Header Ads

Appeal for an amnesty

By Kumar Rupesinghe

(February 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The President has in his recent speeches called on the LTTE to surrender, to lay down their arms and ensure that civilians under their control are released so that they can be rehabilitated. Similarly, the Tokyo Co-Chairs (Norway, Japan, US and EU) on Tuesday called on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms surrender to the Sri Lankan Government if the civilians of Vanni are to be spared further death and suffering:

"To avoid further civilian casualties and human suffering, the Co-Chairs call on the LTTE to discuss with the Government of Sri Lanka the modalities for ending hostilities, including the laying down of arms, renunciation of violence, acceptance of the Government of Sri Lanka`s offer of amnesty and participating as a political party in a process to achieve a just and lasting political solution" . Similar appeals have been made by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Minister of the U.K, David Milliband. Other countries have followed with similar statements ranging from India to Australia. Recently, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told Parliament that some rebels were ready to lay down their arms as they are faced with imminent defeat in their decades-long battle for an independent Tamil homeland. "It is a wise decision and we are ready to welcome them," Wickremanayake said.

The word Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a State restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent persons. It includes more than a pardon, in as much as it obliterates all legal remembrance of the offence. An amnesty does not include impunity for past crimes. There are many examples in history where an amnesty has been granted after the termination of a deadly conflict. An amnesty may be extended when the authority decides that bringing citizens into compliance with the law is more important than punishing them for past offences. There are many recent examples of amnesties, such as those granted to the rebels in Sierra Leone, members of the Mizo National Front in India, members of the Free Aceh Movement etc. A body of best practice in law and social practice has been developed over the years and is easily available.

The case of Sri Lanka and dealing with insurgencies

In Sri Lanka, the Government of Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike gave an amnesty to the insurgent forces at the end of the insurgency by appealing to the parents to hand over their children . She promised safe conduct to those who handed themselves in. Since there was concern that the Police, having lost men and police stations, might take revenge on the prisoners, public servants were mobilized so that the rebels could surrender to them instead. There were more than 18,000 arrests and the Police said they just couldn’t handle the investigations. Therefore, a special unit of lawyers and public servants were set up. The Criminal Justice Commission Act was introduced to facilitate the process. Civilian rehabilitation centers were opened. The leaders of the insurgency were tried and imprisoned. Eventually the entire 18,000 were released once they were deemed to be rehabilitated. The Sri Lankan Government of 1988-1989 dealt with the JVP’s second insurrection in quite a different manner and the counter insurgency campaign, it is said, took between 30,000 to 60,000 lives. The entire leadership was killed. The repression of the insurgency and its methods were broadly popular in the country.

Today once again Sri Lanka faces the end of another insurgency in the North, a brutal civil war which has lasted for about 30 years. Unlike the two insurgencies in the South, the Northern insurgency is based on ethnic lines where the LTTE waged war against the Sri Lankan State for a separate State of Tamil Eelam.

The context of the current crisis

The insurgency has now almost come to an end and the LTTE has lost control of its territory. They are now restricted to a small piece of land and is holding hostage over 150,000 to 200,000 civilians. The LTTE stratagem has been to hold the civilian population hostage and use them as a human shield. In the last two weeks on average 100 people died and another 200 were seriously injured. The holding of civilians as hostages and as human shields is a war crime under international law. The LTTE will rely on this stratagem to draw attention to the plight of the civilians and continue to use them as a human shield. The Government and the armed forces are anxious to end the war and engage in the work of resettlement and reconstruction. Any effort to attack the civilian base with artillery fire and a frontal attack will cause thousands of people being killed and injured and will invite international concern. Unlike the insurgency in the South, the people affected are Tamils, who belong to another ethnic group and who have suffered enormously. In a period when the Government would wish to seek the fruits of its military labour and wishes to go forward to rebuild a war torn society, large scale killings will be seen as a continuation of the politics of humiliation and it will make the chances of reconciliation more difficult.

