The UN panel of experts has submitted their report to the UN Secretary General, who in turn has forwarded it to the Government of Sri Lanka and consequently we have the executive summary leaked to the media to inform the reading public. The government has promised a full response and as we await the response and perhaps the publication of the full report, some preliminary comments on the report has become the public political discourse.
Post war policies
The panel is quite critical of the post war policies of the government, including the continuation of the state of emergency, in the context of the absence of an armed rebellion against the state. The general lack of movement towards national reconciliation through addressing the effects and causes of the war, including a focus on the civilian victims of the conflict has also come in for criticism by the experts. The entire world was very supportive of Sri Lankas war against terrorism; let us not forget that from the US, to the EU, from India to Canada the LTTE became a banned organization. The world, armed, equipped and supported our war in various ways. However there has been growing international opprobrium at our post war policies, which began with the continuation of the emergency in peace time, the alleged shortages of relief to civilian war victims, the continued presence of security personnel in the North, the absence of an elected Northern Provincial Council etc.
Reconciliation needed because the conflict was ethnic in nature?
Sri Lankas conflict was seen ethnic in nature and expression on grounds that the war was fought by an almost exclusively Sinhala army against an exclusively Tamil LTTE, a few Muslims on both sides bringing in the only diversity. Though we finally united the country geographically there is much more work to be done to unite our deeply divided society. That attempt from the government’s snail paced structured dialogue with the TNA, to the opaque and non inclusive rehabilitation programme, including the alleged shortages in relief for the civilian victims of the conflict have made a major section of the international community, who were are friends in time of war, to be weary of the type of peace we seek to create.
No domestic appetite for war crimes probe
There is absolutely no domestic appetite for a war crimes probe into events that happened in the final days of the conflict. Absolutely none in the Sinhala areas and even in the Tamil communities of the North, it is a more nuanced response as witnessed in the balanced and cautious response of the TNA. The LTTE was responsible for consistent and considerable war crimes, against the Tamil community including child conscription and latterly the point blank murder of Tamil civilians trying to escape the fighting. This is of course in addition to terrorist attacks on civilians in the South. However, the entire local leadership of the LTTE is now dead with two of them with the government; Karuna and KP and hence seen outside the reach of justice. Accordingly a probe is now one sided in that it will simply target the victorious Sri Lankan security forces. An outcome that few, if any in Sri Lanka will want or accept. The allegations raised however of the use of artillery and heavy weapons into the designated safe zones and hospitals may be investigated and addressed in some form.
Western double standards
Some government media have begun to discuss so called western double standards, for ignoring civilian causalities in wars fought by the West in Iraq and Afghanistan and focusing instead on Sri Lanka. However, two wrongs do not make a right and legally, violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and rules of war in one theatre of operation does not thereby justify or exonerate it in another.
(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)