From past British conflicts, a lesson in unity for Sri Lanka
The Globe And Mail – By Alistair Burt
(Submitted by Walter Jayawardhana)
When the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam met their demise in 2009 at the hands of the Sri Lankan army, no right minded person mourned their fall. Before the war, the Tigers ruled the Tamils of the north and east of the island with an iron fist and brutally murdered countless civilians.
During their campaign for independence they took terrorism to new levels of barbarity; it was the LTTE, after all, which pioneered suicide bombing. The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated a truly reprehensible terrorist organizations with great severity. While the exact number is disputed, the UN Panel of Experts concluded that thousands of civilians died during the end of the war. The British Government’s position on accountability for this is clear – allegations must be investigated and if crimes were committed, whether by LTTE or government forces, those responsible must be brought to justice.
I have just returned from Sri Lanka, where I got a sense of the situation nearly four years after the conflict. I visited the north and the capital, met ministers, NGOs, displaced families, and Tamils trying to rebuild their lives. Much has been done. The economy is growing and infrastructure in the conflict zone is being rebuilt and expanded; new roads are opening up routes to market for farmers and fisherman. Large areas have also been de-mined, allowing for a significant reduction in internally displaced people.
But while the manifestations of conflict are fading, the root causes are not. The military has retained its tight grip on the north. Yes there are fewer soldiers on the streets, but the Army’s presence is still palpable in many aspects of people’s lives; Military Intelligence still questions those who speak to NGOs and journalists. The transition to genuine civil administration is not moving fast enough. Likewise, not enough is being done to complete a political settlement that would give all Sri Lankans a clear stake in a prosperous, peaceful future. New roads are not a substitute for this. Worryingly, the past few years have also seen a decline in press freedom and a stifling of legitimate opposition across Sri Lanka. Many fear that their independent judiciary and proud tradition of vibrant democracy and activist journalism are being eroded.
Detractors point to a host of reasons why progress has been slow. Some argue that the government is justified in reconciling on its own terms. They also point out, often accurately, that there is more to do by all sides to advance a political settlement. Others argue that elements within the Tamil diaspora have not accepted the Tiger’s defeat and pressure Tamils to reject dialogue. Finally, some simply assert that the bitterness from 30 years of war mean many are just not ready to reconcile.
Yet there is one very good reason that the government should do more; a reason well known to the British from our own experience of Northern Ireland. If you don’t make every effort to give people a stake in politics and if you fail to hold to account those responsible for the crimes of the past, you sow the seeds for future conflict.
It is this message I tried to get across last week. Too many lives were ruined while the U.K. learned these lessons. Britain is a friend of Sri Lanka; a friendship based on history, cultural links and common institutions. And as a friend of Sri Lanka, it should be no surprise that we don’t want them to repeat our mistakes. President Rajapaksa has banished terrorism from his country and ushered in a new period of prosperity. It is now time for the political leadership needed to heal the wounds which caused the war. An important first step would be implementing the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission.
This will be an important year in Sri Lanka: in November it plans to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The U.K. has not yet made a decision on attendance. CHOGM is a time to recall the values uniting the Commonwealth – values we have all freely agreed to. The Sri Lankan government must think through exactly what will be seen when the international spotlight shines upon them. As host, we look to them not only to adhere to the Commonwealth values of good governance, the rule of law and human rights, but to champion them.
Fundamentally though, these are not simply Commonwealth values, but the foundations on which all societies flourish. More importantly, they are Sri Lanka’s only route to genuine peace and a prosperous future for all its citizens; which is very much what the U.K. wishes for it.
Alistair Burt is Britain’s minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He tweets @alistairBurtFCO
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quote “Britain is a friend of Sri Lanka; a friendship based on history, cultural links and common institutions.”
Sorry mate, Britain is or was not a friend of Sri lanka. Friends don’t attack, invade, kill and occupy his friends. Britain was an invader and killer of Sri Lankan people and occupied Sri Lankan soil by force for hundreds of years. I think that is first needs to be recognised, accepted as “truth” and then try to “reconcile” with.
