30 March 2017

Wigneswaran: the judge who forgot ‘the whole truth’

"No reconciliation without justice," he says
but can there be justice without truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
A highly successful lawyer was once asked why he was not interested in becoming a judge.  He had laughed, ‘I would rather talk a load of rubbish all day than listen to a load of rubbish.’  Judges have to listen.  That’s their job.  And one of the things they have to listen to day in and day out throughout their careers is the oath taken by witnesses to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Whatever else they may have forgotten, this they must remember.  It is hard to believe that a Supreme Court judge could forget this basic element of judicial process, even if they know that those who swear thus don’t always tell the truth.  

C.V. WIgneswaran is not a judge.  He’s a politician.  He can, therefore, avail himself of that sad and pathetic instrument that the two-bit members of his tribe frequently use: political license (to toss around half-truths, gloss over fact, ignore context, play to the gallery etc).  But Wigneswaran used to be a judge.  He would remember things, for example the line about ‘truth’ referred to above.  Even if he had to listen to ‘such rubbish’ as a judge, being a judge he would be duty-bound and of course honor-bound to desist from indulging in the same.  

Last week, at the UNUR Economic Engagement Programme held in Tellipalai, Wigneswaran made some very valid points.  He is absolutely correct in some of his criticisms of the Peace Building Priority Plan Framework, or rather the preparation of it.  Participation of key stakeholders in all post-war development planning is non-negotiable and the failure to do this was a serious error on the part of the previous regime.  

As he correctly points out, it is still not too late for this government to put things right on this account.  Reconciliation demands the participation of those affected freely and dignifiedly, he says and he is absolutely correct.  Although the people he represents do not make up all the numbers of the category ’those affected,’ it is clear that they were among ‘the victims’ of a process which included the mindless brutality exerted on them by their self-appointed saviours, the LTTE (championed as such by Wigneswaran’s party, let us not forget).  These caveats are valid, but they do not constitute an argument for non-inclusion.  The non-mentioning of them, however, does not help his cause, because ‘truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ is part and parcel of ‘peace building’ or ‘reconciliation’ or whatever it is you want to call this process. 

Wigneswaran bemoans ‘the lack of reference to the inclusion of War Crimes jurisdiction into Law, demilitarization, High Security Zones, and security sector reforms,’ and the non-reiteration of ‘the need to withdraw the Prevention of Terrorism Act’.  He also complains that the framework has no reference to ‘war crimes accountability’.  

We do know that this government makes a lot of noise on all these subjects, but we do not know whether such matters were considered by those responsible for developing this framework.  Prioritizing is no easy matter, one has to concede.  What bites Wigneswaran does not necessarily have to bite others as well.   It makes sense, post-war, to be serious in word and deed about demilitarization and security sector reforms.  If anyone expects the government to toss ‘security’ into a policy dustbin that would be optimistic in most situations.  On the other hand, this government does act as though security is no longer a concern and this fact alone gives credence to Wigneswaran’s gripe.  

In any event, as an elected representative, he has every right to demand representation in any body which deliberates on matters that impact the people he represents.  No argument there.  The problem is that he does not seem to understand that one cannot indulge in Eelamist posturing, sing hosannas to terrorists and be selective in recollection of the past, and at the same time expect his proposals to be championed to the exclusion of all others.  

He makes some claims.  “Discrimination and a hegemonic attitude on the part of the Centre led to our initial disagreements and unpleasantness. It was the snowballing effect of such negative attitudes which led to violence. When violence was brought to an end with International help the means adopted at the tail end by our powers that be were dubious and brutal.”

That’s Wigneswaran’s version of what happened. 

There’s truth in it, but what he has said does not constitute the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  The land-grab intent, the deliberate positing of myth as history and fiction as fact, the exaggerations that accompanied all this, the easy inter-change of ‘grievance’ and ‘aspiration’ and such also contributed to the ‘snowballing effect’.  And it is not possible to blame snowball for all that the LTTE was and what it became.  

Wigneswaran wants ‘the diaspora’ to be included.  The logistical nightmare aside, why on earth should any government ‘include’ non-citizens.  If they still hold citizenship or have dual-citizenship, such inclusion as proposed by Wigneswaran has to be preceded by a stringent screening process for the simple reason that ‘the diaspora’ (in the monolithic sense the term is used by Tamil Nationalists) was an important cog of the principal obstacle to peace and reconciliation, namely the LTTE.  It would be a foolish government indeed that would ‘include’ such elements in any peace-building exercise. 

But where he errs more (which by the way is hard to pardon for reasons expressed above) is when it comes to ‘accountability’.  Wigneswaran, surprisingly, has treated the entire period of the war prior to ‘the last days’ as though not worthy of scrutiny.  This is strange since there were serious crimes committed by security forces in the early days of the war.   Those lives lost and the anguish caused as a result cannot be less important, surely?  

He focuses on ‘the concluding stages’.  He speaks of ‘attending to the psychological injuries caused by the war’ during this period and places the totality of blame for ‘brutality and extortion’ on ‘sections of the armed forces’.  This is where this ex-judge expunges the phrase  ‘the whole truth’ from the transcript.  

What was this ‘last stage’?  Let us detail it.  

In the last stage, the LTTE continued to do what the LTTE had always done.  Tamil children were abducted and forcibly recruited.  Guns were thrust in their hands and they were sent in to battle.  In the last stages the LTTE continued to plot acts of terrorism on civilian targets.  In the last stages the LTTE help hundreds of thousands of Tamils hostage.  In the last stages the LTTE prevented Tamil civilians who were forced to be part of its ‘human shield’ from fleeing to the relative safety of areas held by the security forces.  The LTTE shot at those attempting to flee. In those very same ‘last stages’.  In the last stages the LTTE sent children strapped with explosives which were then set off as they reached the ‘receiving points’ set up by the security forces, clearly with the intention of wrecking the process whereby civilians could get to safe areas.

The last stages constituted a massive and historic hostage rescue operation.  In the last stages, judge, your party went pleading to anyone who was willing to listen to prevail on the then government to provide free passage to the hostage-takers.  In the last stages the United States did its best to evacuate the hostages, possibly to ‘be free to fight another day’.  
Remove all these elements from ‘the last stage’ and it’s not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth that will be obtained.  Remove them all, and yes, ‘brutality’ becomes the preserve of those who carried out the rescue operation at great cost.  Remove all this and it will not be just those ‘sections’ of the armed forces who ought to be brought to justice for violating relevant laws, local and international, that will be punished, but the entire armed forces and every single citizen who stood for democracy over terrorism. 

The pity of it all is that by using this brush of selectivity and in indulging in truth-twist, it is Wigneswaran who is most guilty of the very error he accuses other of: sweeping things under the carpet.  The great pity of course is that this kind of concealment detracts from the most noble elements of his overall proposal.  Simply, he denies himself the right to be taken seriously.


Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Blog: malindawords.blogspot.com.  Twitter: malindasene