By Jehan Perera –
The 12th year after the end of the war falls this week. Not many people will be thinking of the war at this time unless the matter is consciously brought to their attention. It may have lasted for three decades but it is a receding memory for most. The war is far from the minds of most people as they live harmoniously side by side or separately in their different areas of the country. For those under 20 years of age the war will be no memory at all, unless they were living in an area where the war was fought or attacks took place. Other issues loom large in the minds of the people, in particular the third wave of Covid that confines people to their homes and makes the burden of the economic crisis weigh more heavily upon them.
However, despite the tendency on the part of the general population to forget, the anniversary of the war’s end is kept alive by several interest groups. The most straightforward are the ordinary citizens whose family members and other loved ones got caught up in the last battles and lost their lives. They will continue to remember them until their own lives come to an end. Another group would be those who have a larger social and political motivation to see that justice is done to those who lost their lives, to their families and to the larger community. There is also the government which takes credit for the war victory, reminds the people of this achievement and remembers the members of the security forces who made the victory possible by their own sacrifices.
Due to the different motivations of these parties the commemoration of the war’s end takes place on two separate days and not on one day. The date selected for commemoration by those living in the North and East of the country where the war was fought is May 18 while the date selected by the government and the people in the rest of the country is May 19. It was to bridge this division that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 recommended that commemoration of all victims of the war should take place on a single day: “A separate event should be set apart on the National Day (4 February) to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict and pledge the collective commitment to ensure that there should never be such blood-letting in the country again.” But so far February 4 remains a pageant of military might and not of remembrance.
It is worth quoting at length from the LLRC report at this time when views seem to be hardening on both sides of the ethnic and political divides. “The process of reconciliation requires a full acknowledgement of the tragedy of the conflict and a collective act of contrition by the political leaders and civil society, of both Sinhala and Tamil communities. The conflict could have been avoided had the southern political leaders of the two main political parties acted in the national interest and forged a consensus between them to offer an acceptable solution to the Tamil people. The Tamil political leaders were equally responsible for this conflict which could have been avoided had the Tamil leaders refrained from promoting an armed campaign towards secession, acquiescing in the violence and terrorist methods used by the LTTE against both the Sinhala and Tamil people, and failing to come out strongly and fearlessly against the LTTE, and their atrocious practices.”
Unfortunately, the recommendations of the LLRC, including those pertaining to commemorations, have been largely ignored that would otherwise have ensured more justice, accountability and reparations than exist at present. The period of the previous government saw an attempt being made with regard to recognizing the sense of loss and grief of those whose loved ones had either died or gone missing during the war. In 2018 it permitted a mass gathering of people on May 18 at Mullivaikkal where the last battles of the war were fought. Several thousands of people attended the ceremony of remembrance held there at the monument erected in memory of the civilians killed in the war. Politicians from the mainstream TNA who attended the event were not permitted to speak and instead university students and nationalist members of civil society groups took the centre stage. The only politician who addressed the gathering was Northern Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran, who has fallen out of favour with his party hierarchy. The chief minister moved a six-point resolution. These included declaring every May 18 in the coming years as “Tamil Genocide Day.”
The reconciliation process initiated by the former government has now come to virtually a dead stop especially after the withdrawal by the present government of Sri Lanka’s commitments made in terms of the co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. At the time of its withdrawal the government promised to come up with a nationally-led reconciliation process to replace the previous one which was denounced as an internationally-led one. However, so far there is nothing that is publicly visible of this national reconciliation process. Instead there are questions being asked on the government side whether it is necessary at all to have a reconciliation process when the country is at peace. On the other hand, in the North and East, there is a sense of being hemmed in and encroached on by the government, which is taking over land and building Buddhist temples in the North and East in places where the remains of ancient Buddhist shrines are discovered.
If national reconciliation is indeed the goal, the government needs to consider heeding the recommendations of the LLRC on the premise that conflicts between communities cannot be resolved by force but only by dialogue. The conflicting motivations in the commemoration events to be held on May 18 and 19 appear to be coming to a head this year. A few days ago, the Ontario Legislative Assembly in Canada resolved that Sri Lanka subjected the Tamil community to genocide during the armed conflict. The Catholic bishops of the North and East have formed a North-East Bishops Council. Recently they issued a statement referring to the 12th anniversary of the “Mullivaikkal genocide” for which they will join the people in seeking justice for crimes committed and calling on the people to pray on May 18. This corresponds to the mainstreaming of the view within the Tamil community that genocide took place in Sri Lanka.
