By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera*
“There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism.” – Vladimir Putin, President, Russian Federation
With the ongoing Russian bombing campaign in Syria, for the first time, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown confidence in defeating the Islamic State (IS). The sustained destruction caused by the IS in Syria is nothing short of a human tragedy, and according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 200,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. Millions of refugees fleeing Syria has become one of the biggest issues in Europe. The IS’s brutality has drastically affected important infrastructure and has also caused the destruction of historical sites such as that of the Arc of Triumph in Palmyra.
Survival overpowers the Syrian population’s interests above power play between the global actors. The Syrians and the surrounding nations want a safe and better life. Unfortunately, the global institutions have miserably failed to address this crisis so far. A grand alliance to defeat the brutal terrorist group could create a measure of hope. However, dismantling the supply of weaponry to the terrorist outfit and weakening the group will be key to the defeat the IS. A Sri Lankan lesson is relevant in here. Valiant armed soldiers and the Sri Lankan military and intelligence defeated the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE), cutting off all weapons supplies to precision.
Sri Lanka proved to the entire world that any terrorist outfit can be destroyed with will and skill. In his recent remarks at the UN, incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena clearly stated that his country’s experience could be studied by other developing countries affected by terrorism and Sri Lanka was prepared to engage in an active dialogue with those affected countries and would continue to campaign against terrorism.
Recently, the UNOHCHR released its report containing disturbing outcome on Sri Lanka. Several groups in the country have voiced their opinions on the matter. Some opposed it, it a threat to the country’s sovereignty and viewing it as undermining the Sri Lankan judicial system. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil diaspora organisations such as the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) have praised the report and pressed for recommendations to be implemented.
GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran urged the 47 members of UNHRC to implement recommendations to setup the special court for criminal prosecution. Surendiran added that the GTF won’t compromise under any circumstances and expects a full implementation of recommendations. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera has assured a domestic mechanism to probe the issue within eighteen months. According to Samaraweera, the government is ready to accept international support.
It is evident that the previous regime with its more hard line nationalistic, illiberal political decisions such as the 18th amendment to extend presidential powers and include independent commissions under the president, and the removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake are indirect incidents that have taken our nation to this state. As Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe correctly pointed out during the national management conference in Colombo last week, the Geneva OHCHR report highlights the role of the judiciary as above other areas. A clear stumbling block of the previous political regime was their not engaging with the Tamil diaspora and underinvesting in the reconciliation process.
The termination of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute’s reconciliation conferences was a grave mistake on the part of the authorities. At a ‘Role of Religion’ conference held at the Institute, when Rev. Father SJ Emmanuel chose to engage, the previous government disallowed this freedom. Reconciliation requires engagement to progress. The challenging word is the Hybrid Court used in the OHCHR report.
According to few opposition members of parliament, “there is nothing called Hybrid, it will be same as in Sierra Leon and other places.”
It is important to involve and obtain international technical assistance from globally reputed agencies such as Interpeace. Assistance in reconciliation should come with a Terms of Reference (TOR) of the way the government would agree and be comfortable to work together. If had been was done earlier, we would have submitted a credible reconciliation report during this time. Taking lessons from the past, we should engage with the international community while also always protecting our sovereignty as a nation. The process towards the final outcome should be carefully orchestrated. Any truth and reconciliation model requires time and patience to find solutions.
The 2014 joint discussion between South Asian and Sri Lankan experts should be made available for public access to better understand what the best practices we could adopt are. Unfortunately, these fundamental areas of national and public interest were shelved as the nation turned its attention toward electing representatives for an entire year. Sri Lanka should design its own process of reconciliation with sufficient national budget allocation and technical assistance from the outside world.
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka