20 May, 2022


Government’s Decisiveness Wins All Round Support 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The issue of fulfilling the pledges made to the international community in Geneva seemed to threaten the unity of the government even a month ago. In October 2015 the government co-sponsored the resolution on Sri Lanka that was sponsored by the United States and backed by the majorit of countries in the UN Human Rights Council. There were publicly articulated differences of opinion in which Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera sought to reassure the international community that the government would be standing by its pledges while President Maithripala Sirisena sought to reassure the ethnic majority population that the country’s sovereignty would not be jeopardized or the soldiers who fought in the war would not be hauled before international tribunals.

The passage of the law setting up the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has laid to rest doubts regarding the government’s commitment, and ability, to take forward the reconciliation process, to remain politically strong within the country and also to deliver on the promises it made in Geneva. The OMP is one of the four domestic mechanisms the government undertook to set up in response to the international pressure for Sri Lanka to agree to international mechanisms to ensure accountability for war crimes and serious human rights violations. The other three mechanisms are a truth commission, an office of reparations and a special court.

Due to co-sponsoring the UN Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015 that was originally intended to establish a hybrid special court, the government was able to reduce the international role in the investigation of the past. The government was able to negotiate and obtain a resolution in which the international role was open to interpretation. The current approach indicates that the international community will only be able to participate as advisors and experts, not as decision makers in Sri Lanka’s internal processes. However, the government’s acceptance of even a reduced international role in probing the past has been highly controversial in Sri Lanka as the opposition has been using it to mobilize the nationalist sentiment of the ethnic majority against the government.

Government Strength 

The passage of the OMP bill in parliament without a vote demonstrated that the government’s solid majority in parliament that comes from the UNP-SLFP alliance has given it enormous decision making power that the opposition has no answer to. With the SLFP component of the government falling in line with President Sirisena’s support for the OMP bill, there was an overwhelming parliamentary majority ready to vote in favour of the bill. So long as the government leadership, in particular the President and Prime Minister, are united on any matter it will not be possible for the opposition to stall them in parliament.

File photo

File photo

Unlike in the case of other controversial issues such as the VAT tax rate on which parties such as the JVP are also critical of the government, in the case of the OMP all parties in parliament with the exception of the Joint Opposition were in favour of passing the bill. The Joint Opposition was numerically too small to stand in the way of the passage of the bill through a vote. This may explain why they took the rowdy alternative of imagining themselves at a street demonstration in parliament. Not only did they fail to utilize the opportunity to debate the bill, propose their amendments if any and thereby educate the general public. They also lost the opportunity to vote as they were too busy demonstrating when the vote took place.

It was unfortunate that those who were human rights champions in the 1980 and 1990s, and widely admired for this, displayed their opposition to OMP by word and deed. A widely circulated poster on social media was of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was then an ordinary opposition MP, calling for a meeting of the Mothers Front, an umbrella group of organizations that supported the rights of victims during the period of the JVP insurrection at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s. The underlying rationale of the OMP is not much different from the message on the poster that former president Rajapaksa was bold enough to put out two decades ago. It is that people, whatever their ethnicity or political affiliation, need to know what happened to their loved ones so that they can stop the endless search for them.

Maximum Effort 

The purpose of the OMP is to find out what happened to those missing that stretch back decades and the insurrections that took place in both the North and South of the country and were bloodily suppressed. The OMP is to help them to end the search, and to bring closure to that open wound that exists in the body politic. The OMP law constitutes the maximum effort that the Sri Lankan state can take to find out where they are if they are living and if not living what happened to them. This is why the law provides that evidence that is not admissible in courts of law is admissible in the OMP investigation. This is also why evidence that is confidential is permissible, which even the Right to Information Act cannot access.

The OMP is a very important element of the country’s transitional justice process and the set of institutions and measures outlined by the government. But it is only one part of the process of transitional justice. After the successful passage of the OMP bill in parliament, government spokespersons have said that the government would set up a Truth Commission, a judicial mechanism to deal with accountability (and punishment) issues and an office of reparations. These additional mechanisms that the government has still to set up will offer more avenues for truth and accountability seeking. Truth, justice and reconciliation will be delivered via the totality of these bodies, and not just the OMP.

