By R. Sampanthan –
Response of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to the statement made by the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka, Professor G.L. Peiris at the high level segment of the 25th session of the Human Rights Council on march 5th 2014 at Geneva
1. Accountability and Reconciliation are fundamental to the restoration of Permanent Peace with Dignity, Equality and Justice amongst the peoples of Sri Lanka.
2. It is necessary in this context to set the record correct in respect of some issues referred to in the above statement. A final acceptable political situation is imperative and fundamental to reconciliation. The minister in his statement refers to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and states that the persistent refusal of the TNA to participate in the process is a hindrance to any settlement. It is necessary that the truth be stated in regard to this matter.
2.1 Bilateral talks between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the TNA in regard to the political solution commenced in January 2011, when the TNA outlined the contours of a political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka. A comprehensive written draft of these proposals was given to the GoSL delegation in February and March 2011.
2.2 The GoSL delegation undertook to respond in writing to these proposals, but over a period of seven meetings and five months did not do so. The GoSL has not responded up to date. In the circumstances the TNA informed the GoSL on 4thAugust 2011 that the date for the next round of talks could be fixed after the GoSL’s written response was available.
2.3 At the invitation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the TNA Leader met with the President on 2nd September 2011. It was agreed at the said meeting that all the formulations and documents that had emerged during various processes, after the enactment of the 13th Amendment would be brought into the negotiation process; that the bilateral talks would resume; that the consensus arrived at between the GoSL and the TNA at the bilateral talks would be taken before the PSC, which the Government proposed to set up.
2.4 The bilateral talks resumed on 16th September 2011, the agreement arrived at between the President and the TNA Leader as above stated was recorded in the minutes of that meeting.
2.5 The talks continued without much progress, talks were fixed for 17th, 18th and 19th January 2012, the GoSL delegation did not attend the talks on any of the said three dates. These were the circumstances in which the talks could not be continued.
2.6 Efforts were made to resume the bilateral talks in January 2012 and in May 2012. These are matters of record. The GoSL’s failure to respond as agreed hindered the recommencement of talks.
￼￼￼￼2.7 Meanwhile, Leaders of Alliance Partners of the GoSL of Cabinet Rank and also appointed by the Government to the Parliamentary Select Committee made public statements that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution must be repealed, that powers contained therein over Land and Police should be removed, that other important provisions should be removed or altered, and were insisting that the TNA should attend the PSC.
2.8 The Select Committee was to consist of 31 members, 19 from the GoSL and 12 from the opposition of whom the TNA would perhaps have 3 or 4. In this background there was no possibility of evolving a reasonable and acceptable political solution unless there was a reasonable consensus between the main party in Government – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the TNA. This is the background in which the TNA could not participate in the PSC. The PSC presently comprises only GoSL representatives. The TNA merely insisted that the agreement arrived at between the President and the Leader of the TNA be fulfilled.
2.9 It must also be stated that though the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has called upon the Government to come up with its own proposals for a political solution, the Government has up to date failed to do so, raising strong misgivings about the GoSL’s sincere commitment to an acceptable political solution.
3. In the light of the above, the minister’s explanation in regard to the non evolution of an acceptable political solution is tendentious and not in accord with the true position.
4. Accountability and the Truth being ascertained are fundamental to reconciliation. The murder of five students on the beachfront at Trincomalee in January 2006 and 17 Aid Workers of the ACF at Muttur in August 2006 are amongst the most egregious of the grave violations committed. The minister in the course of his statement refers to various steps that are being taken in regard to those two crimes more than seven years later. It is necessary to refer to matters that happened earlier. A Commission appointed by the President was entrusted with the responsibility of investigating these two among several other grave violations. An International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) was appointed to oversee the working of the Commission and to ensure that the investigations were carried out in keeping with international norms and standards. Amongst the early steps proposed by the IIGEP was that evidence before the Commission on behalf of the victims in these two cases should not be led by the Attorney General or his representative, as he was also engaged in defending the Government and its forces on human rights violations before the Human Rights Council and other fora; that consequently there was a clear conflict of interest; and that there should be a Witness and Victim Protection Law to ensure that witnesses were given due protection. With the Government’s fullest support the proposal relating to conflict of interest was disregarded, and the Attorney General or his representative continued to lead evidence; a Victims and Witnesses Protection Bill was brought to Parliament, the second reading debate was taken up, but the Bill was thereafter abandoned. Consequently, witnesses who were being intimidated fled the country. The IIGEP had helped to record the evidence of witnesses who had fled abroad through tele-conferencing. However, persons defending the accused made representations to the Government against the recording of evidence through tele-conferencing. Thereafter, as a result of the Government’s intervention, the recording of evidence through tele-conferencing was terminated.
