By Somapala Gunadheera –
The recent news that the LTTE was trying to raise its head again, should receive the closest attention of every Sri Lankan, irrespective of race and creed. Opponents of the ruling Party are content with laughing off the Government’s warning as a hoax to subdue the growing disenchantment caused by rising costs, corruption and misrule. Even at this late hour, those in power do not appear to seek a solution to the problem behind this alleged threat, short of bravado and demagogy.
It is a remarkable achievement to have maintained the country free of a single terrorist act for nearly five years after the fall of Prabhakaran. The credit for this should go to the security arm of the Government in power. But no security force however powerful and effective it may be, can keep a real conflict under the hat indefinitely, unless the underlying cause for it is removed. In our case, that cause is the clash of interests among the respective communities that has been hanging fire since Independence. The failure of those who came to power from time to time to find a mutually satisfactory solution, ended in an armed conflict for thirty years that resulted in untold suffering to antagonists on both sides.
Five years ago, the Government celebrated the end of that physical conflict triumphantly, after destroying the movement that sought to wrench minority rights through armed struggle. The celebrators were convinced that the victory in the battlefield ensured a peaceful future for the Nation. They turned a deaf ear on mature voices calling for a permanent settlement of the issues that divided the country and disdainfully neglected the warning that war was bound to return otherwise, even after international attention was focussed on the situation.
Now that the forecast of a repetition of terrorism is coming true according to the rulers themselves, they have a duty to be circumspect at least at this late stage and lose no time in initiating an effective reconciliation process. Instead of doing that, the authorities are engaging themselves in a witch hunt in search of the trouble makers who are only trying to make capital of the rulers’ own lapse. It is the duty of every right-thinking citizen to engage the Government at this crucial moment to seek a workable solution, without splitting hairs for political advantage.
For my part, I place below, some of the proposals I have made over the years following the end of the armed conflict. I firmly believe that action on these lines would help the Government to retain its disintegrating subjects within a unitary State and recover its reputation in the world outside.
1. A Standing Presidential Commission for National Reconciliation (Sunday Island, October 24, 2010)
The need of the hour is to set up an institution that has the power and the capacity to coordinate issues connected with national integration. The best available structure appears to be a Standing Presidential Commission. Such an institution will have immediate access to the Centre of Power and the clout to direct and coordinate the entire government machinery. The Commission should have the duty and the power to ensure the relentless implementation of policy accepted as mutually agreed and it should be responsible for the following measures among others.
• A time based plan of action.
• Formulation of strategies that could realize the desired reforms.
• Detection of violations of legal provisions protecting the minorities, already in place.
• Corrective actions, both punitive and infrastructural, arising from such violations.
• Formulation of legislation that would become necessary, as the integration process advances.
• Creation of forums at which community leaders could thrash out their problems and seek consensus.
2. A positive approach to ‘Darusman’ (The Island, August 18, 2011)
Whatever its shortcomings may be, the Darusman Report has succeeded in creating a nasty impression against the country here and abroad. In that background, GOSL cannot afford to plead ‘not guilty’ and expect to get acquitted on the plea that the case against it has not been proved. Criminal law principles do not apply to rumour where the presumption is that he who could not prove his innocence was guilty. Now that Darusman has made an allegation against it, it behoves the GOSL to prove its innocence.
‘The oncoming Census presents an ideal opportunity to investigate another allegation contained in ‘Darusman’. That is the assumption that around 40,000 might have been killed in the final confrontation. Now that the displaced have been settled in their original habitats, the Census documentation for the war affected areas can ascertain bereavements and injury suffered by the relevant families including the causes. In cases entire families have been wiped out, the Grama Sevaka Officer may be asked to collate the best information available in consultation with the neighbours”.
3. A bilateral approach to reconciliation (The Island, October 19, 2011)
The bane of the reconciliation process is the absence of a monitoring mechanism to supervise and confirm the grievances of Tamils and the claims of the Government. That encourages false propaganda leading to disenchantment. For obvious reasons, an official body like the ongoing Supervisory Committee of leading public servants cannot perform this task with acceptance due to clash of interests. Their rulings on the claims against Government would not be taken seriously, even if they are genuine. The assignment calls for independence and integrity at the highest level. Repeated calls for a Presidential Commission to undertake this assignment have fallen on deaf ears.
