The National Peace Council (NPC)

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2015-05-04 Media Release


The International Conference on Religious Tolerance and Harmony that took place at the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka earlier this month on April 22-23 was an example of healing and reconciliation activities to take place at the level of the people consolidating the multi-religious and multi-ethnic nature of Sri Lanka.

The conference brought religious clergy, scholars and students from different parts of the country and also from abroad to exchange ideas and to get to know each other in a positive and accommodative environment. International participants came from India, Bhutan, Myanmar, USA, Thailand, Maldives, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Uganda, Argentina and UK.  Sri Lankan university participants came from University of Jaffna, Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Eastern University, Colombo, Sri Jayawardanepura and Kelaniya and numbered around 250.  Registered outside participants numbered 356.  

The conference had 12 academic sessions including the discussion with the keynote speaker Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy from the United States who is a nationally recognized leader on issues of religious freedom and 40 papers were presented.  The conference venue and the surroundings that had been prepared over the past months to hold such a conference provided an ideal setting not only for an academic exercise but created a conducive atmosphere that provided an avenue for the expression of a multi-religious spirituality.  


27.04.15-Media Release

The attention of the entire country is focused on the forthcoming vote in Parliament with regard to the 19th constitutional amendment. This is a measure that is intended to make the Presidency more accountable to Parliament and the Judiciary and to set up de-politicised institutions to promote good governance. In particular, it will repeal the 18th Amendment passed by the last government which saw the consolidation of power for political expediency. The 18th Amendment strengthened the powers of the President, who was not effectively accountable to Parliament or subject to judicial review. It also removed some of the vital limited safeguards placed on the political arm of the State to prevent abuse of state resources and state officials.

The National Peace Council welcomes the decision that most of the political parties in Parliament have taken, in principle, to support the passage of the 19th Amendment. However, in practice, there still appear to be disagreements about what should go into the amendment. Since the presidential election of 1995 the winning candidate at all successive presidential elections has promised to abolish the executive presidency. But once they won, the winners deemed it opportune to keep the institution going. President Maithripala Sirisena is the exception. What has been most remarkable about the President has been his willingness, even at the cost of his own personal power, to change the notion of the president as being an all-powerful institution that is accountable to nobody, to one that shares power and is accountable. The president’s self-sacrifice and statesmanship is a unique contribution to governance throughout the world and it is the duty of the rest of the Sri Lankan polity to support him.

NPC is hopeful that the government and opposition will show the necessary determination to overcome their political differences to work together in the national interest and pass the 19th Amendment. Such cooperation would set a good example that could allow for the resolution of other complex problems, such as the long unresolved ethnic conflict. The present political situation, in which the President and Prime Minister are from the two biggest political parties which have been traditional rivals, but are working together along with a multi-party government, is a unique arrangement that needs to be carried forward to the future for the sake of the country.


23.03.15 Media Release

The government is being criticized for its slow pace in implementing the 100 day plan of the president’s election manifesto. However, the government is also going beyond the promises of its election manifesto to strengthen the confidence of the Tamil people in its good faith. President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to permit the national anthem to be sung in the Tamil language taken at a meeting of the National Executive Council, which is composed of political party heads in the government coalition, is a courageous action. The National Peace Council commends the President for his statesmanlike decision. We see it as yet another reconciliatory action of the government that will make the Tamil-speaking people feel a greater sense of belonging to the Sri Lankan polity when they sing the national anthem in a language they understand.

Since 1951 the national anthem was sung in the Tamil language translation of the original Sinhala language version and to the same music. However, in 2010 after the war victory, when the previous government was consolidating the forces of Sinhalese nationalism, they decided to withdraw state sanction to the singing of the Tamil version and insisted that the national anthem should be sung only in the Sinhala language even in the Tamil speaking parts of the country. Former government leaders made, and continue to make, absurd and untrue statements that no national anthem anywhere else in the world is sung in more than one language, and that this will divide the country. Such unenlightened statements when raised to the level of government policy made the Tamil people more alienated from the mainstream of the national polity.

Several countries, including South Africa, Canada, Switzerland and New Zealand sing their national anthems in more than one language. Singapore which is mourning the demise of their first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sings the national anthem in the language of a minority community, which is Malay, and not the Mandarin or English languages which are spoken by the majority community. The same is true of India, which sings their national anthem in Bengali. It is wise policies that keep the people of a country together regardless of their ethnic, racial or religious identities.


16.03.15 Media Release

One of the main promises in the government’s election manifesto was to effect far reaching constitutional change to ensure good governance. The government pledged to bring in constitutional amendments within 100 days to make the presidency more accountable to parliament and to the judiciary, and also to change the electoral system. The major political challenge at the present time is to effect both of these changes within the 100 day time frame.

