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Ultimately, I suspect, the farrago about alleged Sri Lankan War Crimes will continue to reverberate or will fade away depending on whether the American government decides to encourage it or not. Unfortunately it is difficult to predict what will happen, precisely because American foreign policy is not just confusing, but also very confused. There are obviously realists in significant positions in Washington, but there are also vague idealists, who are susceptible to all sorts of pressures. Some of them indeed come from commercial advocacy backgrounds and, since they may well have to go back to them, will need to maintain and indeed strengthen their credentials amongst organizations committed to strident activism[1].

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We can understand why some sections of the diaspora are so intent on persecuting us with regard to war crimes. While dealing firmly with their allegations, we should forgive them and see how they can be convinced that the situation has changed since the times when they left Sri Lanka in understandable bitterness.

We can also understand why some sections of the political opposition, including their fellow travelers in the politically motivated advocacy sector, push the same agenda. Their rationales, and the benefits they obtain through this agenda, should be checked on and placed before the public, to ensure the transparency and accountability they honour in the breach.

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In recognizing the role of the Tamil diaspora in propagating the idea that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of War Crimes, we must also recognize the rationale behind their stratagem. And to some extent, though we need to combat their falsehoods, understanding should lead to some measure at least of forgiveness, since they certainly suffered much in the eighties. It is as much our responsibility to disabuse them of the notion that nothing has changed since then, as it is theirs to get rid of an outdated mindset that has done so much damage to the Tamil people left in Sri Lanka, abandoned as they were for so long to the rapacious Tigers.

With regard to the mainstream Sri Lankan political opposition however, forgiveness is less easy, because their stratagem has been based not on suffering and bitterness but rather on laziness and greed. A few years back they seem to have concluded that trying to persuade the Sri Lankan people to bring them back to power democratically was not possible. They decided then that they had to rely on what they think of as the international community to bring down the elected government, so that they could take its place.

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This article is taken from the FOR THE RECORD section of the Reconciliation Website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org which subsumes the old site www.peaceinsrilanka.lk used by the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). The articles in FOR THE RECORD are intended to counter those who promote division.  Though problems should be raised, and addressed, there must be balance, so as to avoid the perpetuation of bitterness.

The Periclean scholar, who had begun by thinking that there were possible comparisons between Hitler’s Germany and Sri Lanka, did show some acumen in suggesting that, given the distance between facts and allegations, there was need to explore why the allegations came so thick and fast, with such untenable comparisons. I thought it best to answer this through questions, which led her to exclaim, while wracking her brains for the answers, that she was not used to answering questions. Her research had evidently involved just asking questions, the Socratic method evidently not part of the stock in trade of her intellectual training.

The first question to answer was, who was raising the questions, and she realized pretty smartly that the principal driving force was the Tamil diaspora. We then went into the history of that diaspora, and I realized that she was aware of the violence that had driven many of them away in the early eighties. And it was necessary to note that there had been political decisions too in the period before that, which had also led Tamils to feel they would be better off abroad.

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This article is taken from the FOR THE RECORD section of the Reconciliation Website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org which subsumes the old site www.peaceinsrilanka.lk used by the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). The articles in FOR THE RECORD are intended to counter those who promote division.  Though problems should be raised, and addressed, there must be balance, so as to avoid the perpetuation of bitterness.

I looked earlier at what I believe is the only specific allegation about war crimes brought against Sri Lanka, namely that based on the video broadcast by Channel 4 – though, as noted, the place where the incident was supposed to have taken place remains unspecified, and the time has been specified divergently. Apart from that there are only vast generalizations, and some assertions that were later belied.

The greatest of the generalizations is that of the numbers killed during the last few months of the fighting, where the figure enunciated by the Times, 20,000, is now seen as a base on which to build, and build, and build, regardless of evidence. No matter that the Times gave three different – and contradictory – reasons for its assertion, and that the base on which it built, 7,000, which it attributed to the UN, was denied by the UN. I have gone into all this at length[1] but obviously anything I say would not have anything like the impact of established newspapers, even if they are now obviously identified as politically driven. My Periclean scholar, who had heard of the Times figure, had not read any critique of this. Nor had she looked at the ICRC website with its record of the wounded who had been taken to government hospitals with the support of the navy, just around 6000 of them, suggesting that the number of fatalities (including combatants) was much less.

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This article is taken from the FOR THE RECORD section of the Reconciliation Website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org which subsumes the old site www.peaceinsrilanka.lk used by the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). The articles in FOR THE RECORD are intended to counter those who promote division.  Though problems should be raised, and addressed, there must be balance, so as to avoid the perpetuation of bitterness.

It was I think Aristotle who said that the roots of injustice lay in comparing like things with unlike things, and unlike things with like things. Sadly, Aristotle is no longer well known in the West, not even intuitively, with Platonian certainties seeming a better way of dealing with current problems.

I am generalizing, of course, but I suspect Aristotle does not figure large in the general awareness of the bright young lady[1] who interviewed me with regard to un undergraduate project she was preparing, comparing Nazi Germany and Rwanda and Sri Lanka with regard to war crimes. The topic seemed dictated by the belief that what had happened with regard to the first two countries could provide guidance to what she termed the International Community as to the role they should play ‘in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war’. She did note the possibility that they ‘should not play’ any role, but the whole approach seemed designed to beg the question – including the exaltation of terrorists into combatants in a civil war.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2017
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