President should repair broken moral codes to unite the nation by removing the pain of all war victims

229Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States, was an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States, Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination in 1860 and was elected president later that year. During his term, he helped preserve the United States by leading the defeat of the secessionist Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. He introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery, issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoting the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. The present President of Sri Lanka, was one of the leaders who in 2015 made possible the change by honestly acknowledging the scale of violations in the country won the support of all the people irrespective of ethnicity to get elected as the president. As Abraham Lincoln did one hundred fifty years ago for USA, the Sri Lankan President today could repair broken moral codes to salvage and unite a divided nation.

After the end of civil war in 2009, there were many surviving civil war victims that included the disabled, who languish in poverty without breadwinners; those who have had their loved ones missing and many others who have had their lands to the soldiers. These people had all hoped their government would evaluate the disgraceful record of violating their rights during the war. This was not merely about redressing the miseries of ethnic minorities; but about addressing to heal the pain of the total war victims of all ethnic groups. The bitter truth is that in any war there will be war criminals and they need to be identified and weeded out to avoid the entire war heroes being labeled as ‘war criminals‘. Sadly this is what happened in Sri Lanka; with the failure of the rulers to punish these war criminals, there by tarnishing the image of actual war heroes. For while the war heroes were battling it out in the battle field and the war was raging for three decades; the war criminals from the tri-forces took advantage of the war situation to commit many brutal crimes including massacre of civilians. Many of these perpetrators were aided, protected and rewarded to commit these crimes by the rulers, to get rid of civilians opposed to them including media personnel, politicians and civilians caught up in the war zone.

Apparently, this was a tit for tat with human life to rid of civilians feared as activists and some of these gruesome killing were reported even in the days when the war was ongoing and spilled over to the negative peace years that followed. This criminal behavior was like those in fear of serpents killing them one by one, venomous or otherwise where the fear never disappear but only multiply. The rulers by encouraging such activities or inaction against these activities failed miserably to protect the people and naturally when the war ended these accumulated crimes got exposed and that opened the doors for foreign intervention. It caused a regime change to occur in 2015, made possible because the leaders of that change honestly acknowledged the scale of the violations and won the support of all the people irrespective of ethnicity. The new coalition government made up of UNP and SLFP as well as some of the smaller political parties took over the guardianship of the people, who in October 2015 co-sponsored a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, which included investigating war crimes with the main objective to remove the pain of war victims and measure the damage done to all warring parties.

Today, most Sri Lankans as well as much of the international community are contended that the new coalition government who led the way for change are themselves from the old mess itself and were guilty of repression, racism and corruption to varying degrees at various points in recent past history. Added were the miseries caused by the then uprising forces, themselves feeding the terrifying war in most brutal ways and ethnic cleansing only confirms that too little has been done by the government in relation to the vast needs of the surviving civil war victims and that grievances of all victims cannot be redressed in just two years, but require more time and effort. UN authorities having visited the country during this period have rightly pointed out that the news media as well as the civil rights and social justice community no longer function in fear of their lives and are able to quickly highlight such instances of bad governance and repression. True the change did lift fears, in that government no longer violates laws with freedom; all this prompted the rulers to argue, that earlier conditions that justified the role for foreign judicial experts in the investigations, a requirement by the Human Rights Council do no longer exist. However the people are beginning to lose their patience over emerging evidence of corruption and even some nepotism, some of which are already under investigation. But it has not convinced the population or the international community that repression, racism and corruption are on the way out; only this will justify the non-inclusion of foreign judges in our repair of democracy.

But after eighteen months, it is true the new coalition government too has like the past regime missed the opportunity and are once again back to square one at UNHRC is seeking to obtain a “rollover” of the 2015 resolution with an extension of the time frame by a further two years; while the affected people are too looking again to Geneva to find redress. The UNHRC on Sri Lanka’s implementation of the October 2015 resolution has observed the lack of a comprehensive strategy to address accountability for past crimes and that the momentum towards lasting peace, reconciliation and stability is at risk of getting derailed and may insists that the Sri Lankan government establish the hybrid mechanism as agreed earlier for purposes of war crimes trials.

The lack of progress is due to the reluctance on the part of the government to prosecute and punish the perpetrators that are linked to the tri-forces. The media has reported of efforts being made by the authorities to get rid of details of those named by the victims; many military intelligence officers and operatives being transferred to separate divisions or offered early retirement; confirming the common believe that this delay in justice will deny justice altogether. Nothing takes away the fact the war victims needs to be looked after better than at present by the government, who are hiding behind the cloud to safe war heroes from prosecutions.

Over the last two years the Sri Lankan leadership has flown many miles visiting major cities to convince its leaders that the little island nation has moved forward addressing human rights and is providing a quality of life to its people. These international leaders on their part have received feedback from their representatives in Sri Lanka and have accepted it is politically not possible and therefore is unlikely for any country to impose political or economic sanctions upon the Sri Lankan government. But the UNHRC members as champions of human rights will stand for the ideal and make their decision known before at the 34th Session ends. Based on recent events the way such human rights cases are handled in Sri Lanka is not giving any hope to the victims; only strengthens the case for the establishment of a specialized court staffed by local legal specialists and supported by international legal experts.

As Sri Lankan leadership is openly opposing the involvement of foreign judges, UNHRC should persuade them to accept having national judges with foreign expertise in an advisory role, as it was done in Colombia, which is the most recent success story in transitional justice. However, the government is almost certain to get the extension it wants again at the 34th Session of the UNHRC. This bitter truth realized the wise and matured TNA leadership, much to the dismay of its vociferous antagonists; have expressed their willingness accepting extension under direct UN supervision with a proper time-frame to ensure implementation of the 2015 UNHRC resolution in full.

The Sri Lankan President as a true leader practicing moral codes preached by the Great Gautama Buddha should rise up to the occasion to unite the multi ethnic and multi religious nation. To this end should act first to relieve the pain of all war victims by fully implementing the co-sponsored 2015 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, which included investigating war crimes to measure the damage done to all communities by warring parties involved in the civil-war; then de-list as many security personnel to bring the number down to meet peace time affordable level; fully implement the Thirteenth Amendment to the current constitution that was passed as an Act in parliament thirty years ago, before presenting to the people the new constitution acceptable to all communities, with all the reforms promised as the President prior to the 2015 general elections; then he will be  remembered as a National Leader to unite the nation, unlike the rest who led a divided nation.