by Zacki Jabbar
Getting distracted by arguments about the numbers that were killed or went missing during or in the immediate aftermath of the end of a near three decade war between the Sri Lankan security forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could easily distort the truth, the British High Commissioner in Colombo James Dauris said yesterday.
The High Commissioner in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Island said that “while a single death is a tragedy, a large number of deaths is a statistic. If people allow themselves to lose sight of the tragedy of what happened, reconciliation and the guarantee of future peace will become more elusive. I think we need to be careful not to allow ourselves to get distracted by arguments about numbers, because figures can too easily get in the way of the truth.”
Recalling the first time he set foot on Sri Lankan soil as an 18-year old, Dauris said that he came here a few months after the “terrible blood-letting and violence of July 1983, commonly referred to as Black July. I can still picture the burned out houses and shops I saw here in Colombo.”
He said nobody disputed that thousands of people from every community and of every faith in Sri Lanka, died in the conflict that ended on May 19, 2009, as well as in earlier conflicts.
The experience of people in countries around the world confirmed that knowing the truth was especially important in post-conflict situations as it helped to achieve reconciliation which was in the clear interests of every community in Sri Lanka as well. The UK continued to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to implement the commitments it gave to the United Nations, including the undertaking to establish a truth-seeking commission, the High Commissioner added.
Asked if allegations being leveled in certain quarters that over 20,000 people had gone missing during the final stages of the war and in the aftermath of its conclusion and that number included a substantial number of Sinhalese, he said that it was best answered by those organizations and bodies officially mandated to look into such issues.
“However, I believe it is undisputed that many thousands of people died, people from every community and of every faith in Sri Lanka. Nobody I have spoken to is in doubt that many thousands of people from every community and of every faith are also missing.”
Dauris pointed out that he was quick to welcome decisions that were taken to prioritize the work of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). He said it was to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s credit that a significant amount of money had been allocated in the budget to fund this work.
“It’s really important that this work is moved on quickly and that the OMP gets all the support it needs – from central and local government, armed forces, police and many others. Through accomplishing its mission and shining light on the truth, the OMP will help thousands of families in towns and villages all around Sri Lanka’ to establish what happened to their loved ones and to move forward. Its work will help move the country down the road of reconciliation and it is in everyone’s interest that this is the road on which it should travel,” he emphasized.
Wishing everyone reading this interview a joyful Christmas and sharing the hope that 2018 would be a year of progress and changes to welcome around the world, Dauris said that one of the things that the UK looked forward to in the new year was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, an event which would bring together the 52 members of the Commonwealth with an ambitious agenda focused on fairness, prosperity, security and sustainability.
“We look forward to Sri Lanka participating in this important meeting”, he said.