By Easwaran Rutnam
As the Government begins the process of mending broken hearts from the bitter 30 year war, questions are being asked at what cost this process will take place. Who will be held accountable? Will the process create more harm than good?
The opinions of the Diaspora is crucial in the process for Sri Lanka to move forward, over six years after the war as the Diaspora play a key role in building international opinion on the country.
The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) is a very powerful Tamil Diaspora organisation based in London, and who have managed to have a big say on how successive British Governments have dealt with Sri Lanka.
From the time Mahinda Rajapaksa became President and managed to score a huge victory over the LTTE, the GTF has been discouraging both the international community and the Tamils in Sri Lanka and outside from supporting Rajapaksa’s policies.
However come January eighth, 2015, the GTF encouraged the Tamils to vote for change in what is popularly now known as the “silent revolution”.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, GTF spokesman Suren Surendiran said that GTF called for change with the primary objective of reconciliation in mind.
“GTF was the only Diaspora organisation that publicly encouraged Tamil voters in Sri Lanka to freely exercise their franchise to stop and reverse the trajectory on January eighth. We did that with the primary objective of reconciliation in mind,” he said.
Since then, GTF has formally welcomed the change on January eighth and publicly acknowledged the constructive baby steps taken by the new President including the democratic transition process initiated by his new government.
To strengthen its commitment, in April 2015, GTF participated in a dialogue in Singapore on promoting reconciliation and strengthening of democracy in Sri Lanka with a group of political, civil society, academic, Diaspora and other international stakeholders.
Dialogue with Diaspora
“In May, GTF congratulated the President and the government for the passing of the 19th Amendment, although in its adopted form had lot to be desired. Despite that, the GTF acknowledged publicly the spirit of change and the new political atmosphere involving consultations and compromises as breathtakingly fresh in the context of Sri Lanka and said that it gave hope that such conditions, if further developed, will be conducive to resolve other pressing issues faced by the people,” Surendiran said.
The new Government has also identified the need for dialogue with the Diaspora and in June, in London, together with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the GTF discussed with various stakeholders including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, several potential confidence building measures between all communities within and outside Sri Lanka and how the Diaspora could assist by bringing its exceptional capacity and capabilities.
“Particularly in the past nine months, GTF has shown leadership and has taken a few courageous steps with the objective of achieving just and peaceful coexistence of communities in the island of Sri Lanka. The record speaks for itself,” Surendiran said.
However he noted that large swathes of private land are still illegally occupied by the military, disproportionate number of military personnel still remain in the North and East, intimidation and arbitrary arrests still continue, military remains engaged in day to day life of Tamils in North and East, sexual violence continue against the tens of thousands of war widows and others, Tamil men and women still live in fear even more so in the Northern and Eastern provinces, several hundreds of political prisoners still remain in custody without being charged, the Prevention of Terrorism Act still not repealed, above all the Tamil National Question remains unresolved.
The GTF feels that May 18, 2009 will remain embedded in the memory of the public, especially for those victims, widows and orphans left behind by fallen soldiers, militants and civilians.
GTF notes that it is the sacred responsibility of all leaders to collaborate in redressing as early as possible the grievances of those still mourning and still affected by the war and post-war actions of the government and its forces, courageously making fundamental changes to the vision and structure of the state that was on during the last six decades of conflict and war and prevent future rebellion by creating concrete political, economic and social conditions equally for all peoples in Sri Lanka. “Only a close collaboration of all forms of leadership for good can lead us from contradicting commemorations to a consensual peaceful coexistence,” Surendiran said.
Reconciliation and accountability
Human Rights groups also agree that reconciliation is crucial but at the same time so is accountability. “The reconciliation process is crucial in a country wracked with decades of violence based on ethnicity. There is suspicion and anger that needs to be resolved. But this should not be conflated with a process to hold perpetrators accountable for serious crimes,” South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly told The Sunday Leader.
Human Rights Watch has been pushing for accountability in Sri Lanka and was a strong voice on the issue at the recent UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.
The International Crisis Group however noted that Sri Lankans didn’t really need a report from the UN to tell them that terrible crimes were committed by the LTTE and government forces and state-backed paramilitaries during the many years of war.
“They lived through the terror and destruction and brutality from all sides. All communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim – have suffered from abuses of state and counter-state power, including by and against the JVP in the 70s and 80s. The legacy of this suffering – pain, fear, sadness, anger and mistrust – lives on and affects individuals and society as a whole. Until it is processed, including by holding accountable those most responsible for the worst crimes – which requires a focus on those who ordered and planned the crimes – bitterness and mistrust between communities will remain and will undermine the chances of achieving what almost all Sri Lankans want: a peaceful, prosperous, forward-looking country,” International Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Senior Analyst Alan Keenan told The Sunday Leader.
He noted that equally important, patterns and habits of impunity for the abuse of state power, born in large part from the years of terror, counter-insurgency and emergency rule – remain deeply entrenched. “This can be seen today in routine torture of suspects and detainees by police, politically-connected crimes, and large-scale corruption.
President Sirisena and the UNP-led coalition were both elected on promises to restore the rule of law and end impunity for abuses of power under the former regime – not only large-scale corruption, but also murder, abduction, torture and other serious abuses of human rights. Changing this system is something that all communities want and that all communities will benefit from.
Accountability for crimes committed by all groups during the war – and the institutional and legal reforms needed to achieve justice – is an essential part of the larger struggle against impunity,” he said.
Alan Keenan is of the view that politicians from all communities need to work together to restore the rule of law and make it possible for the police and judiciary to conduct unbiased and effective investigations and trials.
He says Sri Lanka’s shared challenge is to ensure accountability issues are addressed effectively and that will take effort, political skill and time. But h notes if it is achieved, a new, more just and fair Sri Lanka is possible for all Sri Lankans. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)