26 May, 2022


Government & Not UN Is Entrusted With Task Of National Reconciliation

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The visit of UN High Commisssioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein went more smoothly than expected for the government. The weeks before the visit of the High Commissioner had seen President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe making apparently contradictory statements on the issue of international participation in the post-war reconciliation mechanisms, especially in relation to the judiciary and accountability. This led to concern about the possibility of the government backtracking on the commitments it had made as a co-signatory to the UNHRC resolution in Geneva in October 2015. There was also concern that the visiting UN dignitary would be critical of the government’s approach to the post-war reconciliation process while in the country.

High Commissioner Zeid’s critical comments during his stay in Sri Lanka on the politicization and failures of the Sri Lankan judiciary prompted angry rebuttals in Sri Lanka and also led to the inference that he was making the case for international participation in the accountability process. A fixed and narrow position on this issue by the international community will place the government in a difficult position. The core of the political opposition to the transitional justice process within the country is the concern that the international community is eroding the country’s sovereignty with its insistence on the participation of foreign and Commonwealth judges, prosecutors and investigators as specified in the UNHRC resolution. It is this issue that the political opposition is likely to capitalize in order to weaken the government.

The sense of nationalism within the Sri Lankan polity cannot be underestimated. The identity of the Sinhala people has been shaped by the historical memory of the struggles of the past two millennia in which the predominance of the Buddhist religion and the political independence of the island’s kingdoms were eroded and lost due to the depredations of different waves of foreign invaders, from India in the early millennia to the Western colonial powers in the last 500 years. On the other hand, this nationalism is not limited to the Sinhala people. It also finds its expression in the memory of the Tamil people that three independent kingdoms existed at the turn of the 16th century when the first of the Western colonial powers visited the island’s shores. There is a need to find an appropriate balance between these two strong ethnic-based nationalisms.

Stoking Nationalism

During a discussion on the reconciliation process that took place in Hambantota last week in which I participated, the issue of singing the national anthem in the Tamil language came up. The government’s decision to have the 68th Independence Day celebrations end with the singing of the national anthem in the Tamil language came as a surprise to most people. This was an issue that had been canvassed even during the period of the past government by the former minister of national languages Vasudeva Nanayakkara who is today one of the key leaders of the opposition. But not even his efforts could get the former government to agree to this practice. However, the unexpected way in which the national anthem was sung at the Independence Day celebrations came in for much praise and commendation by liberal sections of the population.

The last time the national anthem was sung in the Tamil language at a national day event was in 1949 when the newly independent government celebrated independence from British colonial rule for the first time. The Tamil anthem is an exact translation of the Sinhala version, sung to the same tune. But the anthem was previously only sung in Tamil in the Tamil-dominated north and east of Sri Lanka. In Hambantota, which is the home district of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the issue of the national anthem being sung in Tamil on the occasion of the 68th Independence Day events in Colombo was not generally positive. A medical doctor serving in the area said that most of his colleagues were not in favour of this new practice. It was also mentioned that a study had shown that the level of ignorance about other communities is so high, that many schoolteachers do not even know that Tamil is an official language, and has been one since the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1987.

In that context when the national anthem is sung in the Tamil language it came as a shock to the people in Hambantota, and probably elsewhere, and is seen as yet another anti-national initiative to appease the international community. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa criticised the decision to sing in Tamil saying the anthem should be sung in one language only. He said that even in India where many languages are spoken, the national anthem is sung in only one language. There is a need to educate people that national anthems are not sung in only one language as a rule, and there are many countries in which it is sung in more than one language. These include countries as different as New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. It is also necessary to point out that in India it is sung in the Bengali language, and not in the largest language, Hindi.

Political Stability 

In view of the nationalism that continues to be stoked by the opposition, it also necessary for the government to take steps to communicate to the people the outcome of the visit of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner. This needs to take the form of a campaign led by the government or else the initiative will go to the opposition by default. The opposition claims that the government betrayed the country and its armed forces by co-sponsoring the UNHRC resolution in October last year. However, the UN system is now making it clear that so long as Sri Lanka is taking steps to address the issues in the resolution, it need not act according to time tables set by others. The internationally driven reform project cannot supersede the need to stabilize the policy shift that has taken place in the country since the election of the National Unity Government. It is the government that has to take primary responsibility for the process on which it has commenced, and to which it has signed its willingness.

UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence Pablo de Greiff, who has been appointed as an international adviser to the civil society consultation process, has said that Sri Lanka should not be hasty in trying to meet its commitments to the UN Human Rights Council in regard to issues of transitional justice. He has said, “There is no country that can accomplish all this is a short period of time. Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious process that should not be prepared, let alone implemented, in haste,” in the report on his visit to Lanka between January 26 and February 1, which was released on last week. The ultimate success of the reconciliation process matters more than its speed.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the conclusion of his visit, said in a cautiously worded statement that “the resolution suggests international participation in the accountability mechanisms set up to deal with international crimes and gross human rights violations by individuals on both sides.” By co-sponsoring the UNHRC resolution the government is now entrusted with the task of determining the meaning of international participation and the degree of international involvement. There are many degrees of international participation, ranging from being decision makers, to joint decision makers to being advisers and observers, and at different points of the transitional justice process. The government’s calculation about how far it can go at this time, and how quickly, in the face of political realities and the need to preserve its stability is likely to take centre stage.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Dr Jrhan’s constant nagging sent the Yahapalana PM to seek refuge among Poosaris in Chettinad..

