As the year winds to its mid-term, the January 2015 consensus for a better Sri Lanka seems dangerously fragile. One can only wistfully enough, wish for a virtual miracle to rescue the country. Battle lines are clearly drawn in several impending and imploding collisions. On the one side, militant factions of the Tamil diaspora supported [...]


Shameful compromises with regard to January 2015 consensus


As the year winds to its mid-term, the January 2015 consensus for a better Sri Lanka seems dangerously fragile. One can only wistfully enough, wish for a virtual miracle to rescue the country.

Battle lines are clearly drawn in several impending and imploding collisions. On the one side, militant factions of the Tamil diaspora supported by hard line voices in the Northern polity demand an international war crimes tribunal obviously aimed at the forthcoming sessions of the Human Rights Council over the UN mandated report. On the other side, ultra nationalistic Sinhala hardliners headed by the Rajapaksa rebel faction of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) delightedly stoke the flames.
Claims and counter-claims

Frantic reassurances of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government that a ‘credible’ domestic investigation will be initiated forthwith have not satisfied anyone. The most recent issue of contention is the unwise claim by the Minister of Justice that Sri Lanka has only 273 prisoners in detention on terrorism charges.

As an adjunct to this heated debate, the Government has denied that secret detention camps continue to exist. Exasperated by claims to the contrary by some Tamil National Alliance parliamentarians, the Government has asked them to name and indentify the centres. This is much like that peculiar response by the police once upon a time who, when asked as to account for failing to address the collapse of law and order, responded by requesting the public to catch the offenders and hand them over to the nearest police station.

Amidst this unsettling sound and fury, one fact is clear. Though the Government may remain complacent in its belief that it has successfully warded off a dreaded international inquiry at least for the moment, there is a lesson painfully taught to us that these twists and turns of international opinion are notably fickle.

Satisfaction of the minimal
Rather than relying on changing imperatives of realpolitik therefore, determination has to be expended on actually changing the local dynamics of the accountability demand. This is not accomplished merely by setting up a local inquiry with an international element of monitoring thrown in or by establishing a so-called truth and reconciliation commission where such commissions have become a joke. Such attempts will be heavily critiqued here and abroad.

Instead, let us go back to the satisfaction of the minimal. For instance, a key recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in its 2011 report was that the interim and other reports of the Udalagama Commission on abuses allegedly committed by the LTTE and state actors be released to the public. Why has this yet not been done?

This was a question repeatedly asked by critics of the Rajapaksa Presidency so it is only fair that the yahapalanaya Government is also put under that same pressure. Are we to presume that the report’s originator, former President Rajapaksa who evidently was displeased by the turn that the Commission investigations was taking, given that he allowed the body to lapse prematurely without completing its work, has destroyed all documentation? Or is it that those holding the reins of government currently are as much disinterested in publicizing the reports? Or are there far more sinister motives at play? Two of the gross human rights abuses being inquired into by the Commission concerned the 2006 killings of Tamil youth who were just about to enter university and the brutal extra-judicial executions of seventeen aid workers in Mutur later that year.

The method of covering up
In many respects, the convulsions that accompanied the sitting of this Commission were a pointer to fundamental questions of state impunity plaguing Sri Lanka. In particular, the role of the officers of the Attorney General assisting the Commission attracted heavy criticism. An opinion handed down at that time by two retired Supreme Court judges possessed of the highest integrity, observed that if an officer of the state was found to have been involved in directing or advising investigations into a particular crime being looked into by the Commission, it was a serious conflict of interest for that officer to assist the Commission. This was a major crisis of credibility in relation to the state prosecutor. The credibility of the judicial inquiry was similarly impugned with good reason. The forensic process was not followed, resulting in vital evidence being lost.

Critics of these intentional impunity patterns, including this columnist, were targeted and viciously personally vilified in print and on the airwaves by Rajapaksa media propagandists who are now skulking in the shadows, presumably licking their wounds. Regardless, this misguided belief that everything can be covered up and glossed over by manipulation of the process, threats and intimidation is precisely why Sri Lanka has found itself is this unhappy situation of being besieged by international forces.

End result of shameless compromises
Indeed, this is the same breakdown of the Rule of Law that is seen in regard to similar incidents in the South, including for example, the failed Kotakthana prosecution involving Sinhalese victims and the investigation into the Aluthgama atrocities against the Muslim community one year ago. The Sirisena Presidency has not shown sufficient determination in reversing these trends. Merely meeting the mother and family members of the latest victim, schoolgirl Vidya Sivaloganathan who was raped, brutalized and murdered near to her humble home in Pungudutheevu is not sufficient.

Certainly, the President made a serious mistake in not dismantling the structures of the previous regime. From the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many of the old names still ring unpleasantly in our ears. In any event, the vacillations by the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena Government have resulted in each reform initiative being torpedoed by the Rajapaksa faction. The severely compromised 19th Amendment is being rendered a virtual dead letter by the blocking of the three independent appointees. Ludicrously, those who shouted from the rooftops that the Constitutional Council must be strong and independent are now weakly justifying as to why the CC does not need even its minority of independent appointees to function.
We are left with the end result of these shameful compromises. And ominous warnings hang heavy in the air.

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