An edited version of an article by Nirmanusan Balasundaram as first published on Groundviews on 25th September 2010
“There cannot be reconciliation without justice. Justice and equity are at the core of reconciliation”
Professor Hizkias Assefa
If the citizens of Sri Lanka are too fearful to express their grievances and aspirations, including opposition political parties, independent media and even ruling party government ministers how can a national minority discriminated and oppressed for more than five decades practice their rights in Sri Lanka? If there is no conducive environment to preserve fundamental human rights including basic human needs such as survival, wellbeing, freedom and identity and the right to enjoy the values of democracy in Sri Lanka, then what guarantee is there that a ‘genuine reconciliation’ will take place?
The platform for genuine reconciliation should be rooted in the democratic exercises, rights and participation of all citizens throughout a country. The present regime does not even accommodate dissidents from the majority Sinhala community, including “their” own former army commander. Hence, how can they provide justice and accommodate Tamils aspiration? And now after the regime has consitutionalied its dictatorship through the 18th Amendment, how can people still believe in such a whitewashing reconciliation process? With the last nail in the coffin of Sri Lankan Democracy, the hope of genuine reconciliation is also being buried along with it.
If the present regime can play around with the supreme law of Sri Lanka like this, how can normal citizens even imagine that reconciliation with this government is possible? The unlimited power of a family dynastic dictatorship is an absolute disaster for Sri Lankan Democracy. It is obvious that Tamil people did not expect any miracle from the 18th constitutional amendment but the downright disappointment is that the Sinhalese themselves are being cheated by the Rajapakse regime as they did not even have the opportunity to express their views on an amendment to their own constitution!
Past constitutions predominantly oppressed the Tamil people, but for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka the Sinhala and Muslim people are going to experience mass suffering under the a dictatorship legitimized through the 18th Amendment tassed in parliament with a illegitimate two thirds majority. It has led to a “collective victimization through undemocratic constitution changing or making” going beyond ethnic differences and thus becoming a common issue for all communities in Sri Lankan in relation to reconciliation.
If Sri Lanka is indeed free from ‘terror’ then why does the regime still have emergency laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)? If the government is committed to genuine reconciliation, then why has there has been no adequate resettlement for Tamils and Muslims. On the contrary state sponsored Sinhala colonization is being carried out hastily, while Tamil people are prevented to go or resettle in their traditional inhabitant places by the creation of High Security Zones (HSZ) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in these areas. In this way, the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is controlled with a high-level military presence making it an open-prison. If there is a civil administration functioning in the Northern region then why does almost all major events including opening ceremonies, temple festivals, school programs and cultural programs take place with a military presence? On one hand the Rajapakse regime is constructing new monuments for fallen Sri Lankan Armed Forces while on the other hand they do not allow Tamil people to commemorate the massacre of their kith and kin which numbered nearly forty-thousand in the last phase of the war in May 2009. The regime is enduringly suspicious of the Tamil community and a ‘climate of doubt’ does not lend itself to genuine reconciliation.
The above mentioned destructive actions and attitudes are only some examples that are evidence of the facade that the government of Sri Lanka paints when it comes to reconciliation. The Rajapakse regime is contradicting their own false statements and commitments on reconciliation with their activities aimed at strengthening the regime’s hold on the country. A further tactic that the Rajapakse regime is employing is the use of the economic development rhetoric to divert international attention away from war crimes, human rights violations and the humanitarian situation. But Sri Lanka cannot exercise lasting peace unless there is justice and a restoration of basic human rights to those victims of the war and this can only come about via a credible (international) independent investigation into the countless charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In the last twenty years, a considerable number of commissions were formed by Sri Lankan authorities but all of those commissions failed to be credible. Amnesty International’s report “Twenty years of make-believe – Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry” exposes the façade and deception of Sri Lanka’s past commissions and their deliberate and pre-determined ineffectiveness by design and implementation. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is no departure from this shameful past record. How can the LLRC be genuine and truthful, if military intelligence officers are monitoring and taking notes of the entire hearing as people try to present their testimonies (this has taken place in Vavuiya, in Northern Sri Lanka in mid August – Virakeasari, August 15, 2010, Page 11)?
Not only is this evidence of another severely flawed commission of inquiry but it is also a sign of the Burmese type military dictatorship that Sri Lanka has entered into. Despite that fact that victims of the war, with the hope of finding out about their kith and kin, are appearing before the commission there are no witness protection mechanisms for these people. And as Sri Lanka’s commissions are operating without independency and accountability, the government does not allow any international independent human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights council to function in the country.
The Rajapakse regime’s military victory and activities of reconciliation have not created any paths to respect and recognize the Tamil people’s dignity, equity and sovereignty. Furthermore there has been no single concrete measure taken to provide justice for the Tamil people, who are severely affected by the discriminatory policies of Sri Lanka’s successive governments ever since Sri Lanka was granted independence. The Tamil people need normalcy, dignity, justice and a durable peace for a better life rather than a shameful whitewashing and untruthful reconciliation process.
The Rajapakse regime has successfully pulled off cover-up attempts leading upto the end of the war and following it. They claim that genocidal war crimes did not happen but no independent body is allowed to monitor or verify this. Then they insisted that all resources needed to cope with the humanitarian suffering is being channelled but would not allow independent INGOs and UN agencies to have full access to fill the enormous gaps in the rehabilitation and resettlement efforts.
And now their laying claims to achieving reconciliation but contradicting this intention in every manner possible. Once is stupid, twice is suspect and third is malevolent! In the Rajapakse regime’s playbook, ‘reconciliation’ is the main tactic when it comes to handling the international community’s mounting pressure on recent developments in Sri Lanka. How long will it take the international community to realize this? How long will it be before the world sees beyond the facade that has been constructed to hide the continued discrimination against Tamil people? How long?
So next time you hear anyone say “there is reconciliation going on in Sri Lanka” challenge them forcefully. Ask them what rubbish they are talking about, what reasons they have to believe that genuine reconciliation is happening? Point out to them that there is Sinhalese domination under a dictatorial government that has no intention of giving Tamil people the dignity, normalcy and justice they have long been waiting for and deserve!