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Finding Way Out Of CHOGM Polarisation

  • Last Phase Of War

By Jehan Perera

British Prime Minister David Cameron

Sri Lanka’s hosting of CHOGM was challenged by human rights organisations, sections of the Tamil Diaspora and by countries such as Canada on the grounds of the host country’s failure to abide by the stated values of the Commonwealth. Issues of independence of the judiciary and public institutions, separations of powers and also of corruption and abuse of power were brought up. But the most serious charge was the one on accountability, for human rights violations that occurred in the last phase of the war that saw the defeat of the LTTE.

Within Sri Lanka, the government has reason to be satisfied with the outcome of CHOGM. The final statement did not contain any country specific statements on the situation in Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained the Chairmanship of the Commonwealth which is being used politically within the country to bolster the President’s image. Early presidential elections are expected to be called next year.

Internationally too, the government may have won some friends through CHOGM. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak who was one of the 28 heads of government attended the summit said, “We should not be divided” and expressed a “sense of wanting to stay together.

However, there has been a reversal internationally in regard to the last phase of the war. Although it is generally felt that the CHOGM summit and other events connected to it were conducted efficiently and with success, the problems that existed prior to CHOGM with sections of the international community continue to fester and may have got worse.

The problem of accountability did not go away. It was brought up particularly strongly by the British Prime Minister David Cameron. He was under immense pressure not to come to Sri Lanka by sections of the international community including human rights groups and the Tamil Diaspora.

However, citing the need for engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka, he came to Sri Lanka.

At several forums, the British premier made it clear that the problems of accountability would not go away. In addition, he also declared during his visit to Sri Lanka that its government must investigate the issue of human rights violations in the last phase of the war before the next session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.

He said that if an investigation was not completed by March, he would use the UK’s “position on the UN Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commission and call for a full, credible and independent international inquiry”. Having made his announcement and set a deadline, he will now be under further pressure to ensure that he carries out his promise that he would push for an international probe if the Sri Lankan government did not do so on its own.Prime Minister Cameron has come under severe criticism within Sri Lanka for issuing this ultimatum to the government.

Indeed, the main opposition party, the UNP, which boycotted CHOGM on the grounds of the government’s anti-democratic conduct in the run-up to the summit, has nevertheless publicly declared its own opposition to an international investigation. It said that human rights violations, or any connected issues, should be resolved within the country.

It also blamed the government for having created the background for an international investigation “by turning CHOGM into an international human rights conference.” The UNP is reflecting the sentiments of the majority of the Sinhalese people who have rallied to the side of the government on account of Prime Minister Cameron’s threats.

However, Prime Minister Cameron may also have left a way out for Sri Lanka. This was by this assertion that an international investigation would only follow if the Sri Lankan government did not conduct its own independent investigation by March 2014. It seems likely that the Sri Lankan government would accept the offer from South Africa to assist in the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has reportedly offered his country’s experience in tackling the difficult issues of post-conflict accountability to assist Sri Lanka.The South African model of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the power to grant amnesty would be an option that the Sri Lankan government might wish to consider and propose to the international community as an alternative to the investigation sought by the British Prime Minister.

The lop-sided weakness in the British position is in its insistence on an investigation only into the last phase of the 30-year war. The narrow focus on the last phase of the war is seen as a partisan intervention to punish Sri Lanka for defeating the LTTE not only by Sri Lanka’s government but also by many in Sri Lanka.

At best it seems to be a call for punitive justice for its own sake, rather than for reconciliation. This is a perception that has the potential to generate vast sympathy for the government from across the political spectrum.The Sri Lankan war was characterised as a “no-mercy” war well before its last phase. Prisoners were seldom taken. There was at least one occasion in which the fall of an army base led to the death of nearly a thousand soldiers, many of whom had single bullet shots to the head. In another incident 600 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE were executed.

There were massacres of civilians in numerous places in the North and East, whether in Kent and Dollar Farms or in Kokkadicholai.
There was also the mass expulsion of nearly 100,000 of Muslim people from the North. Any serious investigation into human rights violations and war crimes would need to include that earlier period if it is to be seen as even-handed.

Those who committed serious human rights violations and war crimes, and who gave them moral and material support cannot be restricted to the last phase of the war only.
The other serious problem with pursuing the issue of war crimes and human rights violations only with respect to the last phase of the war, is that it once again pits the sentiments of the Sinhalese majority against those of the Tamil minority.

