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Naming and shaming both parties of the conflict in Sri Lanka

| by Victor Cherubim

( February 12, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Communication is not about words; to me it is more about insight and legitimate belief in our message. Non verbal communication with our eyes, our smiles, and our body language, is all part and parcel of credible communication, in the broadest sense. In many parts of the developing world and in India in particular, most of communication is done by hand gestures.

In the ambivalence of human rights in any war situation, our language without words, are equally as potent, as our nuances, but the ambiguity we covey through our spoken word, causes undeniable doubt. Why have we often relied on one medium to communicate our message and sadly find ourselves cornered in the mishmash of communication of our defence? We have used media messengers to do our communication for us, but other than forking out large sums of money on advertising and travel, our message has hardly been credible, though it may have been taken round the world, heard loud and clear.

We, as a people in Sri Lanka, have a natural difficulty in expressing our thoughts, our feelings, faults and our fears convincingly. Fear is a paralysis and faults are a resultant numbness in our psyche. On the contrary, we are of course, able to explore our fantasies and explode our frustrations, vehemently and vigorously. Ask us to narrate how the residents of Wannawasala captured a 12 foot marsh crocodile at 3.00 am a day ago. We do it painstakingly authentic; plausible and, convincing. It comes naturally, effortlessly and everyone believes us.

Quite naturally, we find it alien to admit our faults. We are not alone in this world. We don’t consider that we can make mistakes. If we do make a faux pas, we feel angered within ourselves that we have let down the moral values which we profess and/or disregarded our tenets of the society in which we live. In simple language we find it difficult that we have lowered our self esteem of ourselves and thus unable to bear our grievance.

The war in our land

In any war, in any land, at any time, there are most often two opposing sides, with not words of war but words of brutality on either side. Each side calls the other the enemy; each side feels that the other side are the “terrorists,” that its position is right and the other is wrong.

The critics of Sri Lanka unjustifiably want to name and shame only one side of the war. The issue clearly evidenced is in both the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE, in this conflict situation. There is a pervading silence as it seems, about the atrocities committed by the other party.

Sanjana Hattotuwa maintains: “The intention is not actually to ascertain culpability, but it is an interesting use case of Google Earth to flesh out inconvenienced truths, a lawful country’s recent past.” Perhaps, the old adage that a picture tells a thousand words can be adduced.

What really is the story to tell of the inhumanity, to man, woman and child by the LTTE? They too were culpable in many ways, to let innocent men, women and children, die as human shields. They too are culpable in enabling or enforcing, one third of all Tamils of Sri Lanka, to live outside Sri Lanka. They too are culpable in so many war widows, not only Tamils but also Sinhalese, who continue to live their lives with psychological scars. To name a few of their present conditions: fear and uncertainty about their future, Self pity, low self esteem, sleep disturbance, irritability, persistent migraine attacks, suppressed biological needs and feeling of guilt for losing their husbands and/or feelings of guilt for being even happy, having lost their loved ones.

What is their compensation?

Ordinarily, we would expect law enforcement claims for damages. What use is an international tribunal hearing to a war widow? Can the victims of the crime have recourse to claim damages from the perpetrators, including the LTTE? Can you compensate for a war dead or for a broken life or limb?

One way out

There are many precedents in tackling crimes against humanity. But up to now no one has come with a way of changing human behaviour in conditions of war. War by its very nature is caused by pent up anger on both sides.

Anger is a normal emotion that we all have as humans. It is necessary for our survival. “Justifiable anger is a way you stand up for yourself, your family, your people, and your nation when you are threatened. Mostly anger comes when one’s self esteem or one’s values are threatened.”

Coping mechanisms

Denial, repression, projection and blaming others or in the case of many widows, blaming fate, is a defined defence mechanism, which helps us to avoid the feelings of guilt and blame. Projections, by the perpetrators, or by the judges of human rights, could be a way out to protect us by keeping a lid on the terror, the crime and causes of crime. But no amount of international crime adjudication, both in the short or the long term, can or will remove the shame or the guilt of any war crime.

Is international adjudication only an exercise?

“Shame is based on rejection. Shame is about the flawed self. Guilt is a feeling that you did something wrong. Guilt comes from conscience and tells you that you are not living up to your values.”

Pope Francis has come out with a suggestion when Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith met him recently in Rome. It is not an ecclesia, or an ex cathedra pronouncement. It is a common sense statement from a man who is more in common with reality, which all of us can associate irrespective of our religious beliefs, and in fact should endorse, not because we can compare ourselves to his boot strings, or because he hails from Ar gentina, but he is as human like us.
He is quoted as stating:
“It is not easy I know, to heal the wounds and cooperate with yesterday’s enemy to build tomorrow together, but it is the only path that gives hope for the future, hope for development and hope for peace.”

Will our elderly, experienced, erudite Bishops of Jaffna and Mannar, find ways of building this tomorrow today, before the Pope visits Sri Lanka, perhaps, next year?

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