26 June, 2022


Truth Beyond Commissions: A Reflection

By Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Bishop Duleep de Chickera

On the 31st of March a small gathering at the Bar Association Auditorium in Colombo, heard a wise and timely presentation on restorative justice and constitutionalism by a visiting lawyer from South Africa. On that occasion Mr Howard Varney, a guest of the Centre for Policy Analysis (CPA), solemnly offered several helpful insights from his own country as well as Kenya and Tunisia, on how a violated and wounded society could best ensure that the ghosts of the past would ‘never again’ return to haunt its people.

This reflection is on two of his disclosures on truth commissions. These are;

1. That the TRC failed to deal with the violations of several of the more culpable perpetrators in South Africa

In-spite of the TRC functioning after the shift in power these perpetrators, were yet able to evade the mechanisms for justice and reconciliation through truth telling. Most were never heard or called to defend themselves against the evidence of victims and witnesses.

There is a lesson here for us; called to address violations of human rights, during our recent past. The mere ‘setting up’ of structures and mechanisms for reconciliation with justice is no guarantee that this will happen. In fact the way investigations are proceeding on several serious allegations of corruption and violence, that have little direct connection with the thirty year civil conflict, indicates that powerful perpetrators will not be held accountable and justice will not be done by those harmed and humiliated. This is because with some notable exceptions, politicians have a way of closing ranks when in crises, to trump the national conscience by cleverly neutralising their populist public pronouncements.

Similarly the powerful States that speak for the ‘International Community’, familiar with the rules of this game, know how to go along with the rituals of accountability and shift gears at the right time. The real hard task of post conflict communities coming to terms with the truth just once in their histories is of secondary importance to these internal and external forces, for whom the pursuit of wealth and power (markets and militarisation) matter most, all the time.

One way of preventing pacts among the powerful wealthy here and elsewhere will however be for the Government to be pressurised to do what it is mandated to do; take full responsibility to initiate investigative action when violations occur among its own and within its borders. The ability of a people to sense the distinction between hollow mechanisms and the statutory application of the rule of law is crucial for this task of advocacy.

2. Most of the truth revealed was from encounters beyond the formal proceedings of the TRC

In this sense all Truth Commissions that follow a protracted conflict are an anti-climax. This is because there is already a reservoir of peoples (public) memory that ironically judges and outlives formal hearings. This memory is kept alive in whispers within trusted circles around almost every, abduction, unlawful detention, act of intimidation and torture, assassination and so on. Somewhere out there, are relations and colleagues in whom anxious victims confided, and who will not easily disclose the truth in formal structures, and somewhere out there, are clusters of perpetrators and accomplices, who are desperate to hide their sinister secrets from the public eye. Consequently, the challenge to truth discovery centres on how these narratives could be facilitated to complete a fuller understanding of the truth.

One way forward in this quest would be to initiate a process that would initially hear such concealed truth in a less formal, culturally compatible ethos, and then pass these tentative findings on to the more ‘intimidating’ judicial process for formal hearings. In doing so, narratives privy to victims will have to be dealt with mindful of the trauma experienced in reliving these experiences.

Such an integrated shift will require visionary courage by the judiciary, whose task it is to ensure a safe and just society for all, through impartial and consistent mechanisms of protection and investigation in challenging circumstances. The delicate balance between amnesty and prosecutions can only be addressed thereafter; once the truth is known.


Our recent political history records that those in civil governance seek to enhance the lives of the people only after their own interests are safeguarded. What can reverse this order are alert peoples movements and institutional reform. In this swing between decline and advancement we are called to avoid the extremes of disillusionment and idealism and strive without ceasing for the common good.

With Peace and Blessings to all

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Let’s ask Pope Francis about this, shall we?

    • 6

      Why? What has he got to do with our transgressions?

      • 4

        TRC or any similar will remain a smokescreen in Sri Lanka. Ever since SWRD stole a march over JR in harnessing the Bauddha-Sinhala voting base, he established a template for future devious Sinhala politicians to follow (and better).