4. Reconciliation through trust and participation, (The Island, January 22/’24, 2012)
The challenge before Government is to maintain security at maximum, with minimum intrusion on the normal life of the community and its dignity and self-respect. This is certainly an area that should receive the prompt attention of those responsible for the security situation in the North. Reportedly security checks and armed guards have been considerably reduced over the last year. Can this trend be further developed without harm to security concerns to a level where public life in Jaffna is no different from any other region in the country? Of course this calls for sensitivity and strategic planning. The end result should be to remove all possible evidence of an occupied territory. That implies stabilization of civil administration avoiding military intervention wherever possible.
5. A Standing Presidential Commission for National Reconciliation (The Island February 08, 2012)
It is an easy guess that if the Geneva assessment was limited to physical accomplishments, we would have come out with flying colours. These accomplishments were overshadowed and contaminated by our failures on the moral and constitutional sides. The task of implementing policies that are to make a regime change in inter-racial relations calls for nothing less than a Presidential Commission composed of outstanding men and women of action.
We have in the LLRC, a ready at hand mechanism to undertake the job of presiding over the implementation of what has been already agreed upon. Let us not stagnate searching for the perfect solution, granted of course, that such inaction is no part of the game. The immediate appointment of the members of the LLRC to a Presidential Commission to oversee the implementation of policies as they are ironed out would take much of the wind off the sails of our critics, both genuine and hired.
6. Get on the LLRC bandwagon (The Island May 07, 2012)
The best panacea for relaxing tensions on all sides is likely to be the honest and fast implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. The recommendations have met with the approval of the UNP. The TNA are asking for their implementation. The international community including India is happy with the proposals. UNHRC wants them implemented within two years. For once here at last, is a plan of reconciliation that is in a win/win situation.
7. “The Mountain and the Molehill”, (The Island, June 16, 2012)
Much effort and expense may have gone into the house to house survey (at the Census), but if the Government wants to clinch the issue it should go the extra mile into the causes of the established deaths.
That would involve a police investigation, no doubt a tough assignment, but if the cases of deaths are ascertained and action initiated against the guilty on both sides, before the next meeting of the UNHRC, the most serious item against Sri Lanka in its agenda would be reduced to a dead letter.
However the government preferred to appoint a Military Tribunal to undertake the investigation but its findings appear to be unacceptable to the UNHRC, presumably on the maxim, ‘no-one should be a judge in his own cause, a universal principle of natural justice. The judges on the Tribunal may have been honourable men of integrity but their service links with the suspects have compromised their findings in the public eye, at least in international fora.
8. Governance in fits and starts, (The Sunday Island, October 28, 2012)
Installing the machinery set up in progressive countries to guide formulation and implementation of Government policy calls for expertise that is not within the reach of ‘Advisers’ appointed in gratitude for past services rendered by them or by their predecessors. The Government’s first priority should be to establish a research and analysis module manned by the best local brains and assisted by the latest technology available.
There is one thing that the Government could do to welcome the TNA to the negotiating table and create an atmosphere of amity among all parties to begin with. That is to take immediate action to promulgate the draft Bill of Rights, prepared by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, as mandated by the National Human Rights Action Plan adopted by Cabinet in 2011. Stagnation of the Bill for months in the backburner was probably due to the ‘anthill phobia’ on liberating the minorities. Its appearance on the Statute Book should signal a new chapter in national integration.
9. A National Integration Commission, (The Island, April 1, 2013)
Unfortunately, the state has failed so far to provide machinery that could deal with the growing menace of illegal and unethical practices carried on under cover of religion and race, evidently financed by misguided patrons that seek to buy the conscience of the poor. Declaring that these incidents are part of a plot to discredit the government, exposing the despicable background of the rabble-rousers or occasionally denouncing their high-handedness at public meetings would not hold water for long.
