By Harsha Gunasena –
United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 46/1 on 23 March 2021 against the wish of Sri Lanka, voting 22 countries in favor, 14 countries abstaining and 11 countries voting against out of the 47member council.
The result is interpreted by various parties in various ways. One popular way is the Western point of view where the entire force is placed on the human rights and the political ambitions of those western nations are ignored. Another way is the point of view of China or Russia where the interference of the domestic affairs of a country is denounced and it is hidden that taking that stance is a part of the political ambition of those countries. According to the point of view of the Sinhalese this is against Sri Lanka and against the victory of the armed forces of Sri Lanka. Tamils view this as a punishment to Sri Lanka and they feel that the punishment is not strong enough. Diplomatic point of view opines that if the country acted strategically this defeat could have been avoided.
This is the most serious resolution passed against Sri Lanka in international arena. In the resolution there were sixteen points in addition to the preamble. Out of these sixteen points the most serious point is the sixth one. It is as follows.
“Recognizes the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to strengthen in this regard the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction”
As a result of this resolution the problem of Sri Lanka is taken out of Sri Lanka and there is no time frame applicable for the acts committed by Sri Lanka. Therefore, the actions taken place not only during the time of the war which was ended in May 2009 but also the actions taken place after that period could also be considered. The statements made by this government and the former government that they would not employ foreign judges in the investigations have become ineffective since the “relevant judicial and other proceedings” of the “gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka” will be “advocated” in the places “including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction”. We are facing the consequences of the false boastful stories uttered by our leaders without any action associated. Even now we are depending on such stories. The Minister of Foreign affairs of Sri Lanka told in the Parliament, that the resolution passed was illegal. We all should know that we are not a country like Israel which depends on its own power as well as the power of United States. China or Russia will not help us in the way US helping Israel in a do or die manner.
Irrespective of the different views expressed by many in this respect what would be the view of this question if the problem is observed in the point of view of Sri Lanka? For that we should go back to the origin of the problem.
The national problem which could have been easily solved was messed up by the politicians who held the power. Bandaranaike found an easy way to come to power by stirring the feeling of distrust of Sinhalese towards Tamils. Subsequently, the United National Party also followed suit by changing their policies. Peaceful requests and agitations of the Tamil people were ignored for a long period. There were pacts signed but later withdrawn unilaterally by the government leaders. Armed conflict was started as a result of this impasse. However, an armed conflict against a democratic state cannot be justified on the part of that democratic state. Looking back, it cannot be justified from the side of the armed group either provided they did not want a separate state. They would have engaged in a nonviolent political defiance movement. This methodology was started by Mahatma Gandhi and was theorized by Gene Sharp.
The zenith of the peace negotiations conducted from time to time came during the time of Ranil Wickremesinghe when he held the post of Prime Minister from 2001 to 2004. At the third round of peace negotiations held in Oslo, Norway between 2-5 December 2002 LTTE delegation led by Anton Balasingham agreed with the Sri Lankan Government delegation led by G.L. Peiris to explore a political solution founded on internal self-determination based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. G.L. Peiris and the government considered this as a break through. This was discussed in subsequent meetings up to the sixth round and when the meetings were resumed after a period of lull, Anton Balasingham was removed and Thamilselvan was replaced with him as the leader. Thereafter, there were no discussions about internal self-determination and federal solution.
Ending this armed struggle with a separate state was a decision made by Prabhakaran on the part of the LTTE. Therefore, on the part of the government there was no other option than defeating it militarily. Hence both the decisions were taken by Prabhakaran not by Ranil Wickremesinghe or Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Prabhakaran believed that his intentions would be fulfilled and therefore there was no second plan. When Prabhakaran was defeated the Tamils in Sri Lanka could not even get the 13th amendment to the constitution implemented fully let alone a federal solution with internal self-determination. This happened with the assurances of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the solution would include a second chamber in addition to the full implementation of the 13th amendment and with the continuous influences of India to implement 13th amendment fully.