While the government’s promise to the people to change the constitution in 100 days is important, the changes that are made need to be just by all sections of the population. The existing electoral system which is sought to be changed is based on proportional representation, which leads to each political party receiving seats in parliament that are proportionate to their share of the national vote. In practice this has been favourable to the small parties and enabled them to have a voice and power in parliament.

However, after more than three decades of experience, the disadvantages of the proportional system used in Sri Lanka have become manifest and there is a consensus about the need to amend the system. What is being envisaged is a mixed system, in which some MPs are elected on the first-past-the-post system of constituency based voting, and others are elected on a proportional system. This mixed system was based on the recommendations of the select committee headed by the former minister Dinesh Gunawardena. However, the interim report was dropped due to the strong protest of the minority parties. It was expected to have a negative impact on the minority communities, minority parties and particularly on women's political participation.


Media Release 15-02-2015

The issue of what happened in the last phase of the war, and accountability for human rights violations and war crimes that are alleged to have been committed, has dogged Sri Lanka’s internal and external reconciliation process. The National Peace Council welcomes the new government’s readiness to tackle these problems. The government is proposing a two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue of war crimes and the ongoing UN inquiry into it. First, it is considering a domestic criminal trial process with the objective of prosecuting those who were allegedly involved in human rights violations, in the Sri Lankan courts, if there is evidence. Second, it is considering a reconciliation process similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But unlike the South African version, the government has stated that its variant will not be for the purpose of amnesty but rather to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims.

The National Peace Council is of the view that if the TRC has no provision in it for amnesty, the perpetrator is unlikely to confess to the truth. This will reduce the prospect for healing. Therefore, we propose that the TRC should be given the power to grant amnesty where the accused accepts his guilt and agrees to make amends. The underlying rationale of a TRC is that knowledge of the truth of what happened will enable society to reconcile and move forward. It is very difficult to find the truth of what happened in a time of war. Due to the difficulty of obtaining evidence that meets the standard of criminal law, it is only if those who have knowledge of the wrong, or who were the perpetrators, confess that the truth will emerge. It is the prospect of receiving amnesty that will give any wrongdoer or perpetrator the incentive to confess to the truth. In South Africa those who confessed to the truth were given amnesty by the TRC. But not all who came before the TRC received amnesty. Out of over 7000 persons who applied for amnesty little over 1000 were granted amnesty.

It is now relatively common to see amnesties linked in some fashion to accountability processes designed to encourage former combatants to offer truth in return for non-prosecution or to participate in restorative or informal justice mechanisms. Conditional amnesties may also be used to prevent further violations by requiring beneficiaries to surrender, disarm and reintegrate, and to refrain from further violence. Such amnesties may retain the possibility of prosecution for those who fail to adhere to the conditions. In such contexts, amnesty is not offered to grant impunity to perpetrators, rather it is used strategically to achieve other objectives, such as truth, reconciliation and peace. The intentions and genuine efforts of those involved are also an important factor in assessing the legitimacy of various forms of amnesty. So too is evidence of more general national and international support for whatever truth and reconciliation process is embarked on.


01.02.15 Media Release

On February 4, Sri Lanka will be celebrating its 67th year of independence. This Independence Day celebration will be significantly different from those of the recent past. It will be led by a new government that comprises the spectrum of political parties in the country, and also its ethnic and religious diversities. The National Peace Council welcomes the government’s decision to express sympathy and reach out to the victims of the country's three-decade long war at this year’s Independence Day celebrations. We wish to highlight this action that binds the people of the country together in recognizing that war and violence are a tragedy to all.

The government will mark Independence Day with a special Statement of Peace at the ceremony. President Maithripala Sirisena and his Cabinet of Ministers have approved a proposal by Acting Foreign Minister Ajith Perera and Minister of Home Affairs Joseph Michael Perera to make a special statement expressing solidarity and sympathy with all victims of the 26-year long civil war. The Ministers, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the previous government, have proposed to express sympathy and cooperation with the war-affected people in the country and to pledge that it will be dedicated in unity to prevent recurrence of such situations in the country in the future.


14.01.15 Media Release

The outcome of the recent presidential election and the visit of Pope Francis to the country consolidate the space for national reconciliation that has been newly created in post-election Sri Lanka. In his opening speech, Pope Francis stressed the need for peace and reconciliation among different faiths and said that "The great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society." It is this latter aspect has not received enough attention by the Sri Lankan State. Much money has been spent to restore the physical infrastructure in the North. But “man does not live by bread alone” as the Bible says. Human beings value freedom and want to be treated as equals by the State and society.

