Sri Lanka is presently at a historic moment when the two main political parties in the country are working together with a common vision for strengthening democracy, reconciliation and economic development, and to take steps to guarantee non-recurrence of conflict.
by Ahmed A Jawad
( November 12, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write with reference to the article titled Sri Lanka’s military aren’t ready to be peacekeepers by Member of Parliament Gary Anandasangaree, published in the Toronto Star of 3 November 2017.
Unfortunately, the content of the article does not portray the factual position regarding Sri Lanka’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions, or the progressive developments in the country under the National Unity Government. Therefore, I would appreciate if you could kindly publish this response.
Sri Lanka values its membership in the UN which spans over 60 years, and is committed to contributing positively to its work. Sri Lanka’s contribution to the work of the UN, for long years, is well acknowledged. Since the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015, and the formation of the National Unity Government, Sri Lanka’s engagement with the UN has been renewed, reflecting the vision of the Government and the people of the country to re-engage with the international community and contribute to the UN’s multifaceted agenda including peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and sustainable development.
The Government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights; ending impunity; upholding the rule of law; strengthening good governance and democracy; fostering reconciliation and sustainable peace; and ensuring equitable and inclusive development, for the benefit of all citizens, is firm.
Sri Lanka has contributed to UN peacekeeping missions for more than 50 years, and is committed firmly, to ensuring the best possible training and assessment for peacekeepers from Sri Lanka, in order to uphold the highest standards of peacekeeping. In keeping with this commitment, Sri Lanka works closely with the UN, and has put in place stringent vetting procedures for military personnel who are deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Most recently, in order to ensure that all possible steps are taken to ensure the effectiveness of the screening procedure, the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was invited to also be part of this process. In September 2015, Sri Lanka endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians; in August 2017, Sri Lanka pledged a contribution of US $ 10,000 to the UN Trust Fund in support of Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse; in September 2017 Sri Lanka joined an initiative of the UN Secretary-General to sign a Compact to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse; and demonstrating firm commitment, Sri Lanka also joined the Secretary-Generals ‘Circle of Leadership on the prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse in UN operations’. This month, Sri Lanka endorsed the ‘Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and use of Child Soldiers’.
Regrettably, Sri Lanka, similar to several other member states contributing troops to UN peacekeeping, has had to face situations where some of its troops had committed acts of sexual misconduct. The Government of Sri Lanka maintains a strict zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and accordingly, any such allegations of transgression by its troops, have been properly investigated, and the UN kept informed of the progress and the results of such inquiries and action taken.
When allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse having taken place in 2006 and 2007 implicating some members of the Sri Lanka military contingent deployed to MINUSTAH were brought to the notice of the Government of Sri Lanka by the UN at the time, prompt action was taken for their immediate removal from MINUSTAH. Two separate Courts of Inquiry were conducted by the Sri Lanka Army and the Sri Lanka Navy, and disciplinary action taken against any breach of discipline. The UN, as per due procedure, was informed of the processes followed, and the UN Secretariat has acknowledged in writing, action taken by the Government, and informed that the UN Secretariat, as of 29 September 2014, considers the matter closed.
In addition, the Government arranged for a one-off ex gratia child support payment to a lady in Haiti. The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support of the UN has, in a letter to the Government, conveyed the appreciation of the UN for this action taken and Sri Lanka’s communications and engagement with the UN on this matter, which not only serves as a best practice, but as exemplifying the spirit of the commitment and partnership between the UN and Member States. Therefore, the accusation in the article, that victims in Haiti are still awaiting answers is incorrect.
Following the allegation of the rape of a Haitian lady in 2013, the Government extended the fullest cooperation to the UN investigation team in Haiti to inquire into the complaint. The Army also appointed a Court of Inquiry comprising senior officials who travelled to Haiti and met with a number of witnesses, including the alleged victim. They also examined medical and legal reports provided by the UN investigating team in Haiti and concluded at the end of the Inquiry that the allegation of rape was false.
It is regrettable that the errant actions of a few, which the Government condemns in the strongest terms and does not condone in any way, are being used to tarnish the good work carried out by a large number of dedicated and devoted Sri Lankan troops in UN peacekeeping missions.
The National Unity Government is determined to work with all the citizens of Sri Lanka and the international community including the United Nations in realizing its vision of a reconciled, peaceful, stable, and prosperous nation. It is with this sincerity of purpose that the Government proceeded to co-sponsor resolution 30/1 titled “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”, in September 2015, and resolution 34/1 in March 2017 at the UN Human Rights Council, and work towards their adoption by consensus.
This vision is not one that can be realized in a hurry, no matter however much we desire to do so. But we are determined to achieve the best for all the citizens of the country and we are committed to processes of truth-seeking, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence.
Since the matter of land was addressed in the article, I wish to state that nearly 82% of all the civilian land held by the security forces have been released. With regard to the Mullativu district of Sri Lanka, which is specifically referred to, the military has released a total of 20,784.16 acres of land as at 31 October 2017. A total of 6,704.87 acres of land is currently held by the military in Mullativu district, out of which 5,679 acres is state land and 1,025.87 acres is civilian land. A comprehensive plan is being worked on for the release of remaining land and for the payment of compensation. The accusation in the article that “the army occupies as much as 60,000 acres of civilian land just in the Mullativu district”, is untrue.
Sri Lanka is presently at a historic moment when the two main political parties in the country are working together with a common vision for strengthening democracy, reconciliation and economic development, and to take steps to guarantee non-recurrence of conflict. This is the time when Sri Lanka requires the support of the international community to ensure that the lives, especially of those affected most by conflict, are restored, and they are given every opportunity required to rebuild their lives.
It is our fervent hope that all persons of Sri Lankan origin overseas would join hands at this time to support the people of Sri Lanka realize their long-cherished dream of peace, stability, and prosperity in a reconciled nation.
Ahmed A Jawad is the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Canada