n Thursday, March 23, Sri Lanka once again co-sponsored the US-sponsored UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) draft resolution titled “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”. And out of the ‘goodness of its heart’, the UNHRC granted the country two more years to fulfil the recommendations of the 2015 resolution, which include the setting up of hybrid courts and the involvement of foreign judges in trials of alleged war crimes.
Sri Lanka is not as fortunate as the state of Israel. When the Under-Secretary General of ESCWA published a report on March 22 this year, accusing the State of Israel of using apartheid-style practices against Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Palestine Territories, she was forced to resign.
But then, as always, Israel stood up for itself and fiercely rejected the findings in the report. In Sri Lanka’s case, sadly, no one stands up for the country. Our Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs even went to the extent of thanking 47 nations who sponsored the resolution (30/1) based on charges of human rights violations war crimes and crimes against humanity! Worse, in especially the conduct of international affairs at the highest level, the government seems to be meandering and in disarray.
We seem to have no definite direction or policy. During the Rajapaksa era, the sessions at the UNHRC resembled a battle-ground scenario, with the then government flaying any who charged it with civilian deaths especially during its closing stages of the war.
The new regime surprisingly co-sponsored the 2015 resolution on Sri Lanka. While the Prime Minister spoke of the involvement of Judges from Commonwealth nations in trying alleged war crimes, the President of the country vehemently opposed the idea. Subsequently the Prime Minister too added his voice against the involvement of Foreign Judges in what should basically be local judicial processes.
Surprisingly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs speaking on behalf of the Government at the recent UNHRC sessions accepted the concept of setting up special courts involving Foreign Judges to try war crimes. Begging only for an extension of a period of time to implement the recommendation.
In an even more shocking turn of events on the same day, the UNHRC extended the ‘grace period’ given to the country, the Minister of Justice speaking in parliament, accused the international community of making unrealistic demands from Sri Lanka. He also claimed probing war crimes while pushing for reconciliation was not realistic. While war crimes cannot be tolerated, the million dollar question our country faces today is how justice is to be dispensed. Justice is not revenge. The policy of an eye-for-eye could only lead to national blindness.
Israel’s policy of seeking revenge (punishment) for the perpetrators of crimes committed during World War II and the constant repetition of the horrors they were the subject to, has not brought them peace. On the contrary, its search for vengeance has only led hardening of its collective conscience and made the Jewish State and people impervious to similar horrors they are unleashing on another set of innocent people - the Palestinians.
In a similar manner, punishing members of Sri Lanka’s armed forces, will not bring back the Tamils who fell victim to the killings, nor will it heal the injured who fell victim to the brutalities unleashed on the Tamils. Similarly punishing Tamils guilty of perpetrating violence on the Sinhala, Muslim and other victims will not give life to the dead. It will breed further hatred. What our people and country need is justice with mercy which can bring us together and restore community.
Sri Lanka needs ‘Restorative Justice’, that is justice that seeks to heal what is broken. What does a victim need to heal, to recover, and to regain a sense of safety? Victims may need to express anger towards persons who harmed them… they need reparation.
As Alison Morris points out, offenders too need healing; they need release from the guilt. They need resolution of the causes behind problems which led to the crimes and to make reparation to their victims.
Offenders need to be held accountable not simply as persons who have committed grave crimes. They must face the people, understand how their actions have damaged others. They must explain their behaviour to the victims and the community. They must also take steps to repair the harm they have done. A restorative process works toward reconciliation of the victim and the offender and the reintegration of both into the community.
War crime tribunals, as the Minister has suggested, will not bring reconciliation; it will cause more divisions.