2 October, 2020

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Dilemma In Two Fronts: OHCHR Investigation On Human Rights And Pursuit Of Reconciliation In Sri Lanka

By G K Nathan

Dr. G K Nathan

Dr. G K Nathan

Members of the International community are currently taking  an approach which is to persuade Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), which was mandated by the Resolution (A/HRC/25/L.1/Rev.1) passed at United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at the 25th   session in March 2014.  Direct intervention on Sri Lanka was initiated after the International community failed to persuade the current Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) at the end of war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, to pursue: reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The underlying reasons for the failure is because the six decades long conflict between the Tamil and Sinhala Nations is used by the Sinhala dominated parties to capture power, as well as to remain in power by opposing any proposal to devolve power.  Any approach to resolve the conflict, makes the party in power weak or conceding too much to the others in the eyes of majority Sinhala voters in the country; which led the current GSL to ignore, the previous two UNHRC resolutions, the first one at the 19th session (A/HRC/19/L.2 of March 2012) and the second one at the 22nd session (A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev1 of March 2013). Following the precedence set earlier for the reason given above, the GSL led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rejected the OISL process and decided not to cooperate with OHCHR. The intransigence behavior of GSL and rejection of the majority of democratic countries call are perhaps in the believe that countries like China and Russia will come to their aid, if required at the UN Security Council?  Recent arrival of nuclear submarines of China at the shores of Sri Lanka for the first time is a signal that cooperation between China and Sri Lanka is being consolidated with military cooperation, but at the expense of other friendly countries in the region. It should be noted at the same time; China is consolidating its position in South China Sea and further spreading and consolidating its tentacles in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka, a small country, is unwisely getting drawn into a geopolitical tug-of-war so as to establish an authoritarian regime in Sri Lanka at the expense of neutrality which was the policy in the past.  In the long run, this strategy might affect the country adversely and the security and survival as a unified country is in question? In the 21st century, the worst conflict in the world, that caused deaths, deprivations, displacements and destruction of belongings occurred in Sri Lanka, while the world silently watched; in all more than half a million people are still waiting since the end of conflict in 2009 for justice, it is turning out to be “Justice delayed is Justice denied”.

The OISL on the 1st of August 2014 has called on: individuals, organizations and governments to submit evidence “on alleged serious violations and abuse of human rights and related crimes perpetrated by both combatants, covering the period from 21 February 2002 to 15 November 2011”; which is receiving overwhelming support from many, except GSL. Sources within Sri Lanka say that the GSL has encouraged people to make submission to OISL on allegations against LTTE, but at the same time GSL has threatened the individuals and organizations within Sri Lanka who have expressed interest in participating in the OISL process and giving evidence against Sri Lanka armed forces. Only when the OISL report is finally released at the 28th session of UNHRC in March 2015, the truth will be known. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered his maiden speech at the 27th Session of UNHRC and fully endorsed the contributions and initiatives of his predecessor Ms Navi Pillay to seek justice to victims in Sri Lanka and Mr Zeid said that he will continue the good work done by his predecessor, which is against the expectation and to great disappointment of the current GSL.

Ms. Flavia Pansieri, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, submitting a summary of the oral update on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC 27th session in September 2014; commended the structural development work done by GSL, after the end of military conflict.  She urged the Sri Lankan Government to keep the channels open with regards to the investigation on Sri Lanka by OHCHR. She also said in her presentation that the External Affairs Minister G L Peiris meeting up with Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at New York that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with his office despite objecting to the UN-led investigations on Sri Lanka. In contrast to the promise made by External Affairs Minister of GSL, the Armed Forces under the control of Secretary of Defence Ministry of Sri Lanka is harassing and preventing the people/victims in Sri Lanka, from giving evidence to OISL, as borne out in the recent media reports. The action in Sri Lanka is having somewhat adverse impact on victims of conflict living in foreign countries from coming forward to give evidence, fearing the safety of their relatives still living in Sri Lanka; but some have come forward to tell their sufferings.  Encouraging development is the announcement from the OISL that late submission will still be accepted, even after the closing date of 30th October 2014. Beside GSL’s non-cooperation in the conduct of OISL, attack against minority religious groups: Hindus, Muslims and Christians continue without any intervention from the police forces to prevent such acts. Also, the land grab of the people of North East Sri Lanka, continues without respecting, neither the owners of the land nor the rights of provincial councils pose a great challenge to the International Community that is willing to uphold the Human Rights of all peoples in Sri Lanka, this matter was raised recently, in the Sri Lanka parliament. Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of Commonwealth of Nations, at the end of his five days visit to Sri Lanka including to the North and meeting up with President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressed the Journalists on 30th October 2014 which highlighted the following:

