- Monday, 13 April 2015
President Maithripala Sirisena has been making a unique contribution to political developments in Sri Lanka. He backed the passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution to transfer a significant portion of the presidential powers he enjoys back to Parliament and to the Prime Minister. 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. They used the very powers of the presidency that they had condemned when contesting the elections to govern the country and safeguard themselves in power. President Maithripala Sirisena is the exception. The difficulties encountered in passing the 19th Amendment through Parliament have not been of his making.
- Monday, 06 April 2015
The resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council accusing successive Sri Lankan governments of committing acts of genocide against the Tamil people came a few weeks before the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in March this year. It also asked the UN to set up an investigation into Genocide in various forms alleged to have been perpetrated on the Tamil people from the time of Independence. The resolution also called upon the UN to release the report of its investigation panel into alleged war crimes committed in the final phase of the country’s internal war, and to also set up an international process to ensure accountability for those crimes. However, the UN did not release the report of its investigation panel. It heeded the Sri Lankan government’s appeal that the release of the report should be postponed to give the new government time to make its own domestic accountability procedure more concrete. The UN report is now expected to be released later this year in September when the UN Human Rights Council gathers once again in Geneva.
The visit to Sri Lanka of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Truth, Accountability, Reparations and Guarantees of Non- Recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, gave the Northern Provincial Council another opportunity to present its case on genocide before the UN. It is reported that the Genocide Resolution was given to the UN Special Rapporteur. However, once again, it does not appear that the Genocide Resolution has had the desired impact. The Tamil media reported that “the UN Special Rapporteur was advocating for an internal mechanism during his visit. He was urging more time and space to be given to the new regime in Colombo. However, the Tamil representatives have explained in detail on the failure of all successive regimes in Colombo in delivering internal mechanisms capable of addressing the crimes committed by the SL State itself and its armed forces in the past.”
- Monday, 30 March 2015
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, during his recent visit to Jaffna, reiterated a statement he made at a media conference in Colombo that the government would deal with issues of the past through a truth and reconciliation process. He said that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga would lead the process and that it would be supported by South Africa whose advice was being sought. The Prime Minister’s announcement in the capital of the Northern Province, which was the main battleground of the three decade long internal war, demonstrated his decisiveness on a controversial issue, even in the run up to anticipated general elections. The pressure from the international community with regard to human rights and war crimes issues has continued despite the change of government, which is why the new government is focusing on a truth and reconciliation process at the outset.
The selection of the former president to lead the reconciliation process brings to it a champion who, in the 11 year period of her presidency, showed her ability to take on any political challenge without backing down. She did not give up on publicly upholding the importance of Tamil and minority rights even after her peace initiative with the LTTE was rejected. Although she was forced to wage a high cost war which yielded mixed results in terms of regaining territorial control, she will be remembered for her valiant effort to build the political foundations for peace through political reform. She was also able to win elections while holding to her position that a political solution was necessary.
Former President Kumaratunge’s great contribution to the unification of the Sri Lanka polity came through her two-pronged strategy of meeting the LTTE’s challenge. While waging war, she gave political leadership to the “Sudu Nelum” (white lotus) movement which was a mass-based educational campaign that was intended to enable each ethnic community to understand each other’s political aspirations and engaged in mutual accommodation. This educational campaign was politically led by the present foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, and took place through seminars, workshops and street drama, among other methods in which top university academics wholeheartedly participated.
- Tuesday, 24 March 2015
GOING BEYOND ELECTION PROMISES TO STRENGTHEN NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
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.