Northern Ireland methods are not suitable to Sri lanka since in Sri lanka the ethnic violence is based on two languages while Ireland and england and scottland all talked the same one language. It was a totally different war to what we had in Sri lanka.
There is nothing to suggest that Brits know better then Sri Lankans. Therefore rather than trying to export your failed reconciliation from Ireland to Sri Lanka, why not try to import Sri Lankan solution to Ireland?
You can go even further by giving Ireland the separation they demand, setting an example before you try to teach Sri Lankans what to do.
You cannot cheat the world forever by saying “we are friends” when we are not. We are just merchants if not “known” people” to each other. That is it.
Northern Ireland conflict lasted for about 60 years resulting in much violence and destruction by the IRA and breakaway factions. Though a peace treaty was negotiated in Northern Ireland giving it some semblance of autonomy to govern itself through an Assembly with MPs elected from both sides of the divide, that is Catholics and Anglicans, the breakaway extremist factions of Catholics have resumed its violence. So the fight for separatism from Britain and unity with Southern Ireland Republic continues unabated.
Britain is the colonial power still holding on to Northern Ireland on the basis that British citizens who colonised Northern Ireland in the last century will suffer persecution if Britain quit its colony and allowed Northern Ireland to become one country with Southern Ireland, the Irish Republic. This is a specious argument.
Britain’s handling of the Nothern Ireland issue is therefore utterly wrong! Britain should without further ado pull out of Northern Ireland to allow it to be united once again with Irish Republic, as one country.
Alastair Burnett is wrong to cite Northern Ireland peace treaty as a wonderful model for SL also. Rather, it is SL that is the best model for many countries with separatist terrorism as in India. If these separatist refuse to agree to peaceful negotiation for power sharing devoid of autonomy, then the only solution is to eradicate them completely militarily. The drawback is certain foreign powers with vested interests that support the terrorist separatists as they did in SL, notably Britain, USA, France and Norway.
Fortunately, Hon President MR, resolved to eliminate them militarily to liberate the nation from the iron grip of LTTE. The evil LTTE held more than 400,000 Tamils as a human shield (a war crime) in the final phase of the Humanitarian Operation to save these SL Tamil citizens. The LTTE leader issued orders for the LTTE to kill all the Tamil hostages were the LTTE to lose the battle. As the Tamil hostages fled across the Nandikadal lagoon to the safety of the SL army, the LTTE machine gunned them down and killed them with suicide bombs. That is how some of the SL Tamil citizens who were held as a human shield by the LTTE died. Many SL service personnel also died in trying to rescue the fleeing SL Tamil hostages. VP, his body guard, his wife and 2 sons all died fighting to the last man. They refused to surrender. These are the facts witnessed by the West through their satallites. However, the diaspora Tamils and other LTTE supporters are today giving a false account.
USA, Britain, France and other imperial neo-colonialist Western countries tried to save the LTTE hardcore to fight another day so as to drag on the separatist war, for their own vested interests. But Hon President stood firm and refused to yield to imperial West pressure. They are now being vindictive by bringing resolution after resolution against SL in the UNHRC on fraudulent charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity with fabricated evidence supplied by the diaspora Tamils, who are also vindictive because of the total liquidation of the LTTE hardcore and its leader, VP.
Who are the real war criminals today? They are the past US Presidents and US service chiefs and the CIA. They continue to commit crimes against humanity by ruthless bombing of civilians in Afghanistan through drone attacks, rendition programs of Taliban/Al Qaeda suspects to gather information through torture in countries in Middle East and Eastern Europe. Guantanamo Bay prison is a shame on USA! Prisoners are held and tortured there with no trial and right of legal representation. This is real crime against humanity. Who will bring USA before UNHRC for crimes against humanity and violation of human rights of these prisoners? UN is utterly powerless to do so. UNSG is a puppet of US administration and UN is another tool of USA to hit small nations who do not toe-the-line with US administartion. What hypocrisy on part of USA and Britain! What maladministration on part of UN! Isn’t it time that UN dissolve the UNHRC for selective action/bias by allowing powerful nations such as USA to bring resolution after resolution against SL to ruin the nation, when UN should actually be applauding SL for eradicating totally its terrorist problem from its shores permanently?