| by Shanie
“I’m a little wounded but I’m not slain;
I will lay me down for to bleed awhile,
then I’ll rise and fight with you again”
John Dryden (1631-1700)
( 03, March 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) John Dryden’s oft-quoted couplet epitomises human nature. In defeat, we are unwilling to accept reality but in a false show of bravado, say of the enemy or opponent, ‘I’ll teach him a good lesson.’ That is why after the debacle at Mullivaikal, many LTTE supporters were not willing to believe that Prabhakaran had been killed or that the monolithic outfit he led also died with him. That is also why many apologists for the Rajapakse administration, even professionals and intellectuals who should know better, have questioned the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts report, the validity of their appointment and the conclusions they arrived at after examining all the evidence before them. We are unwilling to accept reality or face the consequences of our actions. We only want to lay down for a while, then rise and fight again.
The United Nations Human Rights Council meets three times in a year. The Council consists of 47 member states elected by the General Assembly on a defined regional basis so that all geographical regions are represented on it. Over the last three sessions, Sri Lanka’s record on human rights has come up for discussion. And each time, we have been making a big hullabaloo over this. We have signed up to adhere to the aims of this international body. Observance of a code in human rights is one such aim. We either follow this code, or, if not, we need to be transparent about it and make known the reasons for it. Denial in the face of ‘credible evidence’ is not an option for a responsible government. Nor also is the staging of fasts-unto-death (sic) or renting-a-mob to stage street demonstrations an option for a responsible government.
The only meaningful option available is to show the country and the world that the government is serious about ensuring human rights for all citizens of Sri Lanka, irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliations. So far, it has failed to do so. Abductions, killings, disappearances and disregard for the rule of law by the law-enforcement authorities, with or without political backing, are being reported regularly. Investigations, if any, into any of the well-known cases of disappearances and killings 0f political activists and journalists have proved futile. Contrast this tardiness these with the lightening speed with which Sarath Fonseka was charged, tried and sentenced to long prison terms and we have the state of the criminal justice system in our country.
Investigations into HR Violations
In May 2009, at the end of UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon’s visit to Sri Lanka, a joint statement him with President Mahinda Rajapakse stated in the concluding paragraph: “Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.” Nothing happened for nearly one year. Then, on May 2010, just before the next sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, the Government of Sri Lanka announced the appointment of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation with a mandate that included issues raised in the joint statement of the UNSG and President Rajapakse. Almost soon after, the UNSG announced that he was appointing a panel of experts to inquire and report to him on any violations of the international humanitarian and human rights law in Sri Lanka during the closing stages of the conflict in 2009. This panel issued their final report on 31st March 2011.
In the meantime, the LLRC went about its task, hearing oral and written evidence submitted by a variety of individuals and organizations, some of whom it specifically invited. On 13th September 2010, the LLRC issued an interim report. The interim report highlighted five areas where immediate action was required. The President and the Cabinet accepted these interim recommendations in the areas of Detention, Land, Law and Order, Administration and Language Issues and Socio-Economic and Livelihood Issues. A Committee under the Chairmanship of Mohan Peiris, former Attorney General, was appointed to implement those recommendations. Nine months after that committee was appointed, Jayantha Dhanapala, the respected Sri Lankan and international diplomat, in a newspaper interview stated: “In the interim report of the LLRC recommendations were made which were eminently sensible and humane, and which would have been a step in the process of reconciliation that the government talks about. The President accepted the recommendations very promptly, to his credit. A committee was appointed, the usual bureaucratic game, presided over by Attorney General Mohan Peiris, but we have still not heard about implementation. This, itself, is going to cut at the root of the credibility of the LLRC!” Over a year after the Mohan Peiris committee was appointed, the LLRC issued their final report in which they themselves complained of the non-implementation of their interim recommendations. Now, sixteen months later, the Mohan Peiris Committee has published a purported ‘progress report’ on its work. We wish the Editor of the Island will publish the interim recommendations of the LLRC alongside the ‘progress report’. The readers will then realise that no progress has been made in any area since the appointment of that committee, except for some members of committee having visited some of the detention camps. Jayantha Dhanapala is wrong when he says that non-implementation will cut at the root of the credibility of the LLRC. It only strikes at the credibility, not of the LLRC, but of the government which very rightly accepted the LLRC’s interim recommendations and appointed that committee.
Implementing the recommendations
The Cabinet has prepared and approved a National Human Rights Action Plan and appointed a sub-committee of the Cabinet to monitor its implementation. There is a feeling that the government appoints these committees and Commissions and draws up Action Plans only as a reaction to international and domestic pressure or when the UN Human Rights Council sessions are about to take place. But there is no intention of implementing them. The President can prove this opinion wrong by ensuring that LLRC recommendations are implemented without delay and in the spirit in which they have been made. The Mohan Peiris Committee has failed the people of this country. Rajiva Wijesinha has proposed a new Ministry of Reconciliation headed by a senior Minister in this regard. Perhaps the creation of an independent statutory body with wide powers and reporting to Parliament would be a more effective mechanism for the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC and taking forward issues of national reconciliation.
The government must go ahead with the implementation of the home-grown LLRC’s recommendations not only because the President and the government have accepted them but, more, because they are eminently in the right direction towards national reconciliation. It will ensure the sincerity and credibility of the government. It will also do away with our diplomats spending their time canvassing the vote of member states at the UNHRC sessions; G L Peiris having to go around the world for the same purpose. We find it incredible that the Minister of External Affairs has stated in Uganda that a resolution passed at the UNHRC would put back moves towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Why should it? If the government of which he is a member is sincere, then it will just go ahead and do what is right, irrespective of UN resolutions. We still do not know the text of the impending resolution and it is surprising that people are being worked up supporting or opposing the purported resolution. If, as someone has suggested the resolution merely calls for the meaningful and immediate implementation of the LLRC recommendations, all the pro- and anti-resolution agitators will end up with egg in their face.
The Falklands War
Twenty five years ago, Britain was engaged in a war with Argentina in the Falkland Islands. The Thatcher government at that time arranged a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, London at the conclusion of the war which Britain won. The sermon was preached by Lord Robert Runcie, then Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. Whatever our own faith or no faith, what the Archbishop said in that sermon has relevance for all of us: “I was particularly impressed by the report of one journalist who was moved by the mature way in which grief was openly expressed over the loss of comrades and admired the lack of rancour shown in attitudes towards the enemy….
“The parent who comes mourning the loss of a son may find here consolation, but also a spirit which enlarges our compassion to include all those Argentinian parents who have lost sons…
“Talk of peace and reconciliation is just fanciful and theoretical unless we are prepared to undergo a revolution (within ourselves). Many of the reports I have heard about the troops engaged in this war refer to moments when soldiers have been brought face to face with what is fundamental in life and have found a new source of strength and compassion even in the midst of conflict.
“Ironically, it has sometimes been the spectators who remained at home, whether supporters or opponents of the conflict, who continue to be most violent in their attitudes and untouched in their deepest selves.”