The absence of a visible reconciliation process at this time together with pressure being put on the Tamil community by the government appears to have emboldened the nationalist forces within the Tamil community. A few days ago a group of civil society activists and religious clergy had unloaded a new monument in Mulliavaikkal that had words inscribed on it that referred to genocide having taken place there and the need to bring the perpetrators to justice before international courts. It is reported that this group had an argument with the security forces personnel on duty in that area with regard to the placement of the new monument. The following day the new monument was missing and the old one that was located there had been destroyed.
The claim that genocide took place in Sri Lanka has not evoked a favourable response from legal scholars for whom genocide has a technical meaning. But the passage of the genocide bill in the Ontario legislature is an indication that it may be successfully lobbied for politically, unless the issue is dealt with by the government through an appropriate response sooner rather than later. One of the commitments made by the former government to the UNHRC in terms of UNHRC resolution 30/1 was to establish a Truth-seeking Commission. This can lay to rest the truth of what happened during the war, in its last phase as well as what came before. In the meantime, the government could also make a promise that it will rebuild the Mullivaikkal memorial with the people’s participation in the same manner that the war monument at the University of Jaffna, which was similarly destroyed in January this year, was soon rebuilt with the participation of the students.
RBH59 / May 18, 2021
The war is far from the minds of most people as they live harmoniously
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Eagle Eye / May 18, 2021
You are right. February 4th should not be a pageant of military might because people in Sinhale/Ceylon did not fight a war with British in 1948 to gain Independence. It should be just a pageant without showing military might.
May 19th should be a pageant of military might to remind the people in this country that Government and its Armed Forces fought a war with Tamils who passed a resolution to create a separate State based on a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’ and declared war against Sinhala nation asking Tamils to take up arms to fight until their objective is achieved. LTTE Tamil terrorists that fought the war on behalf of Tamil leaders who declared war bragged that they cannot be defeated militarily but Sri Lanka Armed Forces gave them a humiliating defeat on 19 May 2009 ending the war and restoring peace for all the citizens of this country irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion. That achievement should definitely be a pageant of military might.
“But so far February 4 remains a pageant of military might and not of remembrance.”
hanchopancha / May 18, 2021
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hanchopancha / May 18, 2021
Moderator, it is pretty obvious that you do not like to see your own true reflection in the mirror.
ReginaldShamalPerera / May 19, 2021
I fully agree. Censorship is the most cowardly type of assault on humanity. But make no mistake for over 2000 years, the mighty lion that could not be silenced will not be silenced by a mouse.
Either it’s at Colombo Telegraph or there are plenty of other places to state your opinion.
GATAM / May 18, 2021
Only solution is to split the island into 3 mono ethnic nations and relocate people.
Until then it is a cycle of riots, war, hatred, riots.
Ajith / May 18, 2021
LLRC is to cheat international community by Rajapaksa family. The arrest and jail of former military commander Sarath Fonseka is to cheat Sinhala that the war was a victory of Rajapaksa family, not Sri Lankan military. Unfortunately, most of the Buddhist Sinhala are unable to think rationally or able to use their common sense because they are blind followers of Rajapaksas and Mahanayakes. They never think even now that this island would have been a developed nation if the LLRC recommendation was followed and if they have honoured whatever they told in public that they will go beyond 13 Plus. The fact is they need the country in an undeveloped stage enable them to control the power over Buddhist Sinhala and their economy.
I would like to know from the author whether you ever visited Mullivaygal memorial to pay respect or remember those citizens who lost their lives in this war? I also would like know the same question to any Sinhala or Muslim politicians as well?
chiv / May 19, 2021
“Reconciliation commission appointed by MR recommended a commemoration day”, was it ?? that is news to me. (like many other). But yes such simple act could have gone a long way in helping with healing but no governments, oppositions, other parties, communities, citizenry or religious heads (for example Ranjith who was prompt after Easter was never heard after war ) could even consider such simple act.
srikrish / May 19, 2021
Appointment of commissions may be necessary, but not sufficient. The southern Politicians should have the will to implement. The new truth commission if at all appointed should not result in producing a report that would remain unimplemented. The report of the LLRC did not satisfy the affected Tamil community
While the affected Tamil Community is demanding for appointment of independent international inquiry, will they be satisfied in having a truth Commission with Sinhala judiciary with token presence of Tamils and within the constitution of Sri Lanka. The fate that had fallen on LLRC and other Commissions such as International Independent Group of Eminent Persons IIGEP should not be allowed to repeat.
The process also must be transparent and acceptable to both parties and need not merely to satisfy UNHRC of international community and should be result based and lead to tangible outcomes.