        1 1956. The Gal Oya Massacre. “Not many died, men” was Gollum’s retort.

        2 1958. Remember SWRD’s “this is just a bit of local difficulty….” Who let the dogs out? No culprit was ever brought to book.

        3 1971. Dog ate dog. No mea culpa.

        4 1977. Again, the dogs were let free.

        5 1983. By this time the dogs were well and truly rabid. To think that the odious Cyril Mathew went to his grave a free man.

        6 1987- 89. Dog ate dog, again. No quarter asked, no quarter given.

        7 2009. The Grand ‘Photo Finish’ – by the this time the mobile with camera was with us, and thanks to other electronic wizardry, the evidence is all there.

        8 1956 – 2014……All those myriad transgressions, man, simply being vile to fellow man. The Black cats, the tigers, the grease-yakkas, the BBS, the Urumaya, the white vans…et al.

        Ever since 1956, crime has been our national lifestyle option. Punishment came to be an ‘option’ to be exercised at the very top. WE under resourced our Police and Intelligence, and for good measure ‘politicised’ the police and judiciary. Attempts at independence were severely dealt with.

        Our political firmament is both nepotistic and incestuous. Most everybody keeps the secrets of the other. No politician can stand tall. It is not enough to have got the Great Liberator out, it is also necessary to clear out the 80% of politicians who have NO qualification whatsoever to be entrusted with running the country on behalf of decent people. Political leaders must be held to answer for the type of people that they put forward for election.

        If I could only take the culprits by the hand, and lead them through this troubled land, it would be at night, about bedtime, through the bye-ways and alleyways. Every now and then I would stop to let the miscreant listen to the sigh of the widow as she cries herself to sleep, pining for the one for whom the search never ceases. Oh. And every now and then there will children, crying in their sleep for the missing parent or parents whose love and caring they are destined not/never to enjoy.

        These are the dark clouds that lie over our beautiful thrice-blessed land like no other. Much work remains to be done to clear them away.

        Living perpetrators must be punished. Victims must be given closure. Most of all, political leaders must accept responsibility for those things they gave their approval and blessings to.

        • 4

          An excellent and humane statement from an outstanding religious leaders.

          Sri Lanka’s corrupt politicians must be held accountable.

    • 1

      ramona therese fernando

      “Let’s ask Pope Francis about this, shall we?”

      Yes. After All, by definition, the Holy Father is Infallible, not capable of being wrong or making mistakes and is not fallible and certain to work properly or succeed.

      Let’s keep the Sun and the Earth aside.

    • 2

      Ramona Therese, idiot you have proved yourself to be a goat again. First you could not figure out the difference between 19 million and 19 billion not you want Pope Francis the head of the Catholic church about a Bishop of the Anglican Mission. These are separate denominations. Bishop Chikera reports to Church of England not Vatican. Oh man, what happened to you?

      • 0

        Oh, so Chickera is Anglican is he…….never mind, the Pope still rules over Anglicans, although they won’t admit it.

        • 2

          Ramona Therese, Pope rules over Anglicans. Idiot the Pope has nothing to do with the Anglican church. Even the Bishop or even the Arch Bishop of the church of Englad has no control over the Anglicans. Our faith is directed to Jesus, no one else. Read the New Testament. I only hope God gave you a brain. You have been a fundamentalist Buddhist for too long and being stupid is a part of your life.

  • 1

    The purpose of Transitional Justice is to ascertain the truth, justice and reconciliation, for the murder, disappearance and torture, done to persons, during the war in SL.

    The ultimate objective, is the reconciliation between the offended person and the offender, so that, the offended could forgive the offender, have peace and be relieved from the hurt and pain.

    Therefore, remorsefulness and reconciliation are possible ONLY after determining the truth in an impartial inquiry and pronouncing correct and unbiased judgement.

    Basically, the priciples are;

    1. If there is no inquiry, there is no reconciliation.
    2. The decision about inquiry has to be solely by the offended, the Tamils and not the Sinhalese in SL.

    Sadly, The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) appears to be ignorant.

