lanka. Therefore, they would resist an international investigation at any cost and there has been a general consensus about this within the community. The previous government headed by Rajapaksa, obviously, was openly opposed to this idea. Even the present government would not dare entertain this proposal. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was unseated in 2004 primarily because the peace process he spearheaded was seen as anti-national.

With the coming to power of the present government this year, the U.S and its allies in the UNHRC have watered down their demand and now talk about a domestic mechanism with international assistance. At this point in time, a domestic mechanism seems feasible if the West can persist beyond November 2016. However, a domestic mechanism that would lead to prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations seems remote. The Sinhala community would not allow the prosecution of their heroes including political figures who provided leadership to the war efforts. Therefore, the proposed mechanism is unlikely to deliver justice.

The investigative mechanism has also been conceived as an instrument of truth. The proposed investigative mechanism is expected to serve as a South African style truth commission. Theoretically, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that truth would lead to reconciliation. The South African experience indicates mixed results. Not every victim was ready to forgive after listening to narratives of violence perpetrated. In Sri Lanka, knowing the “truth” most probably would exacerbate ethnic divisions because some of the worst atrocities have been committed against all ethnic communities. Therefore, if properly implemented the proposed mechanism could serve as a tool for justice, but not as a mechanism for reconciliation. The Tamil attitude towards the proposed investigation could reinforce this argument.

Tamil Attitude

Despite the overwhelming resistance from the Sinhala community, the Sri Lankan Tamils have been pushing for the (international) investigation. Meanwhile, the Tamils, in the last six years have demonstrated almost zero interest in reconciliation. Their political leadership has not undertaken any serious actions to promote reconciliation. Then, why are they backing the idea of an international investigation? Obviously, they view it as an opportunity to punish members of the armed forces and policy makers who were involved in the last phase of the war. They would not be keen on the investigation if they believe that the proposed mechanism will promote reconciliation.

Conflict Resolution

The fundamental reason why the present Western approach to reconciliation in Sri Lanka is flawed is that it treats the present situation in the country as post-conflict; not as post-war. However, the reality is that the problem of violence has been terminated while the socio-political issues that have paved the way for the conflict remain the same. For example, the Tamils started to fight demanding regional autonomy. The problem of devolution of power always remained the cornerstone of the conflict. This issue has not been adequately addressed so far. The Sinhala fear and suspicions of the Tamils also remain intact. The question is, can ethnic groups reconcile and forge new relations when their basic problems remain unresolved? The answer is a firm no. Therefore, any meaningful project for reconciliation in Sri Lanka should primarily deal with socio-political problems that led to the conflict. Truth commissions and investigations should be introduced as supplementary mechanisms, because they alone will not promote reconciliation; not only in Sri Lanka, but anywhere else in the world.

*Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland.

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  • 3
    2

    The Flawed Western Approach To Reconciliation

    It is quite true that did not like a reconciliation, that completely ignores the
    1. Socio Political demands, 2. a process that dismantles the impunity to the defense forces that possess eminent threat to life in the future as well, and 3 proper redress for the lose livelihood and lifetime earnings through various means during the physical war for thirty years.
    Any reconciliation that did not satisfy the war devastated victims is bound to fail!

    • 2
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      Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

      RE: The Flawed Western Approach To Reconciliation

      Look at their track record in the Middle East after the Picot-Sykes agreement between France and England in 1914, and thee were bombs in Paris Last week.

      So, do you want to give the Reconciliation “Contract” to the Crooks from the West?

      Sykes–Picot Agreement

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sykes%E2%80%93Picot_Agreement

      The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France,[1] with the assent of Russia, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The negotiation of the treaty occurred between November 1915 and March 1916.[2] The agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916.[3]

      The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence.[4] An “international administration” was proposed for Palestine.[5] The terms were negotiated by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and Briton Sir Mark Sykes. The Russian Tsarist government was a minor party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, and when, following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the agreement, “the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted.”[6]

  • 3
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    “West has been investing on an impossible or a highly unlikely project. There is absolutely no possibility for an international investigation in Sri Lanka. undertaken on behalf of the Tamil Diaspora or the “Eelamists” against the people of Sri Lanka. Therefore, they would resist an international investigation at any cost and there has been a general consensus about this within the community.”

