Following talks in London very recently between the government, a few Tamil Diaspora organizations, and a South African delegation sanctioned by its government, on Tamil centered issues, Ceylon Today asked High Commissioner for South Africa in Colombo, Geoff Doidge, whether the new Maithri Government is aiming at bringing together a South Africa styled Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) before the 15 September UNHRC’s review on Sri Lanka, begins.
Q: The Government of Sri Lanka said there was a SA delegation present at informal talks with the Tamil National Alliance ( TNA) and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in London. Were you there too representing the South African delegation Q. or was it someone else who represented the SA Government
A: The designated interlocutors of the South African Government were Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who is the Special Envoy to Sri Lanka and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Nomaindya Mfeketo and myself as High Commissioner. But, none of us attended the meeting in London on 8 June. South Africa has a wealth of experience and expertise inside and outside of government, some within Civil Society Organizations who also have programmes of their own and do so independently. We hold no brief for them or what they choose to do as they are Civil Society players and many of them do amazing work in post conflict countries.
Q: Are the Tamil Diaspora (everyone), Maithri Govt. ready to go with the SA model (one tailored to suit the Lankan experience) of reconciliation process.
A: Sri Lanka is in a very fortunate position that currently so many successful Truth and Reconciliation Models being reported on as we speak, unlike when we looked for best practices. In our case we learned from many formative models as well as the El Salvador and Chilean TRC’s respectively. Out of these experiences we developed our own unique model which in turn inspired other TRC’s. There are interesting TRC’s that have emerged after the South African TRC that have improved on many aspects and are organic to their very own unique situations. Some are El Salvador, Argentina, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Brazil, Peru, and more recently Canada. South Africa was the first country to offer ‘non prescriptive’ assistance, if Sri Lanka chooses to go the route of setting up a TRC. It is for Sri Lanka to make the choice and if invited to assist, we will certainly rise to the challenge.
Q: The SA model is more for a reconciliation process rather than accountability. The South African TRC made the Blacks forgive the Whites and move on. How effectively can the new SA model make things go right for Sri Lanka in the process of RECONCILIATION as well as ACCOUNTABILITY also. The Tamils mainly want the accountability factor to be dealt with because they think it will leads to true reconciliation. What do you say
A: The South African TRC is at times the victim of ‘ambush marketing’ based on misinterpreted perceptions by some who are not well informed of our TRC. Of course, accountability through rigorous truth telling in full view of the public, is what underpinned the South Africa TRC. The hearings of the TRC were broadcast live on dedicated TV Channels and broadcast live on all 14 vernacular radio stations, the most valuable asset in this process was the vigilant media who picked up on these stories and exposed the perpetrators.
There is no comparatively transparent TRC that I have learnt about since the SA TRC! Truth telling and accountability were the core objectives of the TRC. The overall objectives are outlined in the Act. (http://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/1995-034.pdf). Let me give you another example: The South African TRC has to be seen in its entirety of what it was set out to achieve. It is wrong to be selectively isolate reconciliation or accountability; or the most debated amnesty provisions; and single these out, if you do not understand what the entire thrust of the TRC was and why it was set upon.
The TRC of South Africa has a proven record of inspiring many countries which have recently set up TRC’s. Some are yet to be announced. This excites us and gives us confidence that our experience is of value to the domestic process.
Q: If you look at the question of accountability…generally, Tamils have rejected a domestic mechanism and insist on an internationally accountable probe or something approximating that. The accountability factor drew some flak when Jagath Dias, the Commander of the Mullaitivu Forces, was recently appointed as Chief of Staff
A: This confirms our strong belief. In the fact that it is the Sri Lankans, who, must themselves collectively decided on what the composition of its ‘home grown’ mechanism is to be before the solution can be prescribed or assessed.
Q: The fact also remains that in Apartheid South Africa on average about 400 people were killed a year from 1948 to 1991, which adds up to about 17,200 people. In Sri Lanka, in the final months of the war some 40,000 are said to have been killed. In South Africa it was the winners (Blacks) who initiated the TRC and said we forgive the Whites. How can this fact be avoided when you talk of a model suggested by the SA
A: Each country that has a past that it needs to deal with, should be supported and encouraged to decide for itself what it really needs to do. South Africa studied many models of Truth and Reconciliation and even the most recent at that time, like the TRC of Chile, and out of this ‘study of best practices,’ a ‘unique South African home grown model’ emerged, tailored to achieve the most desirable outcomes for our own unique conflict and what we wanted to achieve out of the process. These are clearly defined in the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act No. 34 of 1995.
There is no TRC Model on the shelf that is generic that can be applied anywhere and everywhere. All South Africans who promote truth telling and reconciliation all over the world will tell you that you have to develop your own unique TRC suited to your own unique requirements. We will continue to support Sri Lanka in its endeavours to draw on our experiences. It is an exercise in futility to compare the specifics of what happened during these vastly different conflicts because no model is being imposed on any country that wants to draw on the South African experiences and expertise.