The Sri Lankan civil war remains a conflict whose emotional and ethical aspects continue to live on well after the guns have fallen silent. A new documentary on the war — No Fire Zone — seems to provide further evidence that extrajudicial executions and the arbitrary execution of Tamil civilians were par for the course as the war came to a bloody conclusion. This will not come as a surprise to most observers of the war. Colombo is almost sure to face a stiff battle on the human rights front at the United Nations next month. And will continue to face flak from the West over its unwillingness to confront the darker side of the civil war.
The nub of the problem is the continuing refusal of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to finish the civil war with a political settlement that addresses Tamil sub-nationalism. This is baffling because Mr Rajapaksa has endorsed the idea of implementing the 13th amendment to the Lankan constitutional clause that provides for Tamil political devolution. This unwillingness to even consider a political settlement has meant that the Tamil dia-spora’s efforts to fix the taint of war crimes on the government will continue. More importantly, many governments see the human rights issue as the best means to pressure the government into conceding the 13th amendment. This means the government can expect a barrage of criticism, to which this documentary will only provide further ammunition, to continue ad nauseam.
India’s dilemma is that New Delhi accepts the argument that a political settlement is needed to bring the civil war to a close. However, given that Indo-Lankan relations have achieved a new equilibrium, India will be reluctant to put pressure on Colombo beyond a certain point. Mr Rajapaksa has his political limitations — including an oversized and battle-hardened military that he has been unable to demobilise. But the Tamil question has begun to inject itself back into Tamil Nadu politics. And this is the variable that could sour the bilateral relationship more than anything else — and it is something Colombo should be much more worried about than it presently seems to be.