17 December 2022

Truth in 2031, reconciliation when and how?

Buried Truths – WABE

The early versions of Udayasiri Wickramaratne’s celebrated theatrical piece ‘Suddek Oba Amathai (A white man addresses you) contained a short soliloquy, ‘Baya Vunu Minisek Oba Amathai (A scared man addresses you).’ The man was essentially scared of two things: a) that he would speak the truth even when he wanted to deceive, and b) that he would do the right thing by mistake.

This delightful piece came to mind when reading an exchange between Lord Naseby and Lord Tariq Ahmad in the House of Lords a few weeks ago. Naseby wanted the UK government to do two things: a) release to any commission the un-redacted dispatches from the UK’s respected and experienced military attaché, Colonel Gash, who was on the battlefield every day from 1 January to 18 May 2009, proving beyond doubt in his dispatches that there was no genocide, and b) persuade the United Nations to remove the 20-year restriction on the source of the evidence in the Darusman report of 2011.

We know that the Darusman report was a sham, that it was illegally constituted and contained hilarious errors. We know two that those who wanted a particular narrative to stand did a lot of mutual back-scratching and cross quoting to give credence to that laughable document where the claims were based on anonymous testimony, mostly likely from highly dubious sources.

Come 2031, though, the truth will be out. We will know who said what. We will be able to peruse the political track records of those who offered testimony. Reliability will be assessed. My hunch is that the story wouldn’t be too pretty and that it would embarrass the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the panelists Marzuki Darusman, Steven R. Ratner  and Yasmin Sooka, and all those who have since treated their report as though they had faithfully transcribed the observations of some omniscient entity.

Truth is important. Reconciliation is important. These two words are tossed around freely, sometimes (from the Sri Lankan side) grudgingly and from the side of Sri Lanka’s detractors (USA and her minions including the UK and EU) in threatening tones.

But when do they want the truth? If people want to swear by the Darusman Report then they are honour-bound to open it to scrutiny. If they don’t want sources disclosed then we need to ask, ‘what are you scared of?’ The truth? Perhaps!

It’s the same with the Gash dispatches. Either he was being truthful or he was lying. If he was, for whatever strange reason, dispatching falsehoods, then the relevant authorities should call him out. If he was not, then is it that the UK is terrified that his contentions would contradict those of the Darusman Panel?

Ahmad, the Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the United Nations at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, responded to Naseby. The response is cagey and thumb-twiddling.

‘I cannot agree with all aspects of my noble friend’s questions because it is very clear that the whole point of standing up a truth and reconciliation commission in 2015 was that there was a real recognition, even by the Sri Lankan Government of that time, of the importance of bringing communities together to ensure that atrocities could be fully investigated and, more importantly, perpetrators could be held to account. That is why we have pursued the issue at the UN Human Rights Council, which is the right approach. Of course, in time, there is a need for domestic mechanisms, but the sad truth is that, since 2015, despite successive changes of Government, we have seen little progress with the truth and justice commission in Sri Lanka.'

He's stated the obvious. No one disputes the importance of truth and reconciliation. Perpetrators of any and all wrongdoing from Day One (that’s way back in 1975) should be held accountable. That would include, probably, security forces of the Sri Lankan Government, the Indian Peace Keeping Force, the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups such as the EPRLF, PLOTE, EROS, EPDP and TELO. The aiders and abetters of terrorism, i.e. those who provided funds, smuggled weapons and disseminated falsehoods, and those who tried to bail out the LTTE’s military leadership including Velupillai Prabhakaran at the last minute (that would be the USA) will also received a shout in all probability. Ahmed doesn’t get into these uncomfortable and possibly disconcerting details and one cannot fault him; after all the ‘long’ and ‘comprehensive’ of the matter is a touch-me-not of those targeting Sri Lanka.  

But Ahmed is clearly a not-so-artful dodger. Not a word about the Gash dispatches or the sources Darusman and his team depended on. That’s what Naseby raised. What’s he scared about? Is he terrified, on behalf of the UK Government, that the truth would prove some people have blatantly lied?  
Nevertheless, he’s correct about the importance of bringing communities together. That’s ‘reconciliation’ at some level. Well, at some level people have come together. Elections have been regularly held. There’s commerce among communities. There are no open or veiled hostilities any more. The demand for a separate state has been unceremoniously abandoned. Heck, the diehard Eelamists and their liberal backers in Colombo have not uttered a word about provincial elections not being held. Provincial Councils, Ahmed needs to know, were supposed to ‘resolve’ and ‘reconcile.’ The 13th Amendment which gave us these political entities, was seen as a useful stop on the way to Eelam. It was forced down Sri Lanka’s throat by Rajiv Gandhi who saw the move ‘as the beginning of the Bhutanization of Sri Lanka.’  

So when people talk of ‘resolution’ if they are adamant that it cannot stop short of wild aspirations that have nothing to do with true grievances and completely disregard historical, demographic and geographic realities, they just cannot be serious. We don’t know what Ahmed was thinking. All we know is that he is, as mentioned, an artful dodger, that he seems to be scared of the truth. So when he or anyone else indulges in reconciliation-speak while insisting that the truth be concealed, we cannot but conclude that they are joking. Political clowns can entertain, but they do not have the right to chair or wax eloquent on any process associated with obtaining truth and reconciliation.

Well, we’ve been lectured for more than a decade by people who are scared of the truth. That notwithstanding, Sri Lanka certainly cannot afford, politically or economically, to shy away from the truth. Sri Lanka cannot and certainly shouldn’t submit to kangaroo courts of any kind such as have been proposed by the likes of Ahmed. Sri Lanka has to set up a mechanism peopled with men and women of impeccable integrity (unlike the members of Ban Ki-moon’s clown-jury), mandated to obtain as comprehensive a narrative as possible of all atrocities from 1975 to 2009.  

In all likelihood, a lot of bad mouths will get shut come 2031. In all likelihood, the likes of Ahmed will fight tooth and nail to keep the Gash dispatches hidden. There is more than one way to obtain the truth. That’s a 'for Sri Lanka, with Sri Lanka and by Sri Lanka' matter, simply because the key governments of foreign countries don’t seem to be interested in the truth. [P.S. They never were and not just about Sri Lanka: remember the narrative about weapons of mass destruction?]

[Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance columnist who can be reached at malindadocs@gmail.com]