By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda –
Is the proposal to initiate a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Sri Lanka with the assistance from South African government a time buying ploy to thwart the call for an international inquiry into war crimes? No doubt, the answer relies on Rajapaksa government’s sincerity in initiating a genuine post-conflict reconciliation process.
During the CHOGM in Colombo in last November, President Mahinda Rajapaksa asked the South African President Jacob Zuma twice to provide assistance to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), similar to the South African model. However, it was learnt that the President Zuma replied and advised President Rajapaksa, “Not to rush” as the President Zuma views, “This is not something you do politics with”. Nonetheless, it was further learnt that during the CHOGM, President Rajapaksa wanted to announce the CHOGM leaders the TRC initiative that could secure the South African assistance, yet again President Zuma advised, “Not to rush”.
It is obvious that the Rajapaksa government is in a kind of a rush either to initiate or to show the world that the government is keen on initiating a post-conflict reconciliation process, four and a half years later to the end of conflict. As some critics also argue, “Why did the Rajapaksa government take so long to initiate such process?”
During his visit to Sri Lanka in late May 2009, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proposed a post-conflict framework for Sri Lanka that had three key issues: resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), political reconciliation, and accountability for war-time atrocities. A few months later, then the US Ambassador to Colombo, Patricia A. Butenis, proposed a wider framework with four key issues: treatment of IDPs, human rights, political reconciliation, and accountability for alleged war crimes. Both frameworks suggested initiating a political reconciliation process. However, Rajapaksa government had a different opinion.
Giving an interview to Headline Today television, Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2011 thrashed “the political solution talk” and said that it was “simply irrelevant” as “we have ended this terrorism in Sri Lanka”. Nonetheless, no clarification was made by the Rajapaksa government regarding Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s position on political reconciliation and indicated Rajapaksa government’s endorsement to Defence Secretary’s opinion.
Nevertheless, on 15 November 2011, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) handed over its final report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa with various recommendations to build post-conflict Sri Lanka. As the report pointed out in page 368, the essence of the report is about reconciling the society: “What needs to be done for reconciliation and nation-building is that the State has to reach out to the minorities and the minorities, in turn must, re-position themselves in their role vis-à-vis the State and the country.”
With the LLRC report is in hand, the Rajapaksa government had the ball in its court. Nevertheless, the government did not have the political will or the courage to initiate a serious reconciliation process. At least, the government did not allocate a single cent from its budget to set up a Secretariat for National Reconciliation as proposed by the President’s Advisor on National Reconciliation, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe, M.P. on several occasions.
The absence of such process provided an opportunity for the Tamil Diaspora, especially to the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to lobby international community against Rajapaksa government. The international context went against the Rajapaksa government and adopted two consecutive resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and 2013 urging government to implement LLRC recommendations and to initiate a credible internal inquiry into alleged war crimes.
Despite the UNHRC resolutions, a serious reconciliation process or an internal inquiry into alleged war crimes yet to be initiated. The situation, as warned by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, could lead to an international inquiry. Against this international backdrop that the President Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen on setting up another mechanism on reconciliation, a South Africa assisted TRC, whilst a much unique and internationally recognised LLRC report is in his hand.
However, with having much experience the South African President Jacob Zuma is in the opinion that in order to successfully set up a TRC, South Africa needs to consult different stakeholders, including the opposition, despite the External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peris’ attempts to limit the consultation to parties in the government coalition, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Hence, in reality, there will be more consultation and study tours here and there in the months to come and as predicted, the proposed TRC will not be set up prior to the elections for the National Assembly of South Africa in May.
Thus, the Rajapaksa government cannot and should not wait until May as another resolution against the government could come in Geneva in March, pushing for an international inquiry. The best possible solution for the government is to initiate implementing LLRC recommendations as promised to the international community on several occasions. The will and the courage that the Rajapaksa government has to implement LLRC recommendations will show observers that the proposed South Africa assisted TRC is a time buying ploy to thwart the call for an international inquiry into war crimes or not!
*Dinesh D. Dodamgoda is a lawyer and has obtained a M.Sc. from the British Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (Cranfield University) on Defence Management and Global Security. He was a national list MP for UNP from 1995 till 2000.