Sri Lanka Wounds of War

Miles to go in the quest of last­ing peace.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena, un­der tremen­dous pres­sure do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, has fi­nally promised to in­ves­ti­gate, through cred­i­ble process, the heinous war crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the 26year civil war that ended in 2009. Since then, there have been per­sis­tent de­mands that war atroc­i­ties, com­mit­ted by the Sri Lankan mil­i­tary and the rebel Tamil Tigers or Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam, should not go un­pun­ished. Dur­ing the last six years, there has been lit­tle progress in heal­ing the wounds of war, though there have been calls for es­tab­lish­ment of some­thing on the pat­tern of South Africa’s Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

Percy Ma­hen­dra Ra­japaksa, who served as Pres­i­dent of Sri Lanka from Novem­ber 19, 2005 to Jan­uary 9, 2015, won the war, but be­came a tar­get of crit­i­cism of hu­man rights groups for com­mit­ting what they called “un­prece­dented war crimes.” Many re­ports, in­clud­ing those of the United Na­tions, found "pat­terns of grave vi­o­la­tions," es­pe­cially in the last phase of war. Ra­japaksa, who lost elec­tions in Jan­uary 2015 polls, says that his main rea­son for not co­op­er­at­ing with the war crime probe was its il­le­gal in­sti­tu­tion by the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil ( UNHRC). In March 2014, UNHRC au­tho­rized an in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­leged war crimes.

The present govern­ment has de­cided to set up a spe­cial court to in­ves­ti­gate the thou­sands of killings, rapes and ab­duc­tions that oc­curred dur­ing the con­flict. A UN re­port, re­leased on Septem­ber 16, 2015, also de­mands that the in­quiry should in­clude in­ter­na­tional judges. Ear­lier, on March 12, 2012, the UN passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing war crimes in Sri Lanka un­der Ra­japaksa. It was re­ported in the me­dia that for­mer Pres­i­dent Ra­japakse, fear­ing pun­ish­ment for his role in war crimes, was op­pos­ing in­ter­na­tional war crimes ap­pa­ra­tus and was urg­ing all par­ties “in the is­land na­tion not to al­low the pas­sage of new laws aimed at per­se­cut­ing mem­bers of its armed forces.” On the other hand, hu­man right groups de­mand in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which they say, alone would re­veal all facts about state­spon­sored crimes against hu­man­ity, help pun­ish the guilty and also pave the way for a bet­ter fu­ture.

War crimes are pro­hib­ited by the Geneva Con­ven­tions, of which Sri Lanka is a sig­na­tory. In 2002, the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) was cre­ated by the Rome Statute to pros­e­cute in­di­vid­u­als for se­ri­ous crimes, such as those re­lated to wars. Sri Lanka is not a sig­na­tory to the Rome Statute, there­fore it is only pos­si­ble for the ICC to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute war crimes in Sri Lanka if the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil refers Sri Lanka to the ICC. Ra­japakse dis­owns any al­le­ga­tion of crimes, let alone war crimes. It is al­leged by hu­man right groups that Ra­japakse pres­surised the Sirisena govern­ment to block the UN in­ves­ti­ga­tion on war crimes but failed.

Ra­japaksa be­lieves that if any mem­ber of the armed forces was in­volved in any wrong­do­ing, he should be tried un­der the lo­cal laws and in lo­cal courts. "The present at­tempt be­ing made in this coun­try is to in­tro­duce th­ese faulty laws and pro­ce­dures to Sri Lanka and to jail our war he­roes ex­pe­di­tiously. No self-re­spect­ing ci­ti­zen should al­low this to hap­pen," he said. How­ever, the Sri Lankan govern­ment main­tains that the process to fix ac­count­abil­ity as man­dated by the lat­est UNHRC res­o­lu­tion will be purely do­mes­tic and dis­missed claims by the op­po­si­tion that it would be a hy­brid mech­a­nism. "I wish to stress that this would be a Sri Lankan process, not a hy­brid process. It will be the Sri Lankan in­sti­tu­tions and sys­tems who will be im­ple­ment­ing the process," For­eign Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera said. It is yet to be seen whether it will be ac­cept­able to Tamils and oth­ers who dis­trust the govern­ment and ac­cuse it

of par­tial­ity par­tial­ity.

There are some pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments as well. Pres­i­dent Sirisena, since tak­ing power has taken many steps to­wards na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The govern­ment has re­turned thou­sands of acres of land con­fis­cated dur­ing the war by the mil­i­tary in the is­land's east and north and has made pub­lic all govern­ment re­ports on war abuses to en­sure trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. But the United Na­tions says much more needs to be done to in­ves­ti­gate the thou­sands of re­ports of peo­ple who went miss­ing dur­ing the civil war. Some Tamil groups have also com­plained about the slow pace of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, in­clud­ing the fail­ure to with­draw sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of mil­i­tary per­son­nel from the Tamil­dom­i­nated for­mer war zone.

On Novem­ber 23, 2015, the United States praised Sri Lanka’s new govern­ment for speed­ing up ef­forts to­wards rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the eth­nic mi­nor­ity Tamils. Steps such as the re­turn of land, ef­forts to find the miss­ing and the lift­ing of bans on Tamil groups “will help heal wounds that linger six years af­ter con­flict ended,” said Sa­man­tha Power, US Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United Na­tions. Pres­i­dent Sirisena is try­ing his best to mend re­la­tions with the United States and other Western na­tions, strained un­der his pre­de­ces­sor Mahinda Ra­japaksa, who was crit­i­cised for not do­ing enough to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the Tamils and the ma­jor­ity Sin­halese.

Sri Lanka has to move fast to sat­isfy the ag­grieved and the vic­tims of war that jus­tice and fair play will be en­sured in the post-war era. Dr. Ab­dul Ruff in his ar­ti­cle, Scared of Pun­ish­ment: Ra­japaksa op­poses war crimes tri­bunal, con­cludes that “Sirisena has to de­liver jus­tice for the Tamils but leav­ing Ra­japaksa un­pun­ished would de­feat that mis­sion.” The ques­tion is not that of pun­ish­ing any­body but rather for­giv­ing for which the pre-req­ui­site is truth; ad­mit­ting atroc­i­ties and seek­ing re­demp­tion. The writ­ers, part­ners in law firm HUZA­IMA & IKRAM (Taxand Pak­istan), are Ad­junct Fac­ulty Mem­bers at La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences (LUMS).

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