In his inaugural speech the newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave an assurance that he will be the president of all, including all ethnicities and religions and those who did not vote for him. This assurance is especially important as the recently concluded presidential election was divisive and along communal lines. The National Peace Council compliments the new president on his positive sentiments and wishes him all success in making them come true. In particular, we will cooperate with his policies to promote peaceful coexistence and reconciliation as in the past.
Among the plethora of promises made by the presidential contestants is one that Sri Lanka will withdraw from the UNHRC resolution it co-signed in Geneva in 2015. This was an international commitment made in an assembly of 46 other countries. If Sri Lanka were to unilaterally withdraw from its commitments made to the UNHRC by rejecting the co-sponsored resolution, this is likely to have international repercussions that isolate the country. It will also create fear within the country that the negative practices of the past will re-emerge. The Sri Lankan state and successor governments need to respect international bodies and treaties and truly live up to its role as a member of a universal fraternity within a rules-based international order.
Large numbers of lawyers and civil society activists along with the general public in the north and east have come out publicly in protest against the flouting of a judicial decision in the north by Buddhist monks and their associates in relation to the final rites of a Buddhist monk. The media reported that over 2,000 protestors demonstrated in Mullaitivu in relation to the controversy in which emotions have run high and people's sentiments have been hurt. The dispute over the cremation site of the Buddhist monk in the northern district of Mullaitivu, which took place in defiance of a judicial order, has implications for the rule of law and confidence in the judiciary that needs to be resolved without delay.
The elevation of General Shavendra Silva to the position of commander of the Sri Lanka army has become a matter of national and international controversy. The Tamil National Alliance has protested against this decision as has the UN Human Rights High Commissioner and the diplomatic missions of the United States, Canada and the European Union.
Cognisant of the political deadlock within the country, and as a means of ending it, President Maithripala Sirisena has referred to the need to abolish the 19th Amendment to the constitution. This as the landmark legislation that reduced the powers of the presidency and increased the autonomy of state institutions. Both of these measures have had a positive impact on governance in the country. Despite the reduction in the powers of the presidency it continues to remain a powerful institution. Unfortunately, when the president and parliamentary majority are from two different political parties, it can generate political deadlock, which is the present situation in the country.
In the midst of the ongoing sittings of the Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings two senior officials in the public service have been arrested by the police. The charges against former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara are that they did not take sufficient action to prevent the bombings that led to over 250 deaths and injuries to over 500 persons despite having prior information.
Sri Lanka is still trying to emerge out of the darkness of its three decade long ethnic war that ended in 2009. Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday bombings linked to the Islamic State (IS), and the damaging reaction to it by those who ought to be responsible political leaders, are taking our country once again in the direction of another ethnic conflict. The bombing is being used to create a great rift in Sri Lankan society. Prejudice, hatred and hate speech are at an all-time high. Many politicians and other opinion formers at high levels of the polity have publicly been asserting that the larger Muslim community is complicit in the bombings and discovery of hidden arms that have taken place. The barbaric bombings by extremists cannot and must not be attributed to the larger Muslim community who have been part and parcel of our country.
The anti-Muslim riots in different parts of the country have led to at least two killings and wrecked the lives of thousands of innocent people. These riots have taken place more than three weeks after the Easter Sunday bombings for which the Islamic State took responsibility. They have taken place at locations far from where those innocent people lost their lives. The government was compelled to deploy the army and to declare night time curfew all over the country to contain the rioting due to the initial failure of local police to control the mobs.
The carnage on Easter Sunday against three Christian churches, three leading hotels and two other locations have killed more than 300 and injured over 500. The scale and coordinated nature of the bomb attacks have been shocking. This brings an end to the ten year period of freedom from terror and violence that the country enjoyed. The National Peace Council condemns these acts of terror which have brought immense suffering to so many of our fellow citizens and also to citizens of foreign countries who were present at the sites that were attacked.
President Maithripala Sirisena and senior members of the opposition including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa have harshly criticized the Constitutional Council and the Human Rights Commission. Their accusations range from failing to favourably consider the President’s nominations to the judiciary, to causing the collapse of public administration, to putting obstacles in the path of the government’s campaign to root out criminal activities and the narcotics trade and to even being culpable for the death of Sri Lankan soldiers on a peacekeeping mission. The National Peace Council is concerned that the unreasonableness of these criticisms erodes the commitment to basic principles of good governance.