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NewsWhy War Crime trials and a Political Solution Cannot go Together ? – Ranga Jayasuriya

Why War Crime trials and a Political Solution Cannot go Together ? – Ranga Jayasuriya

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President Maithripala Sirisena has once again ruled out foreign judges to probe the allegations of war crimes in the final phase of the war. He said instead the government would obtain foreign technical assistance for investigations.  His remarks came on the eve of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s 32nd sessions which begin in Geneva on 13th June.

Earlier, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed at least some concerns of the security forces of which officers fear that  alleged war crimes trials would in effect turn into a mass witch-hunt . The Premier said in a meeting attended by the senior military officials that the charges would be presented individually, and that the forces would not be held responsible collectively. Nonetheless, there are pertinent questions that need to be answered.  Certain measures which were viewed as security necessities at the time of war may not appear so now. Yet, perhaps the very fact that they are not  fundamental concerns now is perhaps courtesy some of those measures.  The alleged ‘white flag incident’,  in which, terrorist top brass who  were pleading surrender were executed, is for instance now a moral question. However, if they lived another day to fight another war (like Rohana Wijeweera did after being released by JR), it would have become a far more pertinent life and death question.

Also, another larger-than-life myth popularized by many circles, some willing propagandists of the LTTE, others bleeding heart-right activists, and many others simply shocked by such allegations, is that  the troops deliberately shelled civilians.  Leave aside the rules of war, and human rights conventions, such a tactic was counter-productive in  military and political terms itself, since that would only bring attention to a war, that the West wanted to stop, and Sri Lanka wanted to finish off. Yet, the fact remains that no war is fought, especially amidst heavy civilian density without collateral damages. Limiting them is the military planners’ responsibility. But, terrorist tactics would mitigate the efficacy of their best intentions — as Velupillai Prabhakaran told KP that if more people were killed, the international community would intervene and offer Tamils the ‘Eelam’, as in the case of  Kosovo.  If the terrorists shells from civilian neighbourhoods, targeting  the advancing troops on the open terrain, the choice is either to sacrifice them, or to neutralize the fire. Sri Lanka choose the latter, and any rational state would do the same.  (The Americans defended using nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for it, supposedly  saved half a million lives of American soldiers who would otherwise have  perished  fighting in the Japanese islands).

Military strategies sometimes have a uniformed pattern. Sri Lanka was accused of limiting food supplies  to civilians held in the war zone during the final phase of war. Now the Iraqis, who with the help of their American partners have laid siege to the Islamic State-held Fallujah are accused of the same. Yet few, save the world agencies tasked with feeding the civilians seem to be bothered. Those measures, though obviously unsavoury could well be military necessities, as long as they do not lead to a full blown mass starvation. Few seem to be keen on resupplying  terrorists havens and fighting  a war. There is a self -evident logic for that reluctance.

However, running of abduction rings by a few rogue military ranks is a different matter that needs to be investigated and perpetrators brought to book. The final phase of the war ought to  be scrutinized to know exactly what happened, or at least to know whether those inflated claims of civilian casualties,  which are different figures for different people,  did actually occur. Concocting figures is easier when there are no means for verification.

“However, running of abduction rings by a few rogue military ranks is a different matter that needs to be investigated and perpetrators brought to book. The final phase of the war ought to  be scrutinized to know exactly what happened, or at least to know whether those inflated claims of civilian casualties,  which are different figures for different people,  did actually occur”

However, there is a far more significant issue at stake, which is overlooked by the champions of war crime trials. If the Sinhalese majority tend to consider their government as having  capitulated to international pressure to haul military personnel before war crime trials, it will seriously diminish the government’s capacity to promote reconciliation and a political solution. There is a negative correlation between the success of war crime trials and a prospect of  a political solution . In fact, it is rather simplistic to say that the governments in the past did not want to address Tamil grievances through Constitutional reforms. On each instance, other extraneous factors, the most consequential of which  during the 1980-2009 being the presence of the LTTE, seriously hampered those efforts. Now, the danger is that war crimes trials would have the same adverse impact. External threats (read as any threat out of the political mainstream of the South) had always hardened public opinion in the South.  Devolution when the LTTE was fighting its terrorist war was viewed not only  as a step towards separation, but also a capitulation ( and obviously the LTTE was not prepared to accept anything short of de-facto separation, no matter under which political jargon  the solution was framed)

Now that the LTTE has been conclusively defeated and that existential threat,which  was the main obstacle to a political solution removed from the  equation, the Sinhalese majority is more likely to consent to a political solution that grants extensive devolution to the North East. Political leaders of all communities should grasp that historical opportunity.

Instead, as some do, calling for bloody revenge (perhaps as a punishment for liquidating terrorists for good) would not serve the purpose.  It does make the Sinhalese bitter, which would again harden the collective position. On the other hand, it also fosters the collective Tamil sense of victim hood, both real and perceived, while in the process masking the responsibility of the Tamil political leadership in escalating the national question to a suicidal war for their community, in particular  and the country at large, in general. That is also a dangerous ploy which would foster ethnic polarization once again.
courtesy Daily Mirror

 

 

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