Deutsche Welle – Colombo ‘failing to engage’ with Tamil minority

Five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, there are few signs of a government-led reconciliation, MP Rajiva Wjesinha tells DW, arguing that mistrust and suspicion have only grown stronger.

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Shortly after the Sri Lankan army defeated the separatist “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the country’s bloody civil war which had lasted more than 25 years during that period claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.

Five years after the end of the separatist conflict, Sri Lanka is still struggling with reconciliation between the majority Sinhala community and the Tamil minority. International human rights organizations hold the army as well as the LTTE-separatists responsible for crimes committed during the civil war. UN High commissioner Navi Pillay has repeatedly criticized the government in Colombo for having failed to establish a “credible national process to address abuses.” As a result the UN Human Rights Council recently decided to launch an independent international investigation of human rights violations during the war.

In a DW interview, Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament for the ruling coalition, says the government is not paying enough attention to the needs of people in the former war zones and welcomes advice from countries “which have not been unfairly critical” of the Sri Lankan government’s reconciliation approach. Continue reading

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Geneva 2014: Is the government falling into a trap?

The exclusion of intellectuals and their input in the making of public policy — foreign policy in particular — and the consequences thereof, was a recurring theme at a recent public discussion on the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in March 2014.  Nativist, xenophobic tendencies were coming to the fore and “We don’t know how to converse with the world anymore,” warned Dayan Jayatilleke, the keynote speaker.  Dr Jayatilleka is best known as the former UN ambassador in Geneva who led the team that defeated a hostile resolution brought against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council Special Session in May 2009, soon after the military defeat of the LTTE.   Sri Lanka lost two subsequent US-led resolutions in 2012 and 2013.

The discussion held at the auditorium of the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) was organised by the Liberal Party and moderated by its leader Rajiva Wijesinha, a National List MP and Secretary to the (now dismantled) Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). Prof Wijesinha noted the absence of input from independent think tanks in foreign policy decision making, and lamented the failure of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in this regard.

Jayatilleka has been arguing consistently in the media that the cold war the country faces is an intellectual battle. A bibliography on Sri Lanka has developed over the years with a number of documents being produced, but though these were studied in the West there was no significant discourse in Sri Lanka he said, on his fortnightly TV talk-show ‘Vantage Point’ aired Thursday on ‘MTV Sports.’ “We are going into battle without knowing the history.” He said it was unthinkable that the GoSL did not respond to the flawed report of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel (the ‘Darusman report’). There were two brilliant critiques of it that had been disregarded. One was by the Marga Institute, a much respected independent think tank, and the other a study titled ‘The Numbers Game’ by a group of highly educated Western-based Sri Lankans. Listing some of the other literature on the subject he mentioned the Petrie report, Gordon Weiss’s book ‘The Cage,’ The Routledge Handbook on R2P, and a UK House of Commons research paper in 2009 titled ‘War and Peace in Sri Lanka,’ which traced the campaign against Sri Lanka originating much earlier than the ‘last stages of the war.’

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Reconciliation and the role of India

Reconciliation and the role of India

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

At the Observatory Research Foundation

Delhi, December 13th 2013

I must admit to being deeply worried about the current state of relations between India and Sri Lanka. I contrast this with the excellent situation that obtained in 2009, when India was the chief component of the protective barrier against efforts to stop us eradicating terrorism from our shores. One might have thought that this was a goal the whole world would have supported, but sadly this is not an ideal world and countries will naturally put their own self interest first. Fortunately, not only did India’s interests coincide with our own at that stage, but given the terrible toll terrorism funded by external sources was taking on both our countries, I think it is also true to say that we worked in accordance with the highest moral perspectives.

But the aim we shared then, of eradicating terrorism on our shores, went hand in hand with another commitment, which was the promotion of pluralism in Sri Lanka. This again is a moral goal, but it also has a practical dimension, in that the full incorporation of the Tamil people in the body politic in Sri Lanka would have reduced the potential for future terrorism.

Sadly Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. Given its urgency I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them. In this process India has a significant role to play.

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Towards Reconciliation

Rajiva Wijesinha

Adviser on Reconciliation to HE the President

 

Four years after the conclusion of conflict, Sri Lanka still has a long way to go to achieve Reconciliation. This is unfortunate, given the enormous efforts made by government to improve facilities for the people most affected by war. But it is not surprising that, as indicated by the results of the last election held in the Northern Province, we have failed to win hearts and minds.

That would not have been difficult had a concerted effort been made. But this requires planning, and unfortunately planning is not something Sri Lanka has been good at. For over three decades now, we have tended to respond to events or rather to crises. The one exception was the care with which, in the period after 2005, we approached the conflict, with all branches of government working together and care taken to ensure the dissemination of clear and convincing information. Following the conclusion of the conflict however all that broke down, and propaganda, often based on parochial electoral considerations, took over, with little attempt at intelligent analysis of ground realities.