    Wow so Sri Lanka doesn’t have to abide by the international laws and protocols it has signed up to, to enable it to trade freely with the rest of the World, thus enabling it to pay its extortionate loans to China!

    “The Sinhala majority community, which has the capacity to make and unmake governments believes that suggestions for an international investigation are conspiracies of the West”,

    This is very true the Sinhalese can make or break Governments of their own Country.
    However this idea only works on the premise that the rest of the World gives a flying toss about what the Sinhalese community wants!

    The powerful nations in the western world might well conclude that they are sick of this playground bullying tactic. With the majority Sinhalese bully’s dictating what they want just because they come from the biggest gang in the playground of the dumb.

    The International community might well just decide that Sri Lanka is an insignificant dot at the bottom of India. And as long as they have Diego Garcia then they can put two fingers up to the Sinhalese majority and refuse to trade with them. In other words if the USA and Europe want too. they can bankrupt this Country in six months.

    Yes the ultra nationalist ostriches that we so love will go on fasts unto death sustained by Lemon puffs outside the US embassy.
    Do we really think that the US gives a hoot about a thicko Sinhalese politician starving himself to death. The staff in the US embassy must be laughing their socks off at us.

    Make no mistake if we put two fingers up to the International Community and tell them that we only like International laws that suit us, then we are headed for an incredibly dark future.

    The Western World is Financially broke, but still by far the biggest players in town and they are quickly getting fed up of 3rd World Countries who think they can dictate to them. Don’t be surprised if some Countries refuse to do business with some 3rd World Banana Republics who talk big but have an incredibly weak economic punch.

  • 1
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    Correction Please,

    It is quite true that Tamil people did not like a reconciliation, that completely ignores the
    1. Socio Political demands,
    2. a process that dismantles the impunity to the defense forces that possess eminent threat to life in the future as well, and
    3 proper redress for the lose livelihood and lifetime earnings through various means during the physical war for thirty years.
    Any reconciliation that did not satisfy the war devastated victims is bound to fail!

  • 3
    4

    I read through the article patiently until I came across the following flagrant untruths.

    * The Tamil political leadership would not be keen on the investigation if they believe that the proposed mechanism will promote reconciliation.

    * Tamils started to fight demanding regional autonomy.

    These allegations are baseless, and hence, are ridiculous.

    Rebuttal to these arbitrary pronouncements will require an article, by itself. I neither have the energy nor the desire to do it.

    Let me just sketch a faint picture.

    1) Any political leadership, to be relevant, must reflect the mind of its people. It is the people, not their political leaders, who bear the scars of the institutionalised atrocities perpetuated upon them,

    The people do not believe that the government is sincere or serious about addressing their festering wounds or maddening grievances. The call for an investigation is to arrive at a just solution. Will investigation lead to justice? There is no chance for reconciliation without justice.

    2) The demand for regional autonomy followed only when series of demands for fair and equitable treatment were continuously pooh-poohed.

  • 6
    2

    The Russians started eliminating the terrorists of all hues and colours in Syria two months ago, and Cameron’s response was that it would prolong the conflict. Russia accomplished in one week what NATO had failed to do in a year. Later he demanded that Russia ‘falls behind’ the NATO effort at ‘containing’ ISIS, to which there was no Russian response. After the atrocity in Paris, France which had been bombing ISIS for two months, Cameron wants to join in too, seeing a political opportunity.

    Yet, the fact that Cameron and his FM Wm Hague were cheerleaders for the foreign terrorists who were sent to Syria gets no mention in the MSM. This ofcourse is the very same Cameron who did his grandstanding for the Tamil terrorists at CHOGM in Colombo. How his perceptions have done a complete U-turn over such a short period exposes the man’s duplicitous nature, even more than his obvious ignorance.

    • 4
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      What you write is correct, but it’s possible that David Cameron, the UK prime minister, now realises that he made a complete fool of himself 2 years ago in Sri Lanka by seeming to make apologies for Tamil Tiger terrorists. Important sections of the British press pointed that out at the time, especially when the widows of the dead terrorists began referring to Cameron as a “god” who was helping them.

