Colombo Telegraph

Breaking Ice To Avoid Avalanches In Geneva

By Austin Fernando 

Austin Fernando

Minister GL Pieris has recently stated the Sri Lankan Government’s (SLG’s) stance on responding to international demands to solve the domestic political crisis. In theUS, to be heard also by the Diaspora, he emphasized on a “domestic process,” “not donor-driven or foreign-owned,” possessing a “home-grown element,” as solution to the crisis.

He further noted that SLG has “recently initiated a process” to implement LLRC recommendations meaningfully, after extensive consultation within the government. He deliberately skipped the unabated nasty anti-LLRC sentiments orchestrated by some coalition partners within the government and instinctively prioritized resettlement and ongoing economic and infrastructure development in the North as achievements.

Seriousness of international demands

The ‘international demands’ he has in mind are encapsulated in the Geneva Resolution (GR) which has four important foci. They are:

  • SLG has to implement the ‘constructive LLRC recommendations’ and take steps to fulfill relevant legal obligations and commitments to initiate credible and independent actions, to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. I may say that there are many constructive recommendations (e.g. 9:14, 9:23, 9:37, 9:39, 9:60 etc) that could be implemented to prove SLG’s genuineness;
  • SLG has to present, as expeditiously as possible, “a comprehensive action plan” (AP) detailing the steps taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations, and address alleged international law violations;
  • Encourage the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with, and with the concurrence of the SLG, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above mentioned steps; and,
  • The Office of the High Commissioner to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its 22nd Session. This seemingly makes the UNHRC Report (positive / negative) mandatory.

Reading between lines some in the above are positive; but, some are questionable for SLG. GR focuses on Implementation of “constructive recommendations”, thus leaving space for prioritizing. Legal binding and commitments merge implementation to amendment or introduction of laws, or even repealing of negative legal stipulations providing time-horizons for implementation. GR’s “Credible and independent actions” may be even interpreted as international independent reviews and incorporate alleged international law violations, which are abhorred by SLG.

Ensuring justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans is what the GSL says it does. However, these generate rights issues that are questioned by both sides of the divide, though there are possible avenues of overcoming.

Provision of advice and technical assistance for implementing these recommendations is refused by SLG, probably due to suspicion of wrong handling under the influence of ‘LTTE rump / Tamil Diaspora’ or international humanitarian organizations. However, the GR stipulation may be interpreted as anticipating compulsory use of advice and technical assistance from the UNHRC Secretariat, of course after consultation and with concurrence. Though any consultations and requests for concurrence are yet unknown, delay or failure or half-heartedness to abide by the GR may fuel initiation of such dialogue, creating uneasy embarrassment to GSL.

The above-mentioned UNHRC Report will be written on SLG performance in the interim. From statements already made, SLG does not rely on UNHRC’s bureaucracy (specifically Ms. Navanetham Pillai) to respond favorably. It therefore makes it more mandatory to implement the GR to block adverse reporting.

Filling the gaps

It is apparent that gaps exist between the SLG’s standpoint and international demands/ minority aspirations. The LLRC Recommendations as ‘international rulings’ push SLG to enlarged principles, directed by international legal obligations, with UNHRC relationships. They are worded to encourage international legalities, good governance, participation, and cooperation with internationals (advising and assisting), in consultation and with governmental concurrence – the latter caveat being a bonus. SLG stands on domestic methodologies.

However, there seems to be space for adjustments, if the internationals and SLG could agree. This is achievable, as observed from the few steps already taken, e.g. appointment of LLRC Recommendations Implementing Committee (LRIC) headed by Lalith Weeratunga, providing details of persons in custody, rehabilitating LTTE cadres, Resettlement Minister promising Indians total resettlement of all displaced by end June etc. Study of Chapter 9 of the LLRC Report shows the wide canvass for early implementation, if commitment exists. However, there are urgent demands from GSL made by the internationals, Diaspora and some locals, thus creating wide gaps, e.g. removal of all military installations, which is difficult until security is confirmed.

Additionally, it must be noted that gaps exist between what Minister Pieris has said and the field status. His saying that LLRC recommendation implementation had been after extensive consultations within the government runs short of the GR requirement of consultations- especially with TNA, which is stalled for months.  Similarly, consultation with the Opposition is lukewarm, though “deceptive coffee mornings” are occasionally reported!

