Rare Opportunity for Meaningful Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

by Kidna Selva, 'The Hill,' Washington, DC August 26, 2015

The Sri Lankan people deserve great admiration on the successful conclusion of the most free and fair parliamentary elections since May, 1970. The conclusion of the election has presented a rare opportunity to deliver meaningful reconciliation and a lasting peace. The U.S.-led international community should seize this historic opportunity, facilitating the required political climate to make reconciliation a reality in Sri Lanka

The election victory of United National Party (UNP) can shift the country in a new revolutionary path, paving the way for a rapid development.  After the conclusion of the election, the leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickramasinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister and agreed with President Maithiripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form a National Government. UNP won 106 seats at the election, 7 short of a majority in the 225-member parliament. However, an agreement has been signed between the UNP and SLFP to form the national government. UNP and SLFP have been bitter rivals for decades, and such cooperation is a dream reality in Sri Lanka.

{mosads)Wickramasinghe, as the prime minister of the minority government formed in January 2015, pursued more people-friendly policies in line with President Sirisena’s push to overcome the legacy of the civil war. Wickramasinghe who signed the Norway brokered peace accord with the Tamil Tigers in February, 2002, is now in a position to establish an inclusive society.

Sirisena, who seems to be a decent politician, has been trying to reach out o the minority Tamils.  Whe he recently visited the Eastern province to hand over lands taken over by Sri Lankan armed forces, Sirisena said that more so than others Tamils know the trauma of war. It has displayed his caring attitude towards suffering Tamils.

The Sirisena- Wickramasinghe combination is a novelty in Sri Lankan political history. Both should try hard to end the Sinhalese chauvinism practiced by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime during the last 10 years.  The democratic elections have ousted the authoritarian Rajapaksa but without the political will of both Sirisena and Wickramasinghe, genuine reconciliation may continue to elude the island nation.

The UN Human Rights Council war crimes report is due next month, whereby Sri Lanka should commit to prosecuting perpetrators and establish some form of truth and reconciliation process under strict international scrutiny. The Obama administration, that worked hard to adopt three successful UNHRC resolutions on war crimes, should ensure the release of the UNHRC war crimes report without any further delays as the first step toward the reconciliation.

The former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who travelled with Bernard Kouchner, the then French Foreign Minister just after the conclusion of the war in May 2009, said that he would never forget what he saw — pleading Tamil women carrying slips of paper with the names of their husbands and sons who had been taken away for screening.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that has won the election in the Tamils dominated areas say that without “truth,” there will be no real reconciliation. For the Tamils, the war was entirely devastating. The vast majority of Tamils will never accept militarization in their traditional homelands.  TNA say they are very keen to work with the new government to address the core issues such as Tamils’ desire for greater autonomy and the withdrawal of armed forces.  However, Tamils will not accept any political solution without an independent investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights.

It is the moral duty of the U.S. government to ensure a victim-centred approach to transitional justice in Sri Lanka. It should stress to the newly formed Sri Lankan government that Tamils’ support for Sirisena’s victory in January’s presidential election was as much a vote against Rajapaksa’s regime as it was a vote to turn a new chapter in their relationship with the Sri Lankan state.

The U.S. shall ensure that the newly formed national government continues on the path towards delivering reconciliation and working towards a lasting peace across the country.  The conclusion of the recent parliamentary election has created an atmosphere to forge an enduring political solution to the Tamil national question.  However, it is impossible to forge such an enduring solution without procuring justice for the innocent Tamils killed. The Bible tells us that when justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous. Will the U.S. government dare to overlook this?

Selva is a human rights activist based in Sydney, Australia.


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