27 February, 2024


Multi Track Strategy Must Include Getting To Root Of International Concerns 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Multi-track diplomacy generally refers to international peacebuilding that is not limited to government to government engagements, but also brings in non-governmental actors such as the media, business community and civil society into the frame as well. The meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the US embassy, including USAID which is the development arm of the US government, indicates a possible broadening of the government’s approach to meet the concerns of the international community to which the United States provides leadership. The meeting received wide media coverage although the substance of the coverage was the same, to the effect that steps would be taken to expedite development activities powered by USAID grants.

Meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the US embassy

With the unhappy situation in the country getting exacerbated, the government appears to be rethinking its strategies with regard to both problem solving and international relations. The level of confidence in its ability to solve problems is on a diminishing trend line. The latest blow to the government’s credibility is the fuel price hike which is threatening to lead to a spiral of price increases. The extension of lockdown which has already passed the three week by a further week is another unhappy news to the general population that their living conditions will further deteriorate.

The government’s dilemma is that the continuing lockdown is causing it to become increasingly unpopular due to the severe difficulties faced by small and medium entrepreneurs and those sections of the population who depend on daily earnings for their subsistence. On the other hand, the Sri Lanka Medical Association has called for a further fifth week of lockdown to ensure that the present drop in the infection rate is sustained. In this dire situation, the government will need to find a strategy that focuses on transformation and the evolution of thoughts and mindsets toward a greater understanding and acceptance of others previously seen as the enemy. The implied message of the president’s recent meeting is that the government is looking to rebuild ties with the US that had got damaged following the debacle with the MCC grant of USD 480 million. This economic development project was bitterly opposed by sections within the government on national sovereignty grounds.

Positive Indication 

Another significant shift of approach is the appointment of a member of the Human Rights Commission as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada. This is in place of a former military officer whose nomination to serve as ambassador was not successful as the Canadian government did not agree to his appointment following protests lodged by the Tamil Diaspora regarding human rights violations. Ambassador designate Harsha Kumara Navaratne would face formidable challenges in the context of the Ontario parliament passing a resolution declaring that genocide had occurred in Sri Lanka. As a long time NGO development worker, who led one of the largest relief and rehabilitation programmes in the North and East during the war, including in the LTTE controlled areas, he has the ground experience and contacts on all sides to be an effective bridgebuilder.

Last week the Human Rights Commission invited several members from civil society with a background in the protection and promotion of human rights to a meeting. Issues that NGOs have taken up in human rights, including the incarceration for long periods of persons under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the difficulties of obtaining bail for them, the lack of judicial process, the killing of prisoners and other violations were brought to the discussion. The commissioners, led by Chairman Dr Jagath Balasuriya, discussed these issues without getting into confrontation with the activists, some of whom themselves have felt vulnerable to extra judicial actions, and said that they had already made their submissions to the government on these issues and expected a positive response.

When people cannot even come out of their homes much less show their unhappiness by means of public protest, there is a beguiling impression of social coexistence. Where the Covid spread and economic hardship are taking centre stage, the issues revolving around the conflictual relationship between the ethnic and religious communities that live in Sri Lanka has receded into the background of public attention. In a context in which some political leaders and public officials have been glossing over the ethnic and religious polarisations in society, the approach of the Human Rights Commission is a positive indication of a multi-track approach that the government may now be employing.

Common Feature 

The government’s greater receptivity to the issue of human rights violations is likely to be driven by the increased international scrutiny of Sri Lanka on these grounds. This scrutiny, which got formalized following the last session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March of this year, appears to be taking a life of its own. The UNHRC has set up a special monitoring unit to document past and ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The most recent manifestation of international scrutiny by the EU. Its parliament last week passed a resolution by the enormous margin of 628 votes to 15 to upbraid Sri Lanka on a number of issues, including the refusal to amend or replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act to conform to international standards. The consequences of not heeding this EU warning is the possible withdrawal of the GSP Plus tariff concession which would be a severe blow to Sri Lanka’s struggling economy.

The resolution that is currently before the US Congress is another indication of the unfavorable attention on Sri Lanka. The US resolution does not have any sanction mentioned in it at the moment, unlike its EU counterpart which calls for the withdrawal of GSP Plus as a last resort, but calls on the Sri Lankan government to reopen the negotiation process aimed at reaching a political solution that led to the war. It is based on “Recognizing 12 years since the end of the war in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2009, honoring the lives lost, and expressing support for justice, accountability, reconciliation, reconstruction, reparation, and reform in Sri Lanka to ensure a lasting peaceful political solution and a prosperous future for all people of Sri Lanka.” It also refers to issues of missing persons, detained persons and the continuing militarization of the country.

