War Crimes Is A Waste Of Time
- Everyone has an agenda, except for the dead.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan government ended a brutal 30 year war with a final push, eliminating the LTTE and a considerable amount of civilians the terrorist group held as effective hostages.
At the time, thousands of Diaspora Tamils rallied for a cease-fire to save the LTTE, waving LTTE flags and carrying images of Prabhakaran. After the war ended decisively, they channeled their considerable energies into lobbying international governments for war crimes prosecutions into the successful prosecutors of the war. That is one agenda.
At the same time, the Sri Lankan government issued a statement that not a drop of civilian blood was shed and that they had mounted the greatest hostage rescue in history. After the war ended, they channeled their interests into first consolidating power and then wielding it for personal and national development. That is another agenda.
Both of these sides are posturing. The hardcore LTTErs are aware of and even fond of human rights violations as a weapon of war. Indeed, that was their main strategy. They oppose them only to prey on the sympathies of decent people, just as they used terror to target innocent civilians. Their call for investigations is purely tactical, attacking the government and the idea of Sri Lanka with the only means they have left.
The government is also internally aware of the realities of war. In a leaked cable, Basil Rajapaksa is reported to have said “I am not saying we are clean; we could not abide by international law – this would have gone on for centuries, an additional 60 years.”
It is important to note that within the LTTE and the government, they know that what they are spreading is not true. It is just another tactic they use politically. The two sides are beating each other over the heads with human rights like it is a fish and a lot of people are buying it. Who this charade dishonors is the dead, who it hurts is the living.
The call for war crimes investigations are driven by cynics who could not stand the LTTE government losing the war or, at the least, the Sri Lankan government winning. They want a separate, ethnic state (at most) or the end of the Rajapaksa regime (at the least). What the LTTE could not do on the battlefield, they are trying to do in international courts. What they cannot do democratically, they aretrying to do bureaucratically. This is cowardice, malice, and a shame.
The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commision, however, is also a farce. They were tasked from the beginning with condemning the cease-fire and rubber-stamping the war. The most honest part was the testimony of average people in the north and east, but it is unclear whether their concerns (disappearances, deaths) will be acted on.
In between punitive investigations from abroad and defensive investigations at home we get nothing. It is simply a continuation of the war by other, more irrelevant and wasteful means.
What is really needed is a space where the government can say what actually happened (we fought a brutal war and won) and where the victims can get not vengeance but some closure. The people who testified in Vavuniya were not holding pictures of the Rajapaksas, they were holding pictures of their sons and husbands, wives and daughters. They simply want to know where those people are, if they are dead, and to know that they are not mourning alone in insanity.
Instead, calls from abroad do not listen to them, they listen to abstractions driven by former LTTErs, those who had no qualms about killing for their own purposes. Hence you get calls for accountability, which is really a thin veil around condemning Mahinda Rajapaksa. As much as that may satisfy a desire for vengeance and to condemn a dubious man, it does not help the people that need help, indeed, it makes their lives harder.
What Sri Lanka needs is amnesty from abroad and work on the ground to process our war in a non-punitive, non-confrontational way. In South Africa and other reconciliations, people were given amnesty to testify, because it was not possible to punish even murderers without completely tearing society apart. This is what western demanded investigations would do. They would wreck the Sri Lankan government and tear the country apart.
Mahinda Rajapaksa rightly defends the country from this, but tries to paper it up with denial and storybook lies. This is not right either. The cynics and rump LTTErs need to admit that the war is over and stop trying to rewrite history like the government was all bad. Ending the war was a net good. At the same time, the government needs to stop trying to rewrite history like they were all good. They did end the war by killing a lot of civilians.
What the country needs is space, and in the absence of reason, the only space available is time. This current purely foreign/English media controversy over war crimes and investigations is just a waste of it.
Indi Samarajiva blogs daily at www.indi.ca