The first priority therefore, is to provide a definite forum to which the complainants (of unethical activities) can take their case. At present there is no knowing to whom they had taken their alleged complaints on the neglect of which they claim to act. Not only should there be a specific body to which complaints could be made but also that body has to be nationally recognized and acceptable. These imperatives call for a representative body of eminent persons who would act without fear or favour. That body may be called the National Integration Commission (NIC), placed directly under the President. The institution calls for Commissioners of the calibre that the President handpicked for the LLRC.
10. Too many cooks but no food, (The Sunday Island, April 12, 2013)
There is no unanimity as to how to achieve national integration. But none would oppose the creation of a Commission to discharge functions like those assigned to the Kenyan National Cohesion and Integration Commission. Once what can be done with mutual agreement is done, the larger problems should become more amenable to resolution. Failure to put mechanisms like the NCIC in place is a result of indecision and procrastination. Our recent embarrassment at Geneva was the price we had to pay for dragging our feet on institutional responses to centrifugal tendencies.
11. Take accountability by the horns, (The Island, June 4, 2013)
The (Marga) Review has created a golden opportunity to go into the nitty-gritty of the Nandikadal Operation objectively and explain the county’s position with facts and figures. The best way of getting about this assignment is to take the bull by the horns. That is best done by holding an International Conference to discuss the Review, to which conference, all the leading critics of the Armed Forces’ response to the tactics of the LTTE during the last days of the war, should be invited. Attack is the best form of defence and if the invitees fail to uphold their charges against the forces at the conference, we would not have to stand peevishly in the dock in Geneva year by year.
12. A civilian post-mortem on the war dead, (The Island,September 30, 2013)
We are back to square one, with the ‘Self-appointed Global Police’ (SGP) breathing down our neck to hold a ‘credible’ inquiry within a deadline of six months, failing which we are threatened with an investigation of their own. They would use international experts, to do something that our humble civilian officials could have done leisurely on their own, if the authorities were wise enough to engage them at the proper time.
Prevention is always better than cure. Let the Government avoid a demeaning external intervention by holding a normal civilian post-mortem in public, on the deaths reported at the Census, at least now. One can, of course, challenge the authority of the SGP to intervene but it would be prudent to remember that not many such challengers have lived to tell the tale.
13. A Governor for the North, (The Island, October 10, 2013)
Rehabilitating a fallen people has to be undertaken with their participation and leadership. It is a mistake to try to impose it on them with external pressure. As it is, both the North and the East are predominantly governed by men symbolizing the military. The Commanders and the Governors of both provinces are from the Army and Sinhala by race at that. Undoubtedly the holders of these posts are efficient men performing an arduous task devotedly. But their inputs are overshadowed by their professional and genetic links that automatically create a sense of alienation among those whom they govern.
There is no doubt that from the security angle, both the North and the East have to remain under the watchful eye of senior military men until all possibilities of a backlash are wiped out. But should not the Governor of the North be a civilian representative of the majority of the province? If a Tamilian could not be placed in the post for reasons best known to the Government, a suitable civilian from the other communities may be moved up there, after placing a Tamilian Governor at the head of a southern province, thereby forestalling possible allegations of racial discrimination.
14. The fate of an obstinate Guru, (The Island, January 6, 2014)
Fortunately another opening has appeared for the President to reciprocate the goodwill of the North. That is the second courtesy call paid to the President by the CM of the NPC in the New Year, despite his disappointments. A prudent Government would lose no time in maximizing the effect of this meeting. That cannot be done through formal Parliamentary Committees. The immediate need is to build on the one upon one contact the CM has established for the second time, despite the cold shoulder he got after the first.
We direct our foreign relations on the moth-eaten tutorials of the last Century. We still believe in the inviolability of state sovereignty and direct our affairs on a false sense of security, depending on our immunity to action under the Rome Statute. In the meantime the West has discovered new devises to impose their will upon the Third World. They have discovered a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in situations where they decide on their own that there is a need to intervene. And they create the situations themselves.
Our leaders should be aware of these developments and not go to sleep on the UN Charter. Such awareness should make them alive to the new dangers ahead and be prepared to face them when they do arise. Our President should take a hard look at the developing danger and act with diligence and foresight.
The native saying goes, ‘niyapotten kadanna puluvan de poraven kapanna tiyanna epa’, ‘Do not leave what can be clipped with a nail to be chopped with an axe’.