By Rajiva Wijesinha –
I was interviewed recently by Ceylon Today with regard to the forthcoming visit of Navenethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Some of what I said had to be edited out for reasons of space but, though the paper did a good job, I thought that some of what they had to omit was worth reproducing.
In particular, given that it pertains to the future but we need to be aware of the mistakes of the past, I set down here the questions relating to the Commission on Disappearances that the President has appointed, along with the answers I gave. I believe much injustice has been done to the President because of delays on the part of those to whom he gives instructions. In the absence of comprehensive discussions as to policy, everyone assumes they have an obligation to influence policy, which sometimes leads to delays that the President is not informed of – such as occurred with regard to the Action Plan on the LLRC he wanted taken to Geneva ahead of the 2012 vote.
A. The President has only now appointed a committee to investigate disappearances that occurred during the final stages of the war. Can you explain why it took four years since the conclusion of the war for a commission to be appointed.
The President has often wanted things done which those around him simply delay. He is an instinctive politician, with generally very sound instincts, but he cannot conceptualize. Unfortunately he continues to have faith in those around him who can conceptualize, but they have allowed their intellects to go to sleep and act only when they have to.
I can give you four clear examples of instructions he gave being ignored. He wanted me appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in December 2007 and this took six months. In April 2011 he thought the Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC was active, and when he realized it had never met, he wanted me put on the Committee. His Secretary was persuaded to ignore that request, but though I was then specifically asked to monitor its work, in my letter of appointment as Advisor on Reconciliation (the terms of reference came six months after the appointment, which in turn had taken three months after he wanted it done), it was only a few months later that I was told the Committee had never met. Because of its obsession with Defence related matters, nothing was done about even more important questions such as land issues.
The President wanted an Action Plan for the LLRC prepared in December 2011. This was ignored and only happened when he finally entrusted it to his Secretary instead of the Pieris/Foreign Ministry Colombo that had done nothing. He wanted Civil Society representatives on that Action Plan Committee but Mr Pieris objected and they were dropped. I was told they would be put on the Task Force, but the Task Force did not meet for six months after Cabinet had adopted the Plan, and it is only active now after Mrs Wijayatilaka – who was responsible for producing the Action Plan quickly with Key Performance Indicators – was put in charge. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell sympathetic members of the international community about her role until I did, and those who met her were deeply impressed. One told me that, for the first time, they were hearing from government language they had not heard before.
B. Is the President simply appointing this commission ahead of Pillay’s visit to appease the UN and give them some confidence regarding the government’s commitment to ensuring accountability?
I hope not, but there are people around him who think like ostriches, and believe that, after she goes away, the matter can be forgotten – until the next crisis hits us. Let me give you another example of how slow and obtuse people can be. In October 2009 the Americans sent us some queries about potential war crimes, which were put in a very civilized form, and could easily have been answered. The most serious related to what Sarath Fonseka had said in Ambalangoda, about him ignoring instructions to spare people carrying white flags, and I pointed out then that this should be investigated.
The President appointed a Committee, which hardly met. I told them several times that I had material to refute the allegations – including verbally to the most active member of the Committee, Mr Jayamaha, at the President’s Christmas Party in December 2009 – but they slept on the matter, and I was only called up in the middle of 2010 when I was abroad. When I got back, I was told that the mandate of that Committee had been subsumed in that of the LLRC, which does not seem to have been the case because those allegations are not specifically dealt with.
In the days when I thought Mr Pieris had a serious commitment to Human Rights, I would tell him that he and I could sit together over a weekend and draft clear answers, and he agreed, but never got down to it – though in that case he did not have a mandate so failure was not his responsibility.
C. Many are of the view that this commission is nothing more than a political gimmick and a time-buying measure. Your thoughts?
Not from the President’s perspective, but the views of others may prove more powerful. He does not micro-manage, which I used to think was a good thing, having seen what happened when Mr Premadasa did micro-manage. But I realize that, whereas Mr Premadasa had very capable officials, the President now is not so fortunate, and he needs to make sure his instructions are carried out. He certainly should not listen to those who think time can be bought, because the last three years have shown that this is neither possible nor desirable.