      • 2
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        The Sri Lankans deserve an apology at the very least from Cameron.
        The people who produced UNHRC reports till earlier this year were led by such thinking. Yet today, when Europeans get eliminated by terrorists’ bombs (by terrorists they funded, trained, and armed – the so called good good terrorists now gone rogue) their tune changes.
        The MSM is today part of the problem, acting as propagandists for the blood-thirsty politicians and their military machines.

        • 1
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          You may be waiting some time for that apology judging by the comments of the recent UNWGIED (UN working group on enforce disappearances) visit.

          • 0
            0

            You are right, but then we are NOT dealing with people who even though they refer to each other as Hon. and Rt Hon. know the meaning of the word. Exposure of the exploits with the pig in his undergraduate days don’t help either.

  • 4
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    What reconciliation is this guy talking about? It appears that he has not grasped the meaning of this word!
    A Tamil terrorist group LTTE waged a terror war against the people and the GOSL. The GOSL wiped them out which took them 30 years. Now, with whom does this guy wants the GOSL to reconcile with? It should be only with the LTTE terrorists because no innocent Tamil civilians had anything to do with this war.
    If he wants reconciliation he should bring out the hiding tigers and tiger supporters who funded this terror war so that the GOSL can reconcile with them.

    • 8
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      You Nuisance and Keethapongalan have grossly underestimated the GOSL of its Capabilities of constructing various means for permanent Subjugation of Minorities.
      State deploying Army against peaceful protest is – State Terrorism. State responding to a Reaction of State terrorism is counter terrorism, a legal eligibility that has been constructed for a war.

      The total failure of a Sovereign State, upon the entrusted responsibility of ensuring safety of its entire population, by a program of constructing war against minorities who also integral part of the same Sovereign State. Therefore Responsible GOSL have to seek and search for truthfulness and truth as answers only, for all the following questions, as means for
      Reconciliation Mechanism with innocent Tamil Civics, not their leaders.

      1. Apart from natural disasters, how many times you will force your country men as refugees?

      2. How long you will force your country men as refugees once you have forced as refugees?
      3. The prime objective of the Defense forces and the Police forces should be to ensure the people a peaceful life whoever it may be, have they done it for the embracing satisfaction of minorities since independence?
      4. Why on the earth the Sovereign State failed to arrest V. Prabaharan, as soon as he shot killed the Mayor of Jaffna instantaneously at Ponnalai Varatharaja Perumal Temple?
      5. He was hosted by the Appapillai Amirthaligham with the toast of hoppers the same night, closest Police Station Chankanai functioning only 4km away from that residence, and there was a navy camp 8km away at Karainagar, why those had been installed there just only for “wholesome” subjection of people; wasn’t it for a scheming, knowing that V. Prabaharan was on a wanted list some other offenses earlier as well, A. Amirthaligham was not a MP then and there is no question about any special privileges, no action was taken
      6. In 1977 Veluppilai Prabaharan and his accomplices ambushed a radio-car with few CID officers at the same farm, in close proximity to Thalldi Army Camp, Mannar one of the biggest then existed. But when Compatriot Parliament Members, were organizing a Nonviolent Satyagraha in 1962 in protest of Sinhala only bill against the Sinhala colonization and other grievances on behalf of the people they were representing for their legitimate rights of language and equality, army was deployed and harassment, robing, and looting were made order of the day.
      Why such an action was not taken to avert a relatively higher catastrophe on the above 4, 5 & 6?

      An absolute failure of the Sovereign State in all 3 instances, in 1962, 1976 and 1977 how? Search for truth – Action not taken is not an action at all for a Sovereign State
      Wasn’t the State became inferior to the collaboration of Prabaharan and Amirthaligham by failing to enforce the law at an appropriate time so as to prevent the incoming catastrophe and miseries and save the people from it?
      7. You all refer and talk about Sovereign State and Sovereignty of State when demanded or recommended international expertise to inquire into all Human Rights Violations – but when India wanted to halt the Operation Liberation, in 1987 The Sinhala state without any objection, that is you all just surrendered putting your tails under the legs, which is otherwise always raises whenever a Tamil issue is raised. Isn’t it that Sovereignty of the Nation is immaterial for the Sinhala State whenever there arise an opportunity to torture, rape harass and kill the Tamils by a foreign force?
      8. Why on the earth you all failed to arrest or shoot down V. Prabaharan before meekly submitting to India, letting lose a criminal as savior of Tamils, for the 3rd time,
      9. Isn’t it that amounts to abandoning the responsibility of national security of minority public? Wasn’t it endangered the entire population as well.
      Then Tamils and Muslims, I mean the public, not their leaders, require a different defense system and a separate police to enforce the law order then and there, so as to save them from manmade calamities,
      Absolute blundering of a Sovereign State’s responsibility. How on the earth we can trust or expect a Sinhalese State would further protect the minority population?

