The National Peace Council (NPC)

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WHY INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE HAS BECOME NECESSARY--Jehan Perera

Shortly after the end of the war in 2009, President Rajapaksa declared that in Sri Lanka there would no longer be an ethnic majority or ethnic minorities but only a majority who loved the nation and a minority who were traitors. Apart from the warning inherent in this statement to those who were political dissenters, there was also the implication that a political solution based on the notion of ethnicities and majorities and minorities based upon them would be unnecessary after the defeat of the LTTE. The logic of this position is that a political solution was only discussed because of the pressure of the LTTE, and now with its destruction there was no need to take that discussion forward.

In keeping with the President’s immediate post-war policy statement and despite the passage of nearly five years since the end of the war there has been no fundamental shift in the government’s approach to the ethnic conflict. The talks with the main Tamil opposition party, the TNA, and the government’s effort to form a Parliamentary Select Committee to discuss a political solution has gone nowhere. This is not the government’s failure alone. Nearly all public intellectuals from the Sinhalese community who support the government, which is the politically dominant voice in society, appear to have also taken the cue from the President that there is no ethnic conflict to resolve. But Tamil minority voters have repeatedly challenged this assumption.

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FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE TO PROBES BY INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY -- Jehan Perera

Instead of readying itself to show that the Tamil people fully enjoy devolved power and equal rights through the Northern Provincial Council as a result of the war’s end, it appears that the government is bracing itself for a showdown with the US-led international community in Geneva in March on the issue of accountability. The US embassy in Colombo has recently put up photographs of the former northern war zone, along with the caption that they show a site where it says hundreds of families were killed by shelling. The government has challenged these statements. Although there was speculation that the government would take this matter up formally with the US embassy, it appears this has not been done. It may be that the sophisticated surveillance methods available to the United States are difficult to dispute. The case for an international investigation will be strengthened in these circumstances.

Instead of dealing with the issues that the US embassy is raising, government leaders have accused the United States of having recommended the use of cluster bombs to attack LTTE positions during the war. As there are international treaties that prohibit the use of such weapons of indiscriminate destruction, this would be to undermine the legitimacy of the US questioning of the Sri Lankan actions in ending its own internal war. This show of defiance by the government will assuredly win it support from within the country who are conscious of international double standards. However, it is not going to be an answer to the international demand for an independent investigation into the last phase of the war. The government will face an uphill task at the next session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to make its case against the establishment of an independent investigation.

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FACING THE CHALLENGE OF SINGLE-ISSUE INTERNATIONAL AGENDA -- Jehan Perera

Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-Large of the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the United States will be in Sri Lanka this week. He will be meeting with political leaders and also with other influential opinion formers to ascertain the situation in the country relevant to his interests and to make known his own views. His visit will be followed shortly thereafter by Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs of the US government, Nisha Desai Biswal. Both these visits are evidence of the international interest in Sri Lanka and its present trajectory of political development. They are also likely to be connected to the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, where Sri Lanka is likely to figure as an important issue and perhaps even as a test case for collective international action.

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2014 CAN BE YEAR OF NEW DEPARTURE --Jehan Perera

This New Year will be a year of change as the government faces a make or break situation internationally. The next session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March is positioned to deliver a resolution that calls for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s conduct of its war. The weeks and months to come are therefore going to be crucial. The international community is watching whatever steps Sri Lanka takes in the direction of greater human rights, national reconciliation and accountability. Unless change happens, the government and the country too will be at the receiving end of UN-sanctioned scrutiny that will leave it little room to manoeuver. International sanctions of one kind or another will be a step away.

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CHANGING THE MESSENGER WILL NOT SELL WITHOUT SHOWING CHANGE ON THE GROUND--Jehan Perera

Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga is to visit the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next month to explain the steps taken to address accountability issues stemming from the last stages of the war with the LTTE, which the international community is pressing for. There is much faith being pinned on him as a capable and efficient public servant. However, what those in the international community who are keenly watching developments in Sri Lanka will not wish to only hear another impressive governmental presentation of facts and figures that they cannot verify. They need to believe what they are being told, and this can only come from a credible monitoring mechanism. In its absence what they will listen to is the opposition and civil society in Sri Lanka.


The message from those who are not part of the government so far is negative and not getting positive. Speaking at the opening of a rice mill funded by Australia last week at Vishvamadhu in the Northern Province, its Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran provided a summary of the issues faced by his administration. He said, “Firstly it is the fact that our Northern Province is under Army occupation even nearly five years since the end of the war. It is assessed that nearly 150,000 members of the Military are resident in the Northern Province. They occupy illegally lands belonging to our people. This denies our people access to their own lands for which many of them have documents though sometimes destroyed during the war.

