The brutal and bloody war in the country saw people from all sides suffer. Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims alike lost their loved ones to a war which many even today feel could have been avoided.
Today the focus however is and it should be, not about who is to blame but how we go forward and help those affected get closure.
At a meeting last week between Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the civil society, this was a topic which was discussed.
The Tamil civil society, in a briefing note circulated at the meeting, said that it is important that there is clarity as to aims of the Transitional Justice Programme.
The Tamil civil society said that prior to the Victim Consultation Process (VCP) the Government should make its stance clear as to their understanding and approach to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution on Sri Lanka adopted at the Council in Geneva last month.
“The Government is sending various mixed signals, which aim at downplaying the importance of the need for involvement of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators in OP6 of the resolution i.e. the setting up of a hybrid mechanism. Some sections of the Government are also dismissive of the need for a criminal justice process in its entirety. One cannot have a process of truth and reconciliation without being honest and truthful about the objectives and aims of the process. Hence clarity from the Government as to its approach is an essential prerequisite of a VCP.”
The Tamil civil society noted that the Government seems to have a plan of its own (a TRC with a compassionate council, a special court, Missing Persons Office etc) and they want to know if the Government is going to present a detailed programme on the judicial and non judicial measures it is contemplating and seek the victims view on this or is it going to have a more open process – where the victims can be more assertive about their expectations as opposed to commenting on an existing draft plan.
“We think that a balance between the two is necessary,” the Tamil Civil Society Forum said at the discussion. They also noted that the sittings of the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons (Paranagama Commission) laid bare the key issues with regard to victim protection.
The Tamil Civil Society Forum asked what the Government is going to do to prevent the interference of the armed forces, police and their intelligence in the VCP and the larger question is as to how a transparent and open VCP could be conducted with the overwhelming presence of the military in the North-East and if the Government accepts this as a concern how does it hope to tackle this issue.
Who will be consulted? How does the Government propose to identify the victims? Will the consultations be held thematically (victims of sexual violence, disappearances, torture, etc)? Does the government also hope to consult civil society groups that work with victims as part of the VCP? How does the Government propose to conduct the VCP among those victims not living in the country? Who will conduct the VCP?: Which arm of Government would be involved? How does the Government hope to ensure independence and credibility? How will the outcome of the VCP be documented and fed into the Transitional Justice Programme that will be finalised? Mere tokenistic consultation will be far from adequate. There has to be a participatory process that guarantees that the views of the victims are systematically drawn into the design of the TJ programme. How does the Government proposed to do this? These are many of the questions asked at the meeting with the Foreign Ministry.
The Tamil civil society are of the view that there should be victim representation on any mechanism that is tasked with finalising this programme and they also think that there has to be constant involvement of victims in the whole of the process – implementation and its monitoring.
The consultation process will however need to include the Sinhalese and the Muslims as well. While many Tamils were killed and suffered in other ways, there were several Sinhalese and Muslims also killed at the hands of the LTTE.
Ignoring the Sinhalese and Muslims and just focusing on the Tamils will by no means help the reconciliation process.
Last week marked 25 years since the Muslims in the North were evicted by the LTTE and today many of those Muslims are still in IDP camps in Puttalam and elsewhere.
In October 1990 the LTTE gave 75,000 Muslims under forty-eight hours to leave their ancestral homes across the North and take nothing more than their clothes and 500 rupees to live in IDP camps – where an estimated 80 per cent remain 25 years later.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, at an event held last Friday to commemorate the eviction of the Muslims in the North, noted that the North of Sri Lanka was as much home for its Muslim population as it was for its Tamil population. Both communities had as much claim as the other to live there and these claims were not contested. The two communities had lived together for centuries in peace.
He noted that the LTTE believed that the Tamil population’s numerical majority gave it the right to expel the entire Muslim population. It was not just the LTTE, few Tamils criticised the LTTE while many justified their actions; even today Muslims returning to their homes face majoritarian resistance from Tamil bureaucrats.
“Especially since the end of the war, which should have ushered introspection, magnanimity and healing, majoritarianism in the South raised its ugly head.
The government indulged in an orgy of triumphalism based on equating Sri Lanka’s identity with the Sinhala-Buddhist community, and relegated the minority communities to the place of unwanted guests,” he said.
Samaraweera told those attending the event the challenge for Sri Lankans today is to learn from the past failures, remedy mistakes and move forward. This is a rare opportunity we cannot miss.
Speaking in Parliament recently he said, “Sri Lanka has yet another window of opportunity to come to terms with its past and move on. Extremists in the North and in the South have been defeated in the recent elections, two of the most liberal minded leaders since independence are leading the country and the two main parties, for the first time in history, have formed a national unity government. This is a moment we cannot afford to lose.”
The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Resettlement and other government agencies are taking steps to assist in the reconciliation process , and Samarweera had last week met with civil society, including representatives of the Muslim community, to discuss the consultations process necessary to design the mechanisms to implement this process.
The Foreign Minister said that no one should be afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at finding solutions to problems as opposed to pointing fingers, heaping blame and scoring political points at the expense of future generations. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)