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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Is the Sri Lankan Govt Addressing Concerns of the International Community or the Tamil Victims of the War?

”Accountability is not only about rehabilitation and reconstruction. The Government also needs to look at the political reconciliation process as a part of the Roadmap efforts. With the war three years behind the nation, the Government needs to ensure that it is on the same page as the victim population on matters of reconciliation issues, specifics and generic. There could be differences and distinctions on what should be done, or how it should be done.

By N. Sathiya Moorthy
 The timely announcement on the setting up of official mechanisms for the implementation of the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) should be welcome for more reasons than one.

On the face of it, the Roadmap on the LLRC Report implementation seeks to address the concerns, real and otherwise, expressed in and by the US-sponsored Geneva resolution of the UNHRC. Even more importantly, it has fixed responsibility and accountability on officials across the board and down the line on post-war national efforts at rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation, nearer home, for addressing political and administrative aspects.

There may be truth in the Government’s claim that 60 per cent of the work has already been completed – give or take some, if one insists, either way. The international community had only criticisms and complaints when the Government went ahead with rehabilitation and reconstruction without involving them mostly.

It was particularly so after Colombo point-blank refused to allow INGOs to do work at ground level. Yet, through the last months of the war, it had no problem allowing a team of Indian army doctors to work with the civilian victims of the war. Nor did it have problems having Indian de-mining teams on ‘ground zero’, almost from day one! Obviously, it has had to do with attitudes and approach – and on either side.

The Government’s reservations had their roots in proven cases of INGOs working not with war victims, as mandated, but possibly for the LTTE’s war efforts, It’s unfortunate that the international community, comprising nations and organisations, are not known to have investigated the Sri Lankan Government’s charges of such collusion. If they have done so, internally alone and without involving Colombo, that should also in a way support the relevance of an internal inquiry of the LLRC kind. Otherwise, accountability, it would seem, was for others, not for the self.

Belatedly though, the Government has given accountability on LLRC implementation the highest importance. With President’s Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, chairing the committee and responsibilities fixed at all levels and down the line, the non-implementation of specific aspects of the Report could be tackled officially, if gaps are found, and motives become suspect.

If successful, the model could be adopted as an operational manual for Governments of the size across the world, and not just by those coming out of war. If not, it could become a manual on accountability.

If implementation becomes successful, the international community could become irrelevant to the process, so could be the original issues that triggered the LLRC Report in the first place. It would have become a manual for nation-building, not just for Sri Lanka but elsewhere, too. Given the level of corruption seeping into Third World democracies in particular, accountability of the kind is what nations could do with. Yet, post-implementation assessments should be realistic, to be effective. It cannot be dogmatic.

The Post-facto on rehabilitation and reconstruction, the international community seems not dissatisfied with the Government’s efforts since the conclusion of war – or, even during the war. The reservations cropped up in between. It owed to the enormity of the job on hand and an inherent belief that Third World nations could not cope with it, even if the efforts were genuine, without a role of choice for the international community. Yet, there is great reluctance on their part to acknowledge success stories as loudly as the complaints about ‘failures’ as they deem.

This behaviour was true of the Cold War era, too. India housed one of the largest refugee populations at the height of the ‘Bangladesh War’ in 1971, and even afterward. On the Sri Lankan front, the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu has some of the best organised refugee camps spread across the State and operational for over 25 years.

In recent years, the refugee camps, for instance, had electricity (for their school-going children to prepare for their exams in the host nations) while the rest of the neighbourhood would suffer hours of power-cuts. Successive Governments, both in the State and at the Centre, have been upgrading the conditions within the camps and for the refugees.

Ask the INGOs, and then they would tell you what is lacking in India, not what is happening there. For instance, they are always perturbed about India not enacting a refugee law, as yet. Pressure-tactic may be one way of keeping Governments on the track, but it could prove counter-productive after a time. This is again a lesson from Sri Lanka. India, for instance, does what it deems fit is right and necessary. It has not bent backward to accommodate the concerns of the international community that do not relate to ground realities.

In the post-Cold War era, INGOs have arrogated to themselves the role of the ‘international civil society’ and hold near-exclusive rights to ‘international consciousness’. They work on class-room driven, text-book standards of conflict-resolution.

It is a big business in itself, with large funds whose sources, if traced, could well lead to Governments. It is not any more your mom-and-pop Sunday church collections for distributing de-hydrated milk powder, much-needed medicines and tents to victims of war and natural calamity. At one time, INGOs, going by the name of ‘voluntary agencies’, used to be known and understood in Third World nations , as such. Not any more.

