The National Peace Council (NPC)

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VIOLATION OF SOCIAL CONTRACT LED TO FLIGHT OF MUSLIM VOTE--Jehan Perera

The margin of victory achieved by the government at last week’s provincial council elections was impressive. It obtained about 55 percent of the popular vote as against half of that for the main opposition party. It is no small achievement for a government that has been in power since 2005 to continue to attract such a large proportion of the popular vote. However, beneath the surface of the celebrations there is unease in government ranks and a glimmer of hope has emerged within the ranks of the repeatedly defeated opposition. There is a perception that the seemingly unbreakable government grip over the popular imagination is waning.

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ELECTION VICTORY PROVIDES SPACE TO GOVERNMENT TO DEAL WITH GENEVA RESOLUTION--Jehan Perera

Once again the government swept to a comfortable victory at the provincial council elections in the Western and Southern provinces far outstripping its main rival, the UNP, by huge margins virtually everywhere except for Colombo city where the ethnic and religious minority vote predominates. Both provinces that the government retained control over are important ones. The Western Province, which includes Colombo, is the most populous and prosperous one by far, accounting for over a quarter of the country’s population and a half of its national income. The Southern Province has gained in importance during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose ancestral home is located there. The Hambantota district from which the presidential family hails has witnessed unprecedented economic development that includes a gigantic new harbor and airport.

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LEARNING TOGETHER FROM GENEVA MISTAKES--Jehan Perera

The resolution on Sri Lanka that is to be voted on this coming Friday at the UN Human Rights Council is tighter than the draft that first made its appearance two weeks ago. This would be disappointing to the Sri Lankan government that worked hard through its friendly countries to dilute the draft resolution, if not defeat it entirely. However, mistakes made by the government and circumstances beyond its control have worked against it. Many of the government’s problems have arisen from the fact that important decisions are not taken by collectively by the Cabinet, or by cabinet sub-committees, but by individuals or by individual ministries. However, matters that impact upon the entire country need to be discussed by a larger number rather than by a lesser number, as this way more points of view come across, and the best can be selected.

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THE STATE IS BEING OVER-REPRESENTED BY ITS SECURITY ARM--Jehan Perera

The sudden deterioration in the climate in the north is unfortunate. When I visited North last week it seemed that the sense of normalcy in the North was getting stronger. The military posts and uniformed sentries on duty at short and regular intervals on the roads are no longer there. Most of the people I spoke to in Jaffna told me that the military personnel in Jaffna behaved well and they encountered few or no problems with them. However, they also saidthey could not speak with assurance about how the military was behaving in the Wanni, which is a much poorer and less densely inhabited part of the North. When I spoke to people in Kilinochchi they gave answers that were no different from those of the people of Jaffna. They even said that the military was helpful to the extent that if a household had a problem they would even go sometimes to the army rather than to the grama sevaka or village official, as the army could do more to help them.

However, the recent arrest and detention of Balendran Jayakumari , one of the leading activist members of the organization of families of the disappeared may be a indication of things to come. She was arrested in the northern district of Kilinochchi after a policeman was shot in that area. The government’s police spokesperson stated that a shooting incident took place in the north and they have identified a house where the suspect has been hiding and that two women are being investigated. Human rights defenders in the area report lots of checkpoints, raids, questioning, fear and surveillance. Jayakumari is reported to have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for 16 days by a court order and sent to the Boosa detention centre which is at the other southern corner of the country. This has been followed by the arrest and interrogation of two human rights defenders, Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Selvadurai who were in Kilinochchi to see to the welfare of other families of disappeared in the aftermath of the arrest of Jayakumari.

This is an example of a counterproductive action that has been taken in disregard of the larger political consequences at a time when the UN Human Rights Council is debating the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Human rights activists like Ruki and Fr Praveen are those who give hope to the hopeless and who by their support discourage extremism. The draft resolution on Sri Lanka which is being circulated among members of the UN Human Rights Council expresses deep concern over reported intimidation and retaliation against civil society members who engage with UN human rights mechanisms including those who met with the High Commissioner during her visit. As the arrests in the North can conceivably be seen as an attempt to cause fear and the silencing of those who are seeking justice, the government needs to make clear what its position on this matter is and give a credible explanation. It also needs to reconsider its use of the military to deal with the people of the North as this is bound to cause increased friction in the longer term.

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FACE THE UNHRC RESOLUTION TO RESTORE CREDIBILITY --Jehan Perera

There was speculation that the ongoing 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council would see the immediate establishment of a high powered international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka and economic sanctions against the country.  The unexpected feature of the draft resolution sponsored by the US is the provision to give the Sri Lankan government another year in which to show progress on the matters included in the resolution.  Despite this seeming concession, the initial response of the Sri Lankan government to the draft resolution has been negative.  The government has rejected the substance of the draft resolution which builds on last year’s resolution as being “fundamentally flawed.”   The present draft includes issues of human rights violations and accountability in the entire country, rather than in the North and East alone and does not limit those issues to the last phase of the war. 

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IMPLICATIONS OF GENEVA RESOLUTION BEING A POLITICAL PROCESS--Jehan Perera

The government seeks to give an impression that it is untroubled by the impending US-sponsored resolution on it at the latest session that has just commenced at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his first meeting with the Foreign Correspondents Association in Sri Lanka in three years, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have said he was not disturbed by it and that it would only be a single black mark against the country. However, other reports said he admitted feeling disturbed at being censured by the UNHRC and compared the US treatment of Sri Lanka as being similar to Cassius Clay’s “punching bag.” The Sri Lankan media which is usually respectful of the President showed him in a cartoon in a boxing ring looking flustered across from a much larger President Obama.

