- Created on 09 April 2014
The issue of the vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva became the main political issue during the provincial council elections in the Western and Southern provinces. The government’s decision to conduct those elections in the same week as the UNHRC resolution was being voted upon was likely to have been prompted by political considerations. It reflected the government’s continuing belief in the domestic electoral process, and obtaining a renewed mandate, as providing it with the legitimacy to rule regardless of other considerations. The threat to the unity of the country and to its sovereignty was brought to the fore by government campaigners in the run up to the provincial council elections to the Western and Southern provincial councils
While the government has shown resilience in its ability to utilize nationalism to win the support of the general population in relation to electoral politics and defeat the opposition, it has been meeting with increasing resistance and disenchantment on the ground. There are localized pockets of political activity where there is increasingly strong opposition to the government. While the election reflected in the main a continuing trust in the stability and security represented by the current ruling party, it also gave more than a hint of the disenchantment due to governance and insecurity issues faced by the ethnic and religious minorities. While the margin of victory achieved by the government at the provincial council elections was impressive there is unease in government ranks.
- Created on 31 March 2014
Once again the government swept to a comfortable victory at the provincial council elections in the Western and Southern provinces far outstripping its main rival, the UNP, by huge margins virtually everywhere except for Colombo city where the ethnic and religious minority vote predominates. Both provinces that the government retained control over are important ones. The Western Province, which includes Colombo, is the most populous and prosperous one by far, accounting for over a quarter of the country’s population and a half of its national income. The Southern Province has gained in importance during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose ancestral home is located there. The Hambantota district from which the presidential family hails has witnessed unprecedented economic development that includes a gigantic new harbor and airport.
- Created on 24 March 2014
The resolution on Sri Lanka that is to be voted on this coming Friday at the UN Human Rights Council is tighter than the draft that first made its appearance two weeks ago. This would be disappointing to the Sri Lankan government that worked hard through its friendly countries to dilute the draft resolution, if not defeat it entirely. However, mistakes made by the government and circumstances beyond its control have worked against it. Many of the government’s problems have arisen from the fact that important decisions are not taken by collectively by the Cabinet, or by cabinet sub-committees, but by individuals or by individual ministries. However, matters that impact upon the entire country need to be discussed by a larger number rather than by a lesser number, as this way more points of view come across, and the best can be selected.
- Created on 17 March 2014
The sudden deterioration in the climate in the north is unfortunate. When I visited North last week it seemed that the sense of normalcy in the North was getting stronger. The military posts and uniformed sentries on duty at short and regular intervals on the roads are no longer there. Most of the people I spoke to in Jaffna told me that the military personnel in Jaffna behaved well and they encountered few or no problems with them. However, they also saidthey could not speak with assurance about how the military was behaving in the Wanni, which is a much poorer and less densely inhabited part of the North. When I spoke to people in Kilinochchi they gave answers that were no different from those of the people of Jaffna. They even said that the military was helpful to the extent that if a household had a problem they would even go sometimes to the army rather than to the grama sevaka or village official, as the army could do more to help them.
However, the recent arrest and detention of Balendran Jayakumari , one of the leading activist members of the organization of families of the disappeared may be a indication of things to come. She was arrested in the northern district of Kilinochchi after a policeman was shot in that area. The government’s police spokesperson stated that a shooting incident took place in the north and they have identified a house where the suspect has been hiding and that two women are being investigated. Human rights defenders in the area report lots of checkpoints, raids, questioning, fear and surveillance. Jayakumari is reported to have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for 16 days by a court order and sent to the Boosa detention centre which is at the other southern corner of the country. This has been followed by the arrest and interrogation of two human rights defenders, Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen Selvadurai who were in Kilinochchi to see to the welfare of other families of disappeared in the aftermath of the arrest of Jayakumari.
This is an example of a counterproductive action that has been taken in disregard of the larger political consequences at a time when the UN Human Rights Council is debating the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Human rights activists like Ruki and Fr Praveen are those who give hope to the hopeless and who by their support discourage extremism. The draft resolution on Sri Lanka which is being circulated among members of the UN Human Rights Council expresses deep concern over reported intimidation and retaliation against civil society members who engage with UN human rights mechanisms including those who met with the High Commissioner during her visit. As the arrests in the North can conceivably be seen as an attempt to cause fear and the silencing of those who are seeking justice, the government needs to make clear what its position on this matter is and give a credible explanation. It also needs to reconsider its use of the military to deal with the people of the North as this is bound to cause increased friction in the longer term.
