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Interpreting War Crimes


“On that basis, the UN report may be important to global level investors in the issues of racial equality and war crimes which are naturally connected in the case of Sri Lanka. It is the duty of such Global participants to ensure that it does not cause further damage to the little that is left at the root level.

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(April 19, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read much about the UN’s report on the last stages of the battle against the LTTE in 2009. To me much of it is about ‘what happened’. To my mind, there are three levels at which we receive experiences. At the surface level it is like majority vote – the summary of ‘what happened’. On its own they are just the body of the experience.

At the bottom is Truth – which is part of us and connects us to others who also feel that Truth as part of themselves. This group strongly influences the natural and lasting outcomes.

In-between the two is our personal thought – which is a combination of the above two – (1) what happened as we heard, saw and calculated and (2) our own experience of that issue in various forms including a particular happening – in this instance the Battle of Vanni.

The UN report would be received by each one of us at various mixes of the two – what happened as we saw and heard directly and/or indirectly and our own True experiences of the issue. Each one of us would express our feelings and /or opinions as per our needs and desires. Some have professional responsibilities – for example the media and human rights groups working close to the common principles that the UN Governance is based on. I see the role of the media as being largely to report what happened and the environment in which it happened.

The role of other agencies such as Human Rights Groups is to interpret what happened on the basis of the ideal – what would have happened if they were the ones producing the outcomes, in the consciousness of their expertise. Their own level of expertise would depend on how deeply committed they are to the Common Principles and Values of the core purpose of their respective organizations. Likewise freelance individuals like myself. As a Resource Management expert, I may sometimes give preference to helping victims recover through economic progress rather than evaluate through Human Rights and Equal Opportunity angle as I did when I entered the tertiary stage of my career here in Australia.

Then there are those who are directly involved – physically and mentally. They naturally carry the Truth of the experience and they are the most valuable group, provided their Truth is not ‘covered’ by other external knowledge. Majority participants at this level, such as Vanni civilians, do not consciously identify with the Truth – largely due to the unpleasant consequences if they freely expressed their Truth. It’s the same as majority Tamil professionals in Australia not identifying with and expressing their racial discrimination pain and loss. If fact when one speaks to others who have not had the experience, one is already no longer sharing Truth but – the Truth combined with one’s expectation of the consequences of such a sharing. I was with the IDPs in Vavuniya and Chettikulam soon after the events at the center of the UN report happened. Taken without attachment to either side – I concluded that the IDPs as a total did not want either side – the LTTE or the Armed Forces. They just wanted ‘normal’ life like others outside the camps in Vavuniya.

If we were to ask these victims – as the Sri Lankan Government seems to want to do – they are likely to express satisfaction provided they are able to get on with their lives. This however would not be the Truth. Many of us outside Sri Lanka feel certain losses more deeply due to us having invested in the assets that produce those benefits that we lost and this includes a huge part of our cultural system through which the leaders naturally identified with each other and we were able to place ourselves in society as per our valuations through the cultural system. Preserving these assets close to our roots is important not only for Sri Lanka but for all the countries that we as a community have migrated to. Hence UN needs to act to help restore those values. If this UN report would facilitate that, then the UN needs to take advantage of it on behalf of all concerned rather than for itself and/or for individuals close to UN Management.

We discussed this issue of root connections, at a community gathering over the weekend but without any mention of any UN report but just the need to share and feel connected to our roots, through the resources available to us. The work of others who do use the UN report needs to ensure that this kind of sharing is facilitated by their work rather than damage it. We recognized that it was important for our children to know that they belonged to a valuable community – so that they would integrate with other communities not just on their own but taking the essence of their culture with them. When our children, feel that their parents are there for them, they would feel stronger self-confidence than they would, purely on their own achievements. At that community level the needs of young kids in war affected areas, towards greater educational facilities influenced our consciousness more than punishing the Sri Lankan Government. Many us are strongly conscious that the war orphans need greater support to help them not feel less confident than other children from their respective environments. Depressed minds would more easily be tempted with immediate gains. To my mind, the failure to not realize earned benefits is a key reason for depression and stress.

In his article “Psyching soldiers to get past their guilt”, John Grant quotes Kali Tal as follows “The battle over the meaning of a traumatic experience is fought in the arena of political discourse, popular culture and scholarly debate. The outcome of this battle shapes the rhetoric of the dominant culture and influences future political action.” – Kali Tal, Worlds Of Hurt: Reading the Literature of Trauma.

Trauma, like depression, is experienced differently by different people. To my mind, the pain would be relative to our expectations and does not depend only on ‘what happened’. The interpretations by scholars and cultural and political leaders would tend to give it the best possible form. To the extent this does not confirm feelings by someone, including indirect participants, it is mere intellectual theory and not real. At total level, interpretations of the UN report summed up together, are likely to contain a high component of this ‘theory’ – not because of the alleged violence that happened but because the interpretations are being made by those who are distant from everyday life of those concerned – the soldiers as well as the direct war victims. Both groups did not have strong influence over what happened. Hence at that level the damage by one to the other was an act of Nature like Tsunami. Such Soldiers on both sides fought because they believed it was their duty. John Grant says in this regard ‘No one is a “soldier” anymore; whether you’re in special ops doing lethal night raids into Pakistan or repairing computers on a FOB, you’re now a “warrior”.’ To me the difference between a soldier and a warrior depends on the strength of ‘choice’ one has over the actions one is executing. The more one carries out an ‘order’ the more one is qualifies as a soldier. In the Sri Lankan war, most of the combatants of the official forces were soldiers. The combatants on the side of the LTTE were largely warriors moving more and more towards becoming soldiers who are more easily defeated by official forces than are warriors. Those who fight on the basis of their inner Truth/Belief are never defeated. John Grant describes soldiers as ‘working class’. Taken in the consciousness of the other extremes such as calling them ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ this description does help bring about a balance towards reality – so that future soldiers who exercise their choice more and more at the time of recruitment.

One could easily take wars on ‘project’ basis by being focused on ‘winning’ and therefore elevate the self-esteem of soldiers through higher level attention than the normal working class get. But wars are more programs than projects. They are programs to the extent they bond those of the same side, through common processes and personalities. The more we focus on wins and losses (including through the UN reports) the more we make them ‘projects’ and therefore tend towards losing opportunities automatically generated to bind us together.

Sri Lanka and the world, needs the UN report to be part of a program that would lead to self governance at community level so that we would integrate as communities at the national level. I personally do not see strong political leadership on either side. In terms of war crimes through the International Criminal Court – to me at root level the greater need is to establish an appeal mechanism at UN level – to hear racial discrimination and human rights cases that have been dismissed at local levels including in Australia. Until we have such a facility to appeal, we are better off accepting the judgment of the highest court available to us as ‘right’. If Truth is the first and most important ‘right’ we seek – other rights would not matter any more.

On that basis, the UN report may be important to global level investors in the issues of racial equality and war crimes which are naturally connected in the case of Sri Lanka. It is the duty of such Global participants to ensure that it does not cause further damage to the little that is left at the root level. I am with the side that sacrifices wins for one group towards Peace for all. To the extent we ‘show’ more wins than we have actually earned, we generate depression for our side. It’s better therefore to lose and be healthy than win and become delusional.


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