Hijacked justice?

Truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka
NIRAN ANKETELL 3 December !"3 After decades of civil war, Sri Lanka is looking to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a model for postconflict justice !ut will this work in Sri Lanka, or will it lead to impunit" for war criminals# As the dust settles on the #ommon$ealth Heads o% &o'ernment meetin( in #olombo) the *ress has re*orted that Sri Lanka ma+ be considerin( the establishment o% a South A%rica st+le Truth and Reconciliation #ommission $ith the assistance o% the #ommon$ealth and South A%rican (o'ernment, The South A%rican TR# -SA TR#. continues to *ossess an endurin( a**eal %or #olombo/based) as o**osed to North and East based) ci'il societ+ N&0s, 1er+ %e$) i% an+) con'ersations on reconciliation and transitional justice $ithin #olombo ci'il societ+ net$orks conclude $ithout re%erences to the SA TR# as the *aradi(matic case o% the ideal transitional justice model, The Sri Lankan (o'ernment has also sou(ht to dra$ *arallels bet$een its o$n attitude to *ost/con%lict justice) re%lected in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation #ommission) and the SA TR#, As a *reliminar+ obser'ation) ho$e'er) it is use%ul to note that contem*orar+ Sri Lanka and *ost/a*artheid South A%rica are 'astl+ di%%erent *olitical and social conte2ts, The SA TR# model and amnesties $ere $orked out a%ter a %ormal trans%er o% *o$er %rom the re(ime res*onsible %or the 'ast majorit+ o% crimes under a*artheid to the leaders o% the liberation stru((le, 3oreo'er) the dominant reli(ious belie% s+stem in South A%rica4$here #hristian rituals o% re*entance and %or(i'eness ha'e si(ni%icant theolo(ical resonance4is %undamentall+ di%%erent to the reli(ious belie%s o% the majorit+ o% Tamil) Sinhala and 3uslim 'ictims, The SA TR# is $idel+ kno$n as *ro'idin( amnest+ %rom *rosecution to *er*etrators $ho came be%ore the SA TR# and made %ull disclosure o% all the rele'ant %acts relatin( to their crimes, As such) it is *ercei'ed in Sri Lanka4$ron(l+4as the trium*h o% a s*irit o% reconciliation and restorati'e justice and a rejection o% criminal accountabilit+, Thus) the $a+ in $hich the SA TR# e2*erience has been understood in Sri Lanka is dee*l+ %la$ed, In su**ortin( m+ claim) I hi(hli(ht the absence in Sri Lanka o% three s*eci%ic conditions %or the %unctionin( o% the SA TR#) that $ould ine'itabl+ render

an+ attem*t to trans*lant that *rocess in contem*orar+ Sri Lanka harm%ul in the e2treme, 5irst) contrar+ to the $a+ in $hich the SA TR# has been understood in Sri Lanka) the model as en'isa(ed b+ its %ramers $as not desi(ned to e2clude *rosecutions, Instead) the conduct o% *rosecutions in res*ect o% *er*etrators $ho did not a**l+ or did not 6uali%+ %or amnest+ $as central to the $orkin( o% the SA TR#s desi(n, Institutionall+) the success o% the SA TR# de*ended on *er*etrators con%essin( to their crimes, The threat o% *rosecution $as *recisel+ the tool necessar+ to *ush *er*etrators to make %ull disclosure, In %act) em*irical studies on SA TR# data demonstrate that a**lications %or amnest+ $ere lo$ amon( state securit+ (rou*s $hose members $ere not subject to in'esti(ation and *rosecution, #on'ersel+) (rou*s that had members *rosecuted or $ere under in'esti(ation4such as the 7elite8 *olice task %orces4had (reater numbers o% amnest+ a**licants, Thus) the threat and conduct o% *rosecutions enhanced the *ros*ects o% truth seekin() because in%ormation such as the location and nature o% death o% 'ictims) $hich onl+ *er*etrators had access to) $as made a'ailable to the SA TR# in a**lications b+ *er*etrators %or amnest+, This em*hasi9es the com*lementar+ nature o% truth and justice and is an im*ortant reminder that the Sri Lankan (o'ernment8s attem*ted dichotomi9ation o% 7*uniti'e justice8 and 7restorati'e justice8 is %la$ed in *ractice, The SA TR# Re*ort itsel% ackno$led(ed that the a**eal to the sel%/interest o% *ros*ecti'e a**lications $as $ell concei'ed, 3oreo'er) the SA TR#8s %inal re*ort recommended :a bold *rosecution *olic+; in res*ect o% those $ho did not a**l+ or did not 6uali%+ %or amnest+) :in order to a'oid an+ su((estion o% im*unit+ or o% contra'enin( its obli(ations in terms o% international la$,; In %act) the South A%rican (o'ernment8s %ailure to %ollo$ u* on the recommendations o% its o$n commission b+ institutin( a meanin(%ul *olic+ o% *rosecutions has been shar*l+ critici9ed b+ man+ South A%ricans) includin( <isho* Tutu and other members o% the commission, In Sri Lanka) the (o'ernment itsel% has e2*licitl+ stated that it has no interest in *ursuin( $hat it deems 7*uniti'e8 justice and has ruled out a *olic+ o% *rosecution in res*ect o% crimes committed durin( and a%ter the $ar, Thus) an+ attem*t to institute a SA TR# st+le *rocess $ould be %la$ed %or the reason that there $ould be no incenti'e %or *er*etrators to make %ull disclosure, To be clear) conditional amnest+ %or %ull disclosure is not a sine 6ua non %or e'er+ truth commission, #ommissions in Ar(entina) #hile) =eru) Sierra Leone and <ahrain amon( man+ others %ocused on elicitin( the truth

