By R.M.B Senanayake –
People including scholars are talking about National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. They are blindly following the Transitional Justice model proposed by western scholars to deal generally with post conflict situations. They say former enemies may have a long history of violence between them and may find themselves faced with the challenge of implementing a new negotiated structure for the future management of their differences. They then argue that one of the biggest obstacles to such future cooperation is that, because of the violence of the past, their relations are based on antagonism, distrust, disrespect, hurt and hatred. But how true is this in the case of the Sri Lankan context.
But what I noticed even during the long war was that there was little or no personal animosity by the Sinhalese to the Tamils in the South. I am not sure about the border villages but leaving them out I think there was no mutual animosity between the ordinary Sinhalese and the Tamils. During the 1983 riots many Sinhalese befriended Tamils. Similarly there is no personal hatred towards the Sinhalese among the Tamils. But the models of transitional justice postulated by western scholars take such animosity and the need for reconciliation for granted. One of the biggest obstacles to resolution of the problem they say is the violence of the past, when their relations were based on antagonism, distrust, disrespect hurt and hatred.
But right from 1956 the Tamil campaign against ‘Sinhala only’ was opposed with violence mainly by mobs commissioned by interested politicians . They were not a spontaneous outburst of anger by the ordinary Sinhalese against the Tamil politicians . The situation changed after the LTTE emerged with war and violence. Even then Tamils lived among the Sinhalese in the South and several Tamils from the North took refuge in Colombo to escape the extortion and demands of the LTTE.
So here in Sri Lanka, despite both communities having suffered severely during the war, my impression is that except in border areas and with the army, the Tamil people are not having personal animosity towards the Sinhalese as such.
But no one can miss the hostility of the Tamil Diaspora but that is not directed against the Sinhala people at large but to the Regime in power. They have leveled incredible allegations of crimes during the last stages of the war committed by the present regime. These allegations have been denied by the authorities. But they will not just go away. They have appeared and re-appeared in the international media. In fairness to the UN it has been urging the regime to hold a domestic inquiry where all crimes can be investigated. Even during the war the Penal Code is not repealed for the police and the Army and those who murdered the three university students and the 17 Aid workers should have been brought to justice, since they were not part of the war.
So it is natural that the Tamil Diaspora and the present regime hate each other. But human beings being what they are, such animosity and hatred tends to be projected to those of the same kind. So the Regime doesn’t trust the Tamil National Alliance and will not allow it the space to function as a democratic political force. Similar actions in the past by Sinhala governments led to the failure of the Tamil democratic parties and their replacement by the LTTE which believed that there was no solution except Eelam and that it was to be obtained through armed struggle only. So the problem as I see it is not the need for national reconciliation but the need for reconciliation by the Regime with the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil political leadership. Can such reconciliation take place when the Diaspora is making allegations of crimes and brutalities in the last stage of the war in violation of the Laws of War? It was worth a try.
So the need for reconciliation is not between the Sinhala and the Tamil people but between the present regime, the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil political leadership. Into the fray of course the LTTE remnant seems also to be seeking to enter and reassert itself. There have been no discussions between the present regime and the Tamil Diaspora. Nor have there been discussions about the allegations of crimes during the last stage of the war been discussed with the TNA. Time seems to be running out for the UN HCR is expected to name their Commission.
Although the need for national reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil people may not be a pressing issue now, it may assume importance if the allegations of crimes during the war are proved. It will be difficult for any people to forgive or forget if such brutal crimes as alleged were in fact committed against their kith and kin. It is then that the need for national reconciliation will arise. As it is the Tamil people know that the LTTE committed heinous crimes against innocent Sinhalese and do not condone it and seem willing to let bygones be bygones.. But the attitude may change if they realize that the regime has actually acted brutally and in uncivilized ways. This sort of reaction took place in the Turkish Empire. There were riots and uprisings against the Turkish rule during the days of the Turkish Empire. The Greeks revolted and they were brutally suppressed. The Armenians, who sided the Russians during the First World War, were massacred but to this day the Turks deny it. But Europe was horrified and accepted the claim for secession from the Turks by the ethnic and religious minorities si8nce they assumed that such barbarism was second nature to the Turks. The minorities included the Arabs of the Middle East who also revolted. They were all crushed with the same brute force. But it sealed the fate of the Turkish Empire.
In the 1980s, an armed insurgency of the Kurds challenged the Turkish state, which responded with martial law. The Kurds were scattered in several Arab states like Iraq, Syria and Iran After the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi Kurds were protected against the armies of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by NATO-enforced no fly zones, allowing them considerable autonomy and self-government without the control of the Iraqi central government. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan became an autonomous region, enjoying a great measure of self-governance but stopping short of full independence.
So if the crimes during the war are somehow proved to the satisfaction of the UN there will arise a need for National Reconciliation. The Tamil people will have to decide then whether despite the proved brutality ( if proved) with which the regime is alleged to have prosecuted the war, whether they would consider being part of the same State or not. They of course cannot forget the similar or worse brutality of the LTTE. It is then that the need for national reconciliation will arise. Will there be a demand from the UN by the Tamil Diaspora to carry out its responsibility to protect?