By Austin Fernando –
I looked at United Nations Rights Specialist Chaloka Beyani’s statement after a friend’s inquiry whether it is a Trojan Horse!
Beyani is an academic from London School of Economics; independent expert. His studies mainly focus on human rights, internally displaced people (IDPs), refugee women’s rights, legalities for protection of rights etc. He did same in Sri Lanka too. Being essentially a human rights exponent his reporting will be rights oriented. His statement was happily quoted by State Media on its praiseworthy references on the government.
Beyani was here on Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) invite, according to Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. Beyani’s statement is important to Sri Lanka, because it is not restricted to the host. It is shared by both friendly and antagonistic internationals and local organizations, as an “on the spot, independent, expert version.”
Beyani concluded: “Constructing a development based strategy for durable solutions for IDPs in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of conflict is now essential.” This is what GOSL constantly claimed she was doing. Indirectly the Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced justifies this: “IDPs have a right to a durable solution and often need assistance in their efforts.”
Therefore, his statement opening to international standards is understandable: “The IASC (Inter Agency Standing Committee) Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs, …….is more relevant than ever”, which motivates studying IASC approaches (e.g. Durable Solutions).
Since “durable solutions” are his key words, attention is drawn to the criteria determining the extent a ‘durable solution’ had been achieved? The criteria are (a) Long-term safety and security; (b) Enjoyment of an adequate standard of living without discrimination; (c) Access to livelihoods and employment; (d) Effective and accessible mechanisms to restore housing, land and property; (d) Access to personal and other documentation without discrimination; (e) Family reunification; (e) Participation in public affairs without discrimination; (f) Access to effective remedies and justice. One may niche Beyani’s statement under these IASC criteria.
‘Durable solutions’ are also flagged by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) orchestrating negativism by GOSL, while the opposite is heard from GOSL. Recently in the Parliament TNA Leader R Sampanthan discussed the GOSL on devolving land powers, “Uthuru Wasanthaya” (Northern Spring), attitude towards Northern Provincial Council (NPC) etc and quoted Beyani’s statement on other issues the latter raised, i.e.: “protection of the physical integrity and bodily autonomy of women and girls and their reproductive rights, of children, feasible access to land, and a proportionate balance between justifiable military concerns of national security and freedom of movement and choice of place for IDPs seeking to return to their original places of residence.”
He critiqued the military: “Transparent information on plans to release land currently under military control and withdrawal of the military from all civilian functions would help to find durable solutions for people in conflict-affected areas” and dealt with “some still need access to their original farmland or fishing areas to sustain their livelihood….. growing food-insecurity and indebtedness in the Northern Province, partly due to the lack of sustainable livelihood opportunities.” It appeared that he was unmindful of GOSL’s expressed security concerns or the potential for practical compromises in releasing lands occupied by the military.
Therefore, were these criticisms meant for an unfriendly Parliament or to reinforce internationals preparing for Geneva?
Beyani’s appreciation of GOSL’s achievements in resettlement, fostering economic development and building infrastructure, demining, releasing some lands to their original owners, facilitating traditional livelihoods are the nicely carved Trojan horse findings. In a recent Pastoral Letter issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, similar appreciation was observed. Even Prime Minster Cameron, in essence, had a few appreciations. Both these also had negative issues flagged like in Beyani’s. But, several GOSL spokespersons and even Ambassador Yasushi Akashi inferred ‘inevitable delays’ and demanded patience.
The advantage for GOSL is the timing of the statement giving space for GOSL to implement some ‘durable solutions’ to soften international criticisms and to win some affected. President Secretary Lalith Weeratunga visiting Geneva soon (Re: Amb: Akashi) will benefit by this time gap, to pledge improvements by March, and commence fulfilling some immediately.
Nonetheless, Beyani should be seriously evaluated with threatened overtures by Americans, British, Canadians and Indians. His findings could reverberate internationally, irrespective of Japanese, Chinese and Russian’s supportive pledges.
Chinese and Russians have several reasons to offer pro-GOSL pledges. Japan-a bit different- may be pressured by American and European Parliament findings, directly / indirectly. Can it be the anticipated / ongoing pressure on Japan that provoked Amb: Akashi to urge flexibility and reform from GOSL soon?
I have past experience working with Amb: Akashi’s and the Japanese, and may caution that Japanese decision makers rely more on actions than words! Behind what he told media there may be more not publicly transpired! If not, my apologies to him.
Incidentally, when Secretary Weeratunga plans mopping Sri Lanka’s difficulties, American officials (Damien Murphy, Trevor Hublin and Maria Prajo) fuel, engaging with various groups, exploring issues, hearing allegations against GOSL on colonization, land grab, attacks on places of worship and armed force “atrocities” etc, probably to include in the new US-UNHRC resolution. Similar reporting is heard from a European Parliament’s resolution too.