    Yesterday, the CPA released incorrect, biased and irrelevant Statistical Survey conclusions about war crimes inquiry; gathering data from 4 communities in SL, 25 districts and 2102 interviews.

    The truth is that any war criminal or murderer is FORCED into inquiry and not ASKED to be in it. The decisionm is not by popular choice but by law against crime.

    • 1

      Sam Thambipillai

      “Yesterday, the CPA released incorrect, biased and irrelevant Statistical Survey conclusions about war crimes inquiry; gathering data from 4 communities in SL, 25 districts and 2102 interviews.”

      Could you tell us which part of survey was incorrect, biased and irrelevant. Which part of the survey that is incomprehensible to you?

      Here is the Executive Summary of the OPINION POLL ON

      EXECUTIVE SUMMARY • Respondents were asked about what three key Fundamental Rights that they believed should be included in the new Constitution. 25.5% of Sri Lankans said the freedom to live while 15.3% said the freedom or right to practice any religion of their choice. 11.2% said the right to education. • When asked what the word ‘devolution’ means to them, 54.9% of Sri Lankans said that they did not know. 8% said that it means giving certain powers like infrastructure and police power to the Provincial Councils. • When asked what the word ‘federalism’ means to them, almost 80% of Sri Lankans said that they did not know. • 35% of Sri Lankans do not know what ‘unitary state’ means to them while 23.9% of Sri Lankans said that it means being governed as one country or under a single State or governance system. • Respondents were also asked about how favourable they were towards the inclusion of the exact term ‘unitary state’ in the Constitution. 30.7% of Sri Lankans say that they are extremely favourable towards the inclusion while 28.5% said that they did not know. From the Sinhalese community, 36.2% are extremely favourable while almost 42% from the Tamil community stated that they are not at all in favour. • Respondents were given a list of statements about religion and the Constitution and were asked to select one that they agreed with the most. 37.3% of Sri Lankans said that only Buddhism should be given a special place in Sri Lanka’s Constitution, while assuring the freedom of religion to all others. This view is shared by almost 50% from the Sinhalese community. 56.1% from the Tamil community, 39.3% from the Up Country Tamil community and 65.8% from the Muslim community however believe that the Constitution of Sri Lanka should protect the freedom of religion as a Fundamental Right. • Article 9 of the present 1978 Constitution states that Buddhism shall be given ‘the foremost place’ and that it is the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana. 54.9% of Sri Lankans are extremely favourable towards the inclusion of the clause on Buddhism in a new Constitution while 18.2% are not at all in favour. From an ethnic perspective, the community that is extremely favourable is the Sinhalese community with 70.4% rating extremely favourable. Majority from the Tamil (75.9%), Up Country Tamil (56.6%) and Muslim (62.8%) communities are not at all in favour. • When asked how they think police powers in Sri Lanka ought to be exercised, 41.2% of Sri Lankans said that it ought to be exercised exclusively by the Central Government while 23.6% said it should be shared between the Central and Provincial Governments. Almost 50% from the Sinhalese community and 31.3% from the Up Country Tamil community believe that it should be exercised exclusively by the Central Government. Majority from the Tamil and Muslim communities however do not share this opinion – 31.8% from the Tamil community believe it should exercised exclusively by the Provincial Governments while 37.7% stated it should be shared between the Central and Provincial Governments. 34.1% from the Muslim community also stated that it should be shared. • For 15.2% of Sri Lankans it is very important that police powers are devolved to the Provincial Councils while 17% say it is somewhat important to them. For 25.6% it is very unimportant that police powers are devolved to the Provincial Councils. • In the Sinhalese community, 31% said that it is very unimportant to them that police powers are devolved to the Provincial Councils. Only 8.5% said that it is very important. For majority in the Tamil and Up Country Tamil community it is important that police powers are devolved to the Provincial Councils, with 43.8% and 41% respectively saying very important. • On the power to allocate and administer State land, 37% of Sri Lankans believe that the power should be held exclusively by the Central Government, 23.3% said exclusively by the Provincial Governments while 24% said it should be shared between the two. • From an ethnic perspective, once again we see a difference in opinion between the communities where most Sinhalese (42.4%) say that it should be held exclusively by the Central Government while 48.4% of Tamil, 38.6% of Up Country Tamil and 27.2% of Muslim communities believe that it should be held exclusively by the Provincial Governments. • 36.3% of Sri Lankans are extremely agreeable to replacing the Executive Presidency system with one where the country is headed by a directly elected Prime Minister, while 29.4% say that they are somewhat agreeable. • When asked how agreeable they are towards a merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, 30.1% of Sri Lankans said that they are extremely disagreeable while 25.4% said extremely agreeable. Majority from the Tamil (73.2%) and Up Country Tamil (81%) communities are extremely agreeable towards a merger while 34.6% of Sinhalese are extremely disagreeable. Muslim opinion is divided on this, with 30.4% saying that they are extremely agreeable and 31% saying that they are extremely disagreeable.


