The resignation of British Defence Secretary Liam Fox following revelations about his unauthorised and dubious foreign policy-related activities will be welcomed by all those committed to a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka. However the serious questions raised – once again – by last week’s media reports about Dr. Fox’s activities must also be answered. Dr. Fox resigned because, in his own words, “I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred.” Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's announcement of the appointment of yet another commission to investigate human rights abuses should come as no surprise. Following the release of report by the UN expert panel, calls for an international, independent inquiry into the final stages of the conflict are gaining momentum on a global level. This new commission, like its predecessors, including the infamously impotent Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is a farce. Its announcement is a insolent retort at the UN report and all those advocating accountability, as well as another of Sri Lanka's habitual ploys to buy time for international attention to fade.
Two years after Sri Lanka's genocidal onslaught against the Tamil population reached a zenith in a tiny enclave in the island's north, the horrors unleashed between January and May 2009 have come under international scrutiny. The United Nations expert panel's report on the closing stages of the armed conflict has set out in harrowing detail how Sri Lanka's 'systematic persecution' resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, through mass bombardment amid a blockade on food and medicine. The report has been welcomed by the US, UK and EU, among others, who have called for action over the war crimes and crimes against humanity. The furor within Sri Lanka that followed the release of the UN report, however, has underlined the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the country's crisis. Whilst the Tamils have collectively welcomed the UN report and its call for an independent inquiry into the conduct of the war, the Sinhala polity, with overwhelming support from its constituents, have united in fierce opposition. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has drawn support from the other Sinhala parties, including the main opposition UNP, in resisting an independent inquiry, as well as action over the mass crimes.
Whilst Sri Lanka and its international allies labour to present an image of emerging 'post-conflict' normalcy - and even of 'reconciliation' in the offing - events in Jaffna this week made clear the country's future is exactly the reverse. The military's desecration of the ashes of LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan's mother, and its anxious, violent efforts in preceding days to prevent public mourning of her death underline not only the popular sentiment amongst Tamils, but the state's unshakable insecurity. In short, the seventy-year long antagonism between the Sinhala ethnocracy and the Tamil people will endure and grow. This is not a matter of ancient hatreds, but of state policy and the politics to come.
In the run up to last month's referendum in South Sudan, it was widely accepted that the overwhelming majority would opt for independence. Similarly, even before Kosovo unilaterally declared independence two years ago, it was widely agreed that the majority of its people endorsed the move. What is striking, therefore, is what went before in these places. Sudan's civil war raged for four decades before the 2005 peace agreement. And when the international community ended the post-Cold War firestorm in the Balkans with the 1995 Dayton Accords, the Kosovars, despite their pleas, were actively excluded. Instead, they were told to make the best of it under Serbia's rule.
When Sri Lanka's military finally defeated the Liberation Tigers in May 2009, having also slaughtered tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, President Mahinda Rajapakse and the rest of the Sinhala establishment were confident that not only would the Tamils now meekly acquiesce to Sinhala rule, but so would the international community. They were wrong on both counts. Not only have the Tamils endured the ravages inflicted on them during and after the war, they still stubbornly insist on their demand for self-rule. On the other hand, rather than embrace the Sinhala ethnocracy, the international community is doggedly pursuing its transformation into a liberal market democracy.