By Jehan Perera –
There was speculation that the ongoing 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council would see the immediate establishment of a high powered international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka and economic sanctions against the country. The unexpected feature of the draft resolution sponsored by the US is the provision to give the Sri Lankan government another year in which to show progress on the matters included in the resolution. Despite this seeming concession, the initial response of the Sri Lankan government to the draft resolution has been negative. The government has rejected the substance of the draft resolution which builds on last year’s resolution as being “fundamentally flawed.” The present draft includes issues of human rights violations and accountability in the entire country, rather than in the North and East alone and does not limit those issues to the last phase of the war.
The government’s rejection of the draft resolution stems from its consistent position that the international community is engaging in unwarranted interference in the country’s internal affairs. It takes no comfort in the extension of its period of probation by one year. The government’s position is that it should not be subjected to yearly and half yearly examinations as a sovereign and independent country. Apart from this, the other key reason for the Sri Lankan government’s unhappiness with the draft resolution is not difficult to fathom. It includes the two main points of the previous two resolutions of 2012 and 2013. It calls on the government once again to implement the recommendations of the LLRC and to set up an independent investigation into alleged war crimes. In addition, the scope of the draft resolution has been widened in scope in comparison to the previous two resolutions.
The issues that the proponents of the draft resolution are considering have been considerably widened in the draft resolution. The draft resolution refers to attacks against religious minorities, journalists, human rights defenders and civic activists, and to crimes that target women wherever they live. In addition the draft resolution proposes an international monitoring of Sri Lanka’s domestic accountability process and calls on the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Office to do investigations on its own. The draft resolution calls for the establishment of a truth seeking mechanism and national policy to hold individuals accountable for violations of international law. It also calls on the government to devolve powers meaningfully in terms of the 13th Amendment and to empower the Northern Provincial Council with the necessary resources and authority.
There are clear indications of a strengthening of the resolution in relation to demands being placed upon the Sri Lankan government. Nevertheless, there is a sense of disappointment in the Tamil polity. This can be seen in the statements issued by Tamil Diaspora groups. There was an expectation that the resolution on Sri Lanka at the ongoing UNHRC session would ensure immediate international action against the Sri Lankan government. The pledge by British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Summit was to set up an international investigation mechanism. It is in this context that TNA leaders and religious and civil leaders signed joint statements that called for the setting up of an international inquiry mechanism. They placed confidence in the statements made by various world leaders that they would not let the Sri Lankan government off the hook this time.
However, the one year grace period given to the Sri Lankan government means that this mechanism will not be set up immediately. Given the heightened expectations, the draft resolution has come as a disappointment to those who were hoping for a resolution with an immediate impact and that would give quick results that would solve their problems. A strong resolution that was accompanied by economic and political sanctions, such as being considered by the Western countries over the Ukraine issue, could have forced the pace of change in Sri Lanka. It would have meant that either the government gave in to the pressure and complied with the international demands, or else it could have meant a head on confrontation between the government and the international community. Both of these choices would have eventually worked against the government and rendered it politically weaker.
It seems that these calculations would have been at the fore when leaders of the Tamil polity decided to go all out to support the establishment of an international inquiry into war crimes. They did so because they have lost confidence in the willingness of the government to address their political and economic grievances, and not only due to the issue of accountability. What the government says it is doing on the ground and what the Tamil people are experiencing are far apart. There is a strong sense of inner suffering and grievance on the part of the Tamil people which is not immediately visible to those from outside who go on rapid appraisal visits. Now their apprehension is that the matter will need to be canvassed yet again at the 28th session of the UNHRC in March 2015. The fear of those who want to see action being taken with regard to the resolution is that the passage of another year will lead to a diminution of the level of interest on the part of the international community in Sri Lanka’s affairs. The sudden emergence of the conflict in Ukraine shows how international attention can easily be shifted from one part of the globe to another.
In the international system it is the government that represents the people. If sanctions are taken against the government, they invariably will hurt the people as well. As it stands at present, the draft resolution does not provide for quick solutions to the problems that Sri Lanka in general or the Tamil polity faces. It calls for another update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a year’s time. This gives the Sri Lankan government the time and space to continue as they have been. However, what the draft resolution does show is that the issue of dealing with the human rights violations of the past, and now also with those in the present, will continue. In fact the issues that the international human rights community is considering have been considerably widened in the draft resolution. The government is not off the hook and those who are more farsighted amongst the government leadership are seeing this reality, which is why they have rejected the draft resolution.
Even if the government has got breathing space for itself and more time to strengthen itself further, the international process that puts pressure on the government to improve its human rights record is set to mount. In the longer term the Sri Lankan government has to address the issues raised in the draft resolution and, hopefully, it will do so. There is a need for those who are concerned about the plight of the Tamil people, to find ways of working with the government to improve the life of the Tamil people. The spirit that was expressed by Northern Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran when he addressed the academic community at the recently held conference on Post War Development in the North and East is the one that needs to be the guiding spirit of the present time. He said that good laws could be subverted by bad rulers, whereas even bad laws could be used to promote the people’s interests by good rulers and he was prepared to work with less than the ideal.
It is important for the Tamil polity to work with the government with an open mind irrespective any possible assistance for solutions from outside. There is also a need for the opposition to engage with the government to resolve the problem, including those that arise from the UNHRC resolution and its possible fall out. The duty of a responsible opposition is to save the country, not to wait till everyone suffers. Such a forthright and public-spirited attitude will also gain the appreciation of the voting public. As a first step both UNP and TNA could consider joining the Parliamentary Select Committee, if the government were to amend the Standing Orders of Parliament to ensure that decisions in it will be taken only with their agreement. The legitimate concern of the opposition is that the government majority in the PSC will bulldoze them after discussing matters with them. But if the two sides agree to work together and consensually on a political solution that would help contribute to easing tensions both internally and externally. Getting into a structured process with the opposition would do much to restore the government’s credibility, which it has lost with both nationally and with the international community. Credibility is key, for without it, no one can do business or solve problems with one another.
