Thursday, 20 February 2014 00:01
THE Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by former President Nelson Mandela, despite its shortcomings, is generally accepted as assisting to resolve decades of apartheid-related human rights issues between ethnic South Africans and the white minority.
The TRC has also been suggested as a panacea for Sri Lanka’s many issues, with greater interest being paid to infuse its mechanisms into the local reconciliation process. So it is with great optimism that a Sri Lankan delegation led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva left to South Africa on Wednesday to study how it can be adapted to local challenges.
As the Sri Lankan Government comes increasingly under fire for its human rights record and moves ever-closer to the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in March, the idea of adapting the TRC alongside or with the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) seems ever-more attractive. This is even more so because both processes focus on restorative rather than punitive justice with the TRC in particular allowing for amnesty for perpetrators of human rights violations, provided they make a statement of full disclosure before the TRC members.
The TRC, in contrast to the LLRC, was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty.
To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress or ANC that was the brainchild of Mandela himself. A total of 5,392 amnesty applications were refused, granting only 849 out of the 7,112.
Needless to say, the different groups involved marked TRC’s attempts at reconciliation with varied levels of success. Many misunderstood the mandate of the TRC and blamed it for not punishing those that engaged in apartheid time crimes under a legal code. Others condemned it for dragging up past horrors that people would much rather put behind them and move forward. Still others questioned as to why only the last phase of apartheid was probed by the TRC while its causes and progress was overlooked.
The TRC has since been replicated in several other countries such as Liberia after its devastating civil war with varying degrees of success. Imbibing the TRC may seem attractive on the surface, but reality demands that its limitations be accepted. Even Mandela’s charismatic charm could only take it so far to healing the deep fissures of South Africa.
Many of Sri Lanka’s detractors are baying for punitive justice, which is unlikely to be served by the TRC process as much as the LLRC one being implemented at the moment. Ultimately, any reconciliation process is guided by the political ideology at its epicentre and without a leadership dedicated to genuinely winning all people their rights, universal reconciliation will remain a mirage.
So ultimately no matter what means are used, constructive ends have to be genuinely sought by a dignified leadership that is willing to recognise limitations in order to move beyond them. In this aspect South Africa had the beacon that was Mandela, but for Sri Lanka a leadership that will promote and preserve the values of democracy, diversity and unity remains unproven.