In January last year, the Prime Minister appointed an 11 member body styled the ‘Consultation Task Force on Transitional Justice and Reconciliation’ comprising of the following individuals. Manouri Muttetuwegama – Chairperson , Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu – Secretary, Shantha Abhimanasingham PC, Visaka Dharmadasa, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, K. W. Janaranjana, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Prof. Daya Somasundaram and Gamini Viyangoda. This task force should not be confused with that other reconciliation body headed by former president Chandrika Kumaratunga which functions under the presidential secretariat. What we are referring to here is a body appointed by the Prime Minister, functioning under the Prime Minister’s Office.
The task that this body was entrusted with was to ‘seek the views and comments of the public on the proposed mechanisms for transitional justice and reconciliation, in the October 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka’. This task force has now put out a voluminous report making among other things, the following observations and recommendations.
1. The establishment of a secular state as a starting point for reconciliation.
2. The cessation of military involvement in civilian affairs, economic activities and civil administration.
3. Return of civilian lands acquired by the forces.
4. The release of detainees (LTTE) who have not been charged under the PTA or other laws.
5. The repeal of the PTA.
6. A political and constitutional settlement of the conflict as a ‘pivotal’ prerequisite for reconciliation.
7. The ‘occupation’ of land by the military and other state agencies such as the Forrest Department, is an impediment to reconciliation,
8. As is the ‘secondary occupation’ of lands and fishing waters by members of other ethnic communities.
9. Symbolic reparations in the form of official acknowledgment and apologies should be made by the state.
10. Monuments to be erected for lives lost in incidents such as massacres or disappearances.
11. Observance of ‘Maaveerar Dinam’ be allowed to continue.
12. Families of deceased LTTE cadres, be permitted to hang a photograph of their son or daughter in LTTE uniform, in their homes.
13. The restoration of burial plots of LTTE cadres to family members and the removal of all buildings subsequently erected on them.
14. The establishment of a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence Commission (TJRNRC) as an investigative body that would refer cases of criminal acts to a prosecutorial body.
15. No amnesties would be granted by the Truth, etc Commission.
16. The findings of the Truth etc Commission to be included in school text-books.
17. A Special Court and Prosecutor be set up to try war crimes with the participation of international judges, prosecutors and investigators.
18. No LTTE members should be prosecuted by this Special Court because they have been through rehabilitation or have been prosecuted under the existing judicial system. The focus instead should be on leaders of the LTTE who were allied to the government or LTTE leaders assumed to be living abroad.
19. Phased demobilisation of security forces with an attractive early retirement package which could include pensions, admissions to schools for children, alternative civilian employment etc.
20. A national policy on victim centeredness is recommended and page 152 of the main report stresses the need for victims to ‘own’ the Truth etc Commission.
21. The indispensable role of ‘civil society’ in a transitional justice process be recognised legally.
22. District level State officials are to be instructed to work with ‘civil society’.
23. Funding of the judicial mechanism could be from the UN and the shortfall met through international ‘voluntary contributions’.
These will be going to the world as the official recommendations and observations of a task force appointed by the Prime Minister and which functioned under the Prime Minister’s Office and which held meetings with stakeholders throughout the country. In short, these will be passed off as things that the government and the people are prepared to do. Yet those of us who live in this country know that these views are not by any means representative of the views of the majority of the population. These are the same old views that we have been hearing for years from the foreign funded NGOs in this country. Nobody in this country is going to accept that these are views that have been formed after consulting the public. This reads more like a wish list written by a group of foreign funded NGO owners in a state of deep intoxication.
For an elected government to even acknowledge this as an official document of the state would be akin to doing what Puck did in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Only one of the recommendations made by this task force – the one calling for international participation in the war crimes judicial mechanism received some publicity but a section of the government was quick to shoot it down saying that nothing of the sort will happen. Fortunately for the government, this document quickly disappeared from the public radar due to intervening incidents. But it will continue to hang over the government like a Damoclean sword unless it is formally disowned by either the President or the Prime Minister.