GOSL responds with videos depicting the military actions and regular meetings with foreign diplomats. In this verifiable background Beyani has to be unbiased.
There are several UN accepted conventions and principles for post-conflict ‘restitution’. One such is the Pinheiro Principles. It stresses the rights to Privacy and respect for the home, Peaceful enjoyment of possessions, Adequate housing, Non-Discrimination, Gender equality, and, Protection from displacement. UN Expert Beyani would have been influenced by similar documentation.
Let’s look at a comparison to understand cross-relationships in principles.
Beyani draws attention to the “IASC Framework on Durable Solutions” for IDPs and opines its relevance “to address the durable solutions needs of IDPs in conditions of safety and dignity.”
Pinheiro Principles speak of refugees’ and IDPs’s right “to voluntary return, in safety and dignity, to their original or former habitual homes and lands.”
Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs speaks of allowing them “to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence…”
Concurrently, TNA Manifesto recognizes operationalizing “IDPs to return voluntarily in safety and with dignity to their homes or places of habitual residence.” Is this co-incidental or deliberate?
Through these similarities my friend saw Greek soldiers in the Trojan horse carved by Beyani?
Beyani proposed setting out “a cohesive policy brief with benchmarks to bring real closure to the issue of internal displacement in Sri Lanka,” adding: “The follow-up action plan to the Lessons Learned Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and recommendations formulated in the Human Rights Action Plan provide valuable guidance as well.” Why then a new “cohesive policy brief” or “benchmarks?” Has the Weeratunga Committee wasted midnight oil on LLRC recommendations? Genial Secretary Weeratunga has to convince UNHRC of an available “cohesive policy” when in Geneva.
Beyani stressed the essential need “to ensure that the durable solutions process is done voluntarily, with the informed consent and participation of IDPs” and emphasized on meaningful consultation and IDP participation in shaping solutions guaranteeing durability and legitimacy of solutions. This is highlighted also in Pinheiro Principles. Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons wishes: “They (IDPs) participate in the planning and management of the durable solution so that their needs and rights are considered in recovery and development strategies”. Are these coincidental?
TNA’s aggrieves the non-existence of such participation. The TNA Leader orchestrated this while criticizing GOSL attitudes against the democratic political verdict in the North. He quoted a letter sent by the Secretary of the Presidential Task Force, S.B Divaratne to Subinay Nandy, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator to prove his point of ignoring the NPC’s Chief Minister (CM).
Is not this a representation against lacking meaningful consultations in resettlement, when the GOSL says that all possible consultations happen? These are serious issues because the gap exists between GOSL and Beyani, and, TNA (affected inclusive) against the GOSL. Such gaps attract international criticisms.
Though the ‘3- R Approach’ is followed in disaster management.(i.e. Relief, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction), GOSL focused on reconstruction. Beyani has enhanced the GOSL role because many humanitarian organizations and donors have down-scaled 3-R operations. His coverage spreads over a larger canvass, addressing durable solutions, needs and livelihoods, Rule of Law, human rights, good governance etc. These Beyani’s demands are to internationals’ and TNA’s liking, while GOSL prefers development. Gaps again.
Beyani’s comments on IDPs living in protracted displacement, IDP returnees living under “very precarious conditions and need more durable housing, access to social services, and the creation of livelihood opportunities” again differ from the GOSL’s stances.
TNA Manifesto speaks of IDPs having a right to durable solutions, articulating the responsibilities of authorities, and facilitating the assistance of humanitarian and development actors, which allow IDPs to return voluntarily in safety and with dignity to their homes or places of habitual residence, leaving to the Provincial administration to ensure credibility and accountability. Here the gap is between Presidential Task Force and NPC.
Beyani queried on IDPs’ property rights, receiving information on missing family members and accessing legal services. Difficulties faced by the rehabilitated LTTE Cadres by monitoring and control measures by security authorities and finding employment are in his radar. GOSL has different reasoning and approaches.
Experts like Beyani quote the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (2005) for further articulation. The outcome of restitution is articulated as: “Restitution should, whenever possible, restore the victim to the original situation before the gross violations of human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law occurred. Restitution includes, as appropriate: restoration of liberty, enjoyment of human rights, identity, family life and citizenship; return to one’s place of residence, restoration of employment and return of property.” (Article 19) Gaps are observed in the public domain between GOSL and the affected.
Pinheiro Principles take the perspective that neither war, human rights abuses, development projects or disaster are in and of themselves justifiable grounds upon which to legitimize the arbitrary or unlawful acquisition, expropriation or destruction of homes and lands over which refugees and displaced persons continue to retain rights. There are conflicting thoughts irrespective of these principles.
