An open letter to His Eminence Desmond Tutu, Chair, The Elders Foundation
| by Prof. G. L .Peiris
|Photo: HAY FESTIVAL|
( February 28, Geneva, Sri Lanka Guardian) While appreciating the interest of The Elders Foundation in the post-conflict development in my country, as stated in your letter to His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka on 17th February 2012, it is regretted that you thought it necessary to address the Members of the Human Rights Council, urging intervention in Sri Lanka, a matter that requires deeper study and understanding of the related facts. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to elaborate on the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka relating to resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation with a view to bringing sustainable peace in the country, with the end of the separatist, terrorist conflict in May 2009.
Sri Lanka, having ended a 30 year long scourge of terrorism, has now the opportunity to derive the fullest benefit from its natural strengths. In this context, the Government has taken several incremental steps to restore normalcy and rebuild the lives of those who have been affected by the conflict. These steps include the resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), initiating infrastructure development projects in the former theatre of conflict, rehabilitation of ex-combatants, and embarking on a process of reconciliation including restorative justice, political and constitutional initiatives.
Within the last two and half years, of the 290,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), 6569 remain to be resettled, an effort which has been commended internationally. The Government has already spent USD 360 million for the resettlement programme. These remaining IDPs will be resettled once the demining process is complete. De-mining of conflict affected areas has been done at a pace comparable anywhere in the world. The Government has at present demined 1,412 square kilometers out of the 2,046 square kilometers contaminated with landmines. More than 42,000 Antipersonnel and 227 Antitank Mines and more than 15,000 items of Unexploded Ordnance have been recovered from these areas.
From the 11,993 ex-combatants of the terrorist group, around 750 remain under detention and also in the Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres (PARC). In relation to the detainees, appropriate investigations have begun in order to institute legal action. Further, all 595 child soldiers of the terrorist group were rehabilitated under a UNICEF-assisted programme, and reintegrated with their families within a year.
Since the end of the conflict, the Government has implemented several housing reconstruction programmes through which 60,000 houses have been rehabilitated and 10,000 are currently being constructed in the North and East. These efforts are being augmented by bilateral donor assistance in constructing additional 50,000 houses. In addition, families whose houses were fully damaged were financially assisted to rebuild. Further, the Government has put in place massive infrastructure and economic development programmes, in the former theatre of conflict, with a total allocation of USD 700 million. As a part of livelihood support, a self employment loan scheme has been initiated for the people in the North and East. Already thousands of beneficiaries have been apportioned USD 318 million. Additionally, beneficiaries were provided Enterprise Development Services (EDS) including assistance for the self employed. These measures have culminated in a 22% economic growth in the North, while the country’s GDP grew at 8% in 2011.
The Trilingual Policy introduced by the Government remains a cornerstone in building bridges among the communities and consolidating a sense of national unity. Already more than 1500 Tamil speaking police officers have been recruited to the North and East. As a means of enhancing their effectiveness, units of the Attorney-General’s Department will also be established in provinces to provide procedural guidance to the police.
Undoubtedly, national reconciliation is one of the priority aims of the Government of Sri Lanka at this juncture and this includes political and constitutional initiatives to address the root causes and provide restorative justice to those affected. In keeping with Sri Lanka’s uninterrupted democratic tradition, with the Parliament at the helm of governance representing the people, a Parliamentary Select Committee has been established to achieve a national consensus for constitutional changes necessary for the sustainability of the political process. In parallel, the Government is also conducting bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties on a structured basis.
In respect of the recommendations of the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the Government has already taken necessary courses of action. The Report offers detailed observations and recommendations on International Humanitarian Law issues relating to the final phase of the conflict. It also states that protection of the lives of civilians was a key factor in the formulation of military strategy and accepts that the deliberate targeting of civilians formed no part of this policy. However, it clearly accepts that if there is evidence of transgression by individuals this aspect should be further examined. This would inter alia include the establishment of a mechanism for gathering and assessing factual evidence relating to the episodes indicated, buttressed by a strong investigative arm. The outcome of this process will determine whether there is a basis for criminal proceedings to be initiated. In this respect, the local legal institutions are in the process of studying the relevant material contained in the Report. The Government has further on its own accord already carried out a series of measures that included conducting of a comprehensive census in the Northern Province to facilitate firm and verifiable conclusions important for establishing accountability.
In order to deal with the complex issue of lands, the Government has already begun a process to draft a Prescription (Special Provisions) Act, which once enacted, would favourably consider claims for immovable property including land of displaced or disadvantaged persons. Further in recognition of the importance in dismantling of High Security Zones to resettlement, the process was initiated prior to the Commission’s Report, which therefore recognized that the area had diminished significantly. By the end of the conflict in 2009, the High Security Zones (HSZ) accounted for 4098.36 Hectares and at present, 2582.45 Hectares remain. The Government will closely monitor and expedite continuing progress in this regard. In accordance with established practice of post-conflict demobilization, the Government has institutionalized a process through a Parliamentary Consultative Committee, to continuously record specific details on the number of weapons ceased and raids conducted to bring about a total end to the possession of unauthorized weapons.
The Government of Sri Lanka has assiduously continued to engage with the international community on the developments in Sri Lanka and brief them adequately. The recently launched National Human Rights Action Plan submitted to the Parliament contains a clear roadmap and timelines for implementation. Aspects of this Plan has relevance to some of the LLRC recommendations.
You would no doubt agree, that it is the Government of Sri Lanka which is best placed in evolving a home-grown solution acceptable to all the citizens of the country. Therefore, internationalizing a domestic issue by any initiative through the HRC at this point of time would only lead to derailing the ongoing reconciliation process that has been put in place by the Government. As we look around the conflicts unfolding globally and the prescriptions meted out by a part of the international community, it is clear that external interventions without the consent of the country concerned do not achieve the envisaged sustainable peace but continue to exacerbate the situation.
While the offer of support by The Elders is noted, I wish to reiterate that the best assistance that representations of the international community could afford Sri Lanka in its reconciliation process at this juncture is to provide the required time and space to the Government in implementing the LLRC recommendations.