      • 4
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        vet,
        I stopped reading your garbage after the first paragraph. Why? According to you any law enforcement entity in any country commits “state terrorism” when law and order is maintained!!

        • 2
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          You Nuisance,
          If law and order enforcement is straightly in the hands of ARMY any country, that is State Terrorism over ruling the Democratic principles.

          If Preconceived ideas prevents you readings that is your problem or Shying off!

        • 2
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          You Nuisance,
          If law and order enforcement is straightly in the hands of ARMY in any country, that is State Terrorism overruling the Democratic principles.

          If Preconceived ideas prevents you readings that is your problem or Shying off!

    • 2
      3

      Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism wage a brutal terror against Tamils and Muslims for 65 years. Do you expect reconciliation from brutal uncivilised murderers in the name Lord Buddha?

  • 4
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    Fradulent concerns have only fradulent solutions.

    Tamils asking Rcconicliation was a Fraud. So, they are answered with another empty promise exactly like what they wanted.

  • 3
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    Very well said Eusense. Also if an investigation is the solution as some groups desire it should cover the entire 30 years of the conflict and not just the last period. Only then would reconciliation materialize.

    • 3
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      carlion

      “Also if an investigation is the solution as some groups desire it should cover the entire 30 years of the conflict and not just the last period.”

      Nopes, it should cover the period from 5th April 1971 to date.

    • 3
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      Carlion
      Nice try! You too havent got any idea of this. Reconciliation the west and this article is about for what happened after the ltte terror war. No tamil asked for reconciliation prior to that!

  • 5
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    Flawed reconciliation is better than no reconciliation!

  • 6
    3

    Eusence should change his name to Nonsense. Why and how did LTTE come life. There was persistent pogroms against Tamils. The army aggression against peaceful Satyagraha activists started in 1958 when LTTE was never heard of. Then there was flagrant discrimination against Tamil students by “Standardization” that paved the way for LTTE. The “Sinhala Only” was introduced within 24 hours as Bandaranayake promised. Thousands of Tamils who were not versed in Sinhala lost their increments and jobs.
    Mr.Eusence it is people like you who created LTTE.

    • 5
      1

      ramesh,
      So are you saying it was a good thing that LTTE came to life? Did you and the LTTE ever think of consequences of raising arms against the gov? How many Sri Lankans both Tamils and Sinhalese died because of their terrorism? Who is going to take responsibility and who is going to apologize and reconcile for those lives??
      Satyagraha is fine as long as it does not interfere with routine life of citizens. If it disrupt peace the law enforcement have to step up whether it is Tamil, Sinhalese, Buddhist, Christian or a Muslim cause.
      University admissions not only affected Tamils it affected Sinhalese students from all major cities too. Did they resort to terrorism? Do you know that the Harvard University in the US restrict intake of Asian students to 25% of all admissions? Do these Asians resort to terrorism?
      I too do not agree with the Sinhala only directive. That was a political ploy by the then rulers to stay in power. Even with that their was enough time given for Tamils and English educated Sinhalese workers like my father to be proficient in Sinhalese.
      Stop making excuses work hard learn Sinhalese if you have to, move to the south and improve your life like thousands of other Tamils have done. Only lazy Tamils like you try to make a mountain out of a molehill. If your main aim is an Elam you might have to forgo that.

      • 0
        0

        We Thamizh should do the same thing somewhere else and see how far we get – try for a job in the UK civil service without being able to speak a word of English say :D Then We Thamizh can start another 100% totally justified campaign of child soldering and suicide bombings in the UK too citing blatant discrimination and kadavule chenociiiteee!:D

  • 5
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    Surely the essence of what this author writes is correct. True reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside. It has to come from changes in the thinking of the disputing people themselves. Everything else proposed as necessary – such as truth, investigations, punishment, pardons, revenge, forgiveness, separation, unification etc – is subordinate to the necessity of the disputing people to want to get on together now and in the future.