One major gap between the Tamil political parties and the GSL appears in finding a devolution methodology. This is mentioned in LLRC Recommendations 9: 229 to 9: 237, with specifics (e.g. land power sharing) in 9:150. The SLG harps on the Parliamentary Select Committee with no apparent success to obtain nominees from the TNA and UNP while JVP refuses participation. Narrowing the devolution gap through any mechanism is crucial for reconciliation.

Planning             

The first step for the AP is to identify the planning scope. It should commence with identifying the ‘constructive recommendations.” Here it is essential that the country and the internationals should not be bamboozled by contradictions, because they create space for adverse interpretations. Similarly, internationals should refrain from bamboozling GSL due to political complexities faced by the latter.

The influential US Tamil Political Action Committee (USTPAC) has urged Senators / politicians and Representatives in the Foreign Affairs Committees / the State Department to pressureSri Lankato implement the GR. It is a good example of adversity.  USTPAC has allegedly pointed out that the SLG had been trying to introduce “home grown alternatives” for long, when Minister Pieris has betted all greenbacks on “home grown alternatives”. Therefore, the planning exercise should initially identify the agreeable / disagreeable / adjustable constructive recommendations, which may not satisfy USTPAC, who expect total implementation of the LLRC recommendations immediately. The agreeable can be implemented immediately; the disagreeable should be reviewed and amended; and the rejecting unconstructive recommendations should be decided with transparent frankness. Unfortunately, this latter window seems to be tightly sealed.

The Government may not be able to shirk the responsibility of submitting a “comprehensive action plan”, loosely called a “Road Map”, as demanded by theUS-the prime GR mover. SLG’s spokespersons may question why an AP should be produced. They could argue that adopting GR demeans Lankan sovereignty. While sovereignty should not be pawned at all one has to be cautious on SLG’s international obligations, however much she hates them.

Organizing

The organizing aspect is quite important. The President’s direct involvement exhibiting the Executive Will is extremely valuable at the helm. The appointment of LRIC is very appropriate. Though the SLG is shy to admit and will refute this statement, whatever changes related to GR that we hear lately may be signals of accommodating the international pressures. Nevertheless, LRIC Committee should be supported by the President, Cabinet and operatives. His LRIC Secretariat should possess strong, experienced, committed personnel, e.g. planners, technical experts, disaster managers, lawyers, media personnel, development experts etc, if it to positively deliver.

To broad base and create participatory management in implementation, it may be best that the President creates the transparent political accountability mechanism by heading a Task Force at the helm, which should include the Leader of the Opposition and political party chiefs, relevant Chief Ministers / Governors and District level political heads of the worst affected districts, ethnic minority political party representatives, defense authorities and other representatives on “need-basis”. Such representation gives a “national shade” to implementation and create a conduit to hear political and operational grievances (if any) and resolve them within four walls rather than to orchestrate via satellite media. The Executive Will overtaking Rule of Law in such gainful manner may be excusable!

Regular briefing of the major donor / financier group representatives could be undertaken by this Task Force, irrespective of earlier mentioned rhetoric of “not donor-driven or foreign-owned” approach. Since the President is the Minister of Finance it will be appropriate too.

This Task Force should focus on deciding the required legal backing by introducing new laws or necessary legal amendments, create institutions and draw lines of operations, responsibility, accountability, chain of command, rules, regulations, reporting structures etc. The Attorney General being directly accountable to the President could be better used this way for reconciliation.

One very important organizational issue is to see through potential manipulations, from among Tamil Diaspora or extremist Sinhala organizations or humanitarian organizations or independent writers. For instance, in March Geneva shook with Channel IV- Part Two video. This time, another innovation will create turmoil in Geneva. We should not forget that some in foreign lands are still counting the dead! Perhaps, a sensitive book, with first hand personalized information on violence, crimes, rights violations, failures of SLG on promises made, devaluing what had been achieved etc may draw international alert and could be the talking point in Geneva in October next. Many of these aspects are related to LLRC recommendations. Therefore, it is essential to immediately establish a Unit under the Task Force to proactively deal with such potential domestic and international critiques.

