By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“The illusion of destiny extracts a remarkably heavy price”. — Amartya Sen (Identity and Violence)
The mysterious leaking in Colombo of the Darusman (UN) Report was accompanied by a carefully choreographed outbreak of patriotic-hysteria. The President, in a hyperbolic-excess, declared his willingness to brave the electric chair (unaware that capital punishment is rejected by the International Criminal Court!). He also indicated his desire to turn the UPFA May Day demonstration into an anti-UN melee (does this explain the timing of the leak?).
His brother, in a warning to India and the West, announced Sri Lanka’s willingness to seek protection by entering Chinese and Russian orbits. The various Rajapaksas acolytes are competing with each other in fear-mongering, as if the UN is amassing a mammoth-force to invade Sri Lanka, tomorrow.
This atmosphere of unreason and nonsense has obfuscated an important reality about the Darusman Report. While extremely critical of the conduct of the Rajapaksa regime, the Report also contains a scathing criticism of the LTTE. It charges the LTTE with “six core categories of potential serious violations: i) using civilians as a human buffer; (ii) killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control; (iii) using military equipment in the proximity of civilians; (iv) forced recruitment of children; (v) forced labour; and (vi) killing of civilians through suicide attacks.”
Given this unequivocal critique of the LTTE, the Report cannot, logically, be called pro-Tiger. But, as the antithetical treatments meted out to war-hero Fonseka and Tiger-leader KP demonstrate, there is no limit to the illogical heights Rajapaksa-logic can scale, when in need. Exacerbating economic woes (flour and bread price-hikes are the latest) is eroding the feel-good factor created by the victorious conclusion of the war.
The regime needs new coagulants to prevent its Southern base from fissuring and the Darusman Report will play this cementing-role for a while. The Rajapaksas will use the Report to ignite a tidal-wave of phobic-patriotism in the Sinhala South, submerging dissent and drowning opponents. Thus the pretence that the Report is a conspiracy by ‘LTTE friendly foreign elements’ to destroy Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka by persecuting its ‘sole’ defenders: the Rajapaksa Brothers.
Ironically, the TNA is assisting the Rajapaksa efforts to conceal the true nature of the Darusman Report. The TNA’s own response to the Report makes no mention of its severe critique of the LTTE. By tacitly consenting to the Tiger’s inhumane treatment of Tamils, the TNA failed its own people in an hour of desperate need. Therefore, acknowledging the Tiger abuses listed in the Darusman Report is, for the TNA, akin to a self-indictment.
Tamil politics cannot embark on a journey of democratic rejuvenation until a frank criticism/self-criticism is made of its Tiger past; the Darusman Report, an objective analysis by an impartial entity, is an ideal starting-point for such a journey. Unfortunately the TNA (and most of the Tamil Diaspora) seems to lack the courage to seize this opportunity. And in this failure, the TNA is, inadvertently, helping the Rajapaksas to falsely depict the Darusman Report as a pro-Tiger conspiracy and use it to further stifle dissent in the South and deny basic rights to the North.
The Darusman Report was made inevitable by a diabolical lie and a colossal failure on the part of the Rajapaksas. Wars, all wars, kill civilians. The only realistic solution is to take every conceivable measure to minimise civilian casualties and to apologise for them whenever they occur. But the Rajapaksas opted for a cynical policy of total denial; their zero-casualty lie was too preposterously absurd to be even marginally credible.
This was accompanied by a horrendous failure to credibly investigate even a single case of human rights violations; everywhere the regime repeatedly promised justice and accountability and delivered the opposite. Even these sins of omission and commission may have been overlooked by the world, had the regime not embarked on a Sinhala-supremacist course, post-war. But with the incarceration of more than 300,000 civilian Tamils in open prison camps, non-removal of the Emergency, non-implementation of the 17th Amendment and non-appearance of a political solution to the ethnic problem, international interest rekindled, paving the way to Darusman Report.
Two recent miscarriages of justice indicate that impunity is in the lifeblood of the Rajapaksas. The Attorney General famously withdrew charges against former parliamentarian Chandana Kathriarachchi for murder and current parliamentarian (and Monitoring MP for Defence Ministry) Duminda Silva for raping a minor; both are UPFA politicos. As the Chief Justice told the BBC, “it is wrong for the Attorney General to withdraw criminal charges filed against a suspect”. If this is the way justice is being dispensed in the Sinhala South, what hope is there that the Rajapaksas will deliver justice to the Tamil North?
The fate of the APRC, a domestic mechanism created by President Rajapaksa to design a political solution to the ethnic problem is relevant here. Whenever the APRC came up with a report, the President rejected it on some pretext. This charade was maintained until the war ended, after which the APRC was euthanized. Under Rajapaksa Rule, domestic mechanisms for justice do not work because the Family is addicted to impunity and obsessed with absolute, eternal power.
The regime’s melodramatic posturing about preventing war heroes from being dragged before international tribunals (is that different from incarcerating the pre-eminent war-hero and threatening to hang him?) are meant to hide another reality about the Darusman Report. Most of the recommendations it makes to the Lankan government (protecting Wanni civilians, investigating disappearances, removing Emergency and ensuring freedom etc) are not just unexceptionable; these are necessary for a for a consensual peace, a democratic future and to prevent the birth of a proto-Tiger entity. Moreover, by implementing some of these recommendations, immediately and dialoguing with the UN about the residue, Sri Lanka can evade the impending slippery-slope into a pariah-state, in the company of North Korea, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.
After listing the allegations against the LTTE, the Darusman Report opines: “All of this was done in a quest to pursue a war that was clearly lost; many civilians were sacrificed on the altar of the LTTE cause and its efforts to preserve its senior leadership.” The Tiger devoured Tamils to prolong the death-throes of its Eelam War by a few devastating days. Though a conciliatory response to the Darusman Report is possible, it will not happen, because the Rajapaksas are willing to ignite an unnecessary conflict with a powerful segment of the international community just to protect and strengthen their Familial Rule. The latest indication of the Rajapaksa determination to tighten their stranglehold on Lankan society is contained in an announcement by the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education: “Students who qualify for university education will have to undergo leadership training at a military establishment… (This) would come into effect from May 23….and it would be compulsory” (The Island – 21.4.2011).
Pirapaharan waged the Eelam War not to liberate Tamils but to enthrone himself. The Rajapaksas are committing Sri Lanka to a dangerous course of conflict to protect not national-sovereignty but Rajapaksa-sovereignty. Will we recover from the Rajapaksa-induced miasma of faux-patriotism in time to save Sri Lanka from the looming international-wilderness?