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COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF MUST GIVE THE RIGHT ORDER FOR CONSTRUCTIVE TRANSITION -- Jehan Perera

For any system of government to work it requires an acknowledgement and respect for each other’s role. Trust and goodwill are also important to have between those who hold key decision making positions within the system. When the Northern Provincial Council was established following democratic elections in September, it seemed that a giant step forward had been taken in terms of arriving at a political solution to the ethnic conflict that gave rise to protracted war. But three months after the establishment of the Northern Provincial Council the breakdown of relationships is epitomized by the conflict between its presidentially appointed Governor and democratically elected Chief Minister. There might still be an opportunity to mitigate this conflict before it reaches a chronic stage of no-return between the government and Northern Provincial Council.

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ACCCOUNTABILITY ISSUES MUST NOT DISPLACE DEVOLUTION --Jehan Perera

Prior to the Commonwealth Summit there were several positive signals from both the government and TNA. It was the government that led the way by boldly deciding to conduct the Northern Provincial Council election, campaigning at the polls with enthusiasm and accepting its verdict with an appearance of good grace. However, after CHOGM there has been a decline in good news in relation to post-war reconciliation. The news is dominated by bitterness, be it the issue of the international community investigating the past or the pro-LTTE speech in Parliament by an opposition TNA parliamentarian. There are signs of a growing deterioration in relations between the government and TNA. The failure of the Northern Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran and the TNA to take part in the district development committee meetings in Jaffna and Kilinochchi bode ill for the cooperation between the central and provincial authorities.

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POST-CHOGM CALL FOR ACCOUNTABILITY NEEDS TO BE MORE BALANCED -- Jehan Perera

Within Sri Lanka, the government has reason to be satisfied with the outcome of CHOGM. President Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained the Chairmanship of the Commonwealth which is being used politically within the country to bolster the President’s image. However, internationally, the die has been cast and the controversy surrounding the end phase of Sri Lanka’s war are going to get worse. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion that he would push for an international investigation into the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war means there will be no going back on the issues of accountability.

Now that CHOGM is over, the payback time has come. With the British Prime Minister putting his credibility on the line, and that of his country, it can be expected that he will do his utmost to obtain the support of other like-minded countries including the most powerful in the world with whom the British have a special relationship.

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THE CHALLENGE AFTER THE SUCCESS OF CHOGM -- Jehan Perera

The Sri Lankan government can take satisfaction at the close of CHOGM. It ended without any major mishap, although there were several controversial incidents, such as the laying of flowers at the killing fields of Elephant Pass by the Canadian government’s representative, and the speech targeting Sri Lanka given at the People’s Forum by a British Minister. By and large, however, the organization of events went like clockwork. Those who attended the various CHOGM events would have been impressed by the attention showered on them by the organizers of the various events. There was the best of hotel accommodation and food for them, apart from brand new cars and buses to transport them around. There were always a plethora of personnel around to attend to their needs. It appears that no expense was spared, the hallmark of the gracious host.

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TWO PEOPLE’S FORUMS HIGHLIGHT CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE -- Jehan Perera

The government has left nothing to chance where it concerns the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which is to commence in the next few days. It invested heavily in CHOGM both in term of its political and financial capital. The government expects the international perspective on Sri Lanka, its economic potential and peaceful climate, to undergo a drastic transformation for the better. In the immediate run-up to the Heads of Government summit, there were three other forums, the Business Forum in Colombo, the Youth Forum in Hambantota and the People’s Forum in Hikkaduwa. In the past the People’s Forum was also known as the NGO Forum, but now it has been widened to include the whole of civil society. 

The Role of Civil Society is one of the 16 paragraphs of the Commonwealth Charter which has also been signed by Sri Lanka. It states, “We recognise the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals.” Since 1991, it has been the practice for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be accompanied by a Commonwealth People’s Forum that brings civil society leaders from across the Commonwealth to share their experiences with one another.

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THE ALTERNATIVE PEOPLE’S FORUM AND DUTY TO PERFORM --Jehan Perera

The government is leaving nothing to chance where it concerns the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. It has invested heavily in CHOGM both in term of its political and financial capital. The government expects the international perspective on Sri Lanka, its economic potential and peaceful climate, to undergo a drastic transformation for the better. A government spokesperson was reported by the media as saying that no public demonstrations would be permitted during the period of the Summit. The closure of all universities in the country over the next week can be attributed to this concern. It is difficult to understand why else universities that are far from the CHOGM events should be closed.

Another example over the high level of concern about the possibility of disruptions during the CHOGM events was the investigations that took place into an alleged and alternative People’s Forum event to be held in Galle. Since 1991, it has been the practice for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be accompanied by a Commonwealth People’s Forum that brings civil society leaders from across the Commonwealth to share their experiences with one another. On this occasion the People’s Forum is to be held in Hikkaduwa. At least 400 participants drawn in approximately equal numbers from foreign countries and Sri Lanka are expected to attend this official event, which is to be ceremonially opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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