At the recently concluded UNHCR sessions in Geneva our country was being challenged, not only for alleged crimes committed during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Temil Eelam’s (LTTE) reign of terror in this country, but also for the alleged continuing discriminatory practices against minority communities who according to the High Commissioner are being excluded by divisive and discriminatory rhetoric including from the highest State officials.
During the war, civillians did indeed die. This is what war is all about. During World War II, the allied forces targetted the civillian populations of Japan and Germany. In the war in Vietnam the US targeted civillian Vietnamese population. The photograph of the little Vietnamese girl running along a road engulfed in flames after a US napalm attack on a Vietnamese village, encapsulates the reality of war. In like manner, civillian Tamils bore the brunt of the state’s attacks on the LTTE. The proof of the matter is beyond doubt.
In the immediate aftermath of the state’s crushing of the terrorist LTTE, the Christian and Muslim communities came under attack via particular men of the cloth and organisations who apparently enjoyed state backing. Commissions of inquiry were appointed, but little action or corrective measures were taken against wrongdoers, nor were victims compensated.
Sadly, instead of facing up to mistakes of the past, and taking corrective measures, the political leadership went into a state of denial. Rather than attempting to mobilise international allies -the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Consortium of Islamic States (CIS) - who had stood by our country in times of need, we went into a state of denial and continued to vilify minority communities.
For instance while the UNHRC was enquiring into allegations of discrimination against minority communities, particular Ministers of State recommenced making threats against the Muslim community via threatening to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa and niqab as well as to close Muslim religious schools (madrasas).
The net result was most Muslim states abstained from voting for or against Sri Lanka when the vote was taken up at the UNHRC, ensuring victory for the Office of the Human Rights Council (OHRC).
On earlier occasions at the UNHRC, two of our past representatives at the United Nations -Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke and Tamara Kunanayagam - successfully mobilised these two bodies to defend Lanka when proposals were put to the vote. The present session of the UNHRC is over, but its ramifications and the problem in-country are far from done and dusted.
For this to happen, we - the people of Sri Lanka, whether we be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher or Tribes - together with the state, must in all humility accept that crimes were committed. Committed - not only by the government that in power, but by non- state actors as well.
While crimes of non-state actors cannot be compared to those committed by the state, they are in fact crimes and have to be acknowledged. It is time to collectively say ‘mea culpa’ and call a halt to bellicose utterances to garner local political support.
The reality we are faced with, is that the Council has sought funds to explore new ways to advance various types of accountability at the international level, for all parties, and seek redress for victims, including by supporting a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence and information for future accountability processes.
The sudden out-of-no-where move to ban the burqa/niqab and madrasas, will only isolate the Muslim community even further and make them targets of racism. It also more than probably played a large role in the member States of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) abstaining from voting at the UNHRC.
Worse it continues dividing this country on the basis of race, religion and ethnicity. Rather than grandstand and promoting hollow nationalism, and it’s time to bring this nation together as equal citizens of Lanka.
It is time to recognise our international friends and show them, in a practical manner that we are not the type of persons the OHRC and accusers make us out to be.
This needs setting goals, time-lines, long-term objectives, planning and qualified personnel heading the operation.