Reconciliation, reparations and ‘domestic compulsions’


By N SathiyaMoorthy

Independent of what UNHRC in Geneva may have to say on the war-crimes probe, reconciliation and reparations (not to miss out on the ‘Office of the Missing Persons’) back home, it may be time that the incumbent Government thought and spoke about certain ground realities – and sought to convince the international community on ‘domestic compulsions’. It is more so, whatever the fate of the current no-trust motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, or the future of the government-composition, whichever party or leader wins the twin-polls to the Presidency and Parliament, due by 2020.

The need for such ‘open-speak’ as against all forms of ‘double-speak’ that this Government and the predecessor Rajapaksa regime had purportedly indulged in post-war is not far to seek. If the international community accused the Rajapaksa regime of ‘shifting the goal-post’ every now and again, the successor Maithri-Ranil duo leadership has only been offering symbolism, if not tokenism of legislative and procedural mechanisms, which by itself may take time to put in place and make them work. When such mechanisms, starting with the OMP now and the reparations process, is on stream, there is going to be fresh elections, and a possible changes in the Government leadership(s), though it may be too early to predict.

There is no denying that ‘governments’ do not change in the eye of the international law and commitments, with every change of leadership at the helm. This means future governments would inherit the commitments of the present one. The incumbent government inherited the burden from the past, in the name and form of UNHRC Resolution of 2012 on war crimes probe and the rest. It celebrated it as a great victory when it ended up co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 of October 2015, when Sri Lanka became a co-sponsor of a process which would culminate in ‘punishing’ its soldier-citizenry especially for ‘war crimes’ for which the nation had honoured him only months/years earlier.

In private, at least some of the responsible leaders in the present dispensation would admit that they should have worked with the Rajapaksa regime on the international commitments on war-crimes probe and the rest. Whether or not the Government leadership at the time sought took them into confidence, sought their cooperation or shared ‘international advice’ with them, they were indifferent to the entire scheme, as it was embarrassing their political adversaries of the day, and was also weakening the latter’s international standing, if any.

No free lunches

Looked at even more comprehensively, the processes that the present Government, especially of the UNP ignored at the time, also meant that Sri Lanka was pitted against the West, calling itself the ‘international community’ when the discourse is on human rights and the like. It also flowed from such a construct that Sri Lanka very badly needed ‘international partners’ who would defend them without asking questions or drawing down conditions – at least on paper and beforehand.

If China had thus fitted the bill, some sections of the present Government, including those in the then UNP Opposition, too, would not have been unhappy for it. It was known by the time the 2012 resolution went to vote in UNHRC, China had worked on some of its ‘allies’ to vote for Sri Lanka, which itself was not a voting-member at the time. Earlier, China and Russia, two veto-members in the UN Security Council, had ensured that allegations of war crimes did not become an ‘agenda item’ in the UNSC. It thus became a compulsion for the West to take Sri Lanka to Geneva, possibly an alternative UN mechanism, outside of the UNSC and veto-powers.

There are no free lunches in international diplomacy and politics. It was not as if the Rajapaksa regime or establishment Sri Lanka did not know this reality. In their perception, the democratic West did not leave them with other options, with the result Sri Lanka was pushed into the hands of China, which already had Hambantota on its lap as an ‘investment proposition’. If later on the Government cleared Chinese submarines to berth at Colombo Port for whatever reason or justification, it did queer the pitch with the larger Indian neighbour, whose security concerns in the matter was real and palpable.

Needless to point out, later on when the present-day Government accepted the ‘Hambantota equity deal’ with China, the seeds for the same had been sown when they were smiling to themselves the Rajapaksa regime’s discomfort on the UNHRC front. The West and other traditional allies of the nation, otherwise pitted against China on the geo-strategic front, could only look the other way, likewise, when the Maithri-Ranil duo went about explaining the swap deal as an economic reality, inflicted by the Rajapaksa regime in its time.

‘Boy Scout’ honour

The question is this: Granted that the present Government leadership, or the core, in the form of the UNP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continued in office post-poll, do they seen any possibility of being able to carry forward the UNHRC commitments that they undertake half-heartedly, and seek to enforce, with even less enthusiasm. If nothing else, they are now steeped so deep in domestic politics, and the realities and compulsions of domestic politics, in turn, will also be more on their minds in the coming months than the ‘Boy Scout’ honour that they might otherwise have – if at all.

Should there be a change of Government, needless to say, that it could well centre on the Rajapaksa leadership and family – at least, as it looks now. If in Elections-2015, war-crimes probe and ‘international embarrassment’ did influence at least a section of the ‘majority Sinhala-Buddhist’ voters, any victory for an alternative political leadership to that in Government would mostly be based now, on issues of domestic governance, and nothing else.

In such a backdrop, the ethnic issue, racial violence (including the recent Kandy episodes) all would play a lesser part, unless there is some visible pre-poll moderation in the way the Sinhala majority looks at the poll than the way they have since voted in the LG polls of 10 February. It also remains to be seen if anyone in the current Government dispensation has any mechanism or method to woo back all those Tamil and Muslim voters, who had helped them vote out Rajapaksa in 2015, even if the stand-alone SLT vote for Fonseka did not vote in Elections-2010.

More to the point, the farther the voters move away from war and its consequences, and questions begin to be asked and thrashed out in individual drawing rooms, the halo of war victory may become less and less relevant for the Sinhala voter (or any other) to make his automatic choice. In such a scenario, they will also question themselves about the rationale behind the Tamils voting Fonseka against Rajapaksa, both they should have otherwise charged with ‘war crimes’, and how even under the present duo, the TNA has had no reservations to the Field Marshal becoming a minister.

Even such a construct is based on the premise that the Tamils and the TNA got to know details of war crimes only from the Darusman report and the like, even though they could readily conclude that the Rajapaksas were to blame for all those avoidable killings, if any, in Mullivaikkal.

This apart, any Government in the place of the incumbent, post-LG polls, would be tempted to revive the forgotten Constitution-making process, if at least to impress the ‘minorities’ and also the ‘international community’. That way, they could try and re-focus their political efforts from their government-failures of the past four years. If so, it could become an election issue, again, where the Sinhala majority could well get divided and polarised all over again.

With the TNA leadership seemingly fighting a battle for survival within the Tamil clan with its back to the wall, that will be saying a lot – but which way is the dice loaded, for the TNA leadership and for the present Government leadership, is what could well decide the fate of reconciliation process. It is already packaged ungainly in the form of a new Constitution, leaving aside the OMP and reparation processes, with the latter hopefully putting some money into the hands of many, not only Tamils and possibly Muslim victims of the LTTE, but also the Sinhalas in the South, victims from and of the JVP, from the seventies on.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...