An appeal for an amnesty

The argument of this paper is to proclaim a general amnesty to all those in the refugee settlements and to the militants who surrender and give up their arms. This today is the overwhelming sentiment of all the peoples of the world. Whilst the Prime Minister has stated that he welcomes the surrender of cadres to the Government, it does not provide the assurance necessary for significant numbers of the LTTE to surrender. Even the co –chair statement was wrong in suggesting that the government has declared amnesty when it has not. It is therefore suggested that the President should declare a general amnesty to all the sympathizers, supporters and militants and assure them that they will be treated with compassion and care. To ensure the success of such an amnesty, a time frame should be specified in the proclamation. The proclamation should be communicated to those inside through the use of loud speakers, dropping leaflets and seeking the help of their kith and kin and including the Bishops and other clergy in this exercise. A general amnesty will create the basis for a sustained and comprehensive basis for a programme of reconciliation and build institutions for promoting coexistence.

King Ashoka of India

It is not only in the Western world that acts of amnesty have been practised by rulers. One such story comes from ancient India, where King Ashoka, reigned from 304 BC- 232 BC. The edicts of his times give us insights into a powerful and capable ruler’s attempt to establish an empire on the foundation of righteousness, a reign which makes the moral and spiritual welfare of his subjects its primary concern.

After the war, Asoka dedicated the rest of his life trying to apply Buddhist principles to the administration of his vast empire. The Asokan state gave up the predatory foreign policy that had characterized the Mauryan empire till then and replaced it with a policy of peaceful co-existence. The judicial system was reformed in order to make it fairer, less harsh and less open to abuse, while those sentenced to death were given a stay of execution to prepare appeals and regular amnesties were given to prisoners. Rock Edict 13, gives an insight into the change wrought in the King after his defeat of the Kalingas.

"Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.

… the killing, death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.

Even the forest people, who live in Beloved-of-the-Gods’ domain, are entreated and reasoned with to act properly. They are told that despite his remorse Beloved-of-the-Gods has the power to punish them if necessary, so that they should be ashamed of their wrong and not be killed. Truly, Beloved-of-the-Gods desires non-injury, restraint and impartiality to all beings, even where wrong has been done.

… I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next."

Theoretical examples of how wars end

Keith Webb and A. J. R. Groom have identified four types of conflict settlement: unilateral Diktat, negotiated settlement, stasis settlement and the full resolution of a conflict. The each type is briefly explained here. First, a unilateral Diktat means that settlement and the end of violent conflict are imposed by the stronger party, usually as the result of an outright victory. In this case, they argue that the victor determines the nature of the settlement and imposes it on the loser. A negotiated settlement is literally the end of war through negotiations and a much more common form of settlement and will usually involve compromise. A stasis settlement means that the actual physical violent conflict has ended; however, no actual agreement has occurred. Instead there is an implicit acceptance of the situation in spite of the rhetoric. There are agreements and acceptances by the parties on small issues, there is dialogue between the parties, but the major issues remain unresolved. The full resolution of a conflict is that all the parties to the conflict play a role in the peace process and consider, on a basis of full knowledge and without any manifest or structural coercion that their interests have been met and their values fulfilled. It is important at this point to mention that the current situation of the civil war in Sri Lanka belongs to the first type, unilateral Diktat. In addition, Licklider’s research illustrates significant patterns in ending civil wars. It shows that civil wars ended through negotiated settlements are more likely to lead to the resumption of violent conflicts than those ended by military victories. Thus, it is possible to draw two negative conclusions that emanate from civil wars which end by military victories. First, the conflict settlement is more likely to be carried out in favour of the victor. However, it implies that the root causes of conflict may not be addressed thoroughly. These points are not irrelevant to the current situation of the Sri Lankan conflict. A military victory would further imply the failure of conflict resolution in this country. The most basic and noble idea of conflict resolution, ‘peace by peaceful means’ did not work in the civil war in Sri Lanka. Peace must be both a goal and a process. If it is a mere goal, conflict parties have the ability to take any kind of means including continued violence to achieve peace.

As Webb and Groom argue, the victor – in this case, most probably the Government of Sri Lanka – can decide the nature of the future settlement and impose it on the Tamil people. Therefore, the question of whether it will be a positive peace in Sri Lanka is subject to how seriously the Government addresses the issues of the Tamil people. I have time and time again emphasised that a military victory is a mere ceasefire of sorts and the conflict would continue in different ways until the core issues of the conflict are addressed. It is time for the Government of Sri Lanka to show sincere forgiveness and grant a legally binding amnesty to all the ‘enemies’. In ending this long raging civil war, the Government will have to reject the politics of triumphalism. It is time to terminate the politics of humiliation and start practising politics of reconciliation.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

No comments

Powered by Blogger.