- Monday, 25 July 2016
The ethnic fault line in society was exposed in the clash between two groups of students at Jaffna University last week. The immediate cause of the dispute was a late request by Sinhalese students at the university to perform the traditional Sinhalese Kandyan dance at a ceremony to welcome incoming new students. This request was turned down by the organizers of the event. However, the following day when the event took place a Kandyan dancing troupe made its appearance which was resisted by the larger student body. The end result was a violent confrontation between two groups of students who divided on ethnic lines. This resulted in the temporary closure of the university, and the university administration, in an abundance of caution busing the Sinhalese students out of Jaffna.
Both sides to the dispute had their cases to make. On the side of the organizers the previous practice had been to only have a traditional Tamil cultural procession as an opening item on the agenda. The request for a change had come only the day before the event when the programme for the event had already been finalized. On the other hand, the students who wanted the insertion of the Kandyan dance argued that a significant proportion of the incoming students were Sinhalese and in addition the Science Faculty which they were joining had a majority of Sinhalese students in it. This was a problem that might have had an outcome based on a win-win solution if the focus had been on meeting the needs of the two student groups rather than on the contrary positions they took, which alas had no meeting point.
- Friday, 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.
- Monday, 18 July 2016
The international community appears to be accepting the Sri Lankan government’s position that international judges will not sit in judgment regarding war crimes committed during the course of the country’s civil war. The UN Human Rights Council resolution of October 2015 which the government co-sponsored left the situation ambiguous. It stated that there would be international participation of foreign and Commonwealth judges but did not specify in what form that participation would be.
Initially this clause in the UNHRC resolution was interpreted in the light of the report of the expert panel commissioned by the UN Human Rights Commissioner. This report recommended a hybrid court, which would have both Sri Lankan and international judges. The international community, and Tamil leaders in particular interpreted the UNHRC resolution to mean that international judges would be participating as sitting judges who would deliver judgments as to whether war crimes took place or not.
At an early meeting not long after the co-sponsoring of the UNHRC resolution by the government, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed civil society activists and explained to them that Sri Lankan judges sat on international tribunals and there was nothing new in international judges taking part in Sri Lankan investigations. This has occurred when Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1958 and also again in 2007 when President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited an eminent group of international experts to advise a presidential commission into serious human rights violations.
- Monday, 11 July 2016
The EU has downsized its list of conditions for Sri Lanka to regain the GSP Plus benefits that it lost in 2011. At that time the EU set out a list of 15 conditions that the government had to meet if it was to retain the GSP Plus benefits. The previous government flatly refused to move on them citing national security and national sovereignty as the reasons. Ironically when the new government made public its intentions to reapply for the GSP Plus benefits, the EU set out 58 conditions. But now it is reported the country will now only have to fulfill 15 of them. These 15 conditions include provision for independent and impartial appointments to key public positions, to repeal those sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or amending them so as to make them clearly compatible with it, to respond to a significant number of individual cases currently pending before the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances; and to ensure journalists can exercise their professional duties without harassment.
It calls upon the Government to take the legislative steps necessary to allow individuals to submit complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee under the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) under Article 22. Sri Lanka acceded to first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1997. In the same year the Government of Sri Lanka recognized the competence of the UN Human Rights Committee to receive and consider communication from Sri Lankan citizens. The Supreme Court said that the President had gone beyond her powers as acceding to the protocol. This is the issue on which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has spoken out against the decision of the Supreme Court in 2006 which said that incorporating the ICCPR into domestic law would require not only a 2/3 majority in Parliament but also passage at a referendum.