Post-Cold War era in particular is strewn with INGOs and other sections of the international community, wanting to do the good deed for the day, that of a Boy Scout assuming the role of a Good Samaritan. Their efforts at conflict-resolution were and are genuine, in most cases, for starters at the very least. Their understanding of the ground situation, their self-assumed perceptions and intentions of the stake-holders, and their unsubstantiated desire for creating a level-playing field all have proved to be counter-productive, in more cases than one.

There is also their faith and belief on who is the victim in a given circumstance. It could be the State in the Israel-Palestine issue, the non-State Tamil player in Sri Lanka. While a discerning approach is what it should be, there are no defining parameters, however. This has made their involvement in peace-building and conflict-resolution, untenable after a time. Which is also what makes local efforts of the LLRC and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, even more relevant.

The question remains. Whose concerns are the Sri Lankan Government addressing? Is it that of the international community or of the ‘Tamil victims’ of the war? If it is that of the former, there seems to be some acceptance of the Government’s efforts at rehabilitation and reconstruction. But there again, the local Tamil population and their political leadership – particularly those that are not a part of the Government – are not satisfied. They have huge concerns and genuine complaints, as genuine as war-victims can be expected to have.

For any effort of the LLRC Roadmap to produce results that are not contested on a later day, the international community has to engage the Tamils, the Diaspora and those in Sri Lanka, to ensure that they are on the same page.

This should be more so, if the intention of the Tamil constituency in particular is to contest the Government in Sri Lanka, whatever the certificate of the international community. At the end of the day, Governments in the West are dogmatic on HR issues only as far as it goes.

They are pragmatic, when it comes to constituency-driven electoral agendas of individual politicians, at times, starting with the Prime Minister of the day at the top!

The Colombo Government can be expected not wanting to be dictated by the international community, or the Diaspora Tamils, on details. It is not only a question of sovereignty. It is also about practicality. The Sri Lankan post-tsunami experience showed that Governments and INGOs dumped money without question.

There was no accountability then, and no proven results, hence. The INGOs were possibly happy with account books and audit reports, not bothering to find out if the funded projects did measure up! Then of course was the question of their own motives, and the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that might have also afflicted some of their partners, local and otherwise!

‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’. The Government has to ensure that its current efforts, stretched over the medium-term, do not leave behind an after-taste of frustration in all stake-holders and for exactly opposite reasons. One way to check against this on the home front is to involve the elected representatives of the target-population in the ongoing efforts.

If nothing else, the Government could consider setting up overseeing citizen’s committees at all levels, for inputs that could become genuine after a time. That way, it could engage sections of the Tamil population distanced from the Government and daily administration by LTTE threats over decades, to begin gaining hands-on experience that they possibly do not know exists and that they need to equip themselves with!

Accountability is not only about rehabilitation and reconstruction. The Government also needs to look at the political reconciliation process as a part of the Roadmap efforts. With the war three years behind the nation, the Government needs to ensure that it is on the same page as the victim population on matters of reconciliation issues, specifics and generic. There could be differences and distinctions on what should be done, or how it should be done.

The current initiative can have meaning, either way, only if the Government knows for sure what issues are on the table, and there would not be additions and sub-divisions as they progress.

The post-war scenario instead witnessed multiplicity of such concerns, each pushing back the earlier one to the background, but still hanging out there and capable of being picked up at will and thrown at the Government. After a time, it overwhelmed the handlers, including the complaining nations. They then had to ‘fix’ it, and the UNHRC resolution, became a tool rather than the cure.

Where the Government has failed on this score, it should address those issues too, as a part of the current Roadmap. The aborted talks with the TNA are one such. If a PSC is the way forward for the Government, it could set a time-frame for itself, to address identified issues and concerns for either side. It need not always be one-sided, as in the past. The Government should not fight shy of naming its security concerns, if any, for instance, and then take the blame for consequential delays on other fronts, which it is shy of acknowledging.

Yet, questions would remain, as with the four to five year period sought for investigating war-crimes, if it could be called so, and bringing identifiable culprits to book. On the face of it, the time-line could read like deception.

Third World crime-and-punishment is a story in itself, particularly the years consumed by the legal and judicial process. There could even be hope that the world would have become kinder over that period. A lot would again depend on the progress made or not on other fronts, starting with power-devolution and other aspects of political reconciliation!


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