  • 0

    Native Vedda,

    This document you produce here is an executive summary of the opinion poll findings on constitutional reform released in February 2016.

    I am referring to another release, which was broadcast yesterday on BBC, about the poll conducted on war crimes inquiry, where it was stated that 42.4% support the inquiry and 44.4% oppose it.

    I call it “biased” because there is sampling bias. It is only the offended, the “relevant”, who should have been included in the survey. When the others, (irrelevant) were included in the survey, the results became diluted and “incorrect”.

    Please check the opinion poll results released yesterday.

    • 0

      Sam Thambipillai

      “Please check the opinion poll results released yesterday.”

      Let me have the link please.

  • 1

    I was reading on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa .It procedure was not to pass judgment on the criminality of the acts but to bring about a reconciliation. The officials of the earlier regime faced the victims of apartheid and was supposed to acknowledge the crime told the trith and asked forgiveness from the families of the victims ..Are we educated and our minds attuned to face the criminal that took away our love ones for what ever reason and ended his or her life .We could not reconcile the death of Jesus and persecuted even the generations of the mob that caused his death ..even enactments tend to incite us to negative action ..The accused in South Africa were in denial sometimes for they feared that acknowledgement would lead to further action in another court or against their families by angry mobs ..May be sometimes these things should not be thrashed out in the open.We have a history of foreign invasion and occupation that led to much bloodshed and injustice , some died in battles others beheaded as traitors or sent into exile ,but we copped it and moved on and accepted each other ,…Only the community alone can forgive by being good neigbours , sharing and giving , no Central authority can impose that reconciliation.it happened before and it will happen again ..but the Governments can help by maintaining law and order so that the scarce resources are shared for all to live a happy life a tremendous task in a small country with a large population.

  • 1

    Truth telling, expression of remorse, and reconciliation are essential if the animosity that has developed between the Tamil and Sinhala races is to be reversed to one of empathy and acceptance.

    Such action is aimed at reconciling individuals, and thereby the races they belong to.This is good. But this does not ensure that in the future the same animosities cannot develop. So with that in mind it is also necessary to legislate enshrining thr rights of all races,( and religions). Likewise Sinhala and Tamil languages need to be recognized as equal. How can you reconcile otherwise?

    My view is that legislation must precede individual reconciliation, thereby making the government’s intentions clear.The parliament may also pass a resolution during this event (the Sinhala and Tamil parties both) by admitting to it’s own errors in the past.

  • 1

    All Sri Lankans should move away from these religious and racial tribal mentality and move towards the modern world.

    Practice the religion well engage in cultural activities to the max. (Without hurting others)

    Every one could appreciate each other’s religions and cultures.

    If all Sri Lankans are proficient in Sinhala, Tamil and English this will further gel our community as a Sri Lankan nation.

    I am pretty sure that our Tamil brothers and sisters are better off if they can forge a good understanding and a strong union with the Sinhala majority and The Muslims rather than Tamil Nadu Indian Tamils.
    or forign Tamil diaspora.

    For this to happen the Sinhala Majority should learn from the past mistakes and develop a trust based relationship with the North.

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