Anpu / March 10, 2014
“It is important for the Tamil polity to work with the government with an open mind ” Are not you speaking nonsense?
Davidson Panabokke / March 10, 2014
There is not just absence of credibiity in this government. There is too much of ill-thoughts this government is pervaded in:
1.Rajapakse Day for Tamil women in Eastern Province while Women’s Day for the rest of the world: women trying to hide their faces reveal all:
2.Ministry for Women issue a book called ”Strong Women’ = women supporters of this government !!!!!
Silva / March 10, 2014
Tamils will have a reason to open their minds if the NPC is allowed to function properly to begin with.
Thiru / March 10, 2014
“But if the two sides agree to work together and consensually on a political solution that would help contribute to easing tensions both internally and externally. ” says the cunning author.
Tamils should not help the government get away from the international pressure. For 66 years all the Sinhala governments did not genuinely work towards settling the ethnic problem.
If the international pressure is eased Sinhala politicians will go back to their notorious ways of cheating Tamils as in the past.
Sampanthan, Vigneswaran, Sumanthiran and the TNA must not make the same mistake of trusting the Sinhalese politicians that Ponampalam Ramanathamn made before independence.
Ward / March 10, 2014
”Open mind” may come to the open if the government stops lying in the international arena:
”True to form, External Affairs Minister GL Peiris presented statistics in Geneva, which no one believes including the presenter, that the places of worship of all religions have come under attack and the attackers are being apprehended by the police. In other words, the government is protecting religious equality. More laughable is his now worn out argument that the fact that judges have been dealt with for their misdemeanors in accordance with the constitution should not be taken as an attack on the independence of the judiciary by the government” – – Crimea And Geneva: Reverse Lessons For The Rajapaksa Regime And Diaspora Separatism, Rajan Philips(retired civil servant), 9 March 2014,
Ajith / March 10, 2014
“”””It is important for the Tamil polity to work with the government with an open mind irrespective any possible assistance for solutions from outside.””””
This statement implies that the government has an open mind and Tamil polity is not open minded.
Tamil polity has openly and wholeheartedly initiated peace talks with the government and it is the government betrayed that talks after few meetings and agreements. TNA in its NPC elections openly said they are prepared to find a political solution within a united framework. The government continue to cheat not only Tamil polity but also international agreements.
What should Tamil polity should do to work with this government? Do you want them to do what Karuna Amman and Douglas do?
Do you want Tamil polity to get the bribe and take ministerial posts from Rajapakse Government?
Do you want Tamil polity to organize prostitutes to Sinhala leadership like Douglas?
Fathima Fukushima / March 10, 2014
What’s the use.
Tamils defeated again.
Worse than the Afghan ho.s
Nathan / March 10, 2014
Jehan Perera, Your predicament is pathetic.
You want to appear neutral; You want to appear sincere. But, your language lets you down.
Your old mentality of equating Tamils to boarders in an annexe arguing for a property rights to the room they were let still seeps through!
You are suggesting that it is important for the Tamil polity to work with the government with an open mind.
Tamils have had no hidden agenda that I am aware of. What kind of openness are you referring to?
Openness is anathema to the Regime, not the Tamil polity.
Mallaiyuran / March 11, 2014
Kings is challenging that he not going to bow in front of White Imperialist. So, why Jehan kneeling down in front of Para Demilo – The TNA. Is this what say in Tamils as “The mouth is barking but the tail is wagging”
Did he tell to the government, when it was refusing to listen to the White Imperialist when they asked to stop the war in 2009, that the King should listen to them? Or Jehan is simply an opportunistic preacher/writer? International independent inquiry is going to do many good to Sinhalese than Tamil. The current resolution, at as per Jehan’s interpretation as it appears above, raises many of the problems the South is facing rather than the North and East. If Jehan understand the the draft resolution why his trying to defeat it? Just because it the order for him from the King?
Mallaiyuran / March 11, 2014
There is nothing in the Draft to work with GOSL for TNA. The call is only to divert the attention and pass the blame on Tamils. The Draft has moved away from it’s predecessors path of LLRC Recommendations. LLRC asked to solve Tamils problem. This one rather calls for to implement the 13A. To implement the 13A no need of TNA. TNA did not sign on Indo-Lanaka Pact.
If somebody try to guess, one may say that the inclusion of the much inferior solution of 13A might be interpreted as that to stop the government from blaming the TNA not attending to PSC and without participation of TNA, they can now complete every thing being asked in the New Draft. Earlier ones called for LLRC implementation. There, TNA’s participation may needed to provide a solution for Tamils. Other thing is the new resolution is not talking about Tamils only. Basically it is attacking even the 18A. King should repeal it to convince UNP and TNA to corporate with the Royals.
Kings is talking about not bowing to imperialist(America) and its supporters (TNA). Its looks like now the King does not like the name of Duttu Gamunu any more. Probably he wants move from Royal highness to Reverence Mahanama.
PARAGON / March 11, 2014
TIME HAS NOW COME TO JEHAN PERERA TO CHANGE HIS NAME TO JEHAN RAJAPAKASE SO THAT HE CAN DREAM OF BECOMME SPEICAL ADVISOR ON HUMAN RIGHTS TO GOTHAPAYA RJAPAKSE.
thondamanar / March 12, 2014
Jehan is once again speaking through his A EH…………