Do investigate war crimes, as ‘End justified the means’ is unethical

Thiruvalluvar is a celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher whose contribution to Tamil literature is the Thirukkural, a work on ethics. When discussing this immoral view ‘the end justifies the means’ one is reminded of his Kural 656 that states “Do not do what the wise men condemn even to save your mother from starvation”. This poet in fact, stands above all races, caste and sects inculcating a general human morality and worldly wisdom is the Everest of Tamil wisdom and belongs to the first century B.C. (31 BC), whose scripture of universalism has made him as one of the great philosophers, to be placed in the midst of Socrates, Kant and Confucius, the illustrious moral teachers of the mankind.

In Sri Lanka, both sides involved in the battle were accused of committing atrocities in the civil war and there is pressure on the government to conduct investigations into alleged war crimes. After the war ended in 2009 there was a huge cry from international community well prompted by the Tamil Diaspora for a probe into alleged atrocities committed by the tri-forces during civil war. Surprisingly nobody spoke of the human rights violations by rebel groups from North in many parts of the country; nor the off battlefield activities of the security personnel assisted by various armed groups instigated by those in power that fueled the war mainly before the start of the civil war. This trend continued throughout the war period and beyond during the negative peace years. Similar atrocities were committed by both sides involved in the two earlier Deep South uprisings for which proper investigations were never done. In all these cases, it is not ethical to say that ‘end justified the means’ and there needs to be an investigation proper on how the war was won and the way two previous uprisings were crushed by the state. The present judiciary system in the country could handle these investigations and if needed call for foreign expertise to assist them, without any political involvement. The President needs to be bold and allow investigations along these lines as soon as possible.

In the past, there have been international investigations on situations in Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic I and II, Darfur, Sudan, Kenya, Libya Mali and Georgia. Additionally, preliminary examinations were held on matters in Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine and Ukraine. However, the situation in Sri Lanka is somewhat different, at the time the country gained independence in 1948, it had almost the same government structure as the Westminster model in England and the first parliament had highly educated WOGs (Western Oriented Gentlemen) and as rulers had everything going for them. In fact the first constitution given to these elite urban individuals was the best possible for a multi-racial mix of population in the land. But sadly the WOGs failed miserably to govern the country properly as they only wanted to hold on to power, cared too hoots about the majority rural mass who were kept like frogs in a well by the feudal masters of both ethnicity, while the estate workers of Indian origin were exploited by the colonial masters.

The noble task of building unity in diversity was completely ignored; the demographic and regional features of the island were deliberately ignored by the elite urban rulers dominated by Sinhala chauvinists who considered the entire island solely native to the ethnic Sinhalese, this led to the ethnic divide rule in the country. The successive governments made no effort to change their perception which is unreal and obstructs the building of an integrated nation. WOGs to sustain power to them messed with the well drafted constitution and in the process split-up the political groups in parliament that in turn dragged down the population into bits forming smaller units each time generation after generation as the politically immature successors took control of power. In short the egos of the so called Cambridge and Oxford educated big wigs destroyed the soul and left a lifeless body of governance that drifted from bad to worse causing three uprisings and the third on a clear ethnic divide led to the  bloody civil war in the country.

Finally in 2009 assisted by the international community the tri-forces of the state were able to end the civil war that for decades had destabilized the country and the region. The victorious autocratic rulers left the ethnic conflict unresolved and for six negative peace years refused to acknowledge the war crimes allegedly committed in the last phase of the civil war and there was no reference to that committed during the uprisings.  They vigorously pursued with discriminating policies against the minorities, were corrupt and full of fraud that prolonged the destabilized conditions of the country and the region. The continuation of damaging party politics denied a joint approach to the resolution of the national problems created by self-seeking politicians. Opportunities for achieving their narrow aims were eagerly grabbed ignoring any shared concept of nation and the related national interest.

Then in 2015 encouraged by the international community people voted out the autocratic rulers and the unity government formed was made up of many previous legislators from both side of the parliament. The new government inherited multitudes of problems from the previous regime and promised to probe corruption and fraud of the past regime; conduct independent investigations into disappearances and killing of unarmed civilians during and the negative peace years that followed the war. The government believe with the majority it has in the parliament that constitution making exercise would be easy and is planning to get the new constitution passed early next year. Majority of the Tamil minority particularly those directly affected is of the opinion that before the government formulates a new constitution to address the ethnic problem, the accountability issues needs to be addressed satisfactorily to rid of their political grievances. Also there were many killings done under the cover of war though they were not claimed to be war crimes and affected families are eagerly waiting to for investigations on these killings and the need to investigate these crimes would help resolve a divided minds of the population.

On the other hand compare all this with what happened in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela looking to the future, had the heart to forgive than probe the crimes committed in the past on his people by the state was eager to go forward under democracy and freedom rather than punishing the political criminals. There was no investigation done on South Africa, when Mandela was victorious fighting apartheid imposed by the Anti-Black government; was pushed to a point where they had little choice, but to opt for democracy and hand over power to the black majority led by Mandela. As the sanctions imposed on them by the international community was the single problem destabilizing the country, once the apartheid was overcome the battle was won and all sanctions were lifted.

One must agree that the problem in Sri Lanka is more complex a situation caused by the WOGs of the past and if the President is to follow the example of Mandela, he needs to find out the truth first and for that investigations are necessary. Once the probe on crimes committed in the past on the people by the state and the rebel groups are concluded and guilty identified and sentenced to jail, the President looking to the future may forgive them. But this is best done after releasing all the political prisoners charged under PTA in jails throughout the country, that will enable the head of state to rescue society from degradation and deterioration. The President should be encouraged by the advice ‘not to unnecessarily scare people over constitution reforms’ given this week to some misguided legislators in opposition when they called on Most Ven. Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddharatha Sumangala Thera, Mahanayake at the Malwatha Maha Viharaya in Kandy, confirming the proper role played by the educated, disciplined and learned Bhikkhus that is vital to the country and yet not appreciated by the people, particularly those Lankans living overseas.