- 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.
- Created on 27 January 2014
In preparation for the forthcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva the government has sent its top civil servant, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga to Geneva to put the government’s achievements into perspective. Since 2012 when the government lost the vote at the UNHRC and had to face a resolution calling on it to implement post-war recovery and accountability measures, the government has been seeking to get the best communicators working for it. The government has even hired public relations companies in foreign countries at high rates in order to get its message across. As the person in charge of ensuring that the government implements the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as mandated by the UNHRC resolution, the President’s Secretary is now being seen as the best person for the job.
According to the government media, during his visit to Geneva where he had briefed the international human rights community, the Presidential Secretary stressed that the Sri Lankan government has done all that was humanly possible to implement the National Plan of Action to carry out the LLRC recommendations since it was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012. He had also detailed the action taken by the government over the past 18 months to give effect to the recommendations of the LLRC in the areas of international humanitarian law issues, human rights, land return and resettlement, restitution and compensatory relief and reconciliation. He used statistics to make the point that life in the former war zones of the North and East is on an upward curve.
The government affirms its success in the area of post-war recovery by focusing on its success in rebuilding the economy especially in the North and East and also in rehabilitating those who were victims of the war. The government points to its success in resettling those displaced by war in a relatively short period of time as compared to other countries. It shows facts and figures that put the number of those resettled in the hundreds of thousands. But what the international community wants is different. There continue to be exceptions that prove the rule that much more remains to be done, especially in terms of governance. An example is the village of Mullikulam in the Mannar district in the north of the country. It is a village that has fallen between the cracks of the government’s macro strategy of resettlement and reveals those key aspects of the LLRC that remain to be implemented.
- Created on 16 January 2014
Instead of readying itself to show that the Tamil people fully enjoy devolved power and equal rights through the Northern Provincial Council as a result of the war’s end, it appears that the government is bracing itself for a showdown with the US-led international community in Geneva in March on the issue of accountability. The US embassy in Colombo has recently put up photographs of the former northern war zone, along with the caption that they show a site where it says hundreds of families were killed by shelling. The government has challenged these statements. Although there was speculation that the government would take this matter up formally with the US embassy, it appears this has not been done. It may be that the sophisticated surveillance methods available to the United States are difficult to dispute. The case for an international investigation will be strengthened in these circumstances.
Instead of dealing with the issues that the US embassy is raising, government leaders have accused the United States of having recommended the use of cluster bombs to attack LTTE positions during the war. As there are international treaties that prohibit the use of such weapons of indiscriminate destruction, this would be to undermine the legitimacy of the US questioning of the Sri Lankan actions in ending its own internal war. This show of defiance by the government will assuredly win it support from within the country who are conscious of international double standards. However, it is not going to be an answer to the international demand for an independent investigation into the last phase of the war. The government will face an uphill task at the next session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to make its case against the establishment of an independent investigation.
- Created on 08 January 2014
Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-Large of the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the United States will be in Sri Lanka this week. He will be meeting with political leaders and also with other influential opinion formers to ascertain the situation in the country relevant to his interests and to make known his own views. His visit will be followed shortly thereafter by Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs of the US government, Nisha Desai Biswal. Both these visits are evidence of the international interest in Sri Lanka and its present trajectory of political development. They are also likely to be connected to the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, where Sri Lanka is likely to figure as an important issue and perhaps even as a test case for collective international action.
- Created on 30 December 2013
This New Year will be a year of change as the government faces a make or break situation internationally. The next session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March is positioned to deliver a resolution that calls for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s conduct of its war. The weeks and months to come are therefore going to be crucial. The international community is watching whatever steps Sri Lanka takes in the direction of greater human rights, national reconciliation and accountability. Unless change happens, the government and the country too will be at the receiving end of UN-sanctioned scrutiny that will leave it little room to manoeuver. International sanctions of one kind or another will be a step away.
- Created on 23 December 2013
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga is to visit the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next month to explain the steps taken to address accountability issues stemming from the last stages of the war with the LTTE, which the international community is pressing for. There is much faith being pinned on him as a capable and efficient public servant. However, what those in the international community who are keenly watching developments in Sri Lanka will not wish to only hear another impressive governmental presentation of facts and figures that they cannot verify. They need to believe what they are being told, and this can only come from a credible monitoring mechanism. In its absence what they will listen to is the opposition and civil society in Sri Lanka.
The message from those who are not part of the government so far is negative and not getting positive. Speaking at the opening of a rice mill funded by Australia last week at Vishvamadhu in the Northern Province, its Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran provided a summary of the issues faced by his administration. He said, “Firstly it is the fact that our Northern Province is under Army occupation even nearly five years since the end of the war. It is assessed that nearly 150,000 members of the Military are resident in the Northern Province. They occupy illegally lands belonging to our people. This denies our people access to their own lands for which many of them have documents though sometimes destroyed during the war.