By Sumanasiri Liyanage
So many things have been written on the Report of the Expert Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. Should I litter the already crowded discourse space with another piece?
I thought I should not do so unless I had a peculiar dream in which a small vendor friend of mine on the Kandy pavement who passed away about six months ago posed me an apt question. His question read like this: "Had the war against the LTTE reached its last phase in May 2011 rather than in May 2009, what kind of response would Sri Lanka have expected from the US, UK and France?"
This counterfactual question tries to situate Sri Lanka in the current world political context that is characterized by the simmering Arab revolution and imperialist intervention. With the expert report, the spokespersons of the Sri Lankan government have come forward to add two nice words into their usually barren political discourse, namely, anti-imperialism and national reconciliation.
On the other hand, the TNA leader has expressed that he and the TNA welcome the expert report and agree with its content. However, he has not explicitly stated that he and the TNA agree with the comment of the report on the LTTE position, though politically incorrect is understandable and I will come to that issue later.
War is a crime, a crime against humanity. This general rule is universally applied to every war that was waged by states, political groups etc. In this sense, war crime is a misnomer as there has been no war without criminal acts executed by the contenders. When I was writing this note, the Associated Press has reported that the U.S. drones fired five missiles at a house in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border today, killing at least 22 people. Does the UN and human right vocabulary include this in the category of war crime?
In the last phase of the Sri Lankan conflict, we all know many people, naturally many of them are civilians were killed. Of course, it would have been better if the two parties in Sri Lanka would have resolved their conflict without killing or harming people, civilians or combatants. That is the kind of world that we should build. However, many, including states and political groups believe that wars are unavoidable. Wars, like nationalism, have pragmatic value and may be justified by instrumental rational logic of nation-state. I cannot envision a crime-less war. Hence, the whole logic underlining the UN expert panel report is absolutely incorrect and the attempt reflects internationally accepted hypocrisy.
I do not subscribe to conspiracy theory. However, one thing is clear. Since the beginning of the last stage of war, there has been a conspiracy by the West led by USA, UK and France against Sri Lanka. Do Anglo-American imperialists engage in conspiracy?
The newspaper, The Independent, has recently revealed the conspiracy between the British government of Tony Blair and the major oil companies prior to the Iraqi invasion. However, this is what Blair said just before the invasion: "Let me just deal with the oil thing because... the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyze it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..." (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html) Since the Sri Lankan government refused to obey the ‘orders’ of the West during the last phase of the war, these government seemed to be determined to ‘punish’ Sri Lanka by other means. The US and UK blocked the Sri Lankan government’s request for a 1. 9 billion dollar loan from the IMF. Finally, it was granted after sometime, as I heard, because of Indian intervention. Hence, there is no doubt that the real cat’s paw behind the report is Western imperialism.
We have seen that in the event of Egyptian Revolution, Ban Ki Moon acted just as puppet of the US government, reiterating what Secretary Hilary Clinton said the previous day. So, the report should be rejected not only on the ethical ground I outlined above, but also as a measure of resistance against Western hegemony, Negri and Hardt’s argument notwithstanding.
Does it mean that there is no issue here to be reckoned with?
Minister G. L. Peiris’s argument that the report would disturb the process of reconciliation that has been unleashed after the termination of war is absurd. The government has begun to talk about reconciliation and all other goodies to Tamils when it cannot withstand the pressure. The government has done nothing substantial to resolve the Tamil national question that cannot be reduced to the construction of roads and other infra-structure facilities.
The Minister must be well aware that there is no process to be disturbed. That is why I said although the decision of the TNA is politically incorrect (even from the Tamil nationalist perspective), it is understandable why the TNA took such a decision. Talk to any Tamil person either in Sri Lanka or the Tamil diaspora, they might welcome the report not just because they are keen to know the truth about what had happened in May 2009, but because the Government of Sri Lanka has not done anything meaningful to address the root causes of the conflict.
We have now reached a critical moment. Irrespective of the pressure coming from Western powers, as Sri Lankan citizens we should be determined to resolve the Tamil national question amicably. Such an effort needs concrete measures that cannot be reduced to diplomatic ball rolling. As far as the report is concerned, Sri Lanka can handle that issue aligning with India and getting the support of China and Russia and other developing countries.
As the responses to the Expert Panel Report have shown, Sri Lanka is still a divided country. In order to address this deep rooted issue, in my opinion, the political elite should immediately take four steps. No delays! No rhetoric, but concrete actions. The steps include:
(1) Establishment of Northern Provincial Council with full powers given in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and handing over all development and reconstruction projects in the province to the provincial council;
(2) Enactment of a Bill or Rights prepared by the Ministry of Justice;
(3) Lifting emergency regulations and restoration of elementary rights of people and
(4) release of political prisoners, including SarathFonseka.
On the basis of that, Sri Lanka could develop a new political culture and that would provide a basis for a just society. This is how we can defeat the subjugating attempts of the ‘empire’.