The Geneva Equation


By Ruana Rajepakse

A little less than three years ago, at the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, this writer made the following observations in the columns of this newspaper:

Having won the war Sri Lanka must not lose the peace. To analyze this cliché carefully we should first be clear about what has been won. The LTTE has been defeated and destroyed. Given the proven capabilities of the armed forces it is unlikely that any other group would attempt the direct military route to a separate state in the foreseeable future. However it would be a serious mistake to imagine that Tamil separatism has been defeated………..

Unlike Tamils in this country who have experienced the reality of life under the LTTE, the children of the Tamil diaspora are likely to be brought up on an intellectual diet of heroic mythology and hatred of the Sinhalese. Last but not least, these people have strategically located themselves in areas where their block vote counts in the electoral politics of the western countries where they have settled.

I was writing about the extraordinary diplomatic barrage directed at the Government of Sri Lanka from western capitals during the last days of the LTTE – an organization ostensibly proscribed in most of those countries. It made one wonder whether it was only Prabhakaran’s dreams that were going up in smoke or some larger grand design.

However Russia, China and our friends in the so-called Third World stood by us, and the Western Powers, whose countries are known to harbour large numbers of Tamils with separatist sentiments, stood defeated in the UN Human Rights Council.

Now, once again, there is a hostile resolution against Sri Lanka that is likely to be taken up in the forum, but the equation is significantly different.

Nearly three years have passed since the end of the war. In response to pressures for international investigations into the conduct of the last stages of the conflict, the Government, in May 2010, set up its own investigative body known as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

This body had a broad mandate to inquire and report on the following: (1) The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement which had become operational on 21.02.2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to 19.05.2009; (2) Whether any person, group or institution directly bears responsibility in this regard; (3) The lessons to be learnt from these events and their attendant concerns in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence; (4) The institutional, administrative and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote national unity and reconciliation among all communities, and to make any such other recommendations with reference to any of the matters that have been inquired into under the terms of the Commission’s warrant.

The Commission was chaired by former Attorney-General C.R. De Silva, P.C. Its other members were Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera, P.C., the former Legal Advisor to the Foreign Ministry, Professor Karunaratne Hangawatte, Chandirapal Chanmugam, former Secretary to the Treasury, H.M.G.S. Palihakara, a former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the UN, Manohari Ramanathan, retired Judge Maxwell Paranagama and M.T.M. Bafiq.

Some sections of civil society were skeptical about the membership of the Commission, as being nearly all persons from the public sector. However the Commission was taken seriously by the public with people traveling from distant parts of the country and even from abroad to make representations.

The Commission handed in its Report on November 15, 2011. It runs to more than 400 pages, dealing with the ceasefire agreement, an overview of Security Forces operations, Humanitarian Issues, Human Rights, Land Issues and Reconciliation. It is available on the world wide web and has, one hopes, been seriously studied by all political parties and senior administrators whose work encompasses any of the issues addressed. It should also become part of any modern history syllabus for advanced students.

The problem that has surfaced for the Government internationally is that implementation of its recommendations has been slow, if not negligible. On the one hand this has given rise to doubts about the Government’s seriousness of purpose, while on the other hand, nations hostile to the Sri Lankan Government are able to use this tardiness on the part of the Government to push for international sanctions.

In the meantime allegations of atrocities by Government forces against the Tamil population will continue to be repeated in international forums where there are elements hostile to Sri Lanka.

In this context there is a very interesting fact which ought to be cited, but which the Government for obvious reasons will not cite. This is the fact that in the Presidential Election of 2010, where wartime Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was one of the candidates, the majority of voters in Tamil majority areas who cast their ballots, voted for Fonseka.

In an admittedly low poll, due to wartime emigration and disruption amongst other things, the former Army Commander took 68.93 per cent of the votes in Batticaloa District, 54.09 per cent in Trincomalee District, 63.84 per cent in Jaffna District, 66.86 per cent in Wanni District and 52.14 per cent in Nuwara Eliya District. These are official results available on the website of the Commissioner of Elections.

If indeed the Army had committed atrocities in the last days of the war, as alleged, why would the majority of voters in these areas have voted for the ex-Army Commander? Even if they did not want Mahinda Rajapaksa, they could have put up a Tamil candidate of their own to make a point, or boycotted the poll, or voted for one of the minor candidates including Tamil candidates that were on the list.

This would be a very cogent argument to demonstrate that the Army did not commit atrocities and that its Commander was in fact seen by the majority of the war-affected Tamil population as a reliable national leader. Unfortunately due to obvious political constraints this point will probably not be made by the Sri Lanka delegation in the forums where it is needed.

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