The swift passage of the OMP bill into law in parliament is a possible prototype for the reconciliation mechanisms that are to follow. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has said that the next mechanism that will be making its appearance will be the Truth Seeking Commission. The government is awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Consultations Task Force that it has appointed. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) was appointed by the Prime Minister in January 2016 to conduct public consultations on the design of the four mechanisms that would advance truth, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Global Support 

The task force headed by veteran human rights activist Manouri Muttuwegama has already come out with a comprehensive and intensive report on the OMP mechanism. This report distils the experience of a wide range of persons affected by disappearances, including those who experienced the war in the North and East, families of servicemen missing in action, disappearances from the hill country Tamil Community, fishermen of all ethnicities who disappeared in waters in the North and East of Sri Lanka, disappearances attributed to the LTTE and other armed militant groups, or occurring in the context of the political violence of 1987-91 period.

The submissions made to the task force raised concerns about the lack of public awareness of the government’s intentions and objectives with regard to the reconciliation process and the OMP, and the lack of official information available on the consultations, which also impairs public participation. The lack of awareness on the OMP bill among victim families for instance contributes to their feeling of isolation and marginalisation by the government. Some submissions recognise the need for a public awareness campaign in the South to address the lack of awareness and to counter racist rhetoric.

With the passage of the OMP bill it appears that the government’s international relations are at an all time high. The United States was the first country to welcome the OMP, even before local groups could get round to it. In a message it said the passage of the Bill to set up an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) by the Sri Lankan Government was “an historic step in the pursuit of justice, reconciliation and accountability for all.” Interestingly it was the US which was also the driving force behind the UNHRC resolution that started in 2009 and went on getting stronger and stronger till 2015, when the present government succeeded in reversing the worsening trend.

The visit of the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the welcome accorded to her, with even welcoming billboards announcing her presence, was no doubt in appreciation of the role played by that country in Sri Lanka’s economic development and reconciliation processes over the decades. During the course of a speech on achieving sustainable development she said it was “important to build accountability and engagement at the community level, and local NGOs have a key role to play, involving parents and local communities.” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s subsequent visit to China, are signs that the government’s determination to take the country forward is able to span the political divide between the old established democracies and the emerging economic powerhouses for the betterment of the country.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Excelent articale !

    I agree with the author, way forward is to work toward rebuilding the country and give a hope and operchunities for future, creating the openes and fare operchunities for all communities.

    We need to creat awarenes for public about social justice, and never give the operchunity for 30% of the community who will always be in the extream right, to succeed with their propergandas’.

    I agree with People who feel marginalised, and scared in loosing their identity, the other section who is worried about exploitation by certain international communities, never the less we should move forward. We should learn and react in a positive way to develop Sri Lanka such that People of Sri Lanka will have a future of glory and happiness.

    We had enough sad stories, Now we need good stories and hope for better future.

    I hope negativity will slowly be removed from public, and positive mind set with inter-harmoney with tolarances will grow in Sri Lanka.

    • 4

      Constants cannot be changed by sociopaths: attitudes :baath parcel, addiya, vote don’t change attitudes of the world’s folk, or mercenary think tanks dollar bum work
      Similar to religion, patriotism is an emotion, as opposed to a rational thought process. Studies and surveys have consistently indicated that approximately 90% of persons in any given country have strong patriotic sentiments.

      90% would not listen if you try to kick nacionalista lifting sarema.

  • 2

    ‘Government’s Decisiveness Wins All Round Support’ except the ordinary folks of the country who feels that they were cheated by giving false promises and going through hell due to high cost of living. Government says they do not have money to do development work after they pay the loans taken by the previous regime. So I wonder from where the government is going to get money to look for missing persons. More borrowings? First they will look for missing Tamils and where ever possible put the blame on MR, Gota and Armed Forces. By the time it comes to investigate about others, they will say no money to continue. This man has no problem because $$$$s are flowing to his kitty.

  • 3

    As I understand, Jehan Perera completed a Harvard – PhD which is not marketable anywhere in the world. Now, he is screwing up the country in which he was born. Through his contacts he found this NGO post and wreck the country.

    There are how many like this ?

    Almost every NGO is holding a PhD. It looks foreign govts know to whom to exploit for their needs.

    • 5

      “”Almost every NGO is holding a PhD.”

