It’s official, a hybrid of Judges comprising local and foreign, operating under Sri Lanka’s domestic laws, will investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE, in the little over a seven year period from 2002, till the war ended on 19 May 2009.
This was as a consequence of a USA led resolution which was tabled at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions at Geneva on Thursday. This resolution may undergo changes in the coming days before being put to vote by the UNHRC’s 47 member countries.
State controlled ‘Daily News’ quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva on its Thursday’s edition said that GoSL will co-sponsor this USA backed resolution. Therefore, it’s likely to be adopted virtually unchanged by the UNHRC when it comes up for vote as GoSL, being one of two key protagonists in this drama (the other being the LTTE, a non State actor and proscribed as a terrorist organization by the USA), is supporting this move.
The resolution also welcomed the setting up of a South African style Truth Commission to investigate such alleged crimes. Nevertheless, there appears to be one obvious difference between South Africa’s Truth Commission and the proposed Truth Commission of Sri Lanka’s, i.e. while all the 17 commissioners in South Africa’s Truth Commission were South African, divorced of any foreign commissioners, those who will comprise ‘Colombo’s Truth Commission’ will be hybrid, in that it will comprise both local and foreign jurists.
One of four other grey areas as far as the proposed ‘Sri Lanka Truth Commission’ is concerned are how many commissioners will it comprise, on the presumption that this investigative tribunal will be called a commission, and further, who will appoint these commissioners?
In the South African case, it was Pretoria who appointed those commissioners, while as far as the Colombo case is concerned it’s unclear who will appoint these jurists? The 3rd grey area is how many jurists will comprise the Colombo case and the 4th, what will be the breakdown in the composition of the jurists, i.e. how many will be foreign and how many will be local?
The establishment of a hybrid tribunal as opposed to a wholly local one to investigate such alleged war crimes is a testimony to the fact that the international community doesn’t have any confidence in the local Judicial process, that justice would be meted out to both the perpetrators and the victims of such alleged crimes.
There may have been certain acts of omission and commission committed by the new government after it assumed power at the 8 January 2015 presidential poll, despite the passing of the 19th Amendment which clipped the powers of the President, that may have had led to this situation.
Though the resolution is silent as to why it wants international Jurists in the investigative panel and not wholly local Jurists, certain nominations on the UPFA electoral list in respect of the recently concluded 17 August 2015 general election and subsequent UPFA appointments of MPs, with cases against them, to positions of responsibility in the new government may have had shaken the confidence of the international community, in Colombo, despite them affirming the positive political developments that have taken place in the country after 8 January in their resolution.
The first was in 1987, when Rajiv Gandhi’s India arm twisted J. R. Jayewardene, and landed Indian troops here, on the pretext that they were peace keepers, which resulted in the whole country going up in flames and a state of near anarchy existing in Sri Lanka till November 1989, culminating in the elimination of the then JVP leadership.
The other was in February 2002 when present Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe signed a Norwegian backed ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, supervised by a Scandinavian monitoring mission and co-chaired by Norway, India, Japan, the USA and the UK. The second was no arm twisting and subsequently resulted in the disintegration of the LTTE, the consequences of which was reaped by Colombo with the defeat of the terrorists on 18 May 2009.
Thursday’s resolution, if adopted by the UNHRC, the chances are that it will, will be the 3rd. It cannot be said that this 3rd intervention has the support of ‘all’ sections of Sri Lanka, similar to the 2nd intervention.
And that disenchanted lot may have similar attributes to that earlier disenchanted lot, which ignited Colombo in flames some 28 years ago in 1987. History has a tendency of repeating itself at times, especially if the actors are ignorant of history.