  • praised “Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development in largely Tamil populated Northern province, but said demilitarization was also necessary”;
  •  said it is “Equally important are steps that empower the people of the province and those whom they elect as their leaders” and
  • “These include addressing legitimate concerns about restricted and monitored movement of both the citizens of the province in their daily lives and those visiting them for lawful purposes, and a continued reduction in the military security role in civilian life in the province.”

Mr Sharma was very supportive of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and holding of the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2013, following that President of Sri Lanka was elected as the Chair of CHOGM. His above observations must have come as a big surprise to the GSL, in contrast to previous stand; the current opinion of Mr Sharma sends a warning signal to GSL. Human Rights Committee conducting the fifth periodic report on Sri Lanka, as part of the commitment to implement International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) exercise, made recommendations on 30th October 2014. The report identified 18 key points of which the three which are immediately relevant to the current situation in Sri Lanka to bring accountability and reconciliation are:

  • Repeal the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution, “which, inter alia, discontinues the Constitutional Council and empowers the President to dismiss or appoint members of the judiciary and other independent bodies”. ………
  • “Expeditiously investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of enforced disappearance, and establish the whereabouts of missing persons, in a transparent and impartial manner;” and call to,
  • “Expeditiously investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of enforced disappearance, and establish the whereabouts of missing persons, in a transparent and impartial manner”.

In addition, there are other International dignitaries, foreign leaders and diplomats who have expressed similar sentiments, since the end of the military conflict in May 2009, but of no avail. The current President of Sri Lanka and his sibling, the Secretary of Defence, are continuing to justify their discard of views expressed by world leaders, pointing to bogus threat from LTTE leaders who are either buried or cremated, from the information available. The OISL submission at the 28th session of UNHRC in March 2015 will bring to an end to the story of imaginary threat from the LTTE.  Before the truth is known to the world, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is planning to hold the Presidential election in January 2015, two years ahead of the scheduled period.  This election perhaps will give an opportunity to Commissioner of Election, provided he is given a freehand and fair chance without political interference to organize a free and fair election compared to the recent past? Sri Lankans will have an opportunity to bring political changes in the country so that there is an opportunity for real peace in the country.  The International Community together with the people of India with historical links has a role to bring peace within Sri Lanka, once and for all, probably against the wishes of current regime.

The book “Unfettered Genocide in Tamil Eelam”  – “North East Sri Lanka, the historical homeland of Tamils” published by Karnataka State Open University, Mukthagangotri, Mysore 570006, India. This book traces the Island’s pre and post colonial history, shared by Sinhala and Tamil Nations for almost 2500 years. The account in the book starts with a note about Vijaya’s arrival in 544 BC covers up to the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka at the 25th session in March 2014, gives in details the unfettered genocide that took place more under the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The book covers in details the events that occurred in the post Independence period, details of pogroms against Tamils and gradual deprivation of Rights of Tamils, over a period of six decades. The genocide that occurred during the current regime is given in greater details and in some cases specific events that occurred with references.

