“The Tamil guerrilla fighters in Sri Lanka first developed the explosive suicide vest…”
John Gray, ‘The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom’ (2015)
France’s President dubbed Syria “the biggest factory of terrorists the world has ever seen”. In his path-breaking study of suicide terrorism, Chicago’s Prof. Robert Pape concluded that the Tamil Tigers fielded more suicide bombers than all the Islamist groups put together. This makes Sri Lanka’s North and East arguably the “biggest factory” of terrorist suicide bombers the world has ever seen. Yet, in the eyes of the West, the “victims” are mainly in Northern Tamil society, the very “factory” that produced the suicide bombers, is yet unprepared to denounce them and is preparing to commemorate them -- while the “internationally accountable” guilty perpetrators are the armed forces from the largely Sinhala South which stopped the suicide bombers!
Ghastly as the savagery unleashed by the ISIS terrorists in Paris was, they didn’t wittingly slaughter children and babies, whereas in countless pre-dawn raids over decades, marauding Tigers stabbed and slashed to death sleeping infants and their mothers in “border villages”. In the West, citizens of cities hit by suicide bombing terrorists are rightly recognized as the innocent victims and counselled for post-traumatic stress disorder while in Sri Lanka the focus of Western and West-funded “psychosocial” concern are precisely the zones -- the lair -- from which the suicide bombers swarmed, rather than the ones they targeted. The North and East are regarded as “former conflict zones”, not the island as a whole and still less the Southern two-thirds, including Colombo.
President Hollande correctly called the challenge by the “ISIS army” a “war” and pledged to be “merciless” in “eradicating” terrorism. He denounced the “barbarians of Daesh”. French PM Manuel Valls says France “has an enemy, and that is radical Islamism”. When Sri Lanka strove to “eradicate terrorism” the West warned of a bloodbath and tried to stop us. Any suggestion that the Tigers were “barbarians” and that Sri Lanka’s “enemy” is or was “radical Tamil secessionism” would be labelled racist discourse against reconciliation. Recall that Gaddafi was framed for genocidal intent towards Benghazi when he pledged on TV to “mercilessly eradicate the terrorists”. His country was bombed and he was lynched. The terrorists later stormed the US embassy and murdered the Ambassador. Now the US has no embassy in the Libya it ‘liberated’.
However, the US seems to have two Ambassadors to little Sri Lanka. What was Samantha Power, the US Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN New York and the Security Council, doing on a visit to Sri Lanka and most conspicuously Jaffna, where she met the controversial Chief Minister? The UN is a multilateral posting, and unlike UN officials, UN ambassadors don’t visit countries (member states) unless specifically accredited to them. In Jaffna, Ambassador Power opined that “demilitarization…in the Northern province could not wait”. (Daily FT, Nov 23)
Reeling from 9/11, the US resorted to “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites” where hardcore terrorist suspects were detained and interrogated so as to prevent fresh attacks. While there’s a step back and self-criticism, the US never invited a UN Working Group to visit and report on any of this. Targeted assassinations remain policy and practice. Rightly, there are no Special Courts sentencing the practitioners of preventive counter-terrorism, including lethal ‘Black Ops’. Guantanamo still remains in operation with many inmates deprived of due process. Yet, Sri Lanka is subjecting itself to stricture, investigation and plans for punishment, with our government’s co-sponsorship.
After the attacks, France and Europe in general have sensibly decided to tighten their borders, hauling up the drawbridge as it were, while our government has no problems with the US $ 4 billion underwater tunnel and ‘Hanuman bridge’ which will connect a hostile Tamil Nadu with this island’s disaffected North, rendering it another Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a scam is being pulled on us, packaged “Transitional Justice”. Transitional Justice implies a qualitative transition on a structural scale; a major transition from something and to something. Transitional Justice is relevant but not mandatory in two situations: (I) a transition to democracy from situations of electoral disenfranchisement of the bulk of the citizenry; i.e. military, one-party or minority racist (apartheid) dictatorship. Post-transition, these countries are known as ‘emergent democracies’ or ‘new democracies’. (II) A transition from stalemated civil war to a negotiated,mediated peace. Logically, if there has been no such pre-transition matrix of either (i) disenfranchisement and dictatorship or (ii) stalemated and unwinnable war, then there couldn’t have been a transition -- and the notion of Transitional Justice cannot arise.
The great wave of democratic transformation in the late 20th century commenced with the overthrow of the Portuguese military dictatorship in 1974. Having swept away the Southern European dictatorships, it hit South East Asia in the mid 1980s starting with Marcos’ martial law rule in the Philippines—the uprising was triggered by the military assassination of the returning opposition figure Aquino. In the late 1980s and 1990s the democracy wave swept the continent of military juntas, Latin America, the one-party communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe and the USSR, the apartheid State of South Africa and the military dictatorships of South Korea and Indonesia. In the 21st century the Arab Spring engulfed the one-party, military-backed dictatorships which had originated decades before, in coups d’état by young officers. In the former Soviet space, the change was not only structural, it was systemic.
Sri Lanka was never a military, one-party or apartheid dictatorship in which the people were electorally disenfranchised. So how and why should “Transitional Justice” come in? An attempt is being made to inject into the very different context and trajectory of Sri Lanka, a concept and set of practices which pertain to the transition, not from one elected government to another, but from dictatorship to democracy, i.e. from one form or type of State to another. This is an attempt at conceptual counterfeiting.
Transitional Justice (TJ) also applies in the changeover from stalemated war to peace, when there is a negotiated settlement with external mediation and its mechanisms form part of the agreed-upon package of reforms, usually as a second stage. Yet, in the classic case of a negotiated end to armed conflict, Northern Ireland, there was no such mechanism in the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. The latter was pragmatically forward-looking, which is a reason for its success.
Admittedly in many cases especially in Latin and Central America, the mediated and negotiated end to intractable, stalemated civil wars usually entailed Transitional Justice as part of the project of ‘Conflict Transformation’. In none of these cases did one side unambiguously prevail over the other in the military sense. Thus Sri Lanka does not fit the type of ‘conflict transformation’ process and outcome that provides the setting for Transitional Justice. Here the armed conflict was not transformed, it was decisively ended. The Gordian Knot was cut. The war was won. Therefore by definition, the Conflict Transformation/Transitional Justice paradigm is irrelevant.
We are victims of deceit and fraud. Firstly, a normal oscillation of the electoral pendulum or standard cycle of electoral alternation (rendered slightly unconventional by the crossover candidacy) capped by Constitutional reform, is sought to be passed off as a popular upheaval plus round table negotiation-propelled transition (e.g. Poland, Tunisia, South Africa) from decades-long military, one-party or apartheid dictatorship to democracy. Secondly, an 84-year-old continuous democracy is devalued to the status of an “emergent democracy”. Thirdly, a historical outcome is revised as if the secessionist-terrorist army was never crushed; a Herculean feat is conjured away as if the Tamil secessionist war was never defeated by the State.
And in a surreal twist, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be in court for alleged non-payment of bus fares while bus-bombers may walk free. Is this the ‘justice’ we are in ‘transition’ to?