irst it was Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy who came to Sri Lanka some thirty years ago as India’s special envoy to “assist” in this country’s long quest for peace. And then Parthasarathy’s successor, Indian Foreign Secretary Romesh Bandari came for the same purpose.
Some two decades later in 2000, a peace envoy was brought down not from any neighbouring country, but from the other side of the globe. He was Eric Solheim of Norway during whose peace effortsYasushi Akashi, another peace envoy from the eastern end of the globe joined him. The latest in the series is Cyril Ramaphosa, the Deputy President of South Africa. This time the envoy is from the southern end of the globe.
Out of these four special envoys only two were invitees of the host country. They were Solheim and Ramaphosa. It is interesting to note that both were invited by governments led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a party that always accuses the United National Party (UNP) of selling out the country to foreigners.
"The request made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, while that probe was around the corner, to South African President Jacob Zuma last year to share South African experience in its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is hence widely seen as a counter measure to the UNHRC initiative"
Solheim was invited by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999 and continued to work with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who came to power after the People’s Alliance government was prematurely dissolved in 2001. It was in response to a request made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to South African President Jacob Zuma to help institute a truth seeking mechanism, that Ramaphosa was appointed as South Africa’s special envoy to Sri Lanka.
Parthasarathy and Bandari have left their legacy deep in the body politic of the country in the form of provincial councils that were introduced under the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 as an extended fruit of their “peace efforts.” It was a fundamental change in the governing system of the country.
Solheim and Akashi brought the duplicity and the unreliability of the LTTE, unwittingly though, through the peace processes they were mediating in, between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE and that ultimately isolated the dreaded outfit in the world and sped up its decimation. However, the Sri Lankan government also has been grappling with the outcome of the war that has been haunting it in the form of pressure for accountability for the past five years.
Three US-sponsored resolutions calling for accountability have been adopted at the UNHRC during three consecutive years and the latest one adopted last March recommended an investigation into the war crimes allegedly committed by both sides during the last lap of the war. The request made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, while that probe was around the corner, to South African President Jacob Zuma last year to share South African experience in its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is hence widely seen as a counter measure to the UNHRC initiative.
Following President Rajapaksa’s request to South African President on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in November last year in Colombo, the latter in his 6th State of the Nation Address in February announced that “Cyril Ramaphosa has been appointed South Africa’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka to assist in initiatives for peace and reconciliation, considering his expertise in conflict resolution and negotiations and that country’s experience in this regard” according to the External Affairs Ministry.
As a follow-up step, a ministerial delegation led by Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister and House Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva visited South Africa from February 20 to 21 followed by a visit by a Tamil National Alliance delegation from April 10 to 12. Despite the claims by the leaders of the Government that South African initiative is not a kind of mediation or facilitation for a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem, but a mutual sharing of views on the post-apartheid TRC, the TNA paints a different picture following its visit to South Africa and Ramaphosa’s meeting with its leaders including the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran last week. It also must be noted that the Government leaders expressed these views even before Ramaphosa left our shores.
Sampanthan, after his meeting with Ramaphosa in Colombo on July 7 was quoted by “The Hindu” as saying that the South Africans were prepared to help Sri Lanka in the reconciliation process and they had said that they would keep India informed of the developments. It is not clear as to why South Africa should keep India informed of sharing of views with Sri Lanka on a Sri Lankan version of the TRC. India would be concerned only if the South African initiative would have a bearing on the provincial council system in Sri Lanka which was India’s brainchild.
The confusion is further confounded by what Ramaphosa had told Chief Minister Wigneswaran. The latter was also quoted by “The Hindu” as saying that Ramaphosa had said “South Africa’s initiatives were complementary to the Indian effort, to the Geneva resolution and certain Western countries engaging with Sri Lanka on the issue of reconciliation.”
This leads us again to the question that arises as to what Ramaphosa had meant by his country’s initiatives are complementary to Indian effort, if it is intended to share experience on the TRC, since India promotes further strengthening of power devolution in Sri Lanka while the TRC is a mechanism of accountability. Also it must be reminded here that India abstained from voting for the latest Geneva resolution which the South African Deputy President says his country’s initiatives are complementary to.
"Whatever the South African initiative is meant for -- a peace process involving the Government and the TNA or an accountability mechanism based on South Africa’s TRC experience -- it would be an acid test for the stakeholders and its success would totally depend on the political will of the leaders of the country"
Whatever the South African initiative is meant for -- a peace process involving the Government and the TNA or an accountability mechanism based on South Africa’s TRC experience -- it would be an acid test for the stakeholders and its success would totally depend on the political will of the leaders of