By Shamindra Ferdinando
Nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to achieve national reconciliation.
The previous Rajapaksa administration brought the violent conflict to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon,o n the Vanni east front, by militarily crushing the ‘world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation’.
In spite of rhetoric, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has pathetically failed to accomplish a genuine rapprochement. Instead, the yahapalana leadership has allowed further deterioration of the situation by deliberately suppressing a comprehensive dialogue on wartime British High Commission dispatches that surely cleared, both previous political and military leaderships, of war crimes, as alleged by a section of the international community. In addition to British dispatches, Sri Lanka could have utilized specific US declaration at the first defence, seminar organized in June 2011, and also Wiki leaks, to deny unverified allegations thereby encourage post-war national reconciliation.
The British had certainly, but unintentionally, dealt a devastating blow to a brazen project to humiliate the country on unproven crimes allegations.
Yahapalana leaders, since coming to power in January 2015, pursued an agenda severely inimical to Sri Lanka. Their despicable strategy was meant to address post-war issues in terms of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the GoSL on Oct 1, 2015. Yahapalana cabinet spokesman and Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, last Wednesday (Feb. 28) fiercely argued with the writer that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government didn’t co-sponsor the Oct 1, 2015 resolution during the post-cabinet media briefing.
In its haste to appease Western powers and onetime LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that had helped Maithripala Sirisena to secure presidency, the government depicted the Geneva prescribed new Constitution as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had no option but to ignore British dispatches as they strongly disputed the very basis of the Geneva Resolution. In other words, had the government utilized official British data, presented by Lord Naseby, in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017, Sri Lanka could have sought re-examination of the Geneva Resolution. No less a person than UNSG’s Deputy Spokesman Frahan Aziz Haq said so when the writer sought an explanation as to how Sri Lanka could use Naseby’s revelations. Haq told the writer that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. Haq said that member states could decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case (Naseby revelations: UNSG Spokesman: Decision to revisit resolution in the hands of UNHURT members-The Island, Dec 1, 2017).
Lord Naseby requested Geneva to review the Sri Lanka case while a shameless yahapalana leadership ignored the opportunity for petty political reasons.
A deeply rattled British High Commission in Colombo, in response to The Island query dismissed Naseby’s statement (Naseby’s call doesn’t reflect UK’s stand-HC – The Island, Dec 6, 2017).
Those who had been shaken by a massive drubbing suffered by the UNP and SLFP, at the Feb.10 local government polls, and wanting to examine ways and means of enhancing their image should at least now re-think their Geneva strategy. They cannot continue to ignore fresh review of accountability issues, especially in view of scheduled elections to nine Provincial Councils followed by presidential and parliamentary polls. The presidential polls are less than two years away, after the Supreme Court ruled that President Sirisena cannot continue beyond five years.
Sri Lanka will have to take a clear stand in Geneva during the ongoing sessions. The sessions commenced on Feb. 26. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government will have to face political consequences soon depending on its Geneva strategy. Decisive decision on a future course of action cannot be put off, against the backdrop of the recent LG polls debacle.
The Marxist JVP, too, should accept responsibility for remaining mum on this vital issue. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in spite of being the Chief Opposition Whip, never pushed the government on the Geneva issue in the wake of Naseby’s revelations. In fact, all political parties, that backed Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, respectively, at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, conveniently refrained a from seeking fresh examination of the Geneva Resolution as they felt the outcome could be advantageous to the previous administration. The coalition that had been in existence, since late Dec 2009, comprised the UNP, the JVP, the TNA, the SLMC and few other minor and minority parties. The vast majority of the Sinhala electorate will surely react angrily to their combined failure to exploit an opportunity to counter lies propagated on behalf of the Eelam lobby by the so called international community, made up of mainly powerful Western countries.
A deeply flawed yahapalana policy
Those who had been spearheading the post-war reconciliation process, under the current administration never paid attention to available information that could be effectively used to convince the Tamil speaking people that the government offensive was never meant to annihilate the civilian population. Naseby’s declarations and assertions in the House of Lords as well as other forums, subsequently, could have had helped Sri Lanka to set the record straight. Unfortunately, the yahapalalana government lacked the courage and vision to use undoubtedly the most important data that had been made available, courtesy the British government, nine years after the conclusion of the war, to convince the Tamil speaking people.