throu(h $itness testimon+ and in'esti(ation) includin( throu(h the use o% %orensic science, Ho$e'er) i% the (o'ernment o*ts to take the in'esti(ati'e route) it $ill ha'e to demonstrate a chan(e o% heart and a $illin(ness to in'esti(ate alle(ed crimes b+ its o$n leaders, Another sham commission in a lon( line o% co'er/u*s $ill onl+ ser'e to hi(hli(ht im*unit+ in Sri Lanka, Second) the SA TR# re*resented a *olitical com*romise o% interests bet$een the AN# and the National =art+4the t$o main *olitical *arties re*resentin( the <lack and A%rikaner communities res*ecti'el+, >hile the SA TR# $as bitterl+ critici9ed b+ man+ *arties) includin( the AN# $hich attem*ted to block the release o% the %inal re*ort) the underl+in( *olitical com*romise securin( the end o% a*artheid into $hich the TR# $as locked4 $hich all *arties had come to acce*t as irre'ersible4*ermitted the TR# to %unction $ith at least a minimall+ su%%icient de(ree o% *olitical le(itimac+, Thus) e'en thou(h studies sho$ <lack 'ictims %eelin( betra+ed b+ the TR#) the *rocess had su%%icient le(itimac+ to %orestall *olitical cam*ai(ns to undo com*romises alread+ made, ?nlike in Latin America $here *olitical mo'ements %orced unilateral amnesties to be retros*ecti'el+ $ithdra$n) the South A%rican conditional amnest+ com*romise has $ithstood attem*ts to retros*ecti'el+ in'alidate it %or the 'er+ reason that it $as a com*romise, The ne(otiations around the conditional amnest+ deal e'idence this *olitical bar(ainin(, <+ "@@ ) the %indin(s o% the &oldstone #ommission) $hich in6uired into human ri(hts abuses committed b+ the (o'ernment) to(ether $ith the increasin(l+ ine'itable realit+ o% im*endin( chan(e) dro'e the N= (o'ernment to demand that indemnit+ o%%ered *re'iousl+ to AN# %unctionaries must also be o%%ered to state %unctionaries, Ho$e'er) the AN# maintained that a*artheid era crimes must be *rosecuted, A**roachin( "@@A) the AN#8s *osition on amnest+ so%tened, >hile the *art+ remained do((edl+ o**osed to blanket amnest+) the+ made critical concessions and a**eared $illin( to consider conditional amnesties *redicated on %ull disclosure, Indeed) the AN#8s *osition $as dri'en b+ a dee* realism, 5or one) the N= (o'ernment be(an e2ertin( tremendous *ressure on the AN# to concede to its demand %or amnest+ b+ threatenin( to *rosecute the AN#8s leadershi* %or human ri(hts abuses committed b+ the AN# in re%u(ee cam*s o'erseas, 3ore criticall+) as Louise 3allinder notes) :the AN# became con'inced that *eace%ul elections $ould be im*ossible $ithout the su**ort o% the securit+ %orces and the securit+ ser'ices made it clear that the *rice o% their lo+alt+ $as an amnest+,; As Dullah 0mar4then AN# ne(otiator and later Bustice 3inister4ackno$led(edC :$ithout an amnest+ a(reement there $ould ha'e been no elections,; In Sri Lanka) the contrast could not be starker, Ne(otiations bet$een the