- Created on 10 March 2014
There was speculation that the ongoing 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council would see the immediate establishment of a high powered international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka and economic sanctions against the country. The unexpected feature of the draft resolution sponsored by the US is the provision to give the Sri Lankan government another year in which to show progress on the matters included in the resolution. Despite this seeming concession, the initial response of the Sri Lankan government to the draft resolution has been negative. The government has rejected the substance of the draft resolution which builds on last year’s resolution as being “fundamentally flawed.” The present draft includes issues of human rights violations and accountability in the entire country, rather than in the North and East alone and does not limit those issues to the last phase of the war.
- Created on 03 March 2014
The government seeks to give an impression that it is untroubled by the impending US-sponsored resolution on it at the latest session that has just commenced at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his first meeting with the Foreign Correspondents Association in Sri Lanka in three years, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have said he was not disturbed by it and that it would only be a single black mark against the country. However, other reports said he admitted feeling disturbed at being censured by the UNHRC and compared the US treatment of Sri Lanka as being similar to Cassius Clay’s “punching bag.” The Sri Lankan media which is usually respectful of the President showed him in a cartoon in a boxing ring looking flustered across from a much larger President Obama.
However, the government has not given up trying to win over countries to its side. It sent a high ranking Parliamentary delegation over to South Africa, but who appear to have returned with a request to forge a wider consensus from the national polity if they are to receive the South African government’s support for a Truth and Reconciliation process. Such a process holds the key to Sri Lanka’s ability to deal with the past issues of political violence that go beyond merely the last phase of the war. India also appears to have become a focal point of the latest governmental initiative with President Rajapaksa seeking a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they attend a regional conference in Myanmar this week. In addition, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to be visiting India for another regional dialogue at which he will meet his counterparts from India.
- Created on 24 February 2014
Most of the political analysis at the present time revolves around the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The latest are the two options that the government appears to be developing, wooing supportive countries to come up with a counter-resolution, and wooing South Africa to assist in the formulation of a truth and reconciliation process as an alternative to an international investigation into war crimes. But there are also other important developments taking place in the country which require equivalent analysis. One of the most important of these is the relationship between the central government and provincial council and the sharing of power between them. The root cause of the war, which has led to the charges of war crimes, was the dispute about the sharing of power between the Sinhalese-dominated central government and the Tamil-majority parts of the country, specifically the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Case studies from Partnerships for Peace: Strengthening the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform, implemented by the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka with support from the European Union.
- Created on 19 February 2014
Center for Women and Development (CWD-Jaffna)
Resources for Peace and Reconciliation (RPR-Mannar)
Vanni Cultural Foundation (VCF-Puttalam)
Organisation for the Welfare, Counseling Upholding of Rights of Disabled (OWCURD-Gampaha)
Social Economic and Environmental Development Organisation (SEEDO-Monaragala)
True Vision Rural Rehabilitation Organisation (TVRRO-Ampara)
Ruhunu Rural Women’s Organisation (RRWO-Hambanthota)
Centre for Communication Training (CCT-Colombo)
Resources for Peace and Reconciliation (RPR)
- Created on 10 February 2014
The government has been trying to convince itself and the general population that its position will prevail at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Some of this requires a stretch of the imagination and is meant to give temporary comfort. The state media gave wide publicity to a purported decision of the Australian government not to back an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes during the Sri Lankan civil war. However Australia is not a member of the UNHRC this year, and is therefore not entitled to vote. A reading of the text of the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s statement conveys a different message. She chose her words carefully to say that “Any future formal investigation would need to be agreed by the international community and would be a matter for relevant bodies at the time."
- Created on 03 February 2014
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal who visited Sri Lanka made it clear that the United States would continue to pursue a resolution on Sri Lanka at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The Sri Lankan government is totally opposed to the initiative spearheaded by the US to have a resolution that calls for an international probe into the human rights issues that arose in the last phase of the war. Ms Biswal also explained her country’s interest in Sri Lanka as being motivated by its values and desire to see peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka and the region. However, this latter motivation is unlikely to impress the ethnic majority Sinhalese population at large whose view of post-war Sri Lanka corresponds to that of the government, which gives priority to post-war economic development over other values.