The Sunday Leader

Advised At Last

They accuse President Rajapaksa of trying to checkmate them. The Presidential Proclamation last week appointing a three member Advisory Council certainly had the effect of leaving many in shock. Chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva QC, the Council to the Commission of Inquiry on Missing persons now tasked to investigate alleged war crimes, includes Sir Geoffrey Nice and David M. Crane. The Chairman told The Sunday Leader that he will look to ensure the investigation is conducted in a fair manner.

“I am deeply honoured to be appointed to play a part in a most important process. I very much hope that my colleagues and I could help to ensure a fair and just approach to the matters that fall for investigation,” Sir Desmond de Silva added. The findings should prove difficult to discredit, given his credentials. Sir Desmond is one of the most high-profile criminal Queen’s Counsel in England; a member of the Criminal Bar Association and the International Association of Prosecutors.

In 2002, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him Deputy Prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leon. Annan later promoted Sir Desmond to the post of Chief Prosecutor at the higher level of Under Secretary-General in 2005. He brought about the arrest of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, who was convicted of war crimes at The Hague in 2011.

De Silva’s legal expertise includes war crimes, crimes against humanity, espionage, treason, drugs, terrorism, human rights, white-collar fraud and sports law. Sir Desmond was appointed to head a Review into collusion by the security services and other agencies of the state into the 1989 murder of the high profile Belfast lawyer  at Finucane.

David M. Crane an American was also the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone from April 2002 until July 15, 2005. During his tenure, he indicted, among others, the then-President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

Sir Geoffrey Nice meanwhile has been involved with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia . He was a deputy prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague and initiated the prosecution’s initial case of linking atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia to Milosevic.

Granted there are those who view it with suspicion, others with skepticism.  Many are those who believe it is an attempt by the administration to ‘hoodwink’ the international community against what they claim is an onslaught of punitive measures against the Sri Lankan government. Others claim it a measure to run a simultaneous probe whereby the effects of the UN probe could be minimised- if not wholly discredited.

Political analysts also point a finger at the administration for choosing the Committee to avail itself some breathing space, in the face of mounting international action against it. The UN probe has proven serious cause of concern for the country and therein they say the rationale for the appointment and in a sense the loosening of its strong stand, hitherto exercised. There is a school of thought that believes that the appointment of the Council follows a broken path of reconciliation attempted with the South African government. This accusation they lay on the grounds they claim following a rushed exit from the South African envoy a week earlier on a fact finding mission to Colombo.

The negativity possibly rises from the lack of any word moving out of both the Envoy and the government on how the mission went. Many wish to paint a bleak picture in the face of what is not available in exhibition. They believe the South African initiative halted.

Whatever the cause for the Presidential proclamation appointing the Committee, the fact remains that it is a move in the right path. It shows maturity on the part of the administration to adhere to the concerns of the minority communities who have concerns over the last phase of the war. Those of the Tamil community who faced the brunt of the war at its most brutal, share sensitivities of the missing members of their families that can now possibly be met. There are unanswered questions of what fate befell these innocents. Devoid of the politics at play from both ends of the divide, to them this is most certainly a responsible action of a State.

Whatever the political compulsions of the Rajapaksa administration to appoint the Committee, the fact remains that it has the capacity to allow it towards a credible path acceptable to the international community. It is commendable that the administration appreciated the dangers of allowing international interests to fill a vacuum created by the State’s failure to take on its duties, however unenviable they may be.

Given the mandate the present administration enjoys, the room within which this administration can allow itself the space to do so is impressive. The ground support of President Rajapaksa is unlike any other in recent history and therein his ability to ‘sell’ anything to his citizenry. What therefore, the administration fears in this scenario, cannot prove an obstacle at present.

That there is yet no terms of reference made available to the Members of the Commission is certainly cause for concern. But given the delays so far ‘enjoyed’, it is a delay one can forgive.

Some lessons are learnt late- many others never. It is crucial that this administration learnt that matters of the state are not ones that one delays. Posturing on decisions of a political nature, or those directly affecting a country’s fate, never proves positive. Colombo, over the last two years has been at the receiving end due largely to such delays. From international probes declared biased to Diaspora actions in complete opposition to the administration in power, the country has suffered immensely over the last few years. Much of the blame sadly must lie within. In its inability to grasp the lengths to which the tentacles of those against Sri Lanka run, the country has lost much ground.

No doubt, the administration is at a better defense today internationally. In view of the credibility of the Members appointed to the Council, it is possible that the government will have the benefit of better meeting the accusations of the UNHCR come 2015. The findings could prove themselves easier to find friends at voting with than they did this year. It is to their credit that they came to the realisation that one plays the West with Western moves and not otherwise.

More importantly the appointment of respected lawyers who come with the kind of clean slate that the three members do, especially within the Western front, will be to the benefit of the government in the UN probe. The government will find themselves on better footing with the findings of such a Council on their side. It is advice has come late but, at least it did.

It would be interesting to note how the hawkish elements within the government now respond to the Presidential move. How they now carry the information to the vote base they share albeit minutely with the SLFP, would certainly make for tactics worthy of the galleries. Fresh after attempts at Aluthgama to remove the majority share that the President enjoys within the Sinhala Buddhist base had failed, the upcoming seasons of polling will ensure an ugly portrayal of petty party politics.

Such politics has always stood in the way of this country reaching its true potential. It has disallowed investment from reaching the deserving and kept the benefits of the end of a three decade war from the people. It is therefore imperative that both the Southern and the Northern polity of this country appreciate the need for them to seek solutions from within rather than out.

While Colombo may desire, or enjoy reaching towards Beijing for redress, it is now obvious that Jaffna has chosen the Tamil Diaspora and the West to give ear to its ‘sorrows’. While history may provide difficult lessons on how the big brother India operates on the Sri Lankan front, it is in the interest of both sides of the local political divide to appreciate the recent changes in Delhi and build upon those changes.

The dilemma for the Tamil National Alliance cannot be how to pull the BJP led Delhi towards its fold when then fact remains that any solution it obtains has necessarily to be implemented within a united country. How much a part of that united country the TNA believes will removed of the Sinhalese and the Muslims, in such implementation is not clear. Neither is the delay in Colombo itself appreciating that the TNA and the Tamil polity must necessarily provide the link through which it reaches the Tamil people. No simpler solution can lay before both these groupings in finding reconciliation that can last.

While international experts and grouping can provide the basis and foundation in facilitating such a process, implementation cannot proceed without both the government and the TNA coming to terms with these very simple ground realities. Such ground realities however must be tied with honest statesmanship.

3 Comments for “Advised At Last”

  1. Sir Desmond De Silva is a well known lawyer and a honest person. If he is allowed to investigate the possible war crimes committed by both Srilankan Army and LTTE he is going to find some truth. There is no more LTTE. There is no point in blaming the Army for killing the innocent civilians. The big question is who killed whom. We need an answer to this..

  2. gamarala

    Unless this ‘commission’ demands and implements a robust Witness Protection Program, most of those who wish to,will not testify,and this will be a massive ‘whitewash”.

  3. srilanka government appointment to answer to UN, US resolotion is very difficult, facts are facts, srilanka is a immoral undemocratic,,lawless country, it difficult to srilanka .the persent old ,uneducated politicians can talk always communal caste corruption and more, srilanka need a good goven government younger generation must lead the counry,country failed in economocs, price of hopers 40 rupees, one pound of bread fifty rupees. education. medicines, 400 schools are,club, illegal liqures are in plenty,police corruption,

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