The Northern Resolution: A Dangerous Escalation
Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran has just posed a question to the Sri Lankan state. “If the Sri Lankan state did not commit war crimes, why should they resist an international probe?” he is quoted as saying to The Hindu. Now this is the same specious logic as in the notorious trick question “have you stopped beating your wife?” If one answers yes, one admits to having beaten one’s wife in the past even if one were absolutely innocent of any such conduct, and if one answers no because one had never done so, it leaves open the possibility that one is (still) beating one’s wife.
The good chief minister says that “the NPC resolution calling for an international probe into the alleged war crimes committed during the military operation against the LTTE only reflected the feelings of the Tamil people in Northern Sri Lanka”. Now there’s a bit of a problem there. Imagine if the people of Germany had called for an international probe on the firebombing of Dresden, five years after losing a war in which the majority of them had supported the Nazis and Hitler. Of course the people of Germany did no such thing. If they had, or indeed if the Japanese people had called for an international probe on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five years after that war crime, one can well imagine what the response of the victorious Allies and the world community would have been. A website called ‘US Politics’ features a story from EIN Presswire. It does an excellent job of summarising the real significance of the resolution just passed unanimously by the Northern Provincial Council.
“In a major humiliation to Sri Lankan President, the Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council (NPC) unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the United Nations to establish an International War Crimes Investigation to investigate Sri Lankan leaders for committing War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide against Tamil people in that island. So far the call to establish an international investigation was advocated only by International NGO’s and diaspora groups like Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). This is the first time, Tamils within Sri Lanka through their elected representatives have called for such an investigation. The next Session of the UN Human Rights Council is set to begin in March and it is expected that a Resolution calling for an International Investigation on Sri Lanka will be tabled by the United States. It is widely believed that the Resolution by the Northern Provincial Council will add momentum for passing a UN Resolution calling for international investigation.” (http://uspolitics.einnews.com/pr_news/187697549/sri-lanka-s-own-northern-council-calls-for-int-l-war-crimes-investigation-against-sri-lankan-leaders)
So the Northern Tamil provincial legislators caused ‘a major humiliation’ to the President who held the first ever provincial election in the Northern Province (in 1988, the election was only in the East while there was a joint slate in the North, bypassing an election). The election was sufficiently free and fair, in a province with a heavy military presence, for the Tamil nationalist opposition party to sweep the polls. This president succeeded in enabling the setting up of the Northern Council without any street protests by the Sinhala Buddhist hardliners, while he did have to overcome the publicly stated opposition of his brother, the powerful Secretary of Defence. Of course, President Rajapaksa is also the man who presided over the defeat and decapitation of the LTTE – something which the TNA radicals have not forgiven him. The call for an international investigation into allegations of war crimes also looks a bit funny when it is recalled that the same TNA politicians voted for the army commander who led the war to its brutal finale. There is a reason that the Sinn Fein/IRA never called for an international inquiry into the crimes committed by the British troops and authorities during the troubles.
The NPC resolution does not strengthen and embolden the President who opened the path for the Council’s establishment. It also weakens the pro-devolution caucus of progressives within the ruling coalition who fought successfully against the majoritarian chauvinists, protected the 13th Amendment and saw the holding of the election through. On the other hand the NPC resolution reinforces the line of the prominent hardliners who opposed the Provincial Council system and wanted it abolished. It strengthens their argument that devolution should not proceed further; that it is dangerous to proceed with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. After the NPC’s radical resolution one may anticipate the hawks’ argument against devolving more power to such an adventurist Council as taking the form of the pithy Sinhala saying – it would be akin to ‘giving a monkey a straight razor’. The resolution does nothing to bring the country’s powerful and popular military round to the position that the devolution of power to the Northern Council does not threaten the security interests of the state. It makes it more difficult to regard the TNA as a pragmatic peace partner and to reintegrate the Northern PC into the democratic mainstream. The resolution has almost certainly hardened opinion among the Sinhalese, irrespective of party political sympathies, making them less rather than more sympathetic to the cause of devolution.
The NPC resolution is echoed and reinforced by a statement signed by R. Sampanthan in his triune capacity as MP for Trincomalee, leader of the TNA and President of the ITAK. It says that the Central Committee meeting of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) held on January 26, 2014 at the Town Hall, Trincomalee, and attended by representatives from all districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces, unanimously resolved, among other things, that “an…international investigation was imperative”. (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tamil-people-are-gravely-harmed-itak-unanimously-resolves/) The NPC resolution and the ITAK statement render the TNA radioactive in the sense that any Southern Opposition which is seen to be allied with it and yet fails to curb its rhetoric will be penalised by the Sinhala voters. Thus the TNA/NPC stand in the emotive run-up to Geneva has undermined its potential partners among the Southern democrats and moderates. Taking the island as a whole, the constituency in favour of devolution has shrunk rather than expanded, due to the TNA-NPC’s electoral and post-election rhetoric.
The NPC resolution cannot be described in any sense of the term as moderate. This is not the political behaviour of a party of moderate persuasion. As for the counter-argument that this is but a reaction to the government’s tardiness in devolving power to the Northern PC, that is given the lie by the TNA’s 100 page critique of the LLRC report. That critique long antedated the re-establishment of the NPC, the problem of the ex-military Governor, etc. The NPC-TNA are appearing increasingly as anti-national; as against Sri Lanka as a state and a country. The TNA reciprocated Mahinda Rajapaksa’s historic move of holding the Northern Provincial election under the existing 13th Amendment (without truncating it as the Sinhala hawks demanded) by praising Prabhakaran during the election campaign and carrying his photograph on the front page of the TNA’s newspaper.
That was before it could be ascertained whether or not the Government would devolve power and authority to the newly elected council. Thus the TNA-NPC’s radicalism cannot be explained away as a natural reaction to the post-election immobility of the Government. The North-South divide will grow into a gulf thanks to the NPC resolution. The dynamic of ethnic polarization will render the island’s politics a zero-sum game, making the task of our friends such as Japan and South Africa and above all our neighbour India, more difficult. A secure and stable peace is a longer way off than it was last week, before the NPC resolution.