Truth and justice are un-deferrable

The news that the Human Rights Council has agreed to a request made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to postpone publication of the report of a UN investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka was cheered by some in Sri Lanka.  Elsewhere there was chagrin, for example an outfit calling itself Sri Lanka Campaign has expressed disappointment.

Let’s begin with the disappointment. Well, let’s begin with the disappointed.  It is no secret that the Sri Lanka Campaign is a misnamed outfit. From its inception they have been anti-Sri Lanka.  The bleeding hearts they bare their breasts to show the world about victims of conflict steer do not shed even a shade of red about LTTE atrocities apart from the by now par for the course tokenism of mentioning en passant that ‘atrocities were committed on both sides’.  That said, the disappointment is naturally colored by a preferred outcome getting postponed (in their eyes).

The entire disappointment-missive is littered with doubts and aspersions directed solely at the Government.  Interestingly the group assumes to speak for ‘survivors of Sri Lanka’s civil war’.  ‘Civil War,’ is clearly a misnomer.  It is a sanitizing term that downplays the terrorism and in the absence of mention gives the impression that it was a one-hand-clapping exercise.  There is absolutely no reference to the LTTE.  That too helps.

A Sri Lankan Tamil woman holds a portrait of a missing relativeThat said, the authors of the letter do make a point when they observe that justice delayed should not become justice denied.  Goes without saying, of course.  Asking the international community and the UN to ensure this does not happen is of course downright silly given who ‘runs’ the international community and whose creature the UN is.  Justice is not their thing.  Political expedience is.  Forgetting is an important element in their make-up, again as per the interests or otherwise of the movers and shakers.

However, whether or not these powerful forces are interested, it is certainly in the interest of all Sri Lankans to remember and to ensure justice is done. On all counts.  To all victims.  Hanging it all on a report compiled in a context of political machinations that had nothing to do with justice, peace, reconciliation and certainly devoid of any informed engagement of all the relevant complexities is, again, silly.  A loaded report, however, is certainly poor reason not to move on the issue.  Indeed, an effective domestic mechanism will not only help uncover whatever truths that lie buried, it will help mark lie as lie and most importantly generate trust in institutional arrangements among the citizens.  Whatever the outcome, whatever the pain, shame, anger and sorrow, we will emerge healthier than we began.  In this sense that objection does have value.

The cheers have largely come from those who thought the United National Party can do a better job at handling international pressure than any administration led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.  In fact Ranil Wickremesinghe, while in opposition, claimed as much.  There is some truth in the claim and this, contrary to the assumptions of people who make the assertion, has nothing to do with greater diplomatic skills.  It is mostly about ‘being the right kind of guys’ as far as the bosses are concerned.  Let’s not kid ourselves that the US and India (the most pernicious actors internationally where Sri Lanka’s case is concerned) are exemplary countries when it comes to affirmation of human rights, justice, peace and civilization.  The UNP has historically been ‘a friend’.  Let’s not forget that the atrocities committed by the UNP against a largely unarmed population to the tune of a 60,000 death count in 1988-89 were ignored and are now ‘forgotten’ and ‘justice for victims’ cannot even be footnoted because relevant reports were never called for and therefore never written.

The pledge to ‘engage’ with NGOs and media rights groups is a positive; the manifest lack of will to understand or perhaps an agreement with the ideological preferences of the same is not.  So there will be cheers and jeers, therefore.

We know that the Darusman Report was full of contradictions and falsehoods. We know that where the ‘information’ came from and how reliable the ‘informants’ were.  That was a political exercise that had nothing to do with truth and justice.  We cannot expect any UN report on Sri Lanka to be different.

Playing ball, so to speak, with such institutions and persons is a choice and as of now a happy one for the UNP.  Whether or not the people will benefit is left to be seen, but if history teaches anything, it must be understood that games with the powerful don’t yield victory to nations.  It may benefit groups and individuals.  Interests can after all converge.

The deferment announced by the Council therefore warrants a political reading.  It indicates that perhaps the key movers are still not sure how long this Government will survive.  Should the UNP lose out at some point, then the report will be thrown at Sri Lanka but should the UNP prevail we can reasonably assume that another deferment can be negotiated.  For a price of course – and this price will be more economic than political, if history teaches anything.

Domestically, the decision gives the UNP, rather than the citizens of Sri Lanka, breathing space in that the party does not have to factor in the probable dismay of the Sinhalese (in the event the UNP ‘goes along’ with the USA) translating into a ‘nay’ at the next General Election.  Indeed, the UNP can now say, ‘See, we got the UN off our back!’  Deferment is therefore the announcement of a threat which, as is often the case, more powerful than its execution.

The politically sensible thing to do would be to use the weight of the Council against it.  Simply, the Government can say ‘yes’ to the whole truth-justice game as well as the ‘justice delayed is justice demand’ line by requesting the UN to carry out an independent (sic) investigation into all allegations of all rights violations from Day One of the conflict.  They could begin with the assassination of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah or language legislation which the language-challenged Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran labels ‘genocide’ or any political moment of their choice which includes all this.  This will trip all rights violators from all sides.

Questions will have to be raised about child snatching by the LTTE.  Investigators will ask who gave the guns, who paid for it, who collected the money necessary for arms procurement and how, who blew up what and who approved the explosion-activators.  Sri Lanka Campaign (sic) cannot howl in protest because, after all, there is a truth-justice project and not a partial-truth, selected-justice effort.

Mangala Samaraweera will not ask for such a broad canvass and neither will Ranil Wickremesinghe.  The TNA will do its best to make sure that ‘asking’ doesn’t even get considered; that would be the most likely TNA-UNP deal of the future.

As things stand, we can retire ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ because no one seems to be interested in either.  However, if we are to progress as a nation made of people who will not forget and who will turn every stone necessary to obtain justice, even those whose upturning can be uncomfortable, we must demand both truth and justice in dimensions that are not cut short or bent to suit political preferences of interested parties.
The politicians certainly lack will.  The people are not showing much interest either and this is perhaps because of the politicization of truth and justice concerns.  Why bother about pernicious, selective and politically loaded processes, after all?  We could be better, arguably, but what if we cannot or rather do not want to be?  A consideration of these questions is certainly far more fruitful than dissecting the politics of comment with respect to UNHRC decisions, one can argue.

Given that we now that the Darusman Report was full of contradictions and falsehoods we cannot expect any
UN report on Sri Lanka to be different in the future

Pic- Courtesy AFP

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