It makes it seem that human rights violations and war crimes only affected the Tamil people and only took place, or mainly, in the last phase. But those who live in Sri Lanka, and who have followed the war and its atrocities, would know that war crimes and human rights violations occurred right throughout the three decade long war.

Taking the bigger picture into account, and looking at what happened over the longer period, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mandate that is longer than the last phase of the war may be the way forward.

20 Comments for “Finding Way Out Of CHOGM Polarisation”

  1. K.Soysa

    No one is without blood on their hands. Certainly not David Cameron. During his stewardship as P.M., the British Press reported that vast amounts of toxic chemicals were issued to Assad of Syria. It was these that Assad used against his own people recently. The BBC reported just a few days ago that a report following the shooting of seventy-odd unarmed civilians by British troops during their own ethnic war in Ireland has only just come out.

    For a British P.M., Cameron’s conduct was despicable, in that he went to meet with The Chief Minister of the North without adequate and detailed discussions with the FEDERAL government of Sri Lanka. Could we have intervened in Ireland during the “troubles”, as it was commonly called during the 1970s and ’80s? Cameron had a duty to discuss in detail what he was going to do in the North. That is diplomacy. No, sir it is just bullying a smaller nation. To know that the British State also has a history of serious human rights violations, where even the Monarch, King Charles was beheaded, just do a web search of Oliver Cromwell.

    The Canadians are no better: do web searches and one will see how the Canadian State treats the ethnic folk (so-called “Indians”).

    Of course, it is just to get votes, as all politicians do!!! But the signs are not good for both Cameron and harper of Canada.

    Finally, IF this great “divide” is to be resolved, all must learn to look for faults and let the wounds heal. Digging up the past will never do, except of course it MAY bring votes. But on this occasion, I think not.

  2. rakavan

    True to form like all Sinhalese journalists, Jehan Perera thinks that killings committed by LTTE justifies the government position of not wanting to investigate allegations of war crimes. He misunderstands the situation, in that this is not LTTE versus the Govt., rather it is a call by the affected Tamil civilians to the Government of Sri Lanka to account for its actions. If the government is trying to hide behind the civilian killings by the LTTE,which it calls terrorists, then the same name tag befits the past and the present Governments and its armed forces for killing tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the last 30 years.

    There is a clear distinction between state and non-state organisations and it is this that puts the burden of responsibility, to independently investigate the alleged war crimes committed, not just during the final phase of the war but during the last three decades, on the Govt. so that ALL killings by both the warring parties are investigated. Having such a holistic impartial inquiry will truly lead to reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils.

  3. Commonwealth Citizen

    Sri Lanka as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Countries should initiate a call to investigate the misleading of British Citizens in involving Great Britain in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

  4. dagggy

    Quote “Issues of independence of the judiciary and public institutions, separations of powers and also of corruption and abuse of power were brought up. But the most serious charge was the one on accountability, for human rights violations that occurred in the last phase of the war that saw the defeat of the LTTE.”

    Jehan….. are thse values maintained by the British Government & if so, who else maintain these values?
    Well…. Welll……. those who is without sin cast the first stone……….

    ANY TAKERS ??????????
    If not, this finger wagging Cameron must shove his up “your guess is as good as mine” thereafter Cameron need to SHUT UP.
    His days are numbered & these finger wagging rhetorics would not bring him back to power.

  5. Yogendran

    In simple words the author wants an inquiry against LTTE. Well, all the captured LTTE’s either released (no evidence) or in prison. Prabakaran is no more. Who is left is are now with the government. So the SLGov. can initiate an inquiry against them immediately, than crying foul.

    • Tomsamusa

      well said mate.

    • An Inquiry against LTTE should be start it from GTF’s Father Emmanualle.
      He prayed and asked LTTE to kill civilings in SRi Lanka for last 30 years.

    • Belson

      No Yogendran, What about people who supported the war (Tamil Diaspora). Countries including India, Canada, USA, UK, Norway etc. Also politician in those countries are accountable. May be including YOU….

      • Mario

        Well said Mr. Belson :) Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslims and all other communities live in peace in this small country after 30 years of war. We are still developing so it’s big challenge. thins will be difficult but as nation we got to hold together. Sorry to say Mr. Yogena… or who ever Tamil Diaspora arms business has now stop and we all know that. The government of Sri Lanka will do it’s best for the people..

    • MHA

      Those released were not all released because there was not evidence, that is what we call in the west amnesty.

    • DJ

      Don’t forget the other LTTEs left in the same countries such as UK, Canada, US, Australia, India etc. Ideally they too are required to inquire and remove their pet ‘human rights’ mask.