Thus we seemed to believe that reconstruction alone would suffice, and reconstruction that placed a premium on cement rather than people. This is on par with the worst delusions of capitalism as elevated into a political philosophy, the assumption that prosperity will trickle down. But this does not work, and Sri Lanka may in the end have to pay heavily for the failure to conceptualize with sensitivity of those who took on responsibility only for construction and not for consultation, who concentrated only on resettlement and not rather on restoration.

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Counting the Dead and Paying the Cost

The Daily Mirror reported last week that between November 30 and December 10, the government would carry out a census of those who were killed or who had disappeared, during the war years – July 1983 to May 2009. The subject dealt elsewhere in writings as the numbers game.

LLRC

For those affected or accused it is no game. The impact is quite serious. The LLRC recommended were ,’ Conduct a professionally designed household survey covering all affected families in all parts of the island to ascertain first hand the scale and circumstances of death and injury to civilians, as well as damage to property during the period of the conflict.

The progress has been – Using data on ‘Population and Housing Census 2012′ covering the entire country including North and East Provinces for the first time since 1981, Department of Census and Statistics is taking following initial steps to conduct a survey on affected families.

Steering committee comprising senior officers of relevant Ministries and Agencies meets fortnightly to discuss activities related to the census on death/injuries to persons and property damages due to conflict.

The methodology suitable to conduct the census was devised and data collection forms were designed. Both were pre-tested in selected GN divisions in Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and Mullativu districts in order to cover different conflict situations since 1982.

The outcome of the pre-test was evaluated by DCS working group. Final draft to be submitted. Department of Census and Statistics is planning to conduct an Economic Survey covering entire country which will generate most of data on the affected families.

The second LLRC recommendations was to ,’Take all necessary measures for implementation of the [Registration of Deaths Act] at the administrative level.. Give adequate publicity to the relevant provisions of the Act through media, Grama Niladharis etc., especially in the conflict affected areas.’

The progress has been-During 2011, 37 and 761 deaths were registered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces respectively. In 2012, these numbers were 38 and 801. In addition, 29 mobile services were held during 2011 in various DSDs in North and East to issue death certificates. Services were also held in Mullaitivu District Secretariat in September 2012.

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Commonwealth Secretariat, Human Rights Commission of SL and Reconciliation

Workshop in Vavuniya

The Commonwealth Secretariat organized  a workshop for staff of our Human Rights Commission and invitees  last week.  The objectives  were facilitate to identify HRC’s role in contributing to the country’s on-going national reconciliation process;  share  experiences and best practices of  ‘A’ accredited NHRIs in contributing to the reconciliation processes of their own countries; facilitate discussions between the HRCSL staff, NGOs, grassroots organizations, community and religious leaders, and senior local administrative officials in the areas directly affected by the former conflict to reach consensus on a collaborative project/s on how to contribute to the on-going reconciliation process AND  raise awareness among the Commissioners and staff on how the direct involvement of the HRCSL in the reconciliation process may improve its effectiveness, independence and authority under the Paris Principles.

Status of HRC

Our HR Commission was granted Status ‘A’ in 2000 by the ICC. In 2007 it was downgraded to a’ B’ Status by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). The ICC was established for the purpose of creating and strengthening national human rights institutions which are in conformity with the Paris Principles.

The Commonwealth and HRC

The Secretary-General in his Departure Statement issued in February from Colombo observed that bolstering the capacity (of the HRC)  involved in national reconciliation processes was an area of collaboration with the Secretariat.

In May,  the Chairperson of the HRCSL Justice Priyantha Perera and his delegation, which included the Commissioner in charge of the Inquiries and Investigations Division, and Regional Coordinators from Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa – met with the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General in London. They were in London to participate in the Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation. The HRCSL delegation confirmed the areas in which they would appreciate Commonwealth Secretariat support and technical assistance such as – support for the HRCSL to determine its role, as the national human rights institution, in national reconciliation efforts including making firm recommendations to the government on the fast-tracking of issues around language; making public high profile cases of disappearances and sharing the reports widely; engaging in advocacy with government and Parliament around counting and naming the dead; commencing engagement with government on issues of memorialization.

The UN on Role of NHRI’s

The UN Manual on “National Human Rights Institutions: History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities”  on the role of NHRIs in post conflict situations, describes that NHRIs can play both a preventive and a restorative role in such circumstances.

“Reconciliation may ensure that people, especially those that have experienced violations, are able to voice their feelings, experiences and expectations. It may support the rehabilitation of combatants and their reintegration into society. And it helps to create an environment where people can live together again. Ensuring justice may serve to deal with past abuses so as to ensure that there is no impunity for gross human rights abuse.” Continue reading

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)