The sanctions being planned by sections of the international community cannot be overcome by non-existent strategies as the country moves from one crisis to another. At the root of the resolutions against Sri Lanka in international forums, be they the UNHRC, the Ontario parliament, the EU parliament and the US Congress is the long unresolved issue of the ethnic conflict and its resolution by political means. The issues highlighted in all these resolutions are the events of the war and the consequences that have flowed from them. Resolving these root causes requires dialogue with the representatives of the ethnic and religious minorities and their political parties. The holding of provincial elections, which will enable them to have a share of governance in the country, and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to give a definitive account of the war, and end the speculations and divisive interpretations, may be matters for discussion that can lead to a unified national approach in dealing with the international community and making them allies in the development of the country.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    The root cause of the problems of Sri Lanka, as correctly stated, lie in the ethnic conflict. There cannot be settlement of this conflict unless the two major parties move out of using ethnic politics as the primary tool to power. It has been so from the time of independence. It will remain to be so. The Buddhist priests will cling on to their status as kingmakers which is only possible is the Sinhala-Buddhist fires are kept burning. A new factor, the Sinhala-Buddhist army, has been introduced into the equation, bloated up as war heroes. much to the chagrin of the international community, accountability for their war crimes, which is essential to the settlement of the ethnic conflict, is impossible.the corrupt Sinhala middle class also clings to ethnicity. Sri Lanka will mover from crisis to crisis and remain in the Mahavamsa mud hole for a long time to come.

    • 1

      There is no ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. But there is a conflict between Native Sinhalayo and racist separatist Vellala politicians. This conflict was created by racist Tamil politicians that emerged in 1930s and brought into open by G.G. Ponnambalam by giving a racially motivated speech at Navalapitiya denigrating the Sinhala-Buddhist culture, its history and the people igniting the first Tamil-Sinhala riots in 1939. S. J. V.Chelvanayakam who came from Malaya to Sinhale during British rule took it further by establishing the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (toned down as Federal Party in English) which had as its hidden agenda the establishment of a separate state. The conflict culminated when Tamil politicians passed the Vaddukkodei Resolution to create a separate State for the Tamils in the North by grabbing a part of the country of Sinhalayo and declared war on Sinhala Nation.
      Racist Tamil politicians started the conflict for their political survival and try their best to put the blame on Sinhala Buddhists and Sinhala politicians.
      “The root cause of the problems of Sri Lanka, as correctly stated, lie in the ethnic conflict.”

      • 0

        The root of our problems is the continued refusal to accept the minorities as equal first-class citizens of this country. On paper we have a great constitution in which human rights are guaranteed and all ethnicities/ religions are equal. But on the ground, not even a Sinhala Catholic will ever be PM, let alone a Muslim. Seats reserved for “clergy” in buses are really only for Buddhist monks. Even Sinhala criminals are bumped off by a government that decries cow slaughter. In short, HYPOCRISY is the name of the game. Does the government think that the European Union doesn’t know what is actually going on in the country? The release of Shani Abeysekera is a sign that the UNHRC and the EU between them are knocking some sense into the arrogant self-important idiots currently running the country.

  • 1

    International peace building and Local Success,

    One year passed yet the world has still not Got out of the state of disOrder increased pandemic countries are more closely inter-connected than ever before as we are depended for vaccine to save our country population and we running after foreign bodies Partnership has become an important feature and a highlight treat each other as equals keep away another countries indication of the unfavorable

  • 0

    Let’s hope governing bodies with eyes on sustaining their wealth, won’t compromise soverignity in the other way. But it is all gladness that they are working too, with USA. Build up the global cyber security workforce I say….no need for skyscrapers in Port City for that; fellows can sit in their homes and network. So much cheaper.

  • 0

    Port City can be used for real estste, with some gambling and other entertainment for global billionaires…..if China and other places will invest.

  • 1

I just visited again an old 1986 article by you (The Traditional Homelands: the Truths and Myths,” Tamil Times, Jan. 1986) where you say,
“”The four most controversial demands [of the Federal Party] will be examined in this article.
“They are the claims of distinct nationality, self-determination, traditional homelands, and the amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
“The two basic themes of this article are, first that these Tamil demands (or positions staked out) are not acceptable as presently articulated, but, second, that the Tamil rights (or interests) these demands are interested to promote are acceptable, and in fact will have to be given governmental recognition if any settlement reached is to be enduring.”
    Not acceptable to whom? They are exactly what we Tamils wanted then and want now. The last part of what I quoted seems inane if the demands are unacceptable and are an after-thought, it seems to me.
    I am reminded of another respectable Sinhalese liberal like you, Ainsley Samarajeewa of the Student Christian Movement, writing to a common friend in a personal letter on these weighty matters, “I cannot allow that.”
Are these not revelatory of Hitlerian delusions of grandeur as part of the mindset?”

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