Reconciliation is a subject which is of critical importance for Sri Lanka at the present juncture and the last nine months have seen significant events that are critical to the success of the post armed conflict recovery and peace-building initiatives that we are engaged in.
However I wish to point out that there appears to be a basic disconnect in thinking as to what is at the core of our reconciliation efforts. At the heart are the core conceptions of restorative and retributive justice which appear to colour our perceptions and those of our interlocutors. In the Warrant establishing the LLRC, the President noted that: “an opportune moment has arrived to reflect on the conflict phase and the sufferings that the country has gone through as a whole during this period.” He also noted “that a need has arisen to learn from this recent history, lessons that would ensure that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflict in the future and that people are assured of an era of peace, harmony and prosperity.” This was the golden thread that ran through the deliberations of the LLRC. Recovery and non-repetition are at the core of this approach. Restitution, compensation and healing are ancillary principles that apply. It is a uniquely Sri Lankan approach to a uniquely Sri Lankan situation.
All the experts agree that there is no “cookie cutter”, one-size-fits-all solution. Sri Lanka must learn as it goes along and evolve solutions by itself. Of course we look to other countries and regions for ideas. The approaches adopted in Rwanda with regard to poverty eradication and development in the process of reconciliation are interesting. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a model we studied carefully. Many policy makers made in-depth studies of the still-evolving situation in Northern Ireland.
For our part we must rely on the work of our Commission, comprised of persons of goodwill, integrity and experience and a clear vision of the Government to ensure a better future for all Sri Lankans. The work of the Commission proceeded, acknowledging a clear need to heal the wounds of the past and to make recommendations to reconcile the nation by recognizing all victims of conflict, providing redress to them and thereby promoting national unity, peace and harmony.
It is not something that the LLRC overlooked or ignored but the question of accountability from a perspective of retributive justice is all that seems to occupy the minds of some of our interlocutors in the international community of nations. This appears to be the main thrust of their view in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process. While acknowledging that credible allegations must be looked into, the LLRC found specific information and referred it to the Government for action. The Government established tribunals within the scope of its military laws and is proceeding with these matters. This is no more or no less than what others accused of indiscriminate bombing, killing of civilians and other violations of human rights and humanitarian law do in the course of their military operations in various parts of the world.
When we go before international human rights forums such as the UN Human Rights Council in September for the 21st Regular Session and in November for the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka, we will share the progress we have made in all aspects of the promotion and protection of human rights. We can do no more than present our case and ask for a fair and impartial hearing. This is no more than we have always demanded.
The above statement was made by Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights, at the ‘Defense Seminar - 2012’.