Let’s Resolve Our Problems Internally

Reconcilation & conflict resolutionMany have observed that the domestic process of investigating alleged human rights violation of the country is rather sporadic; it lacks accountability and has made no progress. Meantime, some have been blaming the United National Party (UNP) for not managing the situation in 1983 during the UNP regime paving way for big scale human rights violations – therefore the UN investigation should be called from the time of the UNP regime. When contacted UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne, he made his comments on the ongoing UN investigation, domestic processes as well as on the required investigations into the recent incident at Aluthgama.

Excerpts of the interview:

By Waruni Karunarathne

Q: What does the UNP think about three experts appointed by Navi Pillay to assist the investigation on Sri Lanka?
A: I think it is not relevant for me to comment on the experts appointed to assist the investigation. The individuals appear to have wide experience of their work. The issue that is relevant to us is why this investigation is being called. The investigation is about allegations that there were human rights violations during the period of the conflict and thereafter. It is commonly understood that war is a crime. In military conflicts, excesses happen.

In the interest of those who have suffered, there has to be a mechanism to ascertain the truth, to admit wrong-doing, and to forgive those who have committed a mistake. The process should lead to restorative justice. Hatred must not beget hatred. We have consistently called for a domestic process. The LLRC was the first step. The lack of a credible follow-up process is leading to international interference. The consequences for Sri Lanka are huge. We cannot sacrifice the country in an attempt to safeguard a few, who, in the name of the regime, may be wrong.

Q: Would the UNP provide information to the panel relating to the period when the UNP was in power?
A: Firstly, the period of the investigation must be established. Some have called for an investigation from the 1970’s to the present – others from 1983 to the end of the war and some others from 1983 to the present. Our inability to agree on what period should be investigated itself points to the fact that we have not dealt with our past truthfully and comprehensively.

If we deal with the past, meeting the two above conditions, i.e. truthfulness and comprehensiveness, we will always be dealing with the issue at hand and not going back in time. I believe that the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaikes’ regime dealt with the aftermath of the southern uprising satisfactorily.

Therefore there is closure. Former President Chandrika Kumaranatunge rode to power on the back of the Mothers’ Front. Her response to the excesses and crimes, meted out justice. The present government is yet to investigate truthfully and comprehensively. Justice needs to be done and also seen to be done. Providing information to an impartial and credible investigative process is an obligation. Our position is that the government should embark on a domestic process. The question of a political party giving evidence does not arise. It is individuals, who are called to do so, who will have to respond. As a political party we will have to accept responsibility for our shortcomings.

A: Tamil political parties are backing the UN investigations on the basis that there need to be accountability. Would that mindset of the Tamil political parties promote divisions in the country?
Q: The question as to who is promoting the division of the country is rhetorical. If you are Sinhalese you will see it as extremist Tamils who are promoting division. If you are a Tamil, you will see it as extremist Sinhalese who are promoting division. Tamil political parties are as legitimate as mainstream political parties and other ethnic or religion-based political parties.

Even though my preference is that Sri Lanka should only have mainstream political parties i.e. parties that represent political ideology rather than ethnicity or religion, we have now evolved into another space.

The Tamil Parties are crying out for justice as an aggrieved party in the conflict. They are not the only aggrieved constituency. There are Sinhala and Muslim communities who also suffered. So, our focus should be on establishing Justice and the Rule of Law. We must not view our conflicts only through ethnic eyes. It is the Rule of Law that can bind the nation together. When that succeeds division becomes a thing of the past.

Q:  Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC) has been calling for UN investigations even in to the recent incident at Aluthgama. What is your opinion about that?
A: I am not surprised about the response of the SLMC. When Muslim businesses and places of worship are targeted by extremists they are going to cry out for justice too.

When domestic processes fail, they will also turn to international processes. It is the duty of the government to check extremism as and when it happens, to nip it in the bud. A government that is a victim of extremist forces is creating the environment for unrest and the unwanted deployment of the armed forces in civil conflict. Sri Lanka’s tri-forces are professional.

Years of conflict have transformed the forces from poorly trained, poorly equipped ceremonial forces to better trained, better equipped professional forces. The higher echelons of the forces are highly professional, with the exception of a few who follow political bidding to satisfy their political masters. We must protect the image of the tri-forces by allowing both internal disciplinary processes and judicial process to take their course so that the reputation of the entire force will not be jeopardize by the behaviour of a few.

Q: The government keeps saying that the domestic investigations are progressing.  Is the UNP satisfied about the local process including the investigations carried out by the army? 
A: As stated earlier, we are not satisfied by the progress made by the government. A credible process must lead from justice to reconciliation. Credibility in the eyes of Sri Lankans, and particularly the minority parties, should be established. Let’s resolve our problems internally. What that means is the process must be credible to the political parties within the country including the TNA.

If we can establish that, then the international community is of little consequence. Our inability to agree internally is leading to a dangerous path. The Tamil political party leadership that we see in the Sampanthan, Wigneswaran and Sumanthiran must not be surpassed as it may lead to dealing with unpredictable leaders in the future.

The army’s internal processes do not warrant a political comment. If we are of the view that they are not satisfactory, we should encourage recourse to the justice system. We did not approve of General Fonseka’s court martial. He was treated unjustly. Similarly, any process that is widely thought to be unjust will be subject to re-scrutiny. (Sunday Leader)

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