Marga/CHA in Advocacy with BRIC Nations at Geneva, September 2014

BRIC refers to a select group of four developing countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that are believed to have promising emerging markets and economies. Together these countries make up 40% of the world’s population and were forecasted by Goldman Sachs in 2001 to become leaders of global growth, output and development by 2050….  Read more: The Marga//CHA trio met some of the representatives of Russia and India separately and indicated what their visit was about, while deploying The Third Narrative as their documentary instrument. The emphases within this text are my interpretative additions. Michael Roberts as Editor, Thuppahi

Jeevan Thiagarah

1)   Why did you feel the need for a 3rd narrative on the Sri Lanka war?

Recent debates and resolutions in Geneva have been initiated take up the position that the allegations against the government in the last phase and the army should be investigated; they also say that the government must have a credible domestic process of investigating into crimes.    The reports that have received most attention are the two – a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General (UNSG) and a commission appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) – the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC). They present two sharply contrasting irreconcilable narratives of the last phase of the war against the LTTE. A wise judge knows that in the imperfect domain of human knowledge there are many versions of the truth and steers himself conscientiously through all these versions, seeking the truth. The 3rd Narrative frames and steers through the many versions of the truth presented by writings in the public domain whilst placing events of the war in the context of the battles that were fought.

2)   In a chapter on The Accountability of the gGvernment and SL armed Forces you have said, the primary aim of the notion of accountability in the conduct of hostilities is to protect the civilians. How do you reconcile the staggering numbers of civilian casualties and global reports (PIAC) of exhumation of bodies from mass graves in a bid to hide evidence of the mass killings? Do you finally hold the SL govt responsible?

The Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) conducted the Enumeration of Vital Events (EVE)-20 with a mapping of each and every household and a subsequent check of untraceable members for each of them and found 8649 deaths due to non- natural causes being reported. These would include combatants of the LTTE. The distinction between combatants and civilians lies at the heart of regulating the conduct of hostilities and balancing principles of humanity and military imperative. In February 2009, Japan, USA, EU ,Norway(Co Chairs of the Peace Process) and UN had understood ‘distinction’ had ceased which meant civilians were hostage and surrender by LTTE was essential. In this context of ever shrinking physical terrain, where artillery and firepower was co-mingling with close on 290,000 civilians, placed by the LTTE, firing at advancing troops, the charge of unlawfully killing civilians cannot be placed on the Government.

3)   In your account of the final stages of the war, you have raised serious questions on the UNs decision making and probe mechanisms. Can you dwell on the institutional culture of trade-offs that you have alleged in your book?

The UN like countries who supported a negotiated settlement were caught up between the position of taking positions against the LTTE on Principles and retaining the goodwill of the LTTE for a larger negotiated end, capitalized by the LTTE in the unlawful conscription of children for combat and in the final stages holding the entire civilian population hostage to compel the UN and international community to force a truce. Protection was therefore compromised. The Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator needs to introspect on the failure of their mandate.

4)   How do you view the role of the BRICS countries during the UN resolution vote on Sri Lanka? Russia and China sought time and space , India sought meaningful power sharing and a credible domestic process without an intrusive international mechanisms characterized by paragraph 10 and South Africa appealed for space for Sri Lankans to find each other, Brazil voted, yes.

5)   Why do you think the Sri Lankan governments strategy of encouraging civilians to move into govt-controlled territory was unconvincing?

The LTTE was using civilians hostage and their movements were no longer free. They were not going to be released without a price. i. e. halt to military operations by Government forces or opening channels for civilians to flee. The latter meant taking casualties amongst Government forces, civilians hostage and those holding them.

6)   How do you think this logjam over charges and counter-charges between the Sri Lankan government and international human rights agencies can be broken?

The charges of systematic and widespread targeting of civilians by Government forces has to be met, incidents of potential excesses caused by individual actions have to be looked into credibly, the Governments efforts at reconciliation and restorative justice have to be met by the principle Political party representing Tamils who need to find a modality to account for perceived crimes and excesses amongst the Tamil community and against others.

Sri Lanka’s civil war which started in 1983 and went through several phases, interspersed by failed peace efforts is commonly divided into Eelam wars I (1983-1987), II (1990-1994), III (1995-2002) and IV (2006-2009), although the divide between ‘war’ and ‘peace’ was never as clear as this timeline suggests – war was preceded by other forms of violence including assassinations, riots, suicide attacks and killings of civilians , whilst periods of ‘peace’ were frequently characterized by high levels of violence. Ironically it led to proposals which continuously presented greater and better formulae for sharing power. The war was thus long and includes the 3 previous phases mentioned earlier. Focusing entirely on the last phase is a mistake since it’s a final cumulative outcome . The Sri Lankan conflict is a tragic story of exclusivist identity politics, deep-rooted party rivalries, grave imbalances in the sharing of political power and repeated failures of efforts at resolution and mediation. The political leaders of the time experimented with various political and administrative arrangements. The older generation of democratic Tamil politicians lost their legitimacy in the eyes of a new generation of Tamil youth rebels and student revolutionaries. Their historic Vaddukoddai resolution of 1976 called for a separate state.

Uncovering the truth in term of political responsibility would imply all parties acknowledging their share of the responsibility for what happened, learning from the lessons of the past and moving forward   to a durable process of peace and reconciliation.

The role of the UN and international community has to be included in this process of introspection. In early January 2009, the Norwegian Ambassador conveyed a Government offer of Amnesty to all cadres bar the leader and head of intelligence which was rejected, in early February 2009, the UN had was aware fighting would last weeks, they sought a new No Fire Zone whilst contemplating air dropping food off the thin remaining coastal strip where fighting ended. Co Chairs and Office of the UNSG had understood ‘distinction’ had ceased which meant civilians were hostage and surrender by LTTE was essential. On 19th February another Government also sought the LTTE to lay down arms and release the civilians. Close on 34 countries passed strictures on organisations to prevent support for the LTTE which nevertheless proved porous and unsuccessful –the causes for which have to be recognised by those countries.

We are then left with the human cost of the war that was fought. It is within the conditions that have been described above that the issues of accountability as well as restorative justice may have to be framed and conclusions drawn. Operational paragraph 10 of the March resolution will have move over to allow Sri Lankans ‘to find each other’. In that process the victims of the war have to be at the centre. The concern and focus advocated by the writers is that it must always be on the human tragedy.

Jeevan Thiagarajah




Filed under accountability, foreign policy, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, war reportage, world events & processes

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