Guest post by KUSAL PERERA
Thousands of Tamils from across Europe protested in front of UN headquarters in Geneva Monday demanding the creation of an international tribunal to try “war crimes” committed in Sri Lanka…. [AFP report, 6 March 2012]
The battle is raging. It will go on till about the 23rd of March, 2012. In Geneva. The battle is against the Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka and not against Sri Lanka itself. It’s a battle over “war crimes and accountability” during the Sri Lankan war, in particular its final stages. Delhi’s vacillating position of “not right to interfere on a country basis” as regards the US Resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Session 19, is being challenged firmly in Chennai by the two major political parties in Tamil Nadu, the DMK and the AIDMK firm. Beijing and Moscow are clear about the issue. They will vote against the US Resolution, and also muster up support amongst other countries to vote with them. If they could collect 24 votes in total, they will have had their say and the Sri Lankan regime will not have to worry about Geneva anymore.
The more important question is: can a Geneva investigation about war crimes and accountability solve the problems of those who survived the war and who are living with its heavy baggage? What the Human Rights Council in Geneva deliberates upon, will not have any immediate and direct answers to the problems that Tamil society in Sri Lanka is presently living through. Therefore while war crimes and accountability must be taken up in Geneva, the core political issues of war survivors must to be taken up – in Sri Lanka. The Geneva story is in the end more about ‘geo-politics’ even if not articulated as such.
Confusion over the Rajapaksas
The conclusion of the war waged against a section of its own citizenry by this Rajapaksa regime, left two major issues to be taken care of. One is war crimes, crimes against humanity and the accountability that any government which claims to be legitimate, constitutional and democratic must submit itself to. The Rajapaksa regime simply cannot escape responsibility for its actions for a systematically brutal war it waged for three years. It must account for all the massacres in the north and the east of the country.
But equally important is to focus on what the survivors of the war live with on a daily basis in the north and the east of the country. The ground reality of living in Sri Lanka cannot be a resolution dragging on with “resolutions” that are about international geo-politics and not about the people.
The confusion over how to respond to the Rajapaksa regime is on account of the totality of the war – pre- and post war-issues are not given equal priority and taken together. What is also ironic is that the few surviving elite urban NGOs who are taken for granted as representing a non-existent Sri Lankan “civil society” also feel that war crimes and accountability are “the issues” that have to be taken up at international fora, not paying much attention to dislocated, mutilated life on the ground.
This is what keeps the Rajapaksa regime out of scary nights, so far. The lack of any serious political challenge on the ground, except on the trade union front, when it was pushed down to the canvas and was compelled to withdraw 4 Bills presented in parliament, despite its much flaunted 2/3rd majority. A force, the regime is awfully scared of, and thus used the Geneva bogey to drown the gathering storm on wage hikes and increasing cost of living.
Imperialism and the Rajapaksas
Geo-politically, the US “resolution” backed by Canada, Britain and the EU is one, even if it gets over 24 votes at this UNHRC 19 Session. It would not immediately push the Rajapaksa regime into any difficulty. Even after taking the preamble to the US Resolution as a serious explanation, what in effect the US wants from this Rajapaksa regime is an action plan for the LLRC (Lesons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations, and that before September this year. To quote from the resolution, “2. Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan before the 20th session of the Human Rights Council detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law,” – is what is expected from the Rajapaksa regime.
Clearly, the US and its allies are only arm-twisting on their own agenda. The Sri Lankan regime, if it wants to, can for sure present a rag-tag plan with a far drawn-out time schedule, for the next Human Rights Council’s 20th session to debate, disagree and then defer it to the 21st Session in March 2013. The Western powers would say, “that’s not enough and not adequate,” but… well, that’s about all. They did not say much even during the war, when they knew and perhaps watched real time massacres in three “no fire zones” one after the other for many moons.
For the Rajapaksas, this coming year is nevertheless crucial. They are foxed in with an economy they plundered right and left and has since gone haywire. The US dollar is expected to ruin the Sri Lankan Rupee to be around 130 or above towards end-2012. Trade unions are demanding pay hikes that go beyond 25%. There is a good possibility of ruling party trade unions also coming on board with wage campaigns. For the Rajapaksas to give in to the US Resolution at this 19 Session of the Human Rights Council and face it one year from now, would thus be too risky. Hence their determined effort to avoid the Resolution.
