War and learning from our mistakes
by Rohini Hensman

The murder of Kethesh Loganathan marked the first anniversary of the death of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which occurred when Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated. In retrospect, it should be clear that the murder of Kadirgamar was the first shot in the Fourth Eelam War. Since then, there has been a return to full-scale hostilities. Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese have been killed in large numbers, lakhs of people have been displaced, ugly war crimes are routinely perpetrated by all the armed parties. Who is to blame for this situation? And how can we escape from the seemingly endless cycle of war, ceasefire, and then more war?

The LTTE and its Tamil Supporters

The LTTE was never serious about peace, but wanted to use the last ceasefire, like previous ones, to re-arm itself and murder Tamil dissidents and critics. In other words, they signed the ceasefire only in order to be able to wage war more ruthlessly at a later date. They themselves have made it clear that they will not stop fighting until they have established their totalitarian rule in a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Nor can the LTTE act otherwise, at least so long as Prabakaran is at its head. He has sent so many thousands of Tamils to their deaths in the name of Eelam that he cannot withdraw from that goal without the risk of being lynched by his own followers.

This must be kept in mind for future reference. At the moment, the LTTE does not seem to be interested in a cessation of hostilities, but it is likely that at some point they will again want a ceasefire. The recent ban by the EU, and action against their proxies in the US, Canada and elsewhere, should be welcomed, because they have increased the chances of the LTTE returning to the negotiating table sooner rather than later.

When such a desire is demonstrated by the LTTE, it should be taken as an opportunity to negotiate a new ceasefire which includes watertight human rights guarantees. It must be emphasised that negotiating a new CFA is the only way to compel the LTTE to accept an international human rights monitoring mission; maintaining the fiction that the old CFA is still alive merely allows them to continue violating human rights with impunity.

A new CFA, while essential for stopping the carnage and displacement, is only part of the peace process. A more important part is the discussion of a permanent solution to the ongoing strife, which should include all political parties and civil society groups, especially representatives of Muslims. Paradoxically, the peace process in this sense can continue even during the fighting; the war must not be allowed to be used as an excuse to stop discussions on state reform.

Tamil supporters of the LTTE, including those in Tamil Nadu like MDMK leader Vaiko, are among the worst enemies of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. They support an organisation that has been wiping out all that is best in Tamil culture in Sri Lanka, and decimating the most distinguished leaders of the community; an organisation that is responsible for bringing war and death to Tamil people desperate for peace. The ban on the LTTE helps the Tamil people by weakening one of their worst oppressors. Helping to marginalise the LTTE politically is an important way to help the beleaguered Tamil people of Sri Lanka.However, the LTTE has allies who helped to start the war, and they, too, must be identified and marginalised politically, if we are not to repeat the same mistakes.

The UNF Government, Norwegians and SLMM

The other parties to the 2002 CFA should share responsibility for the current bloodbath. They designed, signed and implemented a ceasefire that catered to the LTTE agenda of preparing for war. The way in which the Nordic monitors carried out their mandate created a climate of impunity which paved the way for the current wave of war crimes by the government forces.

Their silence over LTTE killings of Tamils, conscription of children and driving away Muslims and Sinhalese as part of its ethnic cleansing campaign makes their protests against government killings of Tamils, and Sinhala chauvinist ethnic cleansing drives, sound hypocritical. Human rights, after all, are supposed to be protected without discrimination, and those who condone violations by one party forfeit their moral right to condemn violations by another. Statements by Erik Solheim and others that it is the EU ban on the LTTE that has led to the current violence stand history on its head: it was, on the contrary, LTTE intransigence that led to the EU ban.

If the right of LTTE cadre to enter government-controlled areas had been made conditional to their obtaining a clean chit on human rights violations from an independent and impartial monitoring mission, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Kethesh Loganathan, and hundreds of other Tamil peacemakers would still have been alive today, thousands of children conscripted by the LTTE at home with their families, and Sri Lanka without war. Such a clause must be incorporated into any new CFA.

By their own admission, the Nordic monitors have outlived their usefulness. The LTTE’s insistence that EU members among them should withdraw has halved their strength. Ineffective in protecting human rights at the best of times, they are now completely useless during fierce fighting. In any case, the CFA they brokered was torn up by the LTTE a year ago, and is now being trampled by all the armed parties.

The UNP leadership is doubly to blame for the current war, because they blocked earlier efforts to arrive at a workable devolution proposal instead of participating in the discussions in good faith. If they do the same again, they deserve to be thrown into the dustbin of history. The statements by some leaders that they are ready to support a political solution are a hopeful sign.

NGO and Sinhalese Liberal Supporters of LTTE Claims

Sinhalese liberals and NGOs that supported the LTTE’s claim to be sole representative of the Tamils of Sri Lanka deliberately turned a blind eye to the fact that the LTTE sought to establish itself in this position by killing off all rivals and critics. They thus became accomplices in the murder of Kethesh and hundreds of others who were fighting for peace with dignity for Tamils within a united Sri Lanka. The greatest irony is that while claiming to act in the interest of peace, they assisted in the brutal extermination of a large number of Tamil peacemakers.

