Commemorations and reconciliation – DM EDITORIAL

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Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry had summoned Canadian High Commissioner Eric Walsh to his ministry on Friday to convey Sri Lankan Government’s strong rejection of a recent remark by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on what is called “Tamil Genocide Week” that had been declared by a section of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Canada.
 Sri Lankan minister’s rejection of Canadian Premier’s remarks on behalf of his government seems to be not going to make any change in the Canadian leaders’ stance on the issue, as they are addressing a section of their voters, the Tamils who have migrated to Canada and become a force there to be reckoned with. Canadian leaders cannot be ignorant of the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which has passed eight resolutions on Sri Lanka since the end of the war in 2009 condemning the grave human rights violations both by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE which has never accused any group of “genocide.” The resolutions had the support of the blessings of the Canadian Government.

However, many Tamil groups in Sri Lanka and in other countries while commemorating the Tamils killed in the separatist war in the island, especially in May every year, claim that the death and destruction that occurred during the last days of the war in Mullaitivu District was genocide. 

These commemorations have always been controversial and the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had informally banned any commemoration in the north and east during his tenure. There have been clashes between the police and various groups that attempted to commemorate those Tamils killed in the war then. It was only after the Yahapalana Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power in 2015 that such remembrances were allowed to be held publicly. 
As the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) holds commemorations of their cadres during their two insurrections against the government on two separate days – one on April 5 signifying the first day of their first insurrection in 1971 and the other on November 13, the day their founder leader Rohana Wijeweera was killed by the armed forces in 1989 – the Tamil groups also hold commemorations of their loved ones on two separate days. The first one is November 27, the day the first LTTE cadre Shanker died of injuries sustained during a skirmish with the army in 1982 and declared as the “Great Heroes’ Day” by the LTTE. The second is Mar 18, the day Prabhakaran was killed.  

While the government and the Sinhalese leaders condemn these commemorations as events remembering a terrorist outfit, Tamil leaders justify these commemorations, comparing them with the remembrance by the JVP of those killed during their two insurrections, which had never been an issue. Though the JVP is not a banned organization nor is its ultimate political goal, the socialism proscribed in the country as secessionism, supporters of the JVP also remember a group of people who fought against the government which is also an illegal act, they argue. 
There is a humanitarian aspect in this issue. Those who were killed in the war – irrespective of them being LTTE cadres or the members of the armed forces or civilians, – were human beings. Yet, despite the humanitarian side of the commemoration of LTTE cadres by their relatives being acceptable, the possible political ramifications of rhetoric by the Tamil leaders during those commemorations might have an adverse impact on the Tamil people in particular and on the country in general. It is a common practice to glorify the sacrifices of those killed in the war which is also acceptable, but this might in turn be seen in the eyes of the present day young generation as a justification of the separatist goal of the LTTE as well. 

These commemorations in the north as well as south has become a pestering issue that stands in the way for healing wounds, rekindling old painful memories. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 and the report of which has been internationally accepted had delved deep into this matter and made some suggestions. The final paragraph of the report says, “The Commission strongly recommends that a separate event be set apart on the National Day to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict and pledge our collective commitment to ensure that there should never be such bloodletting in the country again. Based on testimonies it received the Commission feels that this commemorative gesture, on such a solemn occasion, and at a high political level, will provide the necessary impetus to the reconciliation process the nation as a whole is now poised to undertake.”
This recommendation might not be compatible with the current Sinhalese and Tamil psyches, but it sends a strong message to ponder on.

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Disclaimer: Commemorations and reconciliation - DM EDITORIAL - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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