Had the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government acted responsibly and made representations to the international community, it could have taken the first step in the right direction to clear Sri Lanka’s image.
When the writer inquired from co-cabinet spokesman and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera whether Naseby’s revelations had been discussed at the cabinet, Jayasekera asserted that there were far more important issues than that. It would be pertinent to mention how Jayasekera reacted angrily when the matter was raised by The Island at the weekly cabinet briefing over a month after Lord Naseby’s explosive statement (Cabinet spokesman provoked by query on govt. response to Naseby move – The Island, Nov 15, 2017).
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government tried its best to downplay the importance of Naseby’s defence. Instead of exploring ways and means to push for reappraisal of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, the government made a desperate bid to divert attention. The Foreign Ministry’s despicable initial response to Naseby’s defence of Sri Lanka shook the conscience of the vast majority of people. Even those who had been wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before a hybrid court in terms of the Geneva Resolution 30/1 were certainly surprised by the servile manner the current political leadership refused to defend its own. A deeply embarrassed Foreign Ministry issued a second statement to clarify its first that exposed the unashamed mindset of officialdom hell-bent on appeasing foreign powers.
When The Island inquired from the leader of the Sri Lankan delegation to Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in Nov. 2017, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva, whether Naseby’s revelations would be raised by Sri Lanka, the economist asserted that the House of Lords statement wasn’t directly connected to the matter at issue (House of Lords statement not directly relevant to UPR-Dr. De Silva-The Island, Nov 14, 2017)
Failure of new ministry
Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to ascertain the truth, the role of the National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry should be examined. No less a person than President Sirisena heads the ministry with veteran politician A. H. M. Fowzie functioning as the State Minister. Ministry Secretary V. Sivagnanasothy has explained to the media how foreign students were here to study Sri Lanka’s integration and reconciliation programme. Among them were a group of 20 Virginia University MBA students headed by Professor Marc Modica who participated in a knowledge sharing exercise.
The foreign group studied the innovative interventions such as integration friendly schools programme, ‘peace journalism’ and integration friendly media programme, District Reconciliation Committees with inter-religious leaders to address ethnic and religious tensions, National Integration Week, Reconciliation Declaration, 7 core virtues on reconciliation and reconciliation focused economic empowerment programme, initiated by the Government of Sri Lanka.
But, unfortunately, the ministry hasn’t paid attention to the fact that the very basis of the primary allegations directed at Sri Lanka needed to be re-examined and Geneva Resolution 30/1 amended in view of the Naseby revelations. In fact, President Sirisena’s ministry has missed a golden opportunity to promote national reconciliation by effectively using Naseby’s assertions, based on the British High Commission’s wartime dispatches, to disprove deliberate propaganda against us. Sri Lanka should have had asked the UK, a key member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), to help convince Tamil speaking people that the Sri Lankan military didn’t massacre over 40,000 civilians. Had the British been so keen to assist post war national reconciliation process here, they would have surely helped establish the truth. Instead, the British worked overtime to deprive Sri Lankans of the battlefield truth. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the British had been badly exposed. National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry could have played a pivotal role in restoring genuine peace, following nearly 30 years of war. The ministry engaged in futile exercises to promote reconciliation while turning a blind eye to trustworthy information that could have been used to deny unsubstantiated allegations. The government cannot ignore the need to challenge the Geneva Resolution, based on unproven accusations accepted and presented by Western powers. Theirs had been an effort meant to change the previous Rajapaksa administration due to its close relationship with Beijing in addition to domestic political reasons. Western powers and India felt that the Colombo-Beijing relationship posed a regional threat to them.
The recent British demand that Sri Lanka’s defence attache in the UK be recalled immediately following the officer’s controversial throat-slitting gesture indicated the hardened British stand vis a vis Sri Lanka.
However, ongoing countrywide survey undertaken by the National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry to ascertain the number of war dead, both civilians and combatants as well as the circumstances under which alleged disappearances took place et al should be appreciated.
In support of post-war reconciliation efforts, yahapalana grandees launched a film project soon after the change of government in January 2015. Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), headed by twice-president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, funded the project carried out by Asoka Handagama, Vimukthi Jayasundara and Prasanna Vithanage, the directors of the omnibus film ‘Thundenek’, under the English title ‘Her. Him. The Other’
The film produced by ONUR premiered at the Regal cinema on February 27. Thundenek comprised three short movies that addressed post-war issues.
