- Created on 22 July 2016
STUDENT CLASHES REQUIRE CONFLICT SENSITIVE APPROACH TO BE CONTAINED
The student clash between Tamil and Sinhalese at the University of Jaffna has received wide attention within the country. There have been concerns expressed about a return to extremism. Social media comments show ethnic polarization. However, the proximate reason for the clash was demand by the Sinhalese students that their cultural markers be included in a student cultural event to welcome an incoming batch of students and the unscheduled inclusion of a Kandyan dance troupe in welcoming the students. We note that Jaffna University academics and the Tamil National Alliance have condemned the incident and pledged their commitment to keeping the universities as multi-cultural spaces and urged the Sinhalese students to return.
We also note that the Northern Provincial Council has issued a bipartisan statement signed by the Chief Minister and Opposition Leader welcoming the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry in this regard by the university authorities with a request that such incidents should not be viewed from a purely criminal law standpoint but must be aimed at identifying the underlying causes that led to their violent behavior. They have identified as background factors the demographic pattern of the North and East after the war as being consciously changed and students from other provinces being admitted in large numbers into Jaffna University.
- Created on 28 June 2016
EXPANDED PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT ON REFORM PROCESS IS NECESSARY
Sri Lanka is on the agenda for discussion at the ongoing 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be submitting a report on Sri Lanka’s implementation of the resolution of the 30th session in October 2015, which was co-sponsored by the Sri Lankan government. The government is currently in the process of establishing the transitional justice mechanisms it agreed to at the October 2015 session. As a first public step, the draft legislation for an Office of Missing Persons has been released.
The government is also fast tracking a process of constitutional reform with a draft document expected before the budget in November. It has restored law and order and improved the sense of security of the ethnic and religious minorities. On the other hand, the government has yet to deliver on many commitments, including repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, restoration to people of land taken over by the military, the significant reduction of military presence in the North and East and, most controversially within the country and internationally, the involvement of foreign judges and legal personnel in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism.
- Created on 31 May 2016
CREDIBILITY OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE MECHANISMS IS ESSENTIAL
Among the festering wounds of Sri Lanka’s protracted war that came to its bitter end 7 years ago is the fate of at least 20,000 persons who went missing and whose names have been registered with the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Commission) which was established in August 2013. The Cabinet of Ministers has approved draft legislation to establish an Office of Missing Persons, which is intended to expedite the search for missing persons and bring closure to their loved ones. It also ratified the Convention against Enforced Disappearance as promised at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2015 in Geneva.
The National Peace Council commends the government for seeking to establish credible and effective new institutions as part of its commitment to the process of transitional justice as promised both to the people of Sri Lanka and to the international community. The Office of Missing Persons is one of the four transitional justice mechanisms promised by the government at the September 2015 session of the UN Human Rights Council. With the next session of the UNHRC scheduled for June this year, the government may be seeking to have the legislation regarding this mechanism in place prior to the meeting in Geneva. The government is expected to give a progress report on the implementation of the UNHRC resolution it co-sponsored in October 2015.
- Created on 28 May 2016
CITIZENS PEACE AWARD TO LATE VEN. MADULUWAWE SOBITHA
The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka is awarding its annual Citizens Peace Prize for 2015 posthumously to the Most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayake Thero for his fearless approach to minority rights and inter-religious coexistence, and for providing skillful leadership in promoting humane values and democratic governance. At the time of passing away he had become a truly spiritual leader, seeking nothing for himself, but seeking everything for the people, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
The Citizens Peace Award was established in 2010 and is intended to honour and encourage those individuals in civil society who have demonstrated courage and consistency in the protection of and respect for human rights, peaceful settlement of disputes and promoting increased understanding between and among communities.
We are gratified that the Ven Sobitha agreed to accept this award during his lifetime. When members of the National Peace Council met him at the Naga Vihara temple in Kotte in September 2015, and requested him to accept our award, he said there were others more qualified than he was, but eventually agreed when we said our choice was unanimous. We even set the date of the award ceremony for November 5, 2016 but by that time he had fallen seriously ill.
- Created on 28 March 2016
TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE MESSAGE NEEDS TO BE BETTER COMMUNICATED TO PEOPLE
As befits a democratic government that governs with the consent of the people, the government has launched two major public consultation processes. The first of these public consultations organized by the government was with regard to the constitutional reform process and ended on March 15. The second major public consultation process initiated by the government is led by the National Consultation Task Force comprising civil society members. Their endeavour at the present time is to bring in more civil society groups into the consultation process.
- Created on 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.
- Created on 18 January 2016
ALL MANIFESTATIONS OF HATE SPEECH MUST BE BANNED BY LAW
The sudden display of “Sinha le” posters and stickers in public places, private motor vehicles including buses and three wheelers, and on social media, gives the appearance of being part of an organized political campaign that seeks to exploit nationalist emotions. The term “Sinhale” was used during the period of Western colonial invasion that began in the 16th century to represent that part of the country that remained free of colonial rule. However, today it being given the meaning of “Sinhala blood” by being broken into two parts as “Sinha Le” with the second part being depicted in red. While the word “Sinhale” is part of the country’s historical tradition, its current usage through posters, sticker, social media and on properties of ethnic and religious minorities is a form of severe intimidation to them. When these words are spray painted on their properties it constitutes hate speech which is prohibited in international law to which Sri Lanka is signatory.
