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Sri Lanka should initiate its own independent investigation

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(This article was carried in the Asian Tribune on March 27, 2014. It is reproduced here in view of the renewed initiatives being taken by the new Sri Lankan President and the government to either conduct its own independent enquiry and/cooperate with the ongoing UNHRC enquiry)

Sri Lanka is facing defeat at the UNHRC as the resolution calling for an investigation of possible human rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the Office of the UNHRC Commissioner during the period of the LLRC enquiry, is set to be approved by the Council.

The modalities of this enquiry and the stance on it that will be taken by the Sri Lankan government should unfold in the coming days and weeks.

The effect of this enquiry will be that Sri Lankans will never get to know the truth behind events, the role played by different players associated with the armed conflict and the actions of Sri Lankan political and military leaders since 1975, when the first political murder associated with the subsequent armed conflict that lasted 30 years, the cold blooded murder of the Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Durraiappah by Prabakaran himself.

Sri Lankans will not know of the role played by India during the time of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who reportedly funded and trained the LTTE, and Sri Lankans will not know the role played by the Indian Peace Keeping Force and of their alleged atrocities committed against Sri Lankans. Sri Lankans will not know whether President J R Jayewardene was forced almost at gun point, to sign the 13th Amendment and the Indo-Lanka Accord that allowed the IPKF to come into Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans will not know of the role played by the “honest” broker Norway and how they turned a blind eye to the LTTE arms buildup during the ceasefire they brokered with the then Sri Lankan government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE leader Prabakaran.

Sri Lankans will not know about the possible follies committed by a succession of Sri Lankan political leaders since Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and military leaders since 1975, that led eventually to the final war against the LTTE, which, no doubt, was brutal and resulted in many killings.

Sri Lankans will never know the role played by some Western nations and how they influenced decision making in Sri Lanka which aggravated the conflict.

Sri Lankans will also not know the role played by Tamil Diaspora activists whose influence and pressure prevented any solution being worked out by those living in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans and the international community need to know the entire truth, not a part of it that is convenient for some. Knowing the truth is not about punishing those responsible or those who had a hand in creating and dragging the armed conflict to its bloody conclusion. It is about making sure lessons are learnt from past mistakes in order to make sure they are not repeated. Current political and military leaders and aspirants to future leadership must know of these mistakes.

The entire truth needs to be known and told for the sake of future generations of Sri Lankans, and to have a closure of the unfortunate past when more than 100,000 Sri Lankans paid with their lives for something that has not benefited anyone. Innocent civilians, Sri Lankan soldiers and Policemen, LTTE fighters and LTTE politicians, all of them Sri Lankans, died unnecessarily when means other than creating an armed terrorist group for regional political purposes, and unleashing violence to achieve political demands, could have been initiated by the very same countries and international organizations that have sponsored the current resolution before the UNHRC.

The UNHRC itself could have taken a proactive role then and offered to work with the Sri Lankan political leadership including the Tamil political leadership to address political and administrative issues of concern and importance to the two parties.

The current terms of the resolution does not address the key requirements that matter to Sri Lankans. Although widening the terms of the resolution as suggested here was mooted by this columnist and others, the Sri Lankan government has been unwilling or unable to persuade their friends in the international community to do so.

It is now incumbent on the Sri Lankan government to announce its own internal enquiry into all events since 1975 and the role played by different players associated with the conflict in some way or the other, including by India, Norway and some Western nations.

Such an enquiry needs to be credible and independent beyond question and reproach. Towards this end those appointed to a panel of Commissioners should be of international eminence and proven practitioners in their fields of expertise. Their terms of reference should be broad and brave, to cover any alleged human rights violations then and now, and they should be able to withstand the pressure they may encounter both from domestic and international constituents.

This has to be done if this matter is to be laid to rest and if the country is to move on. In the face of such an enquiry constituted as suggested, and with terms of reference that will examine the entire truth and not part of it, there will not be a need for a UNHRC enquiry as has been proposed and likely to be adopted. The UNHRC, in fact, could assist the domestic enquiry that is being proposed here.

The government must act soon if it wishes to make the current resolution before the UNHRC irrelevant. Only he could ensure Sri Lankans will know the entire truth considering the international community has failed to do so.

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