If there is confusion about what Sri Lanka’s current stance is regarding the war crimes probe proposed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), that is hardly surprising.
At least when the Rajapaksa regime was calling the shots everyone knew exactly where we stood: that government opposed an inquiry into alleged war time atrocities and that was it. It was not the most diplomatic or sensible attitude to adopt and led to a lot of unsavoury repercussions, but at least there was consistency in the government’s position.
Now though, it is an entirely different equation. If one recalls recent events, it will be remembered that the current UNHRC resolution was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, when it was presented by the United States. Among other things, it undertook to inquire into what exactly happened during the final phase of the Eelam war.
The devil was in the detail. The wording of the resolution left a lot of room for interpretation. It called for foreign participation but stopped short of declaring that the arbitrators of the probe would be from outside the country. It was obfuscation at its best.
Therefore, we had the government telling us that it had won the day and saved Sri Lanka from an international probe. At the same time, we had the ‘joint opposition’ trying to convince us that the government was planning to prosecute our war heroes. There was even talk of a ‘hybrid’ inquiry, whatever that meant.
As if that wasn’t enough confusion, we now have the country’s President and its Foreign Minister on different wave lengths on the same issue. On a tour to the United States, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera declares that “Sri Lanka is willing to consider the participation of international actors”.
This is at odds with what President Maithripala Sirisena has already told the international media where he stated that Sri Lanka has judges of integrity who could conduct the probe. After Minister Samaraweera’s statement, the President re-iterates that he would not allow foreign judges into “any kind of inquiry” into war time events.
Where does that leave us now? Surely, the UNHRC and the international community must be confused. Will we have an entirely domestic inquiry? Will we have an inquiry where there will be foreign participation – in the form of observers, experts and the like – but where the judges will be Sri Lankan? It seems the government doesn’t know, so we cannot be any wiser!
After the diplomatic shenanigans of the Rajapaksa years which cast the country into the role of a virtual pariah state, it took the Maithripala Sirisena – Ranil Wickremesinghe government a lot of effort to convince the world at large that Sri Lanka was sincere in its attempts to heal its war time wounds and achieve reconciliation between its ethnic groups.
Now, as different arms of the government speak in different tongues, all that effort might come undone. Each controversial statement by those in authority is picked up by the international media and given wide publicity. If the international community is not confused, we would be surprised.
We all know that the war crimes issue is an emotive one on the domestic front. Yes, the opposition will latch on to it at the drop of a hat and claim that the Yahapaalanaya government is sending the country’s war heroes to the gallows at the behest of the Eelamist lobby.
But that is precisely why the government should have a clearly articulated and coherent position as to what strategy it would adopt regarding the inquiry into alleged war time atrocities. And, that position must be made public locally and internationally, so that there is no room for ambiguity and different interpretations.
That is hardly what is happening now. Everybody who is somebody has an opinion, they are freely expressing themselves and the country is nose-diving into another diplomatic disaster.
At least, if the government hasn’t clearly thought out what its plan would be, those in the limelight should be able to surely keep their thoughts to themselves and maintain a dignified silence until an official plan is articulated.
But, being politicians first and statesmen later, we cannot expect them to do that, can we?