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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2554

Challenge for the TNA; Are you ready for the truth and to reconcile?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament, TNA MP Mr Sumanthiran has stated that the “question of accountability will never go away until we meet them squarely and sincerely”. He has also urged the government to make use of the opportunity to bring an end to the misery suffered by the people.

One is never sure whether TNA MPs are speaking as Sri Lankans when they say “we” and when they refer to the misery suffered by the “people”. If they are, then there is hope for Sri Lanka and hope for reconciliation.

However, if those referred to by the TNA as “we” are only Sri Lankan Tamils particularly the Northern and Eastern Tamils (considering they have never stood up for Tamils of more recent Indian origin) and not the rest of the country, and if the misery suffered is also confined to the same Tamil community, then, there is really no hope for reconciliation as reconciliation is not and cannot be a one sided process.

The fractious nature of the TNA is known and so is its very loose connectivity amongst its constituent partners. Although its leader Mr Sampanthan, known as a moderate, will deny it, the dominant voice within the TNA, irrespective of the numbers they may have, is that of the LTTE apologists who are supported, and in all likelihood funded, by the Tamil Diaspora activists who in fact supported and funded the LTTE.

Mr Sampanthan might like to think he is the TNA Emperor, but even if he were so, he certainly is without clothes as those who claim they are moderates have very little influence within the TNA.

This was amply demonstrated when TNA MP S Sritharan called Velupillai Prabhakaran a national hero during his speech in Parliament, showing that even if the mouth should lie, the tongue doesn’t. He articulated the dominant voice within the TNA whose hero is Prabakaran and whose sole determination is to pursue the LTTE agenda of a separate State for the North and the East of Sri Lanka.

If it is not, it is hard to understand how a man who ordered hundreds of Tamils to be killed, including several Tamil political leaders, abducted and conscripted thousands of little children to carry out terrorist activities and held some 300,000 civilians hostage and committed so many other atrocities against the Tamil people themselves, let alone others, could be hero to Tamil people, unless those who call him a hero are his loyal subjects, intent on carrying forward his agenda of a separate State.

It is in this climate of sympathy and support for a man and his organisation that was responsible for 30 years of terrorism, war, death and destruction, unimaginable human rights violations, and an agenda for a separate State, that the Sri Lankan State is being asked to engage in a one way process of accountability, reconciliation and discussions on a political settlement.

Those who cannot understand this, nationally and internationally, including leaders like Steven Harper of Canada, David Cameron from the UK and Manmohan Singh from India, and who are supporting what the LTTE apologists are pursuing, which is a one way process of accountability, may be regarded as direct or indirect supporters of this agenda.

If indeed Mr Sumanthiran and Mr Sampanthan likes to believe they are in control of the TNA, and the LTTE apologists within the TNA are only a vociferous fringe group, they should demonstrate their moderate stance, by stating unequivocally that they are Sri Lankans first, fighting for justice not just for Tamils, but all others who suffered during the 30 year conflict. This is because suffering was not the exclusive misery of Tamils in the North and the East, although undoubted they suffered a lot.

They should also acknowledge that more Tamils, and others, suffered due to violence perpetrated by the LTTE rather than whatever might have been perpetrated by the Sri Lankan military apparatus. Even if they cannot accept this, they should acknowledge publicly that the LTTE was responsible for violence and human rights violations that affected not just Tamils but members of other communities as well, and not just in the North and the East, but in other parts of the country as well.

As demanded by UK and Canada at the behest of the Tamil Diaspora in those countries, if retributive accountability for the last phase of the war against the LTTE is to be pursued and it is confined to any misdemeanours on the part of the Sri Lankan Armed forces, it will absolve the LTTE from any human rights violations and war crimes although very conveniently, and in ignorance of facts, these antagonists of the Sri Lankan government will say the LTTE is not answerable to the same degree as a sovereign government.

This is not correct as the Common Article 3 relating to Non-International Armed Conflict in the Geneva Convention indeed covers all combatants in internal conflicts.

This Article states that the certain minimum rules of war apply to armed conflicts that are not of an international character, but that are contained within the boundaries of a single country. The applicability of this article rests on the interpretation of the term armed conflict. For example it would apply to conflicts between the Government and rebel forces, or between two rebel forces, or to other conflicts that have all the characteristics of war but that are carried out within the confines of a single country.

An important point to note is that other Geneva Conventions are not applicable in this situation but only the provisions contained within Article 3.