However, the government has not given up trying to win over countries to its side. It sent a high ranking Parliamentary delegation over to South Africa, but who appear to have returned with a request to forge a wider consensus from the national polity if they are to receive the South African government’s support for a Truth and Reconciliation process. Such a process holds the key to Sri Lanka’s ability to deal with the past issues of political violence that go beyond merely the last phase of the war. India also appears to have become a focal point of the latest governmental initiative with President Rajapaksa seeking a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they attend a regional conference in Myanmar this week. In addition, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to be visiting India for another regional dialogue at which he will meet his counterparts from India.

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THE PARADIGM SHIFT THAT NORTHERN CHIEF MINISTER CALLS FOR--Jehan Perera

Most of the political analysis at the present time revolves around the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The latest are the two options that the government appears to be developing, wooing supportive countries to come up with a counter-resolution, and wooing South Africa to assist in the formulation of a truth and reconciliation process as an alternative to an international investigation into war crimes. But there are also other important developments taking place in the country which require equivalent analysis. One of the most important of these is the relationship between the central government and provincial council and the sharing of power between them. The root cause of the war, which has led to the charges of war crimes, was the dispute about the sharing of power between the Sinhalese-dominated central government and the Tamil-majority parts of the country, specifically the Northern and Eastern provinces.

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CONSENSUAL RESOLUTION AS A COMPROMISE SOLUTION--Jehan Perera

Sri Lanka will be one of only three countries on which a substantive resolution, which calls for new forms of follow up actions, will be discussed at the session of the UN Human Rights Council next month. The other two countries are North Korea and Myanmar. However, in Myanmar’s case it will be a consensual resolution that is going to be passed, with the approval of the Myanmar government. Therefore, unless a similar consensus is reached on Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government will alone with its North Korean counterpart to have a resolution that is to be passed against its wishes. This is undoubtedly an regrettable situation for the government to have put itself and the country into because in objective terms Sri Lanka is nowhere near North Korea in being either an authoritarian regime or a threat to world peace.

Almost all foreigners who come to Sri Lanka for the first time are pleasantly surprised by the state of the country, not only its natural beauty, but also the vibrancy of its society and the appearance of reasonable democracy and freedom by third world standards. It will be natural for most Sri Lankans to feel utterly indignant against the international alliance that seeks to portray their country as one that can be bracketed with North Korea in international forums like the UNHRC. But sadly this infamy appears to be increasingly likely. The European Parliament in Brussels which represents 28 European countries last week passed a resolution calling for “an international inquiry to be fully independent, credible and transparent” into alleged war crimes. Likewise a committee of the US Senate also called for an “international investigation into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.”

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“LLRC PLUS” IS ONLY VIABLE OPTION TO OVERCOME MOUNTING INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE--Jehan Perera

The government has been trying to convince itself and the general population that its position will prevail at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Some of this requires a stretch of the imagination and is meant to give temporary comfort. The state media gave wide publicity to a purported decision of the Australian government not to back an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes during the Sri Lankan civil war. However Australia is not a member of the UNHRC this year, and is therefore not entitled to vote. A reading of the text of the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s statement conveys a different message. She chose her words carefully to say that “Any future formal investigation would need to be agreed by the international community and would be a matter for relevant bodies at the time."

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FINDING A RESOLUTION THAT DOES NOT POLARISE SRI LANKA EVEN MORE--Jehan Perera

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal who visited Sri Lanka made it clear that the United States would continue to pursue a resolution on Sri Lanka at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The Sri Lankan government is totally opposed to the initiative spearheaded by the US to have a resolution that calls for an international probe into the human rights issues that arose in the last phase of the war. Ms Biswal also explained her country’s interest in Sri Lanka as being motivated by its values and desire to see peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka and the region. However, this latter motivation is unlikely to impress the ethnic majority Sinhalese population at large whose view of post-war Sri Lanka corresponds to that of the government, which gives priority to post-war economic development over other values.

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THE CONTINUING DIVIDE BETWEEN WHAT IS REQUIRED TO BE DONE AND WHAT IS DONE--Jehan Perera

In preparation for the forthcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva the government has sent its top civil servant, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga to Geneva to put the government’s achievements into perspective. Since 2012 when the government lost the vote at the UNHRC and had to face a resolution calling on it to implement post-war recovery and accountability measures, the government has been seeking to get the best communicators working for it. The government has even hired public relations companies in foreign countries at high rates in order to get its message across. As the person in charge of ensuring that the government implements the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as mandated by the UNHRC resolution, the President’s Secretary is now being seen as the best person for the job.

According to the government media, during his visit to Geneva where he had briefed the international human rights community, the Presidential Secretary stressed that the Sri Lankan government has done all that was humanly possible to implement the National Plan of Action to carry out the LLRC recommendations since it was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012. He had also detailed the action taken by the government over the past 18 months to give effect to the recommendations of the LLRC in the areas of international humanitarian law issues, human rights, land return and resettlement, restitution and compensatory relief and reconciliation. He used statistics to make the point that life in the former war zones of the North and East is on an upward curve.

The government affirms its success in the area of post-war recovery by focusing on its success in rebuilding the economy especially in the North and East and also in rehabilitating those who were victims of the war. The government points to its success in resettling those displaced by war in a relatively short period of time as compared to other countries. It shows facts and figures that put the number of those resettled in the hundreds of thousands. But what the international community wants is different. There continue to be exceptions that prove the rule that much more remains to be done, especially in terms of governance. An example is the village of Mullikulam in the Mannar district in the north of the country. It is a village that has fallen between the cracks of the government’s macro strategy of resettlement and reveals those key aspects of the LLRC that remain to be implemented.

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