- Monday, 29 February 2016
At the next session of the UN Human Rights Council this March the government will need to present an update of its progress with regard to the resolution passed in October 2015. There has been some progress made by the government. More and more land in the North taken over by the military during the war is being returned, although about half of it still remains under military control. There has been a marked improvement in the freedom of movement and freedom of speech experienced in all parts of the country, and particularly in the former conflict zones. However, so far there has been little visible progress on establishing the mechanisms outlined by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in the run up to the last session of the UN Human Rights Council last year. It was in this context that his visit to the United States and the positive US endorsement of the Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process is important.
The new government earned much international goodwill for Sri Lanka last year in Geneva when it reversed the policy of the previous government. This had been to largely showcase the reports of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing Persons Commission as adequate to address the problems of the past. With regard to human rights violations alleged to have been committed by the Sri Lankan military the former government appointed military tribunals that did not find anything of substance that called for further action. By way of contrast, speaking in Geneva on behalf of the government, Foreign Minister Samaraweera said that the government planned to deal with the past through a fourfold system that would include a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation with a Compassionate Council of religious clergy attached to it, an Office of Missing Persons, a judicial mechanism with special counsel to be set up by statute and an Office of Reparations.
- Tuesday, 23 February 2016
February 22 marks the anniversary of the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002 between the government and LTTE with Norwegian facilitation. This was an unexpected development that brought hope to the country that the war would come to an end and a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict would be possible. Faced with the prospect of economic collapse, and a protracted war, the government of that time headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sought to break the stalemate with a bold initiative. The sudden cessation of armed conflict came as a relief to the general population and almost immediately the wounds of war began to heal with people traveling for business and tourism from the north to the south and to the east. The benefits to the people of the peace process made it seem that it had become irreversible. But what was not seen so well at that time was that the ceasefire was only the start of the process, not its end. There needed to be a sustainable political solution that addressed the roots of the conflict.
The ceasefire agreement brought the country respite for four years from a war that had sapped its strength, and led the economy to shrink rather than to expand. If it had succeeded it would have saved tens of thousands of lives and obtained enormous economic resources for the country with the active support of the international community. After the ceasefire broke down in early 2006 the Ceasefire Agreement became seen as a political liability to the government that had signed it. The fact that neither the opposition nor the LTTE assisted the government to come up with a political solution was lost sight of. The ceasefire agreement became a subject of vilification for giving in to the international community and to the LTTE. The only ones who explained what it meant to the country were those who opposed it tooth and nail, and they gave it a one-sided interpretation. The ceasefire agreement of 2002 continues to be criticized for this even to this day by the nationalists and opposition politicians.
- Monday, 15 February 2016
The visit of UN High Commisssioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein went more smoothly than expected for the government. The weeks before the visit of the High Commissioner had seen President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe making apparently contradictory statements on the issue of international participation in the post-war reconciliation mechanisms, especially in relation to the judiciary and accountability. This led to concern about the possibility of the government backtracking on the commitments it had made as a co-signatory to the UNHRC resolution in Geneva in October 2015. There was also concern that the visiting UN dignitary would be critical of the government’s approach to the post-war reconciliation process while in the country.
High Commissioner Zeid’s critical comments during his stay in Sri Lanka on the politicization and failures of the Sri Lankan judiciary prompted angry rebuttals in Sri Lanka and also led to the inference that he was making the case for international participation in the accountability process. A fixed and narrow position on this issue by the international community will place the government in a difficult position. The core of the political opposition to the transitional justice process within the country is the concern that the international community is eroding the country’s sovereignty with its insistence on the participation of foreign and Commonwealth judges, prosecutors and investigators as specified in the UNHRC resolution. It is this issue that the political opposition is likely to capitalize in order to weaken the government.
- Monday, 08 February 2016
THE INDEPENDENCE DAY BOOST TO NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
The singing of the national anthem in Tamil that marked the end of the Independence Day celebration was a strong gesture of reconciliation by the government. It was one of the most significant actions taken to lessen the sense of alienation of the Tamil speaking people and make them feel a sense of equal belonging to the national polity. It will also reignite hope and confidence that the government will stay true to its mission of healing the wounds of many decades of inter-ethnic strife and war. The issue of language has long been an emotive and divisive one. The boycott of the Independence Day events by the opposition and the government’s mixed messages on the implementation of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council were indications of the pressures that exist within the polity.
However, the government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took the decision to carry forward the reconciliation process which is another opportunity for the unity of the country. The National Peace Council congratulates the government for having had the courage and the wisdom to overcome the objections of nationalists and for having had the national anthem sung in both the Sinhala and Tamil languages on Sri Lanka’s 68th anniversary of independence. This was a message of care to the Tamil people. We believe that there is a need for more messages of care that would demonstrate to the Tamil people that they are not marginalized and are a part of the national polity.