By Rasika Jayakody

 

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, who is a national list Parliamentarian of the ruling party, is a strong opinion-maker in the government where reconciliation is concerned. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, he strongly backed the government’s move to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, following the South African model. He termed that such an effort can be construed as part of implementing LLRC recommendations.

Speaking of the relation between the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the Parliamentarian says, “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is suggestive of a broader mechanism of this nature and this is in line with implementing LLRC recommendations. LLRC presented an excellent report and the commission perfectly fulfilled the task it was entrusted with. The TRC focuses more on problems concerning the people on the ground and give them solutions. That is one of the most important aspects of reconciliation. One should understand the fact that the LLRC, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have their own ambits. And they don’t clash with each other”.

He also commends the President’s approach to the matter saying he reflects pluralism and the traditional SLFPers are pluralist to the core. “But the problem is their voice is subdued and as a result, extremists are ruling the roost,” Wijesinha says.

On Sri Lanka’s journey towards reconciliation, the Parliamentarian says, Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. “Given its urgency, I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them.”

 

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: The government has already indicated that it is going to set up a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ following the South African model. Do you consider it as a positive move?

A: It is a very positive move and the government should embark on that process. Although the South African problem and the Sri Lankan problem are very different from each other, there are many things that we can share. We should appreciate the support extended by the South African President and the embassy in this regard. While we were so engrossed in the David Cameron issue during CHOGM, I think we missed out – to a certain extent – on the South African experience. David Cameron was acting upon his own electoral considerations that are of no relevance to the ‘real problem’ in Sri Lanka. But South African President Jacob Zuma was different from that.

Q: The government appointed LLRC commission along the same lines and now in the process of implementing its recommendations. In that context, what is the purpose of appointing another commission?

A: LLRC and Truth and Reconciliation Commission have two different roles. Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is suggestive of a broader mechanism of this nature and this is in line with implementing LLRC recommendations. LLRC presented an excellent report and the commission perfectly fulfilled the task it was entrusted with. The TRC focuses more on problems concerning the people on the ground and give them solutions. That is one of the most important aspects of reconciliation. One should understand the fact that the LLRC, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have their own ambits. And they don’t clash with each other.

Q: Some believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be vested with legal powers. What is your take on that?

A: there are many models that we can follow. Giving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission legal powers is one option. We should find that model that fits into our requirements. For instance, there are various allegations with regard to the final phase of the war. We cannot flatly deny all the allegations. A thorough examination is required before arriving at conclusions where certain allegations are concerned.

In the end, whatever the model we take, grievances of the people on the ground have to be addressed. Sometimes, we turn a blind eye to very simple matters too. One good example is counseling. There are mothers in the North who come to Army camps in search of their sons. And the soldiers don’t know how to console them. Sometimes, in an attempt to pacify them, they tell these mothers their sons in detention would come back home, but that really worsens the problem. They have to be educated on counseling. At one point we attempted to initiate this with the support of the World Health Organization and the NCPA. But in the end, it did not take off the ground. Truth and Reconciliation Commission also needs to look into such problems and give formidable solutions.

Q: Who do you think should head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

A: Justice Weeramanthri is the obvious choice. He is a legal luminary and from the standpoint of the international community he is a person who has great credibility. Apart from him, I think Justice Udalagama is a good point. The Udalagama Commission report was a highly credible report and he is someone who can give credibility to this entire process. Also, we have other legal luminaries who are universally respected – who will extend their support to a process of this nature. I would also like to mention the names of Dr Rohan Perera and Mr H. M. G. S. Palihakkara who also served as members of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Q: Do you think the present government – which is a coalition of various parties who have many different viewpoints on this matter – has a mindset to come up with a solution that is acceptable to all?

A: I think the veterans of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have a very pluralistic mindset. The traditional SLFPers, in my view, are pluralist to the core. But the problem is their voice is subdued and as a result, extremists are ruling the roost. If you take the President as an example, he has learnt Tamil and speaking in Tamil with Tamils. Although some view this with jaundiced eyes, I think it is absolutely important. It shows his pluralistic mindset and the seriousness with which he approaches the problem. We need the same commitment from other senior members of the government as well. But unfortunately, it is not happening. They don’t have the same commitment and the same dedication as the President.

Q: As a whole, are you satisfied with Sri Lanka’s effort towards reconciliation?

A: In my recent presentation at The Observatory Research Foundation in Delhi, on ‘Reconciliation and the Role of India’, I made my position very clear.

‘Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. Given its urgency I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them. The first reason is myopia. Major decision makers in government, or rather the only decision maker in this regard, the Minister of Economic Development, believed that material development would ensure integration of conflict affected areas in the national economy and hence promote reconciliation. He was wrong, and it is a pity that he does not understand the need for consultation of potential beneficiaries as well as professionals when planning benefits for some sectors.

But in mitigation it should be said that the strategy had worked to a great extent in the East, and he did not have established institutions to which to turn when making plans for the North.

The absence of think tanks in Sri Lanka, the abolishing of the Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation, as well as the Ministry of Human Rights, left a vacuum which sheer energy cannot fill.’

‘The second reason for the failure of the reconciliation process is diffidence. While I believe Sri Lanka should have moved quickly on the actions it had promised in the joint communiqué signed by the President and the Secretary General of the United Nations, there was from the beginning a fear of unfair persecution.

Given the lack of professionalism, and understanding of the international psyche, in the agencies which should have dealt with charges, namely the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence, there were blanket denials, whereas we should have worked closely with those international agencies that work to a professional rather than a political agenda’. This overall captures my take on Sri Lanka’s efforts towards reconciliation.

http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/12/22/extremists-rule-the-roost-professor-rajiva-wijesinha/

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