      It’s called the Kuddu business: Chit for government coolies kids to go to expensive Harvard.

      So it’s appropriately known as `Pakistani healing Dance` (one leg dance like kandyan)

      Lanka Pakistani Kuddu

  • 2

    It is a positive step by the new Governance with regard to the cosponsoring the October 2015 Resolution. But what is the meaning in keeping the people in the North and East suppressed with the Military and preventing the local people from taking profits from cultivating and marketing their own lands and falsifying the existence of security threat when there is a responsible Provincial Council is in place. What benefit do the new Governance expect by instigating hatred and preventing their livelihood?

  • 1

    The language divide caused the drift between the communities. SWRD B was assassinated for trying to rectify this. We entered an era when talking about this was rated unpatriotic. The UNFGG has not addressed the root causes yet. These commissions etc., OMP included are superficial and carefully crafted to satisfy the gullible international community.

    “The issue of fulfilling the pledges made to the international community in Geneva seemed to threaten the unity of the government even a month ago.”
    Clearly shows that the “unity” tenuous.

    “The passage of the OMP bill in parliament without a vote demonstrated that the government’s solid majority in parliament that comes from the UNP-SLFP alliance has given it enormous decision making power that the opposition has no answer to.”
    Solid majority needed tax free car permits and other perks. How long will this survive?

    • 1

      “” How long will this survive? “”

      till thy kingdom come of 223- then hit and run.

      GDP (purchasing power parity):
      $223 billion (2015 est.)

      Government debt of about 72% of GDP remains among the highest in emerging markets.
      GDP (official exchange rate):
      $82.1 billion (2015 est.)

      GDP – real growth rate:
      5.2% (2015 est.)

      your growth is at present 4 times slow.

  • 2

    “…while President Maithripala Sirisena sought to reassure the ethnic majority population that the country’s sovereignty would not be jeopardized or the soldiers who fought in the war would not be hauled before international tribunals.”

    The above is absolutely true. However, I would like to say my piece, specifically to you; as you have shown the qualities (dancing and singing according to the UNP Strongman’s tune) of an agent of Ranil, you have suddenly found a soft corner for Maithripala Sirisena. In Sri Lanka we say ; “If you can’t chop your hand off, kissing it, is the only choice.”

    Our image overseas has improved because of Maithripala Sirisena and his self-effacing approach, and NOT because of your paymaster Ranil or Mangala. The world leaders know that Ranil does not have any mandate from the people of Sri Lanka. Also they understand there is no difference between Mahinda and Ranil. Both are power hungry Mafia bosses trying to outsmart each other and hoodwink the voters.

    We understand as a person running errands for Ranil, you are obliged to compile this sort of baloney.

  • 1

    Where to start?

    Establishing the OMP has been an exercise in interested parties covering their backsides. What should have been a glowing example of cross-party cooperation, turned out to be another display of a parliamentary circus. A(nother) National Disgrace.

    Each and every party is only interested in covering their backsides. The interests of the missing persons, and those most affected ie the parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, and loved ones of the missing, appears to be a subsidiary concern.

    Presidents and Prime Ministers (past and present), party leaders, and the overwhelming slew of devious politicians, should hang their heads in shame at the lip service shown to this essential undertaking.

    The register of missing persons should be written in cold ink mixed with the tears of the anguished and desperate seeking justice and closure.

    The State (in the hands of devious politicians over the years, and its proxies) has been the main generator of missing persons. However, the bookmakers are offering NO odds on any person/persons facing identification or justice. How very reassuring for the those concerned.

    The International community wants to move on, and they will. Dragging Sri Lanka along according to their agenda.

    PS: Thank God Prime Minister Solberg did not receive any marriage proposals. Somethings are getting better……..

  • 1

    This is a very sad story. A Very very sad story of poor low cast Tamils in the north …..and the east.This is not about the normal people of the NE.
    Those who muster political power ie.the TNA never talks about the sufferings of the dalits at their own hands but threaten them if you don’t vote for us see what happens to you!
    They have no options. Nobody to complain to. Recently I read an article about a certain section of the Jaffna population who carry a sharp long knife at all times to face the cast discrimination that hurt them from the common well to the bus and the Kovil.

  • 1

    Setting up of the Office of the Missing persons is ok but thereafter what happens is the serious question to think.

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