Virtually all of us who are of this Island take pride in our history, our ancient civilization and traditions, our four great religions and our languages. Yet, almost continuously since independence our religious and linguistic communities have been drifting away from each other with no sustained move towards Reconciliation. In contrast, South Africa has had a violent history of apartheid, and tribal and inter-ethnic conflict and oppression such as we had never experienced prior to the last three decades. South Africa has moved towards Reconciliation, and is continuing in that direction even post-Mandela despite many obstacles and setbacks on the way.
We note that on 28th November 1980, long before the overthrow of apartheid, when Mandela was yet in prison and the ANC was regarded by the South African state ( and by many outside South Africa) as a “terrorist organization” the ANC president Oliver Tambo deposited the following declaration with the President of the ICRC:
“It is the conviction of the African National Congress of South Africa that International rules protecting the dignity of human beings must be upheld at all times. Therefore, and for humanitarian reasons, the African National Congress of South Africa hereby declares that, in the conduct of the struggle against apartheid and racism and for self-determination in South Africa it intends to respect and be guided by the general principles of international human rights law applicable in armed conflicts.”
Has either the LTTE or any of our governments over the last three decades credibly made and sustained such a commitment? More than four years after the end of the armed conflict, there are yet no signs of any progress towards Reconciliation. Many who are happy that the LTTE rebellion was ended are unhappy that it ended in a blood bath and not in a negotiated settlement (which may or may not have been possible). Even a negotiated surrender (which seemed possible when the LTTE was surrounded and cut off from supplies some weeks before the end) would have been preferable. That would have spared tens of thousands of casualties, mostly innocent civilians, from death or crippling mental and physical injury. But that opportunity was lost and this has made Reconciliation difficult.
All this is history that we cannot retrace but need to uncover and draw lessons from. That is only one of many steps that we need to take to move forward. But, sadly, that is not happening. More than four years after the end of the war, we are ethnically more polarized than ever before. What can we gain from the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)? Many were put off by the fact that the political leaders of the Tamil people, whose grievances were at the heart of the conflict, and who constituted the overwhelming majority of the casualties were not consulted over either the composition of the Commission or its Mandate.
The Commission was led by a former Attorney General; the two Tamil members were ex-public servants, and the Muslim a member of the government appointed Human Rights Commission. Moreover, the focus of the Mandate was on, “The failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized on February 21, 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to May 19, 2009″. The leading Tamil politicians, several human rights activists and some international civil society organizations opted not to make written or oral submissions. However, the scope and quality of the Report exceeded the expectations of many who remained critical of the shortcomings, but are now demanding that the key recommendations be implemented. It is the government that shows reluctance to accept and implement several core Recommendations.
Reconciliation can work only if all major actors are fully involved. It cannot be treated as a government activity to be undertaken by the state. “Major actors” surely includes the largest party in the opposition (the UNP) and the leaders of the major Tamil and Muslim parties. The government has to find ways to secure their whole hearted cooperation. This has not happened, but it is conceivable that they can be brought in. Neither the government nor these parties can afford to avoid working together on this issue.
There is at least one other major category whose participation is critically important – the Tamil Diaspora. Inducing the Tamil Diaspora to participate in reconciliation will be far more difficult than inducing the UNP or TNA or SLMC, but it could be very rewarding. It is sections of the Diaspora that the LTTE mainly relied on for the vast resources that it was able to access in conducting and sustaining the war against the Sri Lankan State for a quarter of a century. Some sections of the Diaspora are yet engaged in attempts to destabilize the Sri Lankan state. Winning over at least a faction of the Diaspora for Reconciliation could be most difficult but very rewarding. To engage with the Diaspora it would be first necessary to secure the cooperation of the Tamil leadership within the Island. The Reconciliation programme could be based on the Recommendations of the LLRC.