    Poor fella, He may be a good mate of Vellalas But what would he know about Siva Lingams ?.

    Instead of bagging poor Batalanda Ranil, these NGOs should organize Novenas around the future Magapolis at least ,seeking God’s blessings and guidance to get the UN , the white Judges and the Hybrid Courts in place..

    Before giving reconciliation in the form of Eelaam.

    BTW, Mr Hakeem too has given the NGOs a helping hand or rather a shot in the arm.

    Hakeem accuses the great War Winning Srilankan Army of still looting all their valuables from the North and the East.

    When did the Wahabis deposit their valuables in the North.

    I thought Mr Pirahaparan nationalized everything and chased them away.

    Unless Whabis also had a King like Elahara in the North at some stage, although it is not in our Mahawamsa.

  • 1

    The crux of the matter is that the govt and the president are committed and responsible to the implementation of the co-sponsored resolution to the letter.Nobody can and will not force the govt to do so. But consequences will be severe for the govt and not the accused for not implementing. This is politely implied by the prince in his speech subsequent to his visit and considering the two conflicting views expressed by the PM and the president himself. Govt is on a tight rope pleasing and balancing on one side the UNHRC and the majority Sinhalese on the other.

    • 2

      Nothing to worry. Israel is doing fine with all these UNHRC trash too!

  • 4

    Whether the hybrid courts happen or transitional justice take place Dr. Jehan and his team is busy raking in dollars. The longer this process goes the better for them. The million dollar question is whether the Thompson and Thompson duo in the government will last that long in power.

    • 1

      Oh Pathetic,

      What a shame DJ – having been reduced to not being able to even write in his own name! Only recourse is to blurt out occasionally out of the dust bin!

    • 3

      Patriot the pathetic

      “The million dollar question is whether the Thompson and Thompson duo in the government will last that long in power.”

      Did Gota tell you that he is planning a Putsch? What happened to the one he planned in January 2015?

      “Whether the hybrid courts happen or transitional justice take place Dr. Jehan and his team is busy raking in dollars.”

      Are you looking for a job?

      • 3

        Dear Native,

        They have been basking in dollars all along ..

        Not sure about any Putsch ,But if Batalanada,Rajitha & Mangala keep shoving it up more and more , the Sinhala Buddhists will have to make a stand.

        Unless Malwatta Chapter starts a mega campaign to convert all our Rural Buddhists , like Dr Jehan’s sponsors have been doing for a long time in most poor countries.

      • 2

        Zero value stupid statements!
        Go write for a children’s publication.

        • 2


          “Zero value stupid statements!”

          All right do you know the difference between Zero and – infinity?

          ” Go write for a children’s publication.”

          Exactly that is what I am doing right now. Read this before you go to bed.

  • 2


    • 4

      @Voice of Justice

      At the same time, there’s a couple of outstanding bills for reconstruction of Central Bank, Kandy Temple, northern railway, a few passenger aircraft, the airport etc. etc.

      In the interests of repairing damages, can we send the bills to you for settlement ?

      Please advise as soon as you can

      • 1

        Sinha Le Anthem even in Sinhalese is not that crash hot.

        Don’t know how it sounded in Thamil..

        But I love to hear it in that Enna De Rakamma,,tune .

        I am not sure howthe Elite Anglicans and the Vellas take it, but I bet all our Dalits will be on their feet every time they hear it…

        • 2

          KASmaalam K.A Sumanasekera

          “Sinha Le Anthem even in Sinhalese is not that crash hot.”

          So try,

          Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
          Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!

          One for the master,
          One for the dame,
          And one for the little boy
          Who lives down the lane

      • 0

        Check your bookkeeping first, properly. We reimburse for the planes, your Brother Prince returns the Migs to Ukraine, and how much out of the 18 Billions in the Swiss Bank has to come back to Lankawe?

        Then how much brother prince going to demand from you for return wages?

  • 1


    How about getting some funds from the periodic loot made from Tamil civilians and Tamil businesses starting from 1957, and held regularly after every election. That was until a handful of schoolboys from the north put a full stop to it!

    Given that if not for those periodic loots, the Central Bank, Kandy Temple, Northern railways, air planes, airports and what-have-you would not have faced any problems, it is only fair that the loot-managers of the different SL regimes arrange to pay for those re-imbursements – don’t you think?

    • 2

      Kumar R.

      “How about getting some funds from the periodic loot made from Tamil civilians and Tamil businesses starting from 1957, and held regularly after every election.”

      How about those smart ass patriots who looted the coffers, took bribe, enriched themselves with nepotism and from 40 years of war against people irrespective of their race, region, religion, …. etc in the name of preserving their own interests?

      Could we first have a “walk through test” as part of wider audit of the state’s mismanagement.

      Every supplier of state institution has a contact person who facilitates (low quality high costs, fewer products than contracted for) contract procuring function.

      You should be demanding a fully fledged Audit for the period from 1956 to 31 December 2014.

      Don’t forget the old books and ola manuscripts that were either destroyed or looted from Jaffna library on 31 May 1981.

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