If Colombo can still assert its position in Geneva, it feels, it could then use that international stature to cut back on all protests here as imperialist conspiracies. As one said, President MR and his much revered ally in Cardinal MR (Malcolm Ranjith) have already begun singing that holy song together. For the regime, that seems the only slogan to sing, in holding out against growing local opposition to other issues.
In the international arena, they are backed by new imperialist powers who have gone out in a big way, exploiting poor and under-developed countries. China and India are the latest exploiters in the African continent. The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are the next formation, competing for global economic exploitation. Thus getting one bloc to stave off the other, has nothing to do with imperialism in this modern world. It’s this that will not help the Rajapaksa regime to have a way out in meeting new protests and mobilisations from the working class, if not from other social sectors.
It’s on this re-emerging class politics that the LLRC Final Report gains more validity and importance.
LLRC and Rajapaksa’s fears
The Presidential Commission appointed after the war as the LLRC, is a political reaction to the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel report. The political objective in appointing the LLRC was to stave off international pressure by clearing up the premises with a local broom. But the Commission has gone into a crisis in handling its presidential mandate.
What came out of the Final Report has two clear destinations, contradicting each other. One, the arduous journey in cleaning up the regime against all allegations; war crimes, crimes against humanity and accountability. Two, the opposing journey in search of reconciliation; the need to answer all post-war issues including arrests, non-disclosures on detentions and so-called rehabilitation of ex-combatants as detainees, heavy militarisation, illegal armed groups, de-linking the police from security related work, independence of public administration, unbearable politicisation and heavy corruption, complicated land issues and in very open terms, democratic and political aspirations of the Tamil people living on Sri Lankan soil.
The Geneva lobby is not taking any of these day to day issues the Northern and Eastern people are unable to fight against, on their own. The importance of DE-MILITARISATION, a hard fact, a long time human rights lawyer and now a TNA member of parliament M.A Sumanthiran raised through his two situation reports tabled in parliament, once in July 2011 and thereafter in October 2011, can not be missed on any count. Reading those two situation reports, it was plain, if the military in the North and East is strictly “camped,” taking them out of day to day life, half the present problems of the Tamil people in North and East will be solved, giving them a political voice and social articulation as the Tamil society.
This LLRC Final Report thus can not be shelved as was done with all others. This is where local politics counts beyond Geneva. True, for now, all Commissions appointed by President Rajapaksa had their reports shelved. None have seen the the light of day and will not. That is no fault of the Rajapaksa regime, for now. It’s the fault of the opposition and social forces that do not demand that they be made public and immediately implemented. No government would want to have more trouble than it already has in its hands. Commissions are not appointed by such regimes to find answers and solve problems. They are used make detours and diffuse issues. Therefore it turns out as the responsibility of the opposition to take them up and pressure governments to implement Commission reports. Neither the Opposition nor any social force had ever done that in Sri Lanka and the Rajapaksa government has had it very comfortable, appointing Commissions. In comparative terms, the Rajapaksas are still more comfortable with the Geneva lobby than with any political movement that would demand the implementation of its own LLRC recommendations.
This regime that finally established the Sinhala state by militarily defeating the LTTE attempt at politically compromising the Tamil society in de-constructing the Sinhala state, in making it a plural, inclusive and secular state, if it can not have its own Tamil state, can not afford to implement the recommendations proposed by its very Commission. Their claim of “destabilising the country” is in effect true, in that any democratising of this Sinhalised military State, is what destabilises the Rajapaksa regime and they take their “regime” to be the “country”.
Therefore it is now necessary to have a popular demand, in catching the wider spectrum of opposition politics from Matara to Batticoloa to Jaffna, in forcing the Rajapaksa regime to step down politically and allow for a demilitarised State with political powers devolved and all other recommendations by the LLRC following. It’s such politics in Sri Lanka that would give credence to all other issues and resolutions, even in Geneva. There is no other way out and national political needs can not be outsourced and proxies will not do it, our way.
(Kusal Perera is a well-known journalist based in Colombo.)