Interventions in Sri Lanka by Foreign Governments

As pointed out earlier successive governments in Sri Lanka had failed to uphold human rights of all peoples, which led inevitably to direct intervention by foreign governments. The latest of International intervention is the setting-up of OISL covering the period from the date of signing of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) on 27 February 2012 to 11th November 2011; the period is same as that was covered by Lesson Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the President of Sri Lanka as part of the agreement with UN Secretary General, part of the report remains unfulfilled. The CFA was signed between the then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe of United National Party (UNP) and leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Mr Vellupillai Pirabakaran. The CFA was signed with the support of the USA, EU and Japan, with Norway as the facilitator of the peace process; which happened when Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was the President of Sri Lanka. Even though both major parties were sharing power in government, one as a Prime Minister and the other as President of Sri Lanka, but could not bring them together avoiding adversarial politics and find a peaceful resolution to the long standing conflicts by sharing power between all peoples in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans are of different in ethnicity, lingual and in religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity; often differences are exploited by both UNP and SLFP to capture political power from each other.  There are other countries with similar differences, but have shared power and lived peacefully. A good example of a country is the immediate neighbour India with many ethnic, linguistic and religious groups found peace and prosperity by sharing power. This could be the main reason why India is not in favor of division of Sri Lanka, but could be justified from historical perspective, as well as to meet India’s security need; good example is bifurcation of Pakistan in 1972 by India. Sri Lanka had many millennia of historical links with Indian subcontinent, but could not emulate India’s success in finding unity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi after assuming power in May 2014, his External Affairs Minister and senior officials have repeatedly called upon President Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement the Indo-Lanka accord signed in July 1987, to find an amicable settlement, but of no avail. If Prime Minister of India Mr Modi fails to persuade Sri Lanka to devolve power, will he take steps beyond what Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, as Prime Ministers’ took with respect to Sri Lanka?

Prior  to the signing of CFA, India’s military intervention took place twice to date: first time, immediately after the Island wide “Black July 1983 pogrom” against Tamils in which many thousand Tamils were mercilessly killed, which led to Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi’s intervention to provide military training to Tamil militants to defend themselves. The second time it occurred under Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi who sent aircraft to drop provisions to starving and besieged population of Jaffna peninsula which was then under the LTTE control, but came under prolonged Army and Air Force attack from Land and Air by their own government. This intervention eventually led to the signing of Indo-Lanka accord to devolve power to Tamils, in July 1987 between President of Sri Lanka Mr J R Jayawardene and Prime Minister of India Mr Rajiv Gandhi, it is 27 years since signing, still remains unimplemented in full, even though both major political parties the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have been in power in Sri Lanka since signing the accord.  Both the UNP and the SLFP when in opposition do not cooperate with the party in power, but played adversarial role, making it difficult to build consensus among all peoples to share power in Sri Lanka.  First agreement between Sinhala and Tamil leaders was signed between Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike of SLFP and Tamil Leader SJV Chelvanayagam in 1957 to devolve power, but was opposed by the UNP which led to the unilateral abrogation of the pact in 1958 and also led to the murder of the Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike by a Sinhala-Buddhist monk, similar events are continuing to happen, other accords too met the same fate. Also, a number of Sinhala and Tamil political leaders have been murdered; unfortunately that has become the political culture in Sri Lanka, casts doubt whether any internal mechanism can bring peace in the country?

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the President of Sri Lanka in November 2005 appointed his sibling Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the defence secretary and unleashed a war against LTTE, but with a cry that he is fighting a war against “terrorists” with “zero civilian casualty” in breach of the CFA signed with the support of the International community. The International community remained silent, with military supplies coming from China, Pakistan and Russia with logistic support from India to fight the war against LTTE which has been banned in some of the Western countries and India.  Adverse reporting in the media and the outspoken criticisms of the conduct of war in Sri Lanka by world leaders for the breach of human rights of people caught in the war, the UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-Moon visited Sri Lanka to see for himself the situation.  President of Sri  Lanka Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, signed an agreement with Mr Ban Ki-Moon on 23 March 2009 which “underlined the  importance of an accountability process” and GoSL agreed that it “will take measures to address those grievances”, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is the forerunner to the current OISL. Unfortunately, the problem born with the declaration of Independence in 1948 still remains unresolved.

