National Peace Council of Sri Lanka: There have been media reports of a ministerial delegation visiting South Africa to undertake a study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the reconciliation process that took place in that country over two decades ago. The South African reconciliation process, and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission in particular, have gained worldwide recognition for being a pioneer in dealing with human rights violations and war crimes that took place in the course of the struggle against Apartheid.
An important feature of the South African TRC was its openness and transparency. The public hearings held by the TRC ensured that South Africans became aware of the violations that had been committed during the apartheid years. The National Peace Council (NPC) believes that such a commission could provide Sri Lankan with renewed hope in terms of peace and reconciliation for those who have been affected by gross human rights violations. It is hoped the TRC will enable families of the missing to have the opportunity to learn about the fate of their relatives, who went missing during the war and leftist insurrection.
The reconciliation process should be a home grown one which is organic to Sri Lanka. If the process is organic, then it will not be rejected inasmuch as a human body will reject and organ which is foreign. NPC believes that Sri Lanka should venture beyond retributive justice and restorative justice. While the criminal justice system uses retributive justice as a form of deterrence this has not provided protection against the repetition of crime. Restoring society to the pre-war period is not adequate to achieve reconciliation, neither is punishing those involved as it can polarize society in a manner where there is no organic social consciousness of guilt. NPC believes that the transformative approach of the South African model is more suitable than the retributive justice process which is not suitable for ethnic conflicts or large scale conflicts.
The challenge will be to find solutions that are in line with Sri Lankan values and forms of justice that are accepted by the Sri Lankan people along with the rejection of violence. Accordingly, NPC believes that it is necessary for the TRC to be representative to instill confidence in the victims. It is of paramount importance that the members of the commission are selected via a consultative process as was the South African TRC where its members were selected through an open countrywide nomination process and publicly interviewed by an independent selection panel comprising representatives of all the political parties, civil society, and the religious bodies in the country. Hence those studying the TRC process need to ensure that a transparent process emerges in the establishment and implementation of a TRC in order to achieve peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.