Restorative Justice Requires Mutual Commitment

By Saro Thiruppathy

LTTE child soldier

Restorative Justice, also known as Reparative Justice, was the concept applied by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the post-Apartheid period. The mandate of the Commission was to bear witness to, record and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation. The TRC approach contrasted starkly with the punitive method applied at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

Over the years, the work of the TRC has received both brickbats and bouquets but, overall, internationally, it has received great acclaim as a means of uncovering the truth about past abuse, crimes and using amnesty as a mechanism to heal wounds rather than punishing perpetrators.

This, begs the question, whether a similar system of restorative justice will do well in Sri Lanka – a country which has had its social fabric torn apart by war and polarised by ethnicity and religion.

At the same time, the international community is huffing and puffing at the door, promising to blow the house down if the Sri Lankan government does not conduct an investigation into acts and incidents that took place during the last days of the war. This is, however, another issue.

Can Sri Lankans sincerely engage in restorative justice?

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Government of Sri Lanka is interested in engaging with the representatives of the Tamil people of the North in a dialogue which would bring to the fore abuses and violations faced by the Tamils over the period of the 26-year-long war.

How would such a process be successful when Tamil parties and the Tamil Diaspora are actively mobilizing international support against the Government of Sri Lanka? What about their mindset? Are they interested in coming to the dialogue, ready to acknowledge the truth about the LTTE and its criminal activities?

Would history have been different if the great finance and arms/armaments procurers of the LTTE had reined in Velupillai Prabhakaran and said ‘No!’? Would little children have been torn from their families – and used as cannon fodder – by the Supremo if the Tamil Diaspora had said ‘No!’? Would the LTTE have gone for an ‘all or nothing’ terror regime, if the academics and the intelligentsia of the Tamil community said ‘No!’? Would Rajiv Gandhi have still been alive, if Tamil Nadu and New Delhi had not nurtured and trained the Tigers?

Would Sinhala villages have been attacked, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka bombed, trains and railways blown up, and little Samanera monks massacred, if the Tamil Diaspora, the Indian Central and Tamil Nadu governments and the Tamil academics and intelligentsia had said ‘No!’ to Prabhakaran?

The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) has, as its primary objective, been keeping the idea of Tamil Eelam – a separate state – alive in the minds of Tamils, both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

These are people who have fled Sri Lanka, for real or purported reasons, to establish better futures overseas. They are not economic refugees. They are the main funders and fund raisers for the LTTE. Even after the war ended, and thousands – including their Leader – perished, the tentacles of the Tamil Diaspora are still very active.

Who constitute the Sri Lankan Lions?

The various governments of Sri Lanka that ruled during the 26-year period between 1983 and 2009 do not necessarily reflect the ethos and mindset of the Sri Lankan people.

When the politically motivated goons attacked and killed Tamils living in Colombo and other parts of the country during the 1983 riots, many Tamils survived the massacre because Sinhala families courageously gave them shelter and safe abode.
The fact that, in spite of tremendous provocation by the Tamil Tigers through their barbaric acts, the Sinhala people did not rise up and attack the Tamils living outside the North and East is due to enormous restraint and powerful leadership.

Sri Lankans are by far a nation espousing the ‘nava gilunath band chune’ sentiment. They are quick to anger, but equally quick to forgive and move on. Maybe it is the Dhamma which provides the guidelines to living as taught by Lord Buddha. Whatever it is – the mentality of hugging on to old hurts and showcasing wounds forever is certainly not a characteristic of the people of this island nation.

The Diaspora puppeteers and their puppets

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Tamil people of the North and the East suffered terribly over the period of the war. They lost their homes, their livelihoods, their children, their education, infrastructure and their dignity.

All this happened while a segment of the LTTE’s hierarchy lived in style, both here and abroad. Their children were not conscripted. They did not lose their livelihoods. They were not displaced time and again – they did not lose their dignity. In fact, the war made something of them; persons who would have been non-entities in foreign lands became ‘somebodies’ thanks to the war. People came to know them by name – Velupillai Prabhakaran, K Pathmanathan, Lawrence Thilakar, Thamil Chelvam, Pottu Amman, the list goes on.

The selection of the Chief Ministerial candidate for the Northern Province was mooted by the Tamil Diaspora – not the Tamil National Alliance here in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Diaspora has got its tentacles in many Western governments, through lobbying and buying the support of politicians. The Diaspora keeps pressure on the Sri Lankan government through these various politicians who would otherwise not be able to spot Sri Lanka on a globe.

Reconciliation needs mutual commitment

So, while the Tamil Diaspora, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, Tamil politicians and the Indian governments at the Centre and in Tamil Nadu are not interested in reconciliation or restorative justice, what can possibly be hoped for by just one party trying to achieve reconciliation through reparation?

As a result of their myopic vision, the Tamil Diaspora, and the Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka – and other nuisance makers – are making sure that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka will forever languish in a prison of their minds, hoping for a separate state – which will not ever come to pass – and unable to break free of the shackles that Prabhakaran and his band of militants bound them with.

The Western connection

Instead of living in glasshouses and threatening a sovereign state, Western nations, if they are really concerned that Sri Lanka must address the past and move on to a future that is bright, should focus more on promoting restorative justice in Sri Lanka so that sustainable reconciliation can be achieved.

The day that Western politicians – especially those that are paying lip service to the Tamil Diaspora in their constituencies – stop being the lackeys of the TGTE and truly focus on ensuring a better future for the Sri Lankan Tamils … that day will be etched in history.

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