Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

APRC: Once More to the Past

by Pakiasothy Savaranamuttu, The Island, Colombo, January 23, 2008

[The regime] has chosen to gamble on military victory rather than meaningful power sharing as its formula for peace and thereby placed us all at risk of reliving the past 20 years of our contemporary history.

Today is the deadline for the APRC proposals. Given the hullabaloo that attended its establishment and the expectations invested in it by the international community no less, this should be a landmark event in the transformation of the conflict and the constitutional order of the country.

The APRC after all was set up to epitomise the paradigm shift from the flawed and failed modus operandi of previous regimes. It was to be participatory and inclusive in the way previous initiatives were decidedly not. Its declared objective was a consensus of the south and accordingly, the bridging of the legitimacy deficit of those earlier initiatives.

Great expectations

As such it would set the bar of the possible and not just in the spirit of the permissible; it was to be visionary not unrealistic, as the platform for a country in which its peoples are at peace with themselves and each other.

The international community jumped on it as a ray of hope as well as a way out of having to take hard decisions in the early days of the regime, pertaining to its engagement in this country. As with the Commission of Inquiry and the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons on the human rights front, the international community latched on to the APRC as the single initiative of the regime with regard to the pursuit of a political settlement, despite warnings about it being an initiative in eye wash designed to achieve precisely that objective vis-à-vis international opinion.

There were the expressions of disappointment as when the SLFP came up with proposals akin to the district development councils of the early ’80s. By and large though, the belief was that the committee should be supported and not pressured into coming up with unsatisfactory outcomes, early. It should take its time as long as the time taken resulted in serious proposals that could serve as the basis for a political settlement.

Day of reckoning

Now that the day of reckoning is at hand after many a deadline has come and gone, what will the international community or the various "like minded" groups that make it up, do?

Perhaps it has been important for the whole process to play itself out and in doing so for the bona fides of the regime regarding a political settlement to be exposed. We know from media reports, the regime’s reaction to the Experts’ reports and more recently that the President has presented a document which he expects the APRC to adopt, adapt or endorse as its conclusions, the hullabaloo about participation and inclusiveness notwithstanding. We also know that there is a renaissance in enthusiasm for the 13th Amendment and its full implementation and as best as the immediate need of the hour with the vague promise of more to come later.

The world may be round and we may always end up where we started, mountains may move only to produce mice, but surely this APRC exercise will result in more than a recommendation for the full implementation of the existing constitution. Were that there was a similar enthusiasm and urgency in respect of the 17th Amendment and the Constitutional Council! Hopefully the commendable persistence of the Chairperson, Prof Vitharana will prevail and the APRC will recommend for the country and not merely for the regime.

Objective

What will be revealed is that the much vaunted objective set for the APRC – that of a consensus – if arrived at on the basis of anything more than what already exists, would never be implemented. The powers that be always knew this and have looked upon the APRC as an exercise for the record and for international opinion.

The JVP and the JHU will on cue ensure that the status quo remains and they hope that it will consolidated by military victory. Right from the outset, the Rajapakse regime sought to ensure that the responsibility for its avowed goal of defending the status quo, would be shared by others. It has manouevered to achieve this with its own ‘like minded.’

As this exercise is bound to reveal, there is no substitute for the government of the day at least indicating its preferences if not coming out with its own proposals, engaging with other political parties on them and with the country at large. This is what this regime has in effect done in the defence of the status quo with its rhetoric of traitors and patriots to garner popular support and not surprisingly, with more than a little help from the LTTE which has always maintained that there is no basis for negotiation with the Sri Lankan state, irrespective of the regime in power.

Raison d’etre for LTTE

Sustenance of this is integral to the raison d’etre of the LTTE. Remember Pirapaharan’s 2005 speech? The fate of the APRC exercise was therefore always doomed by the regime’s denial of an ethnic conflict in this country and by the LTTE’s determination to reinforce this.

In the context of an ethnic conflict, the pursuit of a political settlement should be the main focus of conflict resolution. This would have meant that the APRC was invested with urgency, seriousness of purpose and commitment by the regime as its single political initiative in this respect. It has chosen to gamble on military victory rather than meaningful power sharing as its formula for peace and thereby placed us all at risk of reliving the past 20 years of our contemporary history.