On the invitation of Kumaratunga, President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe joined the event at the cinema where the former President launched ‘National Policy on Reconciliation and Coexistence Sri Lanka’
The Island features editor, Sajitha Prematunge, dealt with the movie consisted of three short films in an article headlined ‘ONUR never dictated terms’ with strap line Handagama, Vithanage and Jayasundara on making of ‘Thundenek’ the March 2, 2018 edition of The Island, also accessible online. Therein, the directors maintained, quite rightly the movie does not advance personal political agenda, though being funded by Kumaratunga’s ONUR.
The writer had an opportunity to join the audience that included civil society activists, Colombo-based diplomats, embassy local staff et al at the screening. ‘Her’ directed by Prasanna Vithanage based on actual events, as claimed, dealt with an LTTE media unit man (videographer Kesa) who wanted to locate the wife of a Sinhala soldier killed on the Vanni front in 2008., Kesa, succeeded in locating the woman married to another man living in the north central province in 2010, a year after the successful conclusion of the war. Interestingly, Kesa, figured in recruitment of child soldiers at the last phase of the war on the Vanni front in Asoka Handagama’s ‘The Other’. ‘Her’ reminded the LTTE’s despicable tactics. The LTTE used a telephone number written on the other side of a photograph found in the wallet of the soldier killed on the Vanni front to contact his wife. Although, ‘Her’ depicted a story about a man, who had been involved in the conflict coming to terms with his own conscience, the reality is different.
Vimukthi Jayasundara’s ‘Him’ dealt with reincarnation of an LTTE terrorist into a Sinhala family and how subsequent media exposure of the rebirth as a result of a foolish intervention by a school principal compelled the latter to flee their coastal village.
‘The Other’ by Asoka Handagama discussed the sufferings of a woman who had lost both her husband and her only son during the war, with the latter portrayed as a young warrior ready to sacrifice his life for their cause to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Having had reached Colombo with a young war widow to participate in a post-war protest demanding to know the whereabouts of her missing son, the lady follows a young man whom she wrongly recognized as her son. Later, the young amputee turned out to be a Sinhala soldier now attached to the army hospital after being wounded in the battle against the LTTE. ‘The Other’ underscored the State’s roughshod response to those wanting closure in the wake of the end of war.
The writer felt the film makers had certainly tried to address post-war issues in an impartial way though those who had lost loved ones cannot simply feign ignorance of the actual ground situation.
Beyond ONUR initiative
Mrs. Kumaratunga, one-time Commander-in-Chief, was once called Mother of all battles. Kumaratunga earned the wrath of the LTTE and those who believed in its war after she fought back after the LTTE resumed hostilities in April 1995. She has been accused of committing atrocities. Rev. Father Emmanuel, President of the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), had called her mother of all battles in the wake of the Eelam War III (April 1995 to Dec 2001). Since the change of government, Kumaratunga, on a number of occasions, declared that by the time she handed over presidency to Mahinda Rajapaksa in Nov 2005, the LTTE controlled maximum 30 per cent of the Vanni territory. Obviously, she was lying or simply didn’t have a real sense of the actual ground situation. But Kumaratunga deserve praise for bringing the entire Jaffna peninsula under government control though the military couldn’t sustain the offensive due to strategic miscalculations and unpreparedness.
Had the Army failed on the Vanni front during Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency (2005 Nov-January 2014), there wouldn’t have been space for much touted projects to promote national reconciliation. The ‘Thundenek’ would never have been made. An influential section of the Tamil community would have remained in perpetual belief the war could be brought to a negotiated settlement in terms advantageous to the LTTE. None of those demanding genuine reconciliation or seeking closure felt such requirement as long as the LTTE had the wherewithal to wage war. Today, they had quite conveniently forgotten that reconciliation wouldn’t have been possible until Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion. In fact, had Sri Lanka failed, the LTTE could have overwhelmed the Army on the northern front. Had that happened, Western powers and their agents would have propagated a different theme today.
Let there be a genuine effort to inquire into still unproven accusations to ascertain the truth.
(To be continued on March 14)