BY SULOCHANA RAMIAH MOHAN
The South African model of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a sound, but bit more of a home-grown process, where the reconciliation and healing can be addressed, has been proposed and it’s on the agenda of the Maithri Government.
Last week, the government announced that South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to visit Sri Lanka with his delegation. The previous UPFA Government which avoided the UN call on war crime probe announced it was backing the South African model on reconciliation (TRC) and thereafter had been ‘studying’ the TRC initiative by way of sending delegations to visit South Africa and in turn, Ramaphosa and his teams visit to Sri Lanka ultimately made no impact to spell it out the outcome in a practical manner.
Addressing the oldest think-tank of the US, the at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on 11th February, spelt accurately that his government will work with South Africa, ‘not be for the purpose of amnesty but to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the
He told the US think-tanks that the new government in the coming weeks will begin the process of setting up necessary mechanisms to investigate into incidents, and where sufficient evidence is available, conduct criminal prosecution in such cases. End of this month officials from South Africa are to institute a truth-seeking mechanism suitable for our circumstances, which will function in parallel to the accountability mechanism too will be discussed. He said, “Unlike the South African version, it will not be for the purpose of amnesty but to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims.”
Two pronged approach
This announcement thus explains that the government is partly going to work with the South Africans and partly with the UN call on war crime probe. Government said it will engage with the international community in this process including the United Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Therefore, the full reading on the reconciliation and the war crime probe will be in two processes.
The government is to moot a two way approach including the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, it was specified.
Thus, the government has drawn a road map for reconciliation using the South African model where a process applicable only for reconciliation and healing and a separate roadmap to work on the accountability and the punishments as per the US and the UNHRC call.
Commenting on the new government’s initiative to work with the South Africans, this time to be more fruitful, Executive Director of the National Peace Council NGO Dr. Jehan Perera, said “The government is proposing a two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue of war crimes and the ongoing UN inquiry into it. First, it is considering a domestic criminal trial process with the objective of prosecuting those who were allegedly involved in human rights violations, in the Sri Lankan Courts, if there is evidence. Second, it is considering a reconciliation process similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But unlike the South African version, it will not be for the purpose of amnesty, but to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims. If the TRC has no provision in it for amnesty, the perpetrator is unlikely to confess to the truth. This will reduce the prospects for healing. Therefore, the TRC should be given the power to grant amnesty.”
He further explained that the underlying rationale of a TRC is that knowledge of the truth of what happened will enable society to reconcile and move forward. In a time of war it is very difficult to find the truth of what happened. Due to the difficulty of obtaining evidence that meets the standard of criminal law, it is only if those who have knowledge of the wrong, or who were the perpetrators, confess that the truth will emerge.
“It is the prospect of receiving amnesty that will give any wrongdoer or perpetrator the incentive to confess to the truth. In South Africa, those who confessed to the truth were given amnesty by the TRC. But not all who came before the TRC received amnesty. Over 7,000 persons who applied for amnesty, little over 1,000 were granted amnesty, he added.
South Africa, achieved democracy in 1994, and their Constitution is widely regarded as the most progressive Constitution in the world, with a Bill of Rights second to none, an independent Judiciary, a free press and a robust multi-party political system. South Africa a nation with over 50-million people and a wide variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs and equal status.
SA initiative with a SL twist
Why South Africa’s initiative is ideal is that, South Africa which was under apartheid rule for decades came out of it on its own initiative to its own burning national issue. Although Sri Lanka and South Africa’s scenarios are never close to each other, there are areas that could be extracted from the South African experience that is the reconciliation and healing process which had been highly commendable. Talking on the success story where reconciliation brought peace to South Africa, South African High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Geoff Doidge expressed that the mechanism Sri Lanka is looking forward to work with, is a very ‘possible’ approach.
While explaining what exactly Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera mentioned in the US was reconciliation however, not following the TRC strictly, but mostly adopting a homegrown process and they are happy to assist us. “Samaraweera said unlike the South African version, it would be a healing and reconciliation process of the victims with the SA support, and we will explore that in detail,” he added.
Sri Lanka will have to name what they want and we will work by it, he said.
A large South African delegation lead by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ms. Nomaindiya Mfeketo will hold meeting on 24th February with the government officials of Sri Lanka on bilateral ties and how to support Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.
The meeting will also explore whether the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) needs support and what kind of support. However, it has to be a homegrown process and not strictly based on the TRC of South Africa.
The SA High Commissioner said, “The South Africa’s TRC cannot be replicated anywhere and anytime, and so a different model, a home-grown mechanism is what the SLG wants.”
However, the main issue of killing and abduction, the basic of all human rights has been upheld since the ‘truth and reconciliation’ came into action.
A security and foreign policy expert Colonel R. Hariharan from India said that Samaraweera’s trip to Washington was not toward poverty alleviation, but to restore the US goodwill dissipated by former President Rajapaksa for the new regime.
“It could ease pressure building up UNHRC and improve relations with the West and enable to make further headway in implementing its agenda. Truth & Reconciliation commission is a widely appreciated model and that is all,” he said.
Sri Lanka has been for political reasons ruined the thinking of its people, changing their mindset to be more cautious about being identified as ‘minority or ‘majority’ and finally achieved nothing but an outcome of suspicious and lack of trust of his fellowmen. Although we are in the process of healing our own wounds, we need to cultivate more the right attitude and right thinking and embrace anyone comes forward to support our causes. South Africa is one such country which has learnt to treat its people with dignity, at least to an extent that is acceptable by all, and so we welcome them.