I was deeply touched last week, at the Reconciliation Committee meeting in Manthai East, when Father James Pathinather expressed appreciation of a position I had put forward, and said that it had required courage. I also felt very humble, for nothing I had done could come close to the courage he himself had displayed, in April 2009, when he tried to protect LTTE combatants who had sought shelter in the Valayanamadam Church.

He had been attacked for his pains by the Tigers. After he was gravely injured, and evacuated from the War Zone in one of the regular rescue missions we facilitated for the ICRC, the LTTE drove off those who had sought to escape from them by taking shelter in the Church. Many of those forced again into combat are doubtless among the few thousands who then disappeared.

The courage of those like Father James, who sought to stand up to the LTTE when it was at its most ruthless, should be celebrated by the Sri Lankan State. But we have completely ignored these heroes, who had an even tougher time than our soldiers who had to fight virtually with one hand tied behind their backs, given the use the LTTE was making of the human shields it had dragooned into Mullivaikkal. Those soldiers had at least the comfort of comradeship, whereas those who stood up against the LTTE inside the No-Fire Zone were isolated, and subject to enormous pressures as well as brutality of the sort Father James experienced.

We have failed utterly to tell their story, just as we have failed to tell systematically the story of our own efforts. And this failure I believe is part of the mindset that will draw down upon our heads further criticism, whereas celebrating the courage of those Tamils who tried to stand up against the LTTE would help us defend the nation as a whole against unfair criticism.

The story of Father James would for instance have helped us answer the questions put to us by the American State Department towards the end of 2009. The report we received, prepared by a Congressional Committee headed by John Kerry, was relatively balanced, and itself noted some of the answers we might have supplied. It made it clear that the prejudiced allegations of some agencies about what happened at Valayanmadam were wrong, and noted that the missile that hit the church was probably fired by the LTTE. Certainly there is little doubt that the missile that fell on the house occupied by Father James was intended by the LTTE to get rid of the strongest voice of reason there at the time.

Why did we keep quiet about this? One reason is incompetence, which is why the committee appointed by the President to respond to the State Department report did nothing for months. I wrote to them, about how they should proceed, and I spoke personally to the person I thought the most energetic of its members, and he was positive, but it was months before they got back to me. That was when I began to realize how short-sighted had been those who persuaded the President to close down the Peace Secretariat, thinking that the war was over and they should be allowed to pursue their own agendas, without reminders of the need to work on sustainable peace and reconciliation.

But, apart from endemic incompetence, and ruthless concentration on personal priorities rather than the national good, I wonder too if there isn’t a residual unwillingness to work together with Tamils who did so much to resist the LTTE. Unfortunately there are those who wish to present the triumph over the LTTE as a Sinhalese victory. Though there are not many of these in leadership roles in the armed forces, I fear that the influence of this mindset is pervasive, and will in fact lead to continuing trouble for those armed forces.

I saw something similar in the manner in which the President’s instructions to include a member of Civil Society in the team tasked with preparing an Action Plan for the LLRC Recommendations were ignored. Or, rather, they were flouted, for the President’s Secretary had invited a leading NGO activist, but then he was debarred from further meetings. The assurance I was given then, that he would be part of the Task Force to implement the Action Plan, turned out to be without value, though since the Task Force itself never met – until January when a competent Civil Servant was put in charge – that omission was perhaps not racially motivated.

But leaving Jeevan Thiagarajah, whom the President had handpicked, out of the formulation of the Action Plan itself was I believe in part based on suspicion of his ethnicity. This had indeed been expressed to me previously by those who should have known better. Ironically, such suspicions were pursued even while those members of the international community who had specific and unsavoury political agends were also persecuting Mr Thiagarajah.

He after all, because of a commitment to financial probity, had drawn attention to the iniquities of Rama Mani. He had not known then of her involvement in the effort to turn Sri Lanka into a test case for implementation of the Gareth Evans intrusive version of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. That was conveyed to us by Colonel Anil Amarasekera, a shrewder observer of the international scene than our Foreign Ministry, though I suppose that is not difficult to be.

When we found out what Rama Mani was up to, it became clear why Jeevan had been attacked by the then Canadian High Commissioner, who tried to blackmail him by threatening to cut funding if he insisted on further investigation of Rama Mani’s improprieties. But far from Sri Lanka appreciating such willingness to run risks on behalf of this country, all he received was continuing denigration. Sadly, such indecency will ultimately rebound on this country as a whole.

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