Directing

LRIC should be reinforced with granting authority, responsibility and accountability to the respective organizations and relevant authorities involved in implementation. Change of laws will bring in the force of legality. The Task Force activities will be implemented through LRIC engaging established institutions. Operational directions have to be unambiguous, as implementation institutions cut across the Centre, Provinces, Local Authorities, corporate sectors, statutory bodies, civil society and military organizations etc.

The directions should be based on the right to non-discrimination. International provisions demand that States shall ensure that de facto and de jure discrimination be prohibited and that all persons, including refugees and displaced persons are considered equal before the law. Since this point is often raised negatively against Sri Lanka it is essential that more emphasis be laid on direction to ensure non-discrimination.

The staff should be provided with directing methodologies for best achievement. In this context there could be many multilateral and bilateral institutional capacity enhancement opportunities. The operational staff, Advisory or Consultative expertise, reporting mechanisms for domestic and international consumption should be established. As a special gesture staffing from among the affected wherever possible will be an excellent approach, as it will enhance participation and community economic stabilization.

Coordinating

While the Task Force is at the Presidential Secretariat level, more relevant ministries like the Resettlement, Defense, Economic development etc should establish Ministry Coordinating Mechanisms. The Minister of the relevant ministry should be the head of the Coordinating Committee. In the Provinces it should be the Chief Minister who should replace the Minister of a line ministry. In the most affected Districts the most senior MP could be the head of the coordinating mechanism. The appropriate officials should be drawn in to the coordinating mechanisms at all levels and the coordinating mechanisms should be vertically connected to the helm for efficiency and effectiveness.

In organizing the Coordinating mechanisms in the North and East, all political groups should be made decision making partners. It should falsify the critical statement made in the LLRC Report: “One of the dominant factors obstructing reconciliation in Sri Lanka is the lack of political consensus and a multi-party approach on critical national issues…” (9:282)

Sadly such partnering is generally absent in Sri Lanka!

Coordinating with the internationals should be left to the Ministry of External Affairs and financial participation should be through the Ministry of Finance and its Director Generals of External Resources, National Planning and Budgeting.

Budgeting

Budget provisions should be provided through the National Budget, and foreign budget support should be compartmentalized in other sectoral budgets. The foreign budgeting component must look at reinforcing economic development activities, projects and programmes, grant components, loans, bonds and technical assistance. The private sector component and foreign direct investments to suit the needs of the affected areas should be the forte of the Treasury, but with the involvement of the Provincial / District Task Forces for prioritization.

Coordinating with Diaspora financing for economic and social development (e.g. rehabilitation, psychological counseling, physical rehabilitation, housing and community development, vocational guidance, foreign employment though the Diaspora etc) could be at the centre, dependent on the area of operations. In all these programmes there could be certain budgeting facilitations enabling sustainability and confidence building for which insurance inputs could be of help, which could be coordinated by relevant authorities (e.g. REPPIA).

Monitoring and Evaluation

Sectoral monitoring authorities should be designated. National level evaluations should be conducted while international level evaluations will be done by the Ministries of External Affairs and Finance. Political evaluations should be undertaken by the Presidential Task Force and the evaluation reporting should be used to improvise implementation actions.

Conclusion

The issues, international expectations, SLG’s constraints, possible interventions for reconciliation through LLRC Recommendations are complex. Nevertheless, they are not simplistic. However, the need is to quickly start before GSL is squeezed by the internationals; organized or not. The worst constraint in this effort is the lack of genuine political willingness in southern political leaderships and parties, suspecting minority political parties and communities, chauvinistic elements on both sides of the divide, ‘pound of flesh demands’ to reconcile, international partisanships, personal ambitions for power, Diaspora hidden agendas etc.

To make all these parties to say “Aye” to any excellent approach is unimaginable. Hence, doing the very best to address the challenges in the face of constraints could be a better initiation. This could be applied to LLRC Recommendations too.

To succeed, all these parties should exhibit large heartedness and understanding, which if not would make our motherland a failed or pariah state for sure. None of us is willing to be identified as “failed” or “pariah” and let eyes, ears, brains and minds moot positive reactions urgently by breaking ice, before hidden avalanches bury us.

 

 

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