    • Ranjith Perera

      People who gave moral and material support throughout the 3 decade long war should also be responsible. It includes the section of the Tamil diaspora who always funded this war. India trained LTTE terrorists in early 80′s and RAW provide all logistic support to create a ruthless terrorist outfit. UK allowed to LTTE terrorists to maintain it’s global office in London raising funds and propagating lies against a sovereign country. Canada’s Liberal Government did nothing to stop ETTE’s terror activities. They even attended their fund raising dinners and provided big moral support. Even today, these counties are supporting the defeated LTTE rump to disturb the much needed reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

  6. Sangaralingham

    Human rights violation is not specific for one race to all races. It is at beyond human expectation how Muslim populations are treatedunlessthey are doing thing not liking. To rest of the population,. Bu most Tamils they contribute participate every day of life with tamilsfor years.but who cares Tamils in south did the same see what happened to them in 1956 19581983in between. I feel cheTed as human ding y the atrocities causedtocivi.ians just because they speak another language another. Tale leaders must be ashamed themselves instead of putting a brave faceor they are ignorant of their pen country.

  7. DMR Gunawardene

    The SL govt and the army must be investigated by an international court on war crimes. There is no other way out of this. No amount of lying and ducking and bribing people will help

  8. kumara

    dont forget what our president SL said if you are in a glass house dont through stone to others. David Camaran remember next election you will cick out. Aslo every action is reaction remember that also.

  9. MHA

    The SL Government has already issued amnesty to over 11,000 LTTE cadres. There are still more people overseas who lent support to the LTTE who can be put on trial. Just because the top is no more, doesn’t mean that there are more to be tried. The TNA itself is responsible for the long-time suffering of the northern Tamils. No one should rest easily if they continue to pressure the SL governent into bending over backwards for cowards.

    • Tomsamusa

      According to the failed state of sinking lanka, all Tamils are Tigers including those who are toddlers.
      ” Releasing few thousands include those young and infame who are either couldn’t walk or learining to do so.

  10. deen

    i believe its all dirty politics of the west and east Canadian PM boycotted the event
    because non other than tamil vote his popularity in Canadian politics is in down hill next election campaign already started have to build the party minorities in Canada plays an important role in elections as a deciding voters not only tamils. Caribbean Vietnamese Chinese etc among these tamils are in a situation who can get them (using dirty politics
    There was an article in Canadian major news paper PM boycotted for Sri Lanka’s CHOGM but the next week he sent a group of dignitaries to China where the human rights is worse than Sri lanka

    Even said that where are the human rights commission and other organization when it comes to IRAQ LIBYA AFGANISTAN ETC.
    even with dictators they were living peacefully see all these 3 countries
    every house hold have their own way of running the family it is the same way when it comes to country
    democracy /socialism/communist nothing is 100% perfect humans are just like the animal kingdom for survival they are worst than the animals
    FRENCH as well as Tony Blair had financial support for election from Libiyan leader the whole world knows

    ?????????????????????

    innocent get screwed up by politicians

  11. Raja

    I agree with this analysis wholeheartedly. Indian politicians who helped to create the Tamil terrorist groups; the Indian IPKF which committed horrendous crimes aa well as those LTTE supporters who helped Prabakaran and his LTTE leaders to carry on their brutal actions against humanity are now living in overseas countries and they might escape a war crimes inquiry by pushing only for the last phase of the war. Western nations relying on LTTE funds and votes, like Canada, UK, India and Mauritius know this and will try to prevent an investigation in to the entire three decades. Prabakaran’s LTTE was the tool, the brains behind are still active mostly overseas.

  12. gamarala

    Killings of batches of tamils commenced soon after independence culminating in the island-wide pogrom of july 1983 which caused a section of tamils to take up arms – many militant groups were formed and LTTE finally became the leader.
    President Premadasa recognised the LTTE by giving arms to eliminate the IPKF.
    He also wanted LTTE to eliminate the “tamil national army” of Varatharajapperumal who declared a “unilaterl declaration of independence”.

    The army and police also killed mostly unarmed youth – many thousands – during the 1971 & 1987’88/89 (JVP) ‘insurrections’.

    Human rights violations in the north and east continue even now along with homes and lands of citizens being taken over.
    Army oppression,looting of temples,robberies,assaults,rape etc. continue.
    Media are intimidated.
    The tamils merely wish to live as free and equal citizens to manage their affairs through their elected representatives – like in all other provincial councils,but this is denied.

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