Like the Norwegian mediators and the SLMM, they are also guilty of ignoring the very existence of the Muslims of the North and East, and refusing to acknowledge the horrific atrocities this community has been subjected to by the LTTE. They participated in establishing a culture in which the human rights of Tamils and Muslims could be violated with impunity. Thus, part of the blame for the hundreds of Muslims and Tamils being killed today, falls on these people.

If they are genuinely interested in a just and durable peace, they need to reconsider their cavalier attitude. If they oppose the ban on the LTTE by various governments and are silent about its abuses of human and democratic rights, they cannot hope to be taken seriously whenthey denounce similar abuses by government forces. Only those who stand up for human rights, regardless of who is violating them, can apply pressure on the government in this situation.

Sinhala Chauvinist Allies of the LTTE

Sinhala chauvinists were in the past responsible for the creation of the LTTE, and today play a key role in giving it credibility. Sinhala nationalists in the Defence Ministry and the JVP and JHU have been doing their best to help the LTTE try to justify its claim that Tamils are oppressed by the state in Sri Lanka, and there is no alternative to separation. In the current circumstances, they are the biggest obstacle to political defeat of the LTTE and to a durable peace.

The role of President Mahinda Rajapakse is unclear. If he himself is not a Sinhala chauvinist hardliner, as many journalists describe him, then he is a weak president unable to control his hardline supporters. If Sinhala nationalists who kept a low profile during the Kumaratunga presidency are now crawling out of the gutters in large numbers, it is because they see him as giving them the green light to proceed with their violent and undemocratic agenda. Various war crimes such as rape, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings have come to tarnish the image of his government.

If he is uncomfortable with the image of a war-monger, he must ensure that all those who are guilty of intentional attacks on Tamil and Muslim civilians are arrested, tried, convicted and put behind bars, and provide full compensation to the victims or their relatives. If Tamil and Muslim civilians have accidentally suffered in the course of attacks on the LTTE, he must apologise to them and compensate them too for their losses, guaranteeing their security and providing assistance for rebuilding their devastated lives. If all this were being done in a credible manner, the government would not be arresting Tamil refugees fleeing to Tamil Nadu, nor compelling Muslim refugees to return to Muttur and Thoppur, because the conditions for a voluntary return of refugees to their homes would have been created.

The government must formalise its relationship with Karuna by wresting guarantees of human rights from the outfit so that its large number of human rights violations will cease to be. And it must proceed firmly and rapidly with plans to move towards maximum devolution within a united - not unitary - state.

As head of state and the armed forces, the President cannot evade responsibility for the crimes committed by his armed forces and allies. Sinhala chauvinists must realise that Sri Lanka is not situated on some other planet and therefore its government is subject to international humanitarian and human rights laws. It is the President’s and government’s duty to implement such laws.

International actors who have proscribed the LTTE can help in this regard. As a matter of urgency, they should ensure that a UN-sponsored human rights monitoring mission, which several human rights bodies - including those of the UN - have called for, will be set up in Sri Lanka. They should pressure the government to accept and cooperate with this mission, which should threaten sanctions as a deterrent. The refusal of the LTTE to cooperate with such a mission is not an excuse for the government to do the same. They should also pressure the government to move more rapidly towards state reforms. However, in the final analysis it is only the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka who can ensure the marginalisation of Sinhala chauvinists claiming to act in their interests. They need to stage demonstrations calling for the protection of Tamil and Muslim civilians.

They need to demand an independent and impartial international human rights monitoring mission. They should recall that the last time they allowed large-scale state violations of the human rights of Tamils in the 1980s, tens of thousands of Sinhalese were the next to be killed. They need to demonstrate in front of JVP and JHU headquarters, threatening that not a single Sinhalese will vote for them if they block progress towards devolution and peace. They need to call on the President to bring them peace as he promised.

Finally, it would help if journalists stopped insulting Marx and Marxism by referring to the JVP as ‘Marxist’. Their Sinhala nationalism is more akin to the National Socialism of the Nazi Party than the internationalism of Marxism, which calls upon workers to unite irrespective of their ethnicity, language, religion or nationality. Genuine Marxism can be part of the solution to the current crisis.

Lessons for the Future

Our country is in a mess right now: there is no doubt about that. But this is partly because we did not learn from our mistakes in the past. If we do so at least now, and ensure that they are not repeated, we can break the sinister cycle (of war, ceasefire, and then more war). The majority of people in Sri Lanka, from all communities, would be in favour of a democratic solution to the current conflict.

If we ensure that their will prevails, by marginalising hardline Sinhala and Tamil nationalists, there is still hope for the future.


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