Reports, Retorts and Rhetoric

- thesundayleader.lk

  • Will the LLRC report re-write history?

Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission will issue its report soon (hopefully to the public). It is not necessary to mention leaks; it is enough to simply look at the initial statement of purpose.

Mahinda Rajapaka and C.R. De Silva Ex Attorney General Chairman LLRC

“To inquire and report on the following matters that may have taken place during the period between 21st February, 2002 and 19th May, 2009, namely ; The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized on 21st February, 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to the 19th of May, 2009.”
What many in the international community and at home are calling for is an investigation into the final phase of war, which they will not get. What Mahinda Rajapaksa is offering is an indictment of the entire war, with his ending of it being the solution. That is justice if you will.
The Commission had many notable sessions in Colombo, most notably the one attended by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the architect of the war. He was treated like an honored guest and the Commissioners outdid themselves to fawn over him. As he said then, “Most people have forgotten that the government has defeated the most ruthless terrorist organization ever. That’s the history.”
“The President told that this is not a military campaign,” he said. “This is a military operation conducted to liberate the people in those areas. He said just call it Humanitarian Operation. Some might think it’s a minor thing, but it’s an important fact.”
The Commissioners grilling of Mr. Rajapaksa consisted of asking whether there would be a video, asking if the Army guided civilians around landmines, and adding that the ICRC said this was a model to the world.
It is very clear from the very composition and conduct of this commission that this was the history they were charged to write, and we can be reasonably confident that they will write it. The LTTE was bad, attempts to negotiate with the LTTE were harmful, the final end of the war was humane and just. While there is a broad truth to this narrative, it is made into a palatable story with liberal denial and outright lies.
A more candid narrative can be found in a statement attributed to Basil Rajapaksa in a leaked US Embassy cable: “I’m not saying we’re clean; we could not abide by international law – this would have gone on for centuries, an additional 60 years.”
That is the truth which the Commission cannot and will not report.
This will not satisfy many in the international community but they are much the same as the Rajapaksas. They all love and need a good story. While the US and European countries like France may sanctimoniously call for investigations into Sri Lanka, they authorized similar measures to dig up Gaddafi. The US sanctioned plenty of aerial and artillery strikes there. The US also has yet to investigate unabashed war criminals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the latter who still publicly advocates torture with pride. Torture like water-boarding is, of course, a war crime.
This certainly will not satisfy many in the Tamil Diaspora, but they are hypocritical as well. The same people calling for investigations were quite happy flying the LTTE flag and donating money for suicide bombings, assassinations and any number of human rights violations. For these (an extortionate and lout minority) war crimes is just something to attack Sri Lanka with, after their war was lost.
Hence, this report will ultimately satisfy no one, but there are some people whom it really should attend. While the LLRC’s sessions in Colombo usually ranged from boring to sycophantic, their sessions in the north and east – actually war torn areas – were much more compelling. There, local residents brought pictures of their loved ones and files of the missing, asking, crying and demanding at least the right to know.
Quite depressingly, the BBC Sinhala service has reported that one testifier, Ratnam Poongothai, a widow with four children, was asked to report to the CID for what she said. This is a travesty. This type of testimony was the most honest and is probably the only truly good thing to come out of this exercise. What is done with the files of the grieving and aggrieved is the real test of whether this commission has any ethical merit at all.
In a parallel report, Norway has also published an evaluation of its role in the peace process. In it, Erik Solheim outlines Norway’s perspective on the peace process, or lack thereof. “I think indeed that Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process when it was clear to everyone that the government of Sri Lanka wanted a final military victory.”
He said that everyone from the LTTE to the international community and to (some extent) the Sri Lankan government asked them to stay but that Norway should not have listened.
“I think it is very arrogant because it is putting Norway far above everything else. It is about our reputation, not about what we are asked to do.”
This is a telling insight because today both the Sri Lankan government and the UN are making similar mistakes. The government is issuing a well documented but biased report because they were asked (forced really) to do it. The UN has issued a poorly-documented and alternately biased report largely because of the Diaspora and some LTTE asked (nay, demanded) them to do it. Both display arrogance in meddling with real issues that are perhaps beyond their ken.
Another insight that Solheim offers is that the outcome of the war was far from determined.
“No one believed there was a military victory possible. No one. Maybe with the exception of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa but he’s the only person I can mention who thought a military victory was possible.”
He mentioned numerous inflection points; the LTTE’s forced boycott of the 2005 election that could have seen Ranil Wickremesinghe win, the death of Balasingham after a long illness, after which the LTTE blundered into oblivion and the various failures of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to do anything but kill time and opportunity in her Presidency.
It is vital to remember that the history numerous people are trying to write was really quite improbable just three years ago and still has not really formed.
Behind this posturing and warring of words, there is a very deep reality which none of this commissions or reports can address. Stripping out the LTTE lobbying, ignorance and willful hypocrisy of many in the international community – what they are probably looking for is something like Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was constituted by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and ruled that she should be removed from office and banned from politics for 30 years (for once supporting the murderous warlord Charlie Taylor). She has appealed this, remained in office, and that Commission was weakened as a result.
A better example may be South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which placed an emphasis on reconciliation. There, human rights violators were offered amnesty for full testimony, which many received, including killers. The Commission was criticized for putting reconciliation beyond punitive justice, but on the whole it came closer to both truth and reconciliation than any other.
What Sri Lanka has is neither. Calls for punitive justice only result in denials and storybook commissions from the government. Especially since hostile and malicious LTTE lobbies corrupt any such movement from the hypocritically hobbled West, this is neither effective nor right. The UN report contained much truth in it, but was not presented in a way that it really helps anyone except unconstructive critics of Sri Lanka.
If the people’s testimony at the LLRC had been taken seriously, it would have been constructive, but they were just a footnote in what was a commission constituted to indict the peace process and lionize the war. Because the LLRC does not offer amnesty either, what emerges is self-serving, not something the country can be especially proud of.
So what will Sri Lanka get? Perhaps what we deserve. In a past uprising, similar amounts of mostly Sinhala youth were killed, some but not most associated with the JVP. How was that national tragedy resolved and reconciled? It was not. People simply moved on and did not really talk about it, burying the truth with the bodies.
This is one means of reconciliation, but not a very good one. One would hope that twenty years later this government could do better, but they cannot. The international community cannot do this job for us either, and it is arrogance and folly to claim otherwise. The only hope is that some day we have an honest and intelligent government backed by similar people who can look back with better perspective than we have today. Under the Rajapaksas and Wickremesinghe, of course, this is purely hypothetical.

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