The run up to the day of the US sponsored UNHCR vote against Sri Lanka, the results of the vote and the aftermath had been an emotional event for many Sri Lankans around the world. As I was pondering on the details, an incident that happened 60 years ago came into my mind. It was the ‘Treaty of Peace with Japan’ between Japan and part of the allied powers officially signed by 48 nations on September 8, 1951, at the war memorial opera house in San Fransisco on April 28, 1952.
According to Wikipidia, a major player in providing support for a post-war free Japan was the delegation from Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). While many were reluctant to allow a free Japan capable of aggressive action and insisted that the terms of surrender should be rigidly enforced in an attempt to break the spirit of the Japanese nation, the Ceylonese Finance Minister J. R. Jayawardena spoke in defense for a free Japan and informed the conference of Ceylon’s refusal to accept the payment of reparations that would harm Japan’s economy. His reason was “We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South-East Asia Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producer of natural rubber for the Allies, entitles us to ask that the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher [Buddha] whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia that ‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’.” He ended the same speech by saying “This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe. We extend to Japan the hand of friendship and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of the new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity”.
Minister Jayewardene’s speech was received with resounding applause. Afterwards newspapers such as the New York Times stated “The voice of free Asia eloquent, melancholy and strong with the tilt of an Oxford accent dominated the Conference. The ablest Asian spokesman at the Conference was Ceylon’s Finance Minister J. R. Jayewardene”.
We in Sri Lanka are perhaps more battered than Japan was after World War 2, going through three decades of unrest that took the lives of thousands of people be it from those carrying arms or civilians. Be it from the forces defending the sovereignty of the country or the forces trying to separate the country, be it from the Sinhala community or the Tamil community, be it a helpless child or an able adult, they are all sons and daughters of mothers and fathers like our own. They all had intentions which they believed to be noble and valid. It freighted of the tourist and investors, it damaged our infrastructure and self-confidence, and it tarnished the image of our country and its people.
When the guns went silent on the 19th of May 2009, many sighed in relief and others feared it was temporary, many celebrated the end of the conflict and others were disappointed, many felt that it was an end of a dark spot in our history and others felt it was the beginning of a new era. The emotions that were felt depended on which side of the conflict one supported and all emotions are valid and needs to be respected whichever side of the conflict one supported.
An important aspect of moving forward was to have a reconciliation process in line with the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC]’ of South Africa that was lunched to heal the wounds of the apartheid regime or the Nuremberg Trials launched to heal the wounds of world war 2. Sri Lanka was astute as to launch the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ [LLRC] to heal the wounds of the civil conflict. There are many criticisms of the ineffectiveness of the LLRC from both the government of Sri Lanka who earlier accepted it and the international community. There were also many criticisms of the TRC which is considered more successful than the Nuremberg Trials. It is hard to find perfect success in such processes but it is important to get the most of the processes to heal the wounds so that we can close that chapter of history and move on.
The U.S. tabled a resolution against Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC] in Geneva on the 22nd of March 2012 which was adopted with 24 votes in favor in the 47-member Council. The resolution called the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the LLRC. This shows that the UNHRC accepts the recommendation of the LLRC despite the limitations. Sri Lanka rejected the resolution saying that it does not need unwarranted pressure to successfully implement the LLRC recommendations and feels that the resolution would not help but only harm the reconciliation process launched by the government. This shows that the Sri Lanka government too accepts the LLRC despite the limitations. Therefore the difference of opinion filters down not to the LLRC recommendations itself but to the improvement of it where required, the speed of implementation and the effectiveness of implementation.
Most Sri Lankans were questioning why the US was bringing in this resolution when there are many acts committed by them at war that can be considered human rights violations. The internal political pressures may have prompted this as per many analysts. Most Sri Lankan found it sad to see India supporting the resolution while other friendly neighbours such as Bangladesh and Maldives rejected view. The internal political pressures may have prompted this as per many analysts.
Although the US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake told a Sri Lankan TV station that the United States will not push for economic sanctions on Sri Lanka despite calling for a probe into alleged violations of human rights by the state, Although India had tried to keeps internal pressures at bay while trying to negate the impact of the resolution on Sri Lanka by persuading the US to make changes in the original resolution, it is sad how fundamental principles of human decency is violated by a democracies such as the US and India which is built on principles promoted by great human beings such as Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Ghandi. Sadly in today’s competitive world where politicians need to satisfy the desires of people of a wide range of viewpoints, any country could have taken the stance of the USA or India if they were faced with similar situations.
My fervent appeal is for the parties involved to think about the appeal that Sri Lanka made for Japan that helped them to move on after world war 2 and consider giving a chance to Sri Lanka to improve the LLRC recommendations, take the lessons learnt, find reconciliation with the help of the international community and move on to build a better future for the people of Sri Lanka.