The UK shows that Referendum is a Peaceful Way Forward

In comparison, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron, facing the threat of breaking away from the UK, agreed for a referendum in Scotland held on the 18th of September 2014 in Scotland with endorsement of the United Kingdom parliament, people of Scotland decided to stay within the UK. A referendum was held on 18 September 2014, after Scottish National Party (SNP) formed the government following the Scottish Parliamentary election in May 2011, winning a majority of seats.  The SNP called for a referendum to decide whether Scotland should break away from the United King and form an independent country. Prime Minister David Cameron should be commended in his believe in equality and upholding democracy, which led to the holding of a referendum in Scotland.  The referendum rejected the call for an independent Scotland, because all three major political parties: Conservative, Labor and Liberal-Democrats promised to devolve more power to all: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which form part of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has set the ball rolling by starting the process to devolve power to begin before end of the year. If this process of a new constitution to share power within the United Kingdom succeeds, there are lessons for the Government of Sri Lanka to follow that will bring all peoples together and strengthen democracy, rather than to continue to deny, the democratic rights to minorities.

The Government of Catalonia announced the date for a referendum on 9 November 2014, to decide on two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?”, if so “do you want to be an Independent State?”  Beside the above two, in the 21st century, there were two referendums, the first one in Timor Leste’ and the other in South Sudan, both referendum led to the resolution of the military conflict and reconciliation and parting two independent countries.  Peoples of Sri Lanka made up of different Nations had three governments in the pre-colonial era, differences between the Nations were respected by colonial powers; first by Portuguese from 1505, second by Dutch from 1656 finally by the United Kingdom from 1815. In 1833, the UK unified all three former, Low country, Tamil and Up country Kingdoms into one. The UK has moral has moral responsibility for proclamation of a constitution unsuitable for multilingual, multiethnic and multireligious country, which led to over six decades of conflict between both major in the country.    It is important to take note that in the past accords signed between successive Sinhala governments of Sri Lanka of different political persuasion and the Tamils of Sri Lanka were never implemented because of adversarial politics between both major Sinhala political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent announcement that President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya will appear at ICC in The Hague after stepping down as President of Kenya, to face charges of crimes against humanity poses questions to others in the same predicament and set new precedents to others to follow.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the greatest opportunity to follow the precedence set by other democratic leaders; in particular those from the United Kingdom to bring all people together, by holding a referendum, to share power, irrespective of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences. The opportunity will obviously come his way after the final report from the OISL is presented to the UNHRC in March 2015; the International Community’s responsibility to peoples of Sri Lanka is still unfinished, but depends on reaction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, if he is in power after the Presidential election?

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Latest comments

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    Dr.Nathan, you are suggesting that MR should”follow the precedence set by other Democratic leaders…” ! That he will never do, because he simply can`t do it. Not only because Rajapaksas are ” allergic” to democracy; but also, his wonderful philosophy – ” Mahinder Chinthanam” – which is going to make this land the Miracle of Asia is based on “Pagaathanthra waadaya” the fastest and surest way to economic development of his tribe.

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    ” by the Sinhala dominated parties to capture power, as well as to remain in power “
    That is what is called democracy, which the author believes is deficient, because it does not get the minority what it has sought by various means over the last 65 years. Yet, he has the audacity to demand that the Sri Lankan government obey the democratic will of the UNGA.

    The arrival of a nuclear submarine at a Sri Lankan port does indicate that we are not aligned to any power block. Next week more navy ships arrive from South Korea.

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    “… by holding a referendum, to share power, irrespective of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences.”

    My understanding so far is Tamil political class is asking for a referendum to share power BASED ON ethnic and linguistic differences.
    Will the writer kindly expand and enlighten us on this.

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