The blame has been divided. But now, how will the punishment – if it ever comes down to that in the years to come – be divided between those responsible for the deaths of the thousands who died in the Sri Lankan civil war of nearly three decades?
The delayed UNHCR report – from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Investigation in Sri Lanka (OSIL) — has expectedly blamed both former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and the Tamil rebels for allegedly carrying out war crimes.
Both have been accused of mass killings towards the end of the civil war that ended in the bloodied fields of northeast Sri Lanka in May, 2009.
Ironically for Rajapaksa and his core team of brothers and soldiers, they, as the winners, are the only ones left alive to take the blame – the LTTE were ruthlessly wiped out by May 19, 2009.
The guns fell silent only after the triumphant announcement was made that LTTE chief, V Prabhakaran had been gunned down by government troops. All that is left of the once-feared rebel group are a handful of former LTTE cadres.
Rajapaksa knew what was coming in the report. Under his Presidency, the UN investigation had been called flawed and summarily dismissed.
That was one reason he needed to win the two elections this year: to stall the process of possible punishment.
During both the presidential election in January and the parliamentary polls in August, Rajapaksa’s campaign had made it a point to say that his opponents were ready to sell the country to foreigners and jeopardise its sovereignty.
That wasn’t to be.
For president Maithripala Sirisena, who was handed the report before it was tabled in Geneva, the road ahead in pursuing the UN recommendation to set up a special court, a combination of a domestic mechanism with foreign judges will be a delicate one to follow.
Rajapaksa is still a powerful force in parliament; he still has a solid support base in the country and the potential to create trouble.
Then there is the argument that Sri Lanka emerged from the debris of the civil war battered but not broken – that countries at war need strong leaders who need to make strong decisions. And, that six years later, with Rajapaksa defeated anyway, there are more important aspects like the economy to pay attention to.
But Sirisena’s seemingly liberal government knows the scars left behind by the civil war. And, Sirisena possibly realises that it is time to start the process of healing.
(The author was formerly HT’s correspondent in Colombo.)