Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Denial in Sri Lanka

Boston Globe editorial, February 29, 2012

The Sri Lankan government must implement the modest recommendations of its own war inquiry commission, including investigations into disappearances, an end to attacks on journalists, and a halt to policies aimed at settling members of the Sinhalese majority in Tamil areas. If Sri Lanka’s leaders prove unwilling, the United Nations should set up an independent probe. But no United Nations investigation can replace an honest effort by Sri Lankans to come to terms with what they have done to each other.

IT’S BEEN nearly three years since the Sri Lankan government ended a long war by crushing the Tamil rebel army, killing thousands of civilians - perhaps tens of thousands. The United Nations Human Rights Council, which meets in Geneva this week, should push Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes. But accountability for past crimes must not come at the expense of Sri Lanka’s future.

Tamils who are full of bitterness over their defeat must not miss this chance to offer a vision for peaceful coexistence. The questions that perpetuated this terrible conflict remain unresolved: How much autonomy will the Tamil minority have? What must be done for Tamils to feel respected as equal citizens?

Until recently, many Tamils refused to accept anything short of a separate country. Even today, hardcore leaders in the United States and Canada cling to that dream. Their denial is a disservice to their people. Many refuse to acknowledge war crimes committed by their own fighters - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who pioneered suicide bombings and kept civilians as human shields during the war’s bloody finale. If Tamils want a UN probe into the past, they must acknowledge that both sides committed unspeakable crimes.

The Sri Lankan government is also in denial about its crimes, which include the systematic shelling of hospitals, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances. Allegations of summary executions and rape abound. The Sri Lankan government must implement the modest recommendations of its own war inquiry commission, including investigations into disappearances, an end to attacks on journalists, and a halt to policies aimed at settling members of the Sinhalese majority in Tamil areas. If Sri Lanka’s leaders prove unwilling, the United Nations should set up an independent probe. But no United Nations investigation can replace an honest effort by Sri Lankans to come to terms with what they have done to each other.