While the two main communities in Sri Lanka were celebrating their age-old common festival welcoming their traditional New Year, in faraway New York, a report was submitted to the United Nations Secretary General that could potentially divide them again. The report was on the way forward for the international organisation to investigate purported 'war crimes' allegedly committed during the final stages of the 'war against terror' in this island-nation in April-May 2009.
The Sinhalese and Tamil communities have co-existed for centuries through good times and bad, through ill-will and distrust, and equally, through times of perfect harmony. And these are testing times, when foreign hands orchestrated an insurgency in this country to fit their geo-political hegemony.
Though the contents of the report by the three-member panel are not fully public yet, with only the summary in the public domain, the Government of Sri Lanka has already dismissed it as being "biased" and "flawed".
A first reading of the report betrays a speculative nature to the findings. For one it refers to "credible allegations (of war crimes) if proven". Then serious allegations are made against Sri Lanka's military of women who may have been raped. It is totally unbecoming for a panel of this nature to make such vague unsubstantiated allegations of this nature against soldiers of a sovereign state who otherwise were not accused of this particular spoil of war.
The report has also prejudged the final findings of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the government's own efforts at resolving some outstanding problems.
What is clear is that the report, while it seems to have an agenda for some Western powers and is bound to re-open old wounds. It is not allowing them to heal after nearly three decades of a brutal and bloody separatist insurgency which even this Government has wrongly referred to as an "ethnic conflict" while many uninitiated have dubbed it 'a civil war'.
That the UN Secretary General's arm was twisted by the Western powers which were rudely snubbed by the Lankan authorities during the last stages of the 'war' against the LTTE, and the immediate 'post-war' months is patently obvious. It was only the other day that the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia referred to the importance of the "strategic location of Sri Lanka"; and they feel sidelined with Sri Lanka's increasing dependence on countries other than the West.
Their 'bleeding hearts' for the civilians killed during those messy final stages when the LTTE used them as human shields is blatantly hypocritical in the face of not only their actions in bringing an end to World War II by dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but what their armed forces are engaged in around the world at this very moment. But they don't seem to see it that way. That being said, the Government in Colombo has made a hash of the UN inquisition. It initially responded by rejecting the panel out of hand and calling it "illegal', only to eventually go secretly to meet its members and argue Sri Lanka's case. It showed that there was confusion first, and panic at the end, in dealing with the situation.
The knee-jerk reaction not to engage with the UN from the beginning appears to raise questions. The fact that a Government delegation has argued its case before this panel also robs the Government of saying it's an ex-parte finding or that it is half baked; or that the principle of audi ulteram partem (hearing all sides) has not been exercised. Legitimate questions are being asked why this UN panel was not permitted into the country and properly engaged. Didn't the Government have the confidence to deal with it? Needless to say, we missed a trick here.
At least now, from what we are told, the Government has realised its own folly of not engaging the UN. It is a dangerous game to play given the way the UN is being used and misused to deal with international problems. To rely on one super-power to use its veto powers on our behalf is to put all our eggs in one basket. We should not be like Israel that is beholden to the US at the UN. On the other hand, the UN must permit Sri Lanka to recover from a nightmarish three decades.
A referendum in Sri Lanka asking her people what they want; to dwell on the recent past or move on would surely give the UN a proper rebuttal to what it is trying to do. On our Op-Ed page, a former Foreign Secretary and one-time Ambassador to the UN provides our readers with a succinct backgrounder to the events unfolding on this front, of what could be a hot potato for the current leadership, and the need to engage with the UN and vice-versa so that the people of this country can 'move on'.