By Harim Peiris
Earlier this week, former Foreign Minister and current Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who recently celebrated his unbroken thirty years of public service as a parliamentarian, issued a lengthy statement which sought to set the record straight and correct misconceptions about the UNHRC process and Sri Lanka’s policy and position in that regard. The situation was aggravated by the conduct of one member of Sri Lanka’s delegation who had a solo press conference and claimed to have corrected the UN High Commissioner, a former president of Chile, who promptly denied the same. Later in the week, the opposition JO / SLPP has challenged the Government to correct what they claim are contradictions, between Minister Mangala’s statement and the statement of current Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who is undoubtedly fortunate to be Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, as a national list MP, who was forced to resign his previous portfolio in 2015, after public and his ministerial colleagues outrage over his unconscionable defense of the Avant Garde floating armory. However, the issues raised are more important than the personalities involved and deserve objective examination.
Sri Lanka requires reconciliation
There is one self-evident fact, which Minister Mangala Samaraweera reiterates, and what the Rajapakse era Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report (LLRC) documents and articulates most clearly, which is that a nation after a violent decades long fratricidal civil war, requires healing through addressing the effects, causes and the conduct of such a brutal conflict. Fundamental political theory would teach us that non reoccurrence of such conflict requires addressing these issues. Unresolved they lead to renewed conflict. About two decades after the first JVP uprising, we experienced a second uprising.
While all Sri Lankans suffered in many ways from the conflict, there are direct victims, who lost their lives, family members, limbs, homes, properties and businesses in the conflict. Many others were traumatized by the war, in different ways. The war widows, the orphans, the maimed, the families of the missing, the PTA detainees, unskilled and socially non-integrated ex combatants and the conflict caused destitute are a constant reminder to all Sri Lankans, ten years after the end of the war, that significant unfinished work of reconciliation, still exists.
Our reconciliation process is internationalized
Sri Lanka, does not live in isolation in the world. Our economy is closely integrated and globally dependent and so Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and our engagement with the world is crucial in our national interest. We did not even fight our war against the LTTE in isolation. With no domestic armaments industry, we fought our war, with globally purchased weapons and more importantly with international cooperation in intelligence and freezing of LTTE financing. Post 9/11, the West banned the LTTE front organizations and their funds, while India supplied the intelligence which enabled the Sri Lankan Navy to sink the LTTE weapons ships, in mid sea. The world demonstrated an interest in Sri Lanka’s war and post war reconciliation, because our conflict was internationalized especially through the dispersion of the Tamil communities around the world, post the 1983 pogrom. There are over one hundred thousand Sri Lankan refugees still in India, more than double that number in UK and Canada, with many others scattered throughout the western world and influential in the land of their adoption. All of whom have families, relatives, properties and memories about Sri Lanka, giving those countries a legitimate interest in non-reoccurrence. It is a testament of this internationalization that the first foreign visitor to Sri Lanka when the war ended was the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon The joint statement between then President Rajapakse on behalf of Sri Lanka and the UN Secretary General, clearly lays out Sri Lanka’s international commitments and obligation to establish post war reconciliation through a political solution, address the effects of the conflict and provide accountability for the conduct of the war. It is the Rajapakse Administration’s unwillingness to implement its own commitments which saw increasing international strictures and growing concern, through the UNHRC resolutions of pre 2015. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of resolutions post 2015, took back the ownership and control of the reconciliation process, from being foreign driven to being locally owned and managed.
That vexatious issue of Commonwealth or foreign Judges
Unarguably, between the three issues of the effects, causes and conduct of the war, the most politically sensitive issue is dealing the conduct of our war. It is this issue which the Rajapakse return project and the JO political opposition and their allies seeks to capitalize on. The controversy is over the phrase "foreign or commonwealth judges, investigators, prosecutors." etc. in the resolution. Firstly, that we require accountability for the conduct of the conflict is unarguable. That the LTTE was designated a terrorist organization by most of the world, was due to them being held accountable for their actions, including attacks on civilians and civilian targets. Accountability is two-fold. We cannot expect global cooperation in managing the international remnant of the LTTE, their funds and possible progeny without our own accountability and clear commitment to conduct our own national security and defense in keeping with international best practices and the rule of law, including international humanitarian law (IHL). It is in the interest of Sri Lanka’s military, now an increasingly important part of the UN’s global peace keeping forces, to demonstrate our professionalism and commitment to the highest standards and cooperate with UN processes. As recent CID investigations and indictments served by the Attorney General indicate particularly with regards some Naval personal and rogue elements in Naval intelligence, that human rights violations were not just part of the "war effort" but personal vendettas and brutality for profit.
At the outset it must be recognized that UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015, which Sri Lanka co-sponsored commits Sri Lanka to a "domestic process of accountability". Very Sri Lankan and based in Sri Lanka. That the administration of justice in Sri Lanka is cross border is not alien to our justice system at all. Until 1972 our highest court of appeal was the Privy Council of the House of Lords in UK and in fact the Army officers accused of plotting a coup against Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike was acquitted by the Privy Council. Contrast that with the war winning, "best army commander in the world" Field Marshall Fonseka who was thrown in a local jail, after a dubious and seriously flawed local process, when he failed in his political challenge to the Rajapakses’ in a democratic election. Similarly, we impeached our Chief Justice after her court ruled against the Rajapakse regime. We started getting our house back in order only post 2015.
The Rajapakse era International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP), headed by a foreign (Indian) chief justice Bhagwatti, set up in consort with a Presidential Commission of Inquiry perhaps lays out a Rajapakse model for international involvement in domestic justice processes. As Minister Mangala Samaraweera correctly notes at length in his statement, UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015, takes back to Sri Lanka, our process of reconciliation with a firmly enshrined domestic accountability process.