Rajan Hoole is one of the unusual figures in Sri Lankan politics. Supporters of the LTTE view him with great suspicion as he and the organisation he has helped to build – the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) has been was as critical about the LTTE as it was about the Government of Sri Lanka. In terms of balanced and detailed assessments of human rights abuse in Sri Lanka, few do better. So his views on the debate about a domestic versus an international inquiry are worth noting.
Human rights activists like Rajan Hoole welcome some form of international pressure on Sri Lanka “to ensure that the truth of what innocent civilians suffered as the result of the actions and designs of both sides is placed on public record”. In his own words:
“The very fact that an international war crimes tribunal is widely discussed, should make each one of us ask why this virtual reprimand? It is of no use blaming the rest of the world or the LTTE. It is a by-product of this country’s post independence political legacy. It is a statement of the fact that the country drove itself into creeping anarchy by repeatedly spurning opportunities to put its house in order.
“Unfortunately, the latest commission to go into Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation underlines the problem of credibility. The earlier commission that drew much attention was the one appointed by the president to go into several cases of impunity, including the ACF (Action Contre la Faim) killings. That too was an opportunity mislaid.
The ACF hearing was largely directed under the former attorney general, the chairman of the new commission. That commission never revealed the truth. An extract from its leaked alleged report, contrary to the best indications, blamed the LTTE and in our (UTHR-J) documentation we have shown that the AG’s role was to suppress the truth. A study of the ACF case and how the state behaved would reveal most of the lessons important for the Sinhalese.
“UTHR-J documentation reveals frankly the LTTE’s culpability for turning several opportunities for peace into very destructive wars. There is a crying need for the Tamils to make a frank assessment of the LTTE’s legacy and put it behind us. But this new commission is not the place where Tamils could speak frankly with a good conscience, against the well-founded suspicion that, like in the ACF case, it would not do them justice and instead all they say would be misused to shift the blame from the state.
“I feel hesitant to talk about an international war crimes tribunal. But for any reconciliation the truth must be placed firmly on record and we must be grateful for any international effort to this end–humbly acknowledging that we have failed and have shown no real desire to succeed. We are the cause of making our sovereignty an object of ridicule.
“International norms and measures to deal with questions of justice came through recognition of past collective failures involving several nation states–nothing aimed at us. If we recognise that the future of this planet is our collective responsibility, we should have the courage and foresight to use international mechanisms for our own good. Xenophobic abuse would only confirm us in our perdition.”