The rationale for the limitation is to avoid conflict with the rights of Sovereign States that were not part of the treaties. When the provisions of this article apply, it states that:

• Persons taking no active part in hostilities including military persons who have ceased to be active as a result of sickness, injury, or detention, should be treated humanely and that the following acts are prohibited:

• violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

• taking of hostages;

• outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; and

• the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

• The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

It is interesting to pose the question to the TNA whether they would agree that the LTTE violated all of the above during the 30 year conflict.

If an enquiry based on retributive justice is to include the activities of the LTTE during the last phase of the war, then the question will arise as to who would be held accountable if they had committed war crimes and human rights violations. Should it be the Diaspora activists who supported and funded the LTTE? Or should it be the TNA or at least the elements within it that hold Prabakaran as their hero?

Two sides fought this last war. Only one side cannot be asked to account for their actions. If an investigation is to be done, activities of both sides must be investigated and both sides must have persons to take responsibility for their actions.

Besides the tail end of a long and bloody period of terrorism and war lasting nearly 30 years, during which one side, the LTTE, committed horrendous atrocities on their own people as well as on other communities, besides murdering a Prime Minister of India and a President of Sri Lanka and a host of Tamil politicians, the 30 year period also needs investigation if an investigation is sought by Mr Harper and Mr Cameron. These atrocities are well documented but they need to be examined in great detail and a full disclosure made to the world on LTTE activities during this period if one were to examine the activities of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

This alone is not enough as the involvement of other players like India, who supported, funded and trained the LTTE in the early stages of the conflict, who forced a constitutional amendment on Sri Lanka literally at gun point, the role played by the Norwegian government as well as the Sri Lankan government at the time with their peace process during which the LTTE rearmed itself enabling it to wage the final war against the Sri Lankan armed forces, and other key influencing factors too should be investigated in order to have a balanced enquiry.

The issue for Tamils and the TNA is whether they are willing to face the truth in regard to violations committed by the LTTE, and all of above, and even if they do at an individual level, whether they will be allowed to express such an acknowledgement collectively by Tamil Diaspora activists who hold the perpetrator, Prabakaran and the LTTE, as an embodiment of their agenda for a separate State.

If as demanded by Cameron and Harper, who seem to think that the Tamil people are the only aggrieved party in this conflict, the Sri Lankan government on behalf of Sinhala and Muslim people and other communities, are asked to face the truth and acknowledge the truth, there has to be a reciprocation of the acceptance of the truth by whoever who can speak on behalf of the Tamil people for the violations committed by the LTTE on their behalf.

The question for Mr Sumanthiran is therefore, are you and the TNA ready on behalf of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, to publicly acknowledge the truth in regard to violations committed by the LTTE during the last phase of the war and the preceding period of 30 years? If you are unequivocally not ready to accept the truth, and if you are looking for a one sided accountability process, then there cannot be an accountability process that metes out retributive justice to one side and absolves the other of all forms of violations as per Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

If Mr Sumanthiran and others, who can now travel freely anywhere in the country and who can speak whatever he wishes to without the fear of a LTTE bullet in his head, believe that such a one sided accountability process is a pre requisite for reconciliation, then, he will not have it a such a process will not be supported by the rest of Sri Lanka and by a majority of nations within the international community.

He and the TNA and their masters, the Tamil Diaspora activists, will continue to lead their people to more misery while other communities in the country will prosper and be at peace.

Alternatively, Sri Lankans who wish for peace and prosperity and who wish all communities in the country to focus on the future and move forward rather than backwards, and live as equals, will opt for the path taken by President Rajapaksa, to usher in reconciliation through the LLRC action plan process and a political solution through the Parliamentary Select Committee process.

A lot of dirty political linen spanning over 30 years can be put on the table for the world to see through an investigation into this period. Some would relish that thought as it would cause further divisions amongst the communities in Sri Lanka who are striving to look towards the future rather than wallow in the unfortunate and tainted past. Some others like India may wish such dirty linen be swept under the carpet for no one to see or hear. All moderate minded, peace loving people of Sri Lanka would consider it is in their national interest to move on rather than identifying who was responsible for what during this dark period.

It is hard to imagine how reconciliation can be achieved if one is surrounded by so much dirt from all sides that will only exacerbate divisions. One can decide on the future without this dirt, or sink further into it and miss the bus to the future

The choice is yours Mr Sumanthiran.

- Asian Tribune -

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