There were news reports that the Sri Lankan army committed war crimes especially during the latter part of the armed struggle. Sri Lankan government refused these claims. These rejections were not credible since although initially the government said there were no civilian casualties but later the government acknowledged that there were certain number of casualties of the civilians. Therefore, there is no doubt that there should be an independent inquiry to investigate the truth of this.
On the part of the armed forces this allegation damages their credibility as a disciplined force. It is also a blackmark to their pride that they have defeated the most powerful non-governmental armed group at that time. (The most powerful non-governmental armed group and the government armed forces which defeated that organization were comprising of Sri Lankans) Not only that, the commander of the army who gave orders to the field commanders confirms that the army did not committed any war crime and he is ready to testify at any inquiry.
On the part of the Sinhalese this allegation is a disgrace. In the history they have followed a practice of arming the unarmed enemy if one wants to fight with him. They claim that in the battlefield the wounds of their soldiers were in the front and not in the back.
On the part of Tamils this is a grave injustice. If the unarmed civilians were killed at least they should know what happened let alone punishing the culprits.
On the part of the government of Sri Lanka there were precedence. The government filed a court case against the members of the armed forces who were accused of murdering Premavathi Manamperi. During the early parts of the Eelam war the Krishanti Kumaraswamy case was filed against the army officers.
Therefore, if there were any crimes committed, identifying the perpetrators is safeguarding the credibility of the entire army. The army deserves that since some of them sacrificed their lives and some of them became permanently disabled in this war. We have seen some of them carrying the Tamil civilians when they started to leave the LTTE controlled areas during the last stages of the war. Therefore, it is not appropriate to sacrifice the credibility and pride of the entire army in favour of few. It is not patriotism.
There were many favorable suggestions given to the then government. One was the South African model. At that time Cyril Ramaphosa who is the current president of South Africa visited Sri Lanka in this respect and the government abandoned that idea. When there was no domestic investigation, the Secretary General of United Nations appointed Darusman committee to investigate. The Government did not allow them to come to Sri Lanka so that the committee gave one-sided report without incorporating the response of the government. That was how the 40,000 figure perceived to be exaggerated came in. If the government does not start a domestic investigation to the satisfaction of all the stake holders the result of the process will be similar to the Darusman report.
Sri Lanka now is going through a path created as a result of causes and effects. It seems to be that a strong part of the present government likes to go ahead in this path. The seventh point in the Geneva resolution is entirely about the actions taken by this government. The eighth point is about the cremation of the covid affected bodies of the Muslims. Mahinda Rajapaksa, a seasoned politician opposed to this from the very beginning. Finally, he made a statement in the Parliament that the government will allow to bury such bodies. Even after the Prime Minister of Pakistan praised that stance, the government tried to give a different interpretation to that direct statement. This was an insult to the Prime Minister who was the political leader of that camp. Eventually it was dishonoring the country as well. Even during the sessions of Geneva, some sections of the government engaged in issuing certain statements which would cause to strengthen the resolution against Sri Lanka.
Therefore, it seems to be that this is the preferred agenda to promote Sinhala Ethnocentrism by a section of the government. This agenda will attract political and economic consequences to the country. Eventually it will take Sinhala ethnocentrism to a crisis. It has reached a point where Sinhala ethnocentrism can only be continued by increasing the political stupidity of the people. Therefore, this agenda is not patriotic or to the least not strategic. This is aimed to win the votes of the ethnocentric Sinhala Buddhists at the next election.
What is the patriotic agenda the country should follow? Firstly, it should not be aimed at the next election or cheap publicity and should have a long-term vision. Secondly it should rally all the people of the country together. How can a person who thinks of only the people belongs to his ethnic group or religion, be a patriot? He is a selfish separatist. A real patriot thinks of all the people of the country. We need such patriots a plenty at this grave hour.