Take that recommendation that the government should seriously consider establishing a secular state. What they mean by this is the removal of the special place accorded to Buddhism in the constitution. Sri Lanka has never been a theocracy. The special place accorded to Buddhism in the constitution is an acknowledgement of an age old tradition which is dear to the majority community in this country. Even though Buddhism is accorded a special place in the constitution, the state does not discriminate against other religions in this country. Quite on the contrary even in an era when religious freedom was unknown in Europe, the Sinhala Buddhist Kings upheld religious freedom in this country.
Some of the other recommendations such as returning land acquired by the military and repealing the PTA have been around for a long time and needs no comment. But what is interesting is the observation made by the task force that even land ‘occupied’ by other state agencies such as the Forest Department and the Mahaweli Authority impinges on the freedom of the people and is therefore an obstacle to reconciliation. If the observations made by the task force are turned into policy, then it would logically follow that Minister Rishard Baithiudeen would have to be given complete freedom to do just as he pleases in the environs of Wilpattu. They have also talked about the ‘secondary occupation’ of fishing waters by members of other communities – an obvious reference to fishermen from the South visiting the East coast for seasonal fishing. These are fishermen moving from coast to coast in what has been an age old tradition among the fishing community in this country.
The recommendation made about apologies to be tendered by the state to victims, sits oddly beside the fact that these supposed victims were officially designated even by the FBI as the deadliest terrorists in the world. The task force recommends the restoration of the LTTE cemeteries and that permission be granted to commemorate deceased members of the LTTE. Even though these recommendations and observations are touted as having been formulated after consulting the public, how many members of the public would have asked for the commemoration of deceased LTTE cadres? If anything should be memorialised it is the fact that they were got rid of. It is true that the JVP openly commemorates the Sinhala terrorists who tried to overthrow the elected governments in 1971 and 1987-89. Allowing them to be portrayed as innocents killed for no reason by the government of the day was a cardinal mistake made by short sighted politicians.
But at least the JVP has given up armed revolution and has come into electoral politics whereas the remnants of the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora overseas still harbour ambitions of a separate state. As such permission granted to memorialise the LTTE in the manner recommended by the Prime Minister’s task force will be a case of keeping the separatist dream alive and lionising the LTTE combatants who fell trying to achieve that goal. That is the surest way of radicalising a new generation. The JVP’s commemorations however do not radicalise anybody because they do not commemorate brave revolutionaries who fell in the quest to establish a socialist regime in Sri Lanka but innocents who were killed by two different governments for no reason. Even so this writer acknowledges, that the JVP too should never have been allowed to commemorate fallen terrorists.
An interesting point to note is that the so called ‘Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence Commission’ (TJRNRC) recommended by the Prime Minister’s Task Force will not be authorised to grant amnesties. It is to be purely an investigative body that would refer cases to a prosecutorial body. Yet the main feature of the South African Truth Commission from which this supposedly derives its inspiration was its ability to grant amnesties. Once when Bishop Desmond Tutu, who headed the South African Truth Commission was accused of granting amnesties to murderers, he said that it was necessary to put the past behind them if a new South Africa was to emerge from the old and he asked his critics whether they wanted to turn South Africa into a Sri Lanka – stuck in interminable conflict and recriminations.
Another curious observation is that while the judicial mechanism on war crimes is to try members of the armed forces, no members of the LTTE are to be tried because they have been through rehabilitation or have been prosecuted under the existing judicial system. The PM’s task force observes that the focus instead should be on leaders of the LTTE who were allied to the government or LTTE leaders assumed to be living abroad. So the LTTE leaders who left the LTTE and sided with the government are to be penalised for having left the terrorist movement while those who remained with the terrorists are to be exempt from prosecution. Coupled to all this is going to be the phased demobilisation of the military. Furthermore, the government is to adopt a victim centred approach – the victims of course being former LTTE combatants and the next of kin of deceased LTTE combatants who are to have ‘ownership’ of Truth etc Commission.
When one looks at the totality of the observations and recommendations made by the Prime Minister’s task force on reconciliation and transitional justice, it appears to have been drafted not even by the NGO owners who have put their names to it, but by the LTTE rump hiding in Europe.