Although the war is over the damage caused by the war still continues to exist in the form of displaced people still awaiting to be resettled, missing persons to be found, civilian rule to be restored and political rights to be obtained. Polarization within the country has continued. The recent presidential election campaign exacerbated this polarization due to the strong propaganda campaign by members of the former government. This negative campaign highlighted events of the war period and warned of a recurrence of such events if the incumbent was defeated. Such propaganda by the defeated political forces is likely to continue with the aim of creating social unrest.


11.01.15 Media Release

The election of a new President with a mandate for good governance is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to make a fresh effort to achieve the post-war justice and reconciliation that has eluded it. The National Peace Council congratulates President Maithripala Sirisena on his election. We appreciate the smoothness of the transition and are relieved at the absence of post-election violence. However, we regret that the election campaign exacerbated the fears and divisions amongst the people. In particular we were dismayed at the manner in which huge amounts of war and conflict-related propaganda were shown on the state and private media as well as the fact that such propaganda seems to have swayed a significant segment of the Sinhalese people to vote for the ruling party candidate despite transgressions exposed by the joint opposition. So the first need of the new government is to dampen Sinhalese fears while seeking to rectify the grievances of the Tamil and Muslim people.

President Maithiripala Sirisena campaigned on a platform of good governance in which instituting a system of checks and balances and de-politicising key public institutions will take pride of place. The National Peace Council calls on the new President and political parties that rallied around him, which include political parties dedicated to achieving the interests of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities, to address the vexed issue of a political solution to the ethnic conflict and to ensure the restoration of land and lost rights to the people and the truth about missing and detained persons is ascertained. There is also a need to de-couple the military from civil affairs, not only the North and East, but throughout the country. We urge this to be done in a spirit of common enterprise rather than on bargaining and negotiating which will be divisive.


03.12.14 Media Release

There is apprehension in civil society that the coming elections will become violent. The stakes are very high for the contesting political parties. The presidency is by far the most powerful institution in the country. Winning the presidency is the goal of both sides. The issues being canvassed at the elections, of corruption, nepotism and betrayal of the country to international interests are highly emotive ones. Violations of election law are occurring on a large scale with the misuse of state property and resources being highlighted by election monitors. There have also been acts of violence that can increase sharply as the election approaches.

The National Peace Council believes it is the duty of the State to maintain law and order and the Police and the Judicial authorities should be called upon by the government to enforce the law without any partisanship. That is the moral and legal duty of the State. Any failure to do so could mean that the people of the country and the International Community may not accept the result of the election. It could even lead to economic sanctions on the country which will affect adversely the people in the context of the ongoing stand-off between the government and UN regarding the UN investigation in human rights violations. Sanctions such as depriving access of local banks to the SWIFT inter-bank clearing and settlement system undermined the Iranian economy. They have compelled Iran to re-open nuclear talks.

Civil society groups with the participation of election monitoring organisations are in the process of setting up coordination mechanisms to report on acts of violence and violations of electoral laws. In addition it is important to educate citizens on electoral laws and help them understand and advocate against violations of these laws which are often flouted with impunity. The National Peace Council welcomes these initiatives and supports the formation of a civil society platform against election violence and violations of the election laws. In addition we would appeal to the political parties, and in particular to the ruling party which is vested with governmental authority to cooperate with civil society in ensuring a peaceful election.


25.11.14 Media Release-GOOD GOVERNANCE


One of the major campaign themes at the forthcoming Presidential election is the issue of good governance, specifically the abolishing of the Executive Presidency and de-politicising of institutions of state. There has been a continuous erosion of the independence of the main institutions of governance over the past four decades that began with the First Republican Constitution of 1972. In recent years there has been an even greater centralization of power in the hands of the Presidency which has been justified by national security considerations. 

The National Peace Council welcomes the declarations by the opposition political parties that they will institute reforms with regard to good governance if they obtain victory at the forthcoming presidential elections. However, good governance needs to also take into account the existence of an ethnic conflict in the country. It was the long unresolved ethnic conflict that first emerged during the British colonial period that finally led to three decades of civil war. Finding a solution to the ethnic conflict needs to be given priority. It is also important to address the concerns of the ethnic minorities in order to make them full participants in the electoral process.

The National Peace Council believes that the concept of good governance needs to be widened so that it embraces the concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities. The discussion on issues of power sharing and devolution of power need need to be made a part of the discourse on good governance. Greater devolution means not only good governance, but also greater and wider democracy. It also means reduction of centralisation of power while addressing the long festering ethnic conflict by ensuring power sharing between the ethnic communities and outlawing ethnic-based discrimination. Whoever wins the election will need to deal with these issues of good governance also.



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