July ‘83 and National Reconciliation

869508809DI-P13--31-8-(p)-ksnSome decades ago I quoted Santayana’s dictum that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it. I cannot remember the exact words. Shortly thereafter President Jayewardene repeated the quotation, and it was much in vogue for some years. Now, in writings on July ’83, the idea that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it has been powerfully revived, though the quotation has been forgotten. A convenient and convincing illustration for that idea has been found in the ongoing racist anti-Muslim hate campaign and anti-Muslim action, which some weeks ago led to widespread fears of a repetition of the July ’83 pogrom, this time against the Muslims. All that can be seen as the consequence of a failure to remember the past, specifically the horrors brought to us by racist anti-Tamil action, particularly in July ’83.

I now want to make what seems to me a crucially important clarification of what Santayana probably, or almost certainly, had in mind in making his dictum. An erudite philosopher, Santayana could hardly have been unaware of the fact that a people often remembers its past selectively and with distortions to suit its present and future interests. I suppose that is what Henry Ford had in mind in declaring, “History is bunk”. Some would argue that all history is purposive, not an unbiased record of what really happened but future-oriented interpretations meant to serve the interests of a people. However, it is incontrovertible that some things did actually happen in the past, and commonsense tells us that our interpretations can be right or wrong to varying degrees. So, what is important is not just to remember the past, but to try to remember it as it actually was, not as we would like it to have been.

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UNHCR recommendations accepted by Sri Lanka to improve Human Rights

1. Consider ratifying the Palermo Protocol on human trafficking. (Philippines)


2.
Make further efforts to ratify other relevant international instruments that are vital to the promotion and protection of Human Rights, in keeping with its national capacity and priority. (Cambodia)


3.
Continue efforts to implement the National Action Plan for the protection and promotion and human rights. (Bahrain)


4.
Expedite action to implement the agreed Action Plan in line with the spirit of the LLRC through a process inclusive of all people belonging to all ethnicity. (Bangladesh)


5.
Steady implementation of the National Action Plan for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as well as the National Plan of Action to implement the recommendations of the LLRC. (Japan)


6.
Take all steps to strengthen and ensure the independence of the National Human Rights Commission. (Germany)


7.
Ensure structural and operational independence of the national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. (Maldives)


8.
Strengthen the independence of institutions such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Police Commission and Election Commission. (Norway)


9.
Take action to facilitate greater participation by citizens and civil society in helping to implement human rights action plans. (Australia)


10.
Maintain and strengthen cooperation with various UN mechanisms, as well as financial institutions to overcome the challenges faced in the peace and national reconciliation process. (Benin)


11.
Share with the international community its experiences in rehabilitating and reintegrating former LTTE child soldiers. (Cuba)


12.
Prioritize the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers. (Italy)


13.
Provide greater cooperation to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to accomplish its work. (Ecuador)


14.
Ensure women’s participation in the post-conflict, reconstruction and peace building process. (Finland)


15.
Adopt necessary measures to ensure that gender equality is a legal and practical reality, combating particularly gender violence.(Spain)


16.
Criminalize all forms of violence against women and hold the perpetrators of such violence accountable. (South Africa)


17.
Increase efforts on strengthening protection of children’s rights in such areas as child labour, domestic violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation. (Iran)


18.
Consider incorporating the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, otherwise known as the “Bangkok Rules“ as part of its work on the treatment of prisoners. (Thailand)


19.
Fully and transparently investigate alleged grave breaches of international humanitarian law during the conflict. (UK)


20.
Take necessary measures to bring to justice and prosecute perpetrators of violations of the international human rights law and humanitarian Law. (Chile)


21.
Take necessary steps to ensure that all detainees are afforded a fair trial within a reasonable period. (Ireland)


22.
Continue to carry out the policy aimed at improving the judicial system, reforming law enforcement bodies and decreasing the level of crime and corruption. (Russia)


23.
Carry out an independent and credible investigation on the allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. (Switzerland)


24. 
Ensure legal ownership and return or restitution of houses and lands to internally displaced persons, according to international standards. (Holy See)


25.
Remain committed to sustainable economic and social development, further promote national reconciliation, and achieve stability and development in the country. (China)

The Laws’ and Other Delays

Even before I was asked to convene the Task Force on implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, we had commenced at the Reconciliation Office a series of consultations with relevant Government officials as well as Civil Society, to develop suggestions as to how best the Plan could be taken forward.

We had three such consultations which all produced a wealth of ideas, and these fed in to a meeting of the Task Force which looked in particular at Children’s issues. The Secretary to the Minister who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee sent out several requests on the basis of the decisions taken then, though we still need a clear directive from the Presidential Secretariat about swift implementation of the Plan.

Unfortunately the next set of Consultations we had planned had to be postponed when I was suddenly asked to go to Geneva. I fear now that we will again have to devote time and energy to dealing with misguided criticism rather than moving forward with productive action. I suppose that has to be expected though, when Human Rights becomes a political tool rather than an entitlement for people that needs to be strengthened.

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