The National Peace Council is mindful of the aggressive campaign against the ethnic and religious minorities, in particular the Muslims in the period immediately prior to 2015. In some instances it resulted in extreme violence where sections of towns were subjected to arson attacks. This hate campaign was led by Buddhist clergy belonging to the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and supported by a section of the former government, which ensured that they obtained impunity. However, racism and intolerance based on blood ties are not part of the Buddhist ethos. Therefore the motivating force behind the “Sinhale” campaign has to be partisan politics that seeks to use narrow ethnic nationalism to its advantage.
- Created on 16 January 2016
PRESIDENT’S PARDON SETS TONE FOR SPIRIT OF TRANSITION PROCESS
President Maithripala Sirisena gave concrete expression to his ideals of healing Sri Lanka’s post war wounds when he utilized his presidential powers to pardon a former member of the LTTE Sivarajah Jeneevan who had been convicted and imprisoned for having attempted to assassinate him in 2005 when he was Minister of Mahaweli Development. This symbolic and healing gesture coincided with the first year anniversary of his becoming President.
Jenivan was arrested on April 23, 2006 and sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment by Polonnaruwa High Court over nine years later on July 3, 2015. The National Peace Council is of the view that the State has the right to charge those who indulge in crimes irrespective of how long the time since the commission of the crime. However, it is not necessary that persons who are accused should be remanded for an indefinite period because they are alleged to have committed a crime unless they are a continuing threat to others. We note in this context that there has been great controversy for the past several years over the continued detention without charge or without trial of over two hundred alleged LTTE members. We urge that they be either charged and subjected to the legal process, or released without further delay.
As a co-signatory to the resolution of the UN Human Rights in Geneva in October last year, Sri Lanka is required to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations and war crimes. The government is presently supporting a consultation process with the general population in regard to its proposed four-fold mechanism to ensure truth seeking, judicial accountability, reparations and to clarify the issue of missing persons. We believe that the legal process needs to be followed with regard to the country’s past and present, as in the case of Sivarajah Jeneevan though in a more expedited manner in the spirit of the President’s healing gesture.
- Created on 01 January 2016
FACTIONAL INFIGHTING CAN UNDERMINE POLITICAL SOLUTION
The government has declared its intention of prioritizing constitutional reform in the New Year. Parliament is to be converted into a Constituent Assembly (parliamentary committee) that will deliberate on issues pertaining to a new constitution. The government has also appointed a 24 member committee drawn from political and civil society leaders to obtain the views of the people and feed them back to the parliamentary committee. The promise to amend the constitution was made by government leaders at both the last presidential and general elections that took place in January and August of this year. Their main pledge was to abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system from one based on proportional representation to a mixed system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting in which parliamentary seats would be apportioned in proportion to the total number of votes obtained by each of the political parties. There is a general consensus in society about the need to reduce the power of individuals elected to power and to ensure their accountability.
However, amongst the key issues that will need to be part of the constitutional reform process is the issue of power sharing between the different ethnic and religious communities who, together, constitute the Sri Lankan nation. At the regional level for this has been the demand since 1956 when the Sinhala Only Act was passed to make Sinhala the only national language. Attempts to change or even soften this law at that time were not supported by the Sinhala majority. So deprived having the Tamil language as a national language the Tamil parties demanded devolution of power to regions to be demarcated linguistically. This was opposed by the ethnic majority assuming it would lead to a federal state. This has been the most contentious issue in post-independent Sri Lanka. Efforts made by previous leaders of government to tackle this problem from 1957 onwards floundered due to opposition from nationalist elements in the polity who roused the fears of the general population that it would mean the break up of the Sinhalese-dominated state.
- Created on 28 October 2015
DEAL WITH MUSLIM EXPULSION ALSO THROUGH GENEVA PROCESS
The 25th year of the mass expulsion of Muslim people resident in the north by the LTTE falls this October. The eviction of the 90,000 strong northern Muslim population continues to be a humanitarian and political problem of national proportions. An estimated 80 percent of them continue to live outside their original places of residence. However, the problems faced by this section of the Sri Lankan population and finding a just solution have not been given either the public attention or priority that it deserves. The government’s decision to co-sponsor the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka provides an opportunity for the country, and the international human rights community, to come to terms with this problem and find a just solution.
The National Peace Council welcomes, and appreciates, the introspective and self critical statement of the Tamil National Alliance which was chosen by a large majority of Tamil people in the north and east at the recent general elections. The TNA stated in its response to the UN Human Rights Council investigation report that "We also accept and undertake to carry out our responsibility to lead the Tamil people in reflecting on the past, and use this moment as a moment of introspection into our own community’s failures and the unspeakable crimes committed in our name, so as to create an enabling culture and atmosphere in which we could live with dignity and self-respect, as equal citizens of Sri Lanka." The National Peace Council believes that this call needs to be appreciated, emulated, and taken on by the government, other political parties, by opinion formers and leaders of each of the Sri Lankan ethnic and religious communities and the international human rights community also.