(o'ernment and the TNA ha'e been stalled $ith little indication %rom the (o'ernment that it has an+ interest in *ursuin( a ne(otiated and *ermanent settlement o% Sri Lanka8s lin(erin( ethnic *roblem throu(h direct ne(otiations $ith the TNA, Thus) unlike in South A%rica) $here the SA TR# model re*resented and $as a ke+ %eature o% a *ermanent *olitical bar(ain bet$een the t$o major *olitical %orces on either side o% the ethnic di'ide) a Sri Lankan e%%ort to mimic the SA TR# *rocess $ill merel+ re*resent the (o'ernment8s unilateral attem*t to mana(e its international *ressures, As a result) a Sri Lankan TR# $ill not *ersuade the Tamil communit+ that it is a (enuine mechanism) and $ill alienate 'ictims %rom the ince*tion, In %act) it $ill likel+ e2acerbate the tension and lack o% trust bet$een the Tamil and Sinhala communities and im*ede (enuine reconciliation, 5inall+) the SA TR# $as concei'ed and de'ised in the "@@!8s) be%ore the cr+stalli9ation o% the international le(al *rinci*le deemin( im*unit+ la$s ille(al, The la$) as it stands toda+) re6uires the *ursuit o% in'esti(ations and *rosecutions %or (ra'e 'iolations o% IHL and IHRL amountin( to international crimes, A number o% multi/lateral treaties) resolutions o% ?nited Nations -?N. bodies) codi%ications o% customar+ international la$) best *ractices reco(ni9ed b+ the ?N and decisions o% international courts ha'e all une6ui'ocall+ reco(ni9ed that there is a le(al dut+ to *rosecute serious international crimes, Thus) domestic and international judicial decision makers alike ha'e retros*ecti'el+ declared amnest+ *ro'isions ille(al, In =rosecutor 's, &bao) the A**eals #hamber o% the S*ecial #ourt %or Sierra Leone D o% $hich Sri Lankan Bud(e Raja 5ernando $as a member D held that there is su**ort %or the claim that there is a :cr+stalli9ed international norm to the e%%ect that a (o'ernment cannot (rant amnest+ %or serious crimes under international la$,; &i'en the ille(alit+ and the shi%t a$a+ %rom (rantin( amnest+ %or serious international crimes) it is unlikel+ that the international demand %or accountabilit+ in Sri Lanka $ill recedeE e'en in the e'ent the Sri Lankan (o'ernment attem*ts to deal $ith the issue o% accountabilit+ issues throu(h the *ro'ision o% amnest+, 5urther) an+ amnesties (ranted in domestic courts $ill not bind %orei(n or international courts %rom *rosecutin( the bene%iciaries o% local amnest+ la$s, 3ore criticall+) the *ro'ision o% ille(al amnesties b+ Sri Lankan la$ $ill onl+ con%irm the *re'alence o% im*unit+ in Sri Lanka) and $ill result in redoubled e%%orts %or the internationali9ation o% in'esti(ations and *rosecutions, Thus) an+ unilateral attem*t b+ the Sri Lankan (o'ernment to (rant amnesties to its o$n in an e%%ort to sta'e o%% accountabilit+ is 'er+ likel+ to be counter*roducti'e, 5or these reasons) an+ attem*t to mimic a SA TR# *rocess in Sri Lanka $ill not succeed, The Sri Lankan (o'ernment8s un$illin(ness to consider4

indeed the re(ime8s o$n sel%/interest to *re'ent4criminal in'esti(ation and *rosecutions o% those res*onsible %or atrocities committed durin( and a%ter the $ar %orecloses the *ros*ect o% hidden truths bein( unearthed throu(h a TR#, 5urther) in the absence o% a *ermanent *olitical deal on constitutional issues) a TR# that o%%ers an+ amnest+4conditional or other$ise4to *er*etrators $ill be *ercei'ed as ille(itimate b+ Tamils and $ill e2acerbate di'isions bet$een the state and the Tamil minorit+, 5inall+) e'en 'ie$ed %rom a narro$ strate(ic lens) an+ attem*t b+ the (o'ernment8s leaders to clothe themsel'es $ith the *rotecti'e shield o% a local amnest+ *ro'ision $ill likel+ be counter*roducti'e and ins*ire (reater internationali9ation o% the *ursuit o% justice in res*ect o% serious crimes, 5or these reasons) Sri Lankan ci'il societ+ (rou*s) Tamil *olitical %ormations and the international communit+ must une6ui'ocall+ reject an+ attem*t b+ the (o'ernment to constitute a SL TR#) and communicate this messa(e clearl+ to the (o'ernment and to the #ommon$ealth, -This *iece contains material e2tracted %rom a lon(er article b+ the author titled :Sellin( Bustice ShortC Sri Lankan #i'il Societ+ and Indi'idual #riminal Liabilit+ %or Atrocit+ #rimes; *resented at :Ethical 5uturesC Dialo(ues on State) Societ+ and Ethical E2istence;) a con%erence hosted b+ the International #entre %or Ethnic Studies in 3a+ !"3, 5inal *ublication %orthcomin(.

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