Beyani would have been influenced by these principles.
He welcomes the conducting of a Joint Needs Assessment, data collection of the displaced, access to IDPs land of origin and suggested disaggregating data by gender and age, which would help planning and prove positive intent for achieving durable solutions. In a background of complaints (correctly or not) and denials by the military, of rape and forced actions against reproduction he highlighted addressing protection of women and girls and their reproductive rights, of children etc. Can Beyani specifically prove the dangers on women, girls and their reproductive rights? Or, is he trudging on fire until Geneva infuriates? No wonder TNA Leader loves repeating.
The High Security Zones issue was raised differently by Beyani saying “Transparent information on plans to release land currently under military control” which can be connected to the pending Fundamental Rights cases. His stating “withdrawal of the military from all civilian functions” is exactly the demands made by Chief Minister (CM) Wigneswaran. His saying “some still need access to their original farmland or fishing areas to sustain their livelihood” is another demand by the TNA.
Though the GOSL boast of positive resettlement, Beyani saying “Displaced and resettled communities seem to remain vulnerable to recurrent shocks” does not endorse GOSL’s stances. He reiterates what Tamilnet does every day!
His “growing food-insecurity and indebtedness in the Northern Province” was an indictment challenging the GOSL statements on enhanced gross domestic product.
One issue which had not been in the public domain as a grave concern has been raised by Beyani: “The situation of single female headed households and of orphan girls is particularly preoccupying. While some received assistance to rebuild their houses, others live in extreme poverty, without adequate access to services and livelihood.” Does not this suggest early proactive thinking by the President?
He pointed out as a critical element peace-building, providing available information on missing persons, which coincidentally goes with Public Administration Ministry- Census Department census and the proposed and suspended Torture Investigation by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and empowering local elected authorities (meaning the Northern Provincial; Council and Local Authorities) at a time CM Wigneswaran claiming (rightly / wrongly) GOSL’s anti-devolution stances and road blocks by the Governor. Further, he added that the civil society “should be allowed to operate in accordance with international norms”, unrestricted and un-interfered from the authorities including in terms of monitoring and reporting.
Viewing in retrospect
On the whole, in Beyani, negative comments are more than positive for which Beyani may be a provocation in the months to come if GOSL and NPC/ TNA approaches remain unchanged. Therefore, is not it appropriate that GOSL and TNA in the main act to alleviate these complaints fast within possible avenues, rather than to be brawling in Geneva, directly or through proxies?
My intention here is not to challenge or endorse Beyani’s unspoken or clean or unintended motives. Now that a preliminary statement is in public domain the interest is to rekindle how the raised issues could be positively “managed”. If well done, Minister Sanmarasinghe could be happy with GOSL extending the invitation. But, if he and the GOSL are perturbed irrespectively, they must ready themselves with solutions for alleviation. Then they can refrain from calling Beyani’s report a Trojan horse, and call “guidance”.
With complex contradictions as discussed, one may feel that crafty UNHRC -like Ulysses in Greek mythology- has devised a ‘Victory Trophy’ through Beyani’s reporting; however, with GOSL’s blessings. I cannot think who the ‘Sinnon’ (who recommended the study to offer GOSL invite) was. For some in the state media Beyani’s statement is a nicely carved wooden horse praising the GOSL. Therefore, they happily carry it, unaware of the Greek soldiers hidden in it.
NPC politicians who met and fed Beyani with information and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan who officially registered Beyani in the Parliament, with their proxies will be the soldiers to get gates opened by internationals in March in Geneva, if proactive follow up is ignored by GOSL and “negative attitudes” remain static.
Government Parliamentarians who received appreciation of R Sampanthan for not disturbing should do their job properly to move forward. They will deserve more appreciation even from R Sampanthan if they act positively.
However, this cannot be one handed clapping. GOSL/ TNA / NPC (Governor and CM) also have to learn and act for compromises- give and take. They are not on stage to act Merchant of Venice!
Sadly, some of us, like the Trojan priest Laocoon and Cassandra who see through the possible international behavior and urge countering the Greeks inside the Trojan horse will not be heard and as in the mythology will be devoured by two serpents, i.e. “Tigers” and “Traitors,” when the country is slaughtered internationally.
Then my friend’s wild guess will not be off the shoot.
Sanyuktha Nikaya Teaching
I am reminded of a quote from Sanyuktha Nikaya, where (in layman’s explanation), a deity inquired from Lord Buddha how to deal with internal and external problems in the community (Antho jatha bahi jatha…). Lord Buddha responded that it is by being disciplined, wise and rational with developed mind the knots could be untwined. It is time to prove our commitment for disciplined, wise and rational behavior. Nation’s request from the President, TNA and internationals is to cooperate in this exercise.
The ball is in your courts, Sirs!