|Sri Lanka: Does President Sirisena seriously think about justice for Lankan Tamils?|
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Criminals, howsoever big or tall they may be, should be held responsible for their actions and accountable for their crimes. Punishment is absolutely necessary to place accountability on those who committed the crimes.
Sri Lankan constitution, old or new, does not state that the rulers are above law and they should not be punished for their crimes, even if the charges are proved beyond doubts. In fact in no country a Constitution specifies that the rulers should also be punished if involved in criminal operations, directly or otherwise. So much so all corrupt leaders and rulers do not expect any punishment for their illegal interference with the nation’s resources, thereby creating grave inequalities in the society. Countries like India have become a safe haven for corrupt people for all such illegal operations day in and day out.
Proper punishments for serious crimes make a society healthy. However, punishment for the criminal or corrupt rulers does not happen as a usual phenomenon as governments make all out efforts to save the rulers and top leaders, former and incumbent.
Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s election last January to presidency gave rise to hopes for all sections of the island nation, especially the Tamils and Muslims as major minorities who have very high expectations from the new president they happily elected.
Elections in January when Sirisena defeated the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa in his quest to win an unprecedented third term and August parliamentary polls, combined with the recently passed UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, have presented the country with some real hopes for better treatment of minorities even if not given them any preferential treatment in jobs and other domains.
Upon assuming office, President Maithripala Sirisena declared reconciliation with Tamils as his main premises of governance and he promised proper action on former president’s war crimes. However, he did not undertake steps to realize his stated objectives. Recently he said the year 2016 will be the year of building of the economy of the country. He said a lot of programs will be implemented this year to bring about prosperous lives to all people in this country. The government has entered into the program to bring about prosperous lives to the people by doing required political reforms and saving the people from poverty,” Sirisena said. However, he did not refer to UN probe into war crimes.
President Sirisena has promised to do justice as the main part of reconciliation drive for Lankan Tamils who have barely come out of the shock they received because of state sponsored massacres of Tamil community under pro-Sinhalese Rajapaksha government.
Tamils are worried if Sirisena is insincere as he is silent about his promise of reconciliation drive. Accusing fingers are pointed at Lankan President Sirisena by onlookers for trying to save the former ruler Rajapaksha whom he defeated in the poll to replace him as president.
Thus far, Sirisena has been reluctant to take even small steps to reach out to the Tamil community. That needs to change if Sirisena were to be sincere about reconciliation.
Year 2015 was to herald the rising his eldest son Namal Rajapaksa who was obviously being groomed for a larger political role, but turned out to be bad for Rajapaksha, indeed it spelled doom for his autocratic political career and he thought he was finished but he is now a member of Parliament and has close links with President Sirisena.
Sirisena knows that Rajapaksha is likely concerned now about protecting himself and his family from criminal prosecution as well. Ensuring that his eldest son Namal Rajapaksa, who is also a member of parliament and stays politically active is probably a priority for the former president too. Ideally, Rajapaksa wants to preserve his reputation amongst Sinhala people as a war hero who finally defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and ended a war which ran from 1983 to 2009.
Tamils feel Sirisena is just Rhetoric apart, Sirisena does not seem to seriously think about justice for Tamils maybe and mainly because he, like his ministerial colleges, might consider such a move to upset the majority Sinhalese community that “enjoyed” the military genocides of Tamils. But the fact is that no positive action to assure the Tamil minority community of their right to exist in the island nation certainly would not go against Sinhalese people.
President Sirisena, under pressure from Sinhalese-Buddhist majority is undecided about the quantum of punishment for the criminal elements among the ruling elites. who perpetrated or promoted crimes in the name of democracy, patriotism and security.
Since international assistance is advantageous to ensure a truly credible, inclusive process. The international actors, including states, nongovernmental organizations and UN special procedures mandate holders, should keep pressing Colombo to include them in the process. The international community has made it clear that it’s ready to help Sri Lanka at every step of the way. The Sirisena government should try to explain to the Sinhalese population why independent mechanisms are important, and why a significant degree of actual international participation – beyond monitoring, advising, offering finances and training – is important to ensure independence and effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms
Sinhala people are the overwhelming ethnic majority in Sri Lanka -and most of them are Buddhists. Sinhala people dominate the country’s institutions, including the military. Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist elements, like Rajapaksa, would try to thwart the new government’s proposed reconciliation agenda, giving a human status to the Tamil community that had first served the British rulers and later the Sinhalese Buddhist people after that.
Rajapaksa has problems with the latest HRC resolution on Sri Lanka, which is designed to promote human rights, justice and reconciliation in the divided island nation that’s still recovering from a civil war that spanned nearly three decades. Rajapaksa doesn’t want to see meaningful international involvement in the country’s transitional justice process
Sri Lankan government is not allowing the UN probe to succeed and is yet to punish the criminals for their conspiratorial crimes against Tamils. That the Sirisena government in Colombo is staffed by military and political officials who played lead roles in the bloody final offensive against the Tamils and LTTE does not indicate punishment for the criminals. It appears Sirisena government that took office in January 2015 is designed to shift Sri Lanka’s economic and strategic orientation away from China and towards India and the USA – both themselves involved in crimes. Indian communist parties seem to have abandoned even their cynical, tactically-motivated criticisms of the Sri Lankan government’s oppression of the Tamil masses.
Since the conclusion of the HRC’s 30th session in Geneva, Sri Lankan government has been making it clear that there is no hybrid accountability mechanism in the works and that what’s called for in the latest resolution on Sri Lanka is a domestic mechanism
The Sirisena government seems to have set out a wide-ranging plan and may be tempted to deprioritize the more controversial war crimes matters. Nonetheless, failing to recognize that transitional justice, including accountability for wartime abuses, is an essential part of the government’s broader governance and institution-building agenda would be a significant mistake.
Sri Lanka would like to have a local inquiry as a formality to fool the world and close the issue. No justice can be expected from any such formally fake enquiries by the government without real intent. Lankan judges would be reminded of their “patriotic duty” to protect the Singhalese criminals and government from punishment, stating that any punishment of military or politicians that would be an “insult to the nation”. Logic is simple. No government can take steps to punish the criminals who belong to the majority people and belittle majority populations because such true justice would let the minority populations live with honor. Singhalese people refuse any human honor to Tamils and other minorities.
Sri Lankans from all walks of life – irrespective of peoples’ ethnic, religious or social background – should be allowed and encouraged to truly enjoy. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should recognize the importance of working together for national unity and acting upon this unique opportunity to help move the country from a post-war or post-conflict society to an inclusive society where majority and minorities live in peace.
The main challenge now is for Sirisena is to have political vision and courage to be transparent and honest about intentions and plans and do the correct thing, even if it may not be the most popular among the majority Sinhalese and politically convenient.