5. The IIGEP withdrew its role in Sri Lanka and publicly stated that the GoSL did not have the political will or commitment to investigate grave violations of human rights in keeping with international norms and standards.
6. The Commission nevertheless submitted a report to the President. The report has not been made public. In this background, there is little chance for the truth to ever be ascertained in regard to these two horrible crimes. The ACF, after a long wait and after an investigation, recently released their own report concluding that the killing of the seventeen aid workers was carried out by the Armed Forces.
7. In regard to the killing of a large number of Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war, the ascertainment of the truth would largely depend on how many of the persons inside the conflict zone during the final stages have been accounted for. This cannot be ascertained through a census done throughout the whole country. The GoSL claimed that there were around 60,000 persons in the conflict zone. The reality is believed to be that there were upwards of 350,000 persons in the conflict zone. Around 290,000 persons came out. The truth needs to be ascertained by the issue being addressed directly instead of attempting to obfuscate the issue.
8. An Army Board of inquiry and its findings can hardly inculcate any credibility. There surely cannot be any independence when the Army is the judge in its own cause. Obduracy on the part of the GoSL can only justify the accusation of impunity, and if in breach of its commitments and obligations must entail the inevitable consequences. Past experience and the conduct of the GoSL clearly indicate that there cannot be an independent, credible domestic process.
9. Land issues are of critical importance and are again fundamental to reconciliation. The TNA is firmly of the view that the GoSL with the support of the Armed Forces is aggressively engaged in a programme to alter the demographic composition of the Northern and Eastern provinces, predominantly Tamil-speaking and to changing the linguistic and cultural identity of these areas. These matters have been raised in Parliament and with the Government on numerous occasions but the programme continues. Substantial extents of land held by the Army during the war continue to be held by the Army; it is correct that some lands have been released. However, nearly 100,000 people are still languishing in camps, welfare centres and with host families due to their lands not being released. In Valikamam in the North and in Sampur in the East, contrary to commitments made by the Government to the Supreme Court, and in Parliament, substantial extents of land are still held by the Army. New lands have been occupied by the Army after the end of the war; and displaced Tamil civilians are unable to return to lands for residence or livelihood, as the lands are occupied by the members of the Armed Forces or the majority community. Lands are sought to be taken over for the propagation of the religion of the majority, even in areas where persons of the majority community do not reside. It is absolutely essential that these land issues are resolved in a just and equitable manner. The failure to resolve these issues is bound to lead to further ill will and acrimony.
10. Attacks on places of religious worship and cultural importance of minority peoples have been a continuing phenomenon and the offenders act with impunity and in the belief that the arm of the law will never reach them. Inaction on the part of the Government and law enforcement authorities has given them this confidence.
11. The involvement of Armed Forces in civilian activities is best illustrated by the reports of both the international and domestic monitors in regard to the conduct of the Armed Forces during the holding of the Northern Provincial Council Elections. The overweening presence of the Armed Forces is a source of immense discomfort and harassment to the civilian population. A proclamation under Section 12 of the Public Security Ordinance continues to be made each month by the President calling out the Armed Forces to maintain law and order in every single district of the country.
12. The abolition of the Constitutional Council by the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the enactment of the 18th Amendment has deeply eroded the independence of the Judiciary, the Public services and the Police Services and all other civilian institutions, entrenching all power in the hands of an increasingly authoritarian Executive.
13. These developments do not portend well for the promotion and protection of human rights and the preservation of democracy in Sri Lanka.
*R. Sampanthan,- Leader – Tamil National Alliance