Reconciliation Not Accountability

The Government seems to think that economic development of the North & East will resolve all the problems of the Tamils and that the Tamil demand for a political solution can be ignored. If we want to have a Sri Lankan nation we must consciously develop a Sri Lankan identity. A Sri Lankan identity means there should be no more appeals to Sinhala nationalism or Tamil nationalism. In Tamilnadu Tamil nationalism withered away only after the Tamil language was recognized and equal rights were conceded to the minorities in India. It cannot be different in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese fear that Tamils threaten the unity of Sri Lanka as one nation because of their claim to the traditional lands in the North & East. But the answer is not to seek to plant more Sinhalese in these areas and reduce the Tamil majority for that would only worsen the fear and suspicion of the Tamil people that the Sinhalese are seeking to dominate them. The stoppage of State aided colonization has always been a demand of the Tamil people to which we have to pay heed. Peace can come only through justice and reconciliation.

There is the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. Several people thought that it was an exercise to look for a scapegoat in the form of the Lessons Learnt from the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002, an attempt to blame Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP. We think it was not wrong to enter into a Ceasefire since Our Lord said “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” But Prabakaran wanted Eelam and nothing short of it and naturally the anti-thesis was produced in the South and President Mahinda Rajapakse mobilized this force of Sinhala nationalism to take the battle to the LTTE heartland. If and when this problem is finally resolved through a devolution of power like in the 13th Amendment or a plus version of it, the futility of all that blood  letting would be realized. All that blood spilt could have been avoided if our leaders were allowed to devolve power if they had not been opposed by those who whipped up the passions of the Sinhalese by appealing to an irrelevant historical past.

Reconciliation is necessary to maintain one country and one State within it. Reconciliation is a process. It is one that would necessarily entail how we Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims perceive our future to be. It would be naïve to assume that a policy or a set of proposals can and would help reconcile the marginalized communities. They would only be a start. Already we see conflicts between the Governor of the Eastern Province and the Provincial  Council, and that too in the interference in the affairs of the Sinhales majority in Amparai district; between the Central Government and the Amparai Pradesiya Sabha where the latter’s projects sent up for funding have been rejected in toto and instead the proposals of the Member of Parliament have been accepted. There must be devolution not on paper but in fact.

The evidence given before the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation by the Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse should help to dispel some of the fears and suspicions of the Tamil people of the North. His assurances on matters of land, the presence of the military and the measures being adopted for greater inclusiveness of persons from the area on security promote reconciliation.

The Commssion should act more boldly to draw the Tamil community to give evidence about their hardships, fears and suspicions. The so-called Tamil diaspora should be encouraged to give evidence perhaps in camera about their complaints of the war crimes so that both sides begin to understand at least what is the others point of view. This is the first step to bridge the gulf. The Diaspora must understand that the pursuit of revenge is ultimately not in the interest of anybody. Revenge is mine says the Lord. Their efforts should be directed instead towards reconciliation not revenge.

As for the government it must realize the need to face the truth of whatever that happened in the final stages of the war and make amends. This is not with a view to punishing the perpetrators but with a view to reconciliation and to make amends. Perhaps if all the parties agree to a political solution then the quod pro quo can be to drop all charges of crimes committed or alleged to have been committed during the war by both sides. We need to be reconciled rather than to seek accountability for crimes committed.

 Reconciling the Tamil community would however require more ground actions following the assurances of the Defense Secretary. Devolution of power is the only way to win over the Tamil people to the acceptance of a one country and one people. India did it and it has helped India to build an Indian national identity. Gone are the days when Indians considered themselves as Sikhs, Bengalis or Tamils. They are now proud to call themselves Indians. We still pride ourselves as being Sinhalese or Tamils but as Sri Lankans. The Tamil expatriates have much to offer to re-build the country if Reconciliation can be achieved. The people of all communities are ready for reconciliation. It is up to the Government of President Rajapakse to take the lead without playing politics of race and religion as in the past.

If we are to prevent unnecessary interference by our big neighbor we must resolve our problems ourselves and pay heed to the demands of their democratic leadership without isolating them as we did in the past which led to the emergence of the LTTE END