  • 8
    1

    Path to reconciliation:

    1. Understand the past and why events unfolded as they did .

    2. Agree on the ultimate destination.

    3. Forgive the mistakes and hurt of the past.

    4. Help those who were most affected by the tragedies of the past recover.

    5. Tone down the rhetoric and punish those who pour oil on cooling embers.

    6. Make massive investments in all aspects of development in the war- affected areas.

    7. Treat all Sri Lsnkan citizens alike.

    8 . Stop distorting history.

    8. Do not change place names with the intent of undermining past demographic realities.

    9. Make meritocracy prevail over communal identity.

    10. Strive to understand ‘ the other ‘ as an individual and his/ her humanity and human needs.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 3
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      RN,
      I agree with your suggestions. Many here seem to disregard the true meaning of the word reconciliation. Most are trying to achieve their agendas/revenge under the disguise of reconciliation.

  • 1
    2

    NATO, the self-appointed global policeman, had no respect for borders, sovereignty and most of all for the truth. Today there is infighting among it’s constituents demanding individual national control of borders, because of the ease with which terrorists have roamed within Europe. Even though it is an island protected by the sea, most noise emanates from Cameron’s UK, with the party in power tearing itself apart. Liberty and privacy are two other human rights that the Europeans are about to lose in the name of ‘security’.

  • 2
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    It is absolutely right that reconciliation cannot be achieved through investigation. It is going to be a flawed investigation which is not going to satisfy Tamils or Sinhalese. The real issue is Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. This is where root of the problem lies.As long as If Sinhalese do not understands or realise the real impact of Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism in this island, there is no reconciliation. It is the major threat to reconciliation, peace and humanity in this island.Even during the period of occupation of the land there was peace and harmony among people. The day Buddhist Fundamentalism took over the control of this island, the soil started to fill with blood and I don’t think it is going to stop with this investigation.

  • 2
    0

    The Truth and Reconciliation agenda

    Not to divide or judge or boast or belittle, but in all humility and earnestness to point out a fact that TRC was A mandatory Christian spiritual exercise.

    Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa, appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the chair of the TRC commission and Alex Boraine as the deputy chair.The three had the one and the same understanding of the implications of calling their reunification effort- confession of the truth and the reconciliation with your enemy who is crucifying you.
    Mandela was religious from his young age and was a member of the Students Christian Association of the University of Fort Hare,and taught Bible classes on Sundays in nearby villages.The people they were dealing with also had the same understanding either through their own religion or from schooling.”Christianity is most common among white and coloured South Africans, being the faith of 86.8% of the people in both groups.”

    For a Christian, confession of sins and offering forgiveness to his/her enemy are hard mandatory daily spiritual exercises before Mass/service. They are in the Prayer Christ taught Christians “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” And while dying Jesus said “Father, forgive them”. Christians “know” that not forgiving your enemy offends God’s Pure Spirit who resides in us. They would repent of unforgiveness for the sake of the one who bore their sin’s penalty, and forgive to merit grace for they have but this birth to make amends.

    Mandela chose a Bishop who wore the vestments to lead a nation that was taught “And truth will set you free”.

    We need to see whether the belief systems instilled in all Sri Lankans hearts through our educational systems will beget the same response of pure confession and snow-like forgiveness to move on as one entity under TRUTH.

    TRC was seen by the people not as a sociological tool but a religious and visibly Christian exercise called to by the Church. The social especially religious contexts of South Africa and Sri Lanka are very, very different possibly yielding different understandings of the process.

    Who among us can call us to “A TRC”?

  • 3
    1

    Good article that makes much sense. Sri Lankan Tamils as well as the diaspora should be more concerned about the problems of the living than seeking Justice for the dead. Matters such as de-militarisation, release of grabbed lands, resettlement of the people so displaced, more genuine devolution to the provincial councils, more funds to build up the war ravaged areas, building up a more harmonious atmosphere etc., etc. are far more important than hunting for the war criminals which pursuit will end nowhere.
    Sengodan. M

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