In the end, Reconciliation is a spiritual process that requires more than just a legal frame work.
Wars are violent; very violent. Whether they are predatory or in self-defence, they are bloodbaths. In the modern context with weapons that kill at a distance, in heaps and indiscriminately, they lead to profound suffering, carnage, rights violations and grave abuse. Civilian casualties are invariably high. Militants who wage wars against government forces resort to guerilla warfare as well as unconventional methods of battle to equalize the power disparity in their favour. They justify land mines, timed and placed bombs, attacks on civilian and commercial hotspots that kill noncombatants and civilians, on that basis. On the other hand, governments always refer to the ‘right of the nation state’ to defend its boundaries, territory and sovereignty. Action that might seem disproportionate, is defended on grounds of national security.
The LTTE was a ruthless, murderous and blood lusty terror outfit like no other in the world. I had the opportunity of talking to some retired Commandos of the SL army who had been in the thick and thin of the 30 year old civil war. Their recounts of the offensives launched by the LTTE makes jaw dropping stories and leaves no doubt that they were a very, formidable foe even for the well trained and well equipped armed forces. That type of substantial combat mass needs overwhelming counter force to subdue. The US, Russia, UK, India they all use that type of force. They must, undoubtedly.
Sri Lankan armed forces were much disciplined. The last phase of the Eelam war started with the Mavil Aru operation and ended at Nandikkadal with the death of the Tiger Supremo Prabhakaran, is ample testimony to that. Our young boys, at unbelievable odds, kept the dignity of the nation intact. Did they commit war crimes? Hell, No! Were there excesses? Could be. I personally believe that there were some instances. But does that fall under the category of racially motivated genocide, as the Tamil Diaspora screams from the top of their lungs? Certainly not! But have some individuals of the SL forces acted without mandate and in an excessive manner? Yes.
Excesses of civil war
All wars lead to excesses. Specially, civil wars do, more often than not; from both sides. ‘Zero Casualty’ talk is a bluff! With modern weapons and combat strategies such as aerial bombardment, this is inevitable. We have not witnessed the combat aspect of Eelam war at close quarters. But we do have personal experiences of such incidents and instances during the two insurrections in the south. We opened our doors in the morning, for example, during the 1988-89 insurgency, to see bodies burning on the streets, lopped heads stuck on wire fences or hanging from bridges. Excesses of the highest kind, and no one argues from both sides. That is armed combat in modern times.
So what do you do about it? Well, obviously the losers pay the price with their lives most of the times. Others, are punished sometimes judicially but most of the time,extra judicially. Nothing new, again! Universal and recurrent. Deserving, those on the victor’s side gleefully argue. Well, may be. Then what about the vanquisher? Are they punished for their crimes? Not often. Again, no argument. Those who are abhorred by the Nazi excess in occupied Europe are happy that the Red Army entered Berlin and crushed Hitler’s empire. Nazis were either summarilyexecutedor the ‘lucky ones’ judicially executed or imprisoned. But what about the unbelievable excesses committed by the Red army in their march from Leningrad to Berlin; the Rapes, the murders, the robberies, the Arson and other crimes? Some were punished by the Soviet State or the Communist Party apparatus but not all. Quite often, the euphoria of victory suppresses the crimes and rights violations that take place during brutal battles.
Rebuilding a nation
Here’s the thing: In wars between countries or nations the aftermath of rebuilding does not require, at least in a strict sense, reconciliation. You kill a foreign foe in battle and once the war is over, return to your own country never to see the foe again. But not in civil wars, the victors and the vanquished have to live with each other, sharing the same land, sometimes the same neighborhood. After the communal carnage that took place between the LTTE and the Government forces, the two races that produced the combatants have to live with each other, like they have done for centuries.
The atrocities committed by the Tigers still hurt those who were victims or their loved ones. The Kent Farm and Dollar Farm massacres, Kebithigollewa bomb blast, the Blast at Pettah that killed hundreds of civillians are chilled nerve ends of the collective conscience of the Sinhala community and it still aches. But at least they can have the consolation that the demonic force behind those horrible acts done to them and their loved once got what they deserved. Dead or punished, the ‘last laugh’ is a great healer!
But, what about the Tamil civilians? Who have lost their loved ones in the war? What about those in Colombo who were abducted and who never came back? What about the eleven youth from the Colombo and Wattala areas who were abducted after the war had concluded and who were, it is believed, were murdered in cold blood? What about the disappearances of surrendered Tamil youth during the last phase of the civil war? For a difference, the families and loved ones do not have the sweet anesthesia of victory at least, to subdue their pain, grief or loss. What they have left is bitterness, anger, indignation and who knows, maybe even hatred.
The Resolution of the Core group on Sri Lanka will be taken up for debate on March 22 at the UNHRC. Sri Lanka better be ready for the next bout of very hostile international pressure, especially now Donald Trump is out of action, at least for now and the US impact on the UNHRC is not at all in favour of Sri Lanka. It is not going to be easy this time round!
But here’s the punch line. We do not show accountability to escape the ‘international stick’. We should be accountable to our brother and sister of the North and the East. The Tamil community was more devastated and victimized by the war; mostly by the LTTE, their ‘self-appointed saviour’. We need to let them know that we do care. That we offer justice to the errors during the heat of the battle. That our justice system works. That it is not a matter of ‘Winner takes it all’. That the atrocities committed on our part were not systematic or organized strategy, as in Rwanda or Yugoslavia.
We need to convince the Tamil those were either in the heat of battle or actions of some rotten eggs that need to be punished. We must convince them that it was our heroic Armed forces who liberated them from the clutches of the blood thirsty demon Prabhakaran. That the Sri Lankan forces are their security forces and that they are citizens of Sri Lanka.
It is reconciliation! It has nothing to do with the UNHRC! Let’s take it back!
It is our spirituality that is at stake!!