6 December, 2020

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Sri Lanka: Time For Action, Not Action Plans

By Alan Keenan

Alan Keenan

Masters of prevarication, the Sri Lankan Government is once again stalling the UN’s attempt to ensure an open assessment of the brutal final stages of the country’s civil war. The regime is probably hoping interest will fade, but every day it refuses a fair examination of some 40,000 civilian deaths is another small step away from reconciliation between the Sinhalese-dominated state and Tamils, and toward the next ethnic conflict.

Colombo’s contempt for the international community seems to know no bounds. Six months after the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) requested that Sri Lanka address its culture of impunity and badly damaged rule of law, the regime has taken no concrete action.

The HRC’s March resolution on ‘Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka’ requested the government ‘address alleged violations of international law’. It also called on the country to prepare a ‘comprehensive action plan detailing the steps that the Government has taken and will take to implement the recommendations’ of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the Government-appointed body that looked into the military’s crimes at the end of the war.

The Sri Lankan Government’s recently announced ‘national action plan’ purports to implement the LLRC’s recommendations, but in fact, it rejects that commission’s central finding: the need to initiate independent investigations and restore the independence of the judiciary, police and other public bodies.

The action plan proposes only flawed inquiries into alleged war crimes and other serious human rights violations, generally relying on the very institutions accused: the police and the military. It does nothing to establish independent institutions able to hold to account state agencies, President Rajapaksa (pictured) and his family, or the increasingly powerful military.

For example, where the LLRC recommends establishing ‘an independent permanent Police Commission…empowered to monitor the performance of the Police Service and ensure that all Police officers act independently’, the action plan simply claims that an ‘Independent Police Commission has already been established’. This flies in the face of the LLRC’s findings and the 18th amendment to the constitution, adopted in September 2010, which removed many of the Commission’s powers and gave the president the job of appointing all its members.

The action plan rejects the LLRC’s call for an ‘independent’ analysis of the well-known Channel 4 video to ‘establish the truth or otherwise’ of the executions of naked and bound prisoners it appears to depict. The action plan promises only to ‘assess the current processes being pursued…by the Army’ and names the defence ministry and the presidential secretariat as the ‘key responsible agencies’ to ‘take follow up action as appropriate’.

As for all the other ‘vast number of credible allegations’ of war crimes cited by a UN panel of experts, the ‘action plan’ promises only that the military will ‘complete ongoing disciplinary process being conducted in terms of Armed Forces statutes’ and ‘upon conclusion, take follow up action to prosecute, where relevant’. No information has been released about which incidents or military personnel may be under investigation. The Government gives itself five years to complete the process.

Sri Lanka’s human rights problems did not end with the war either. There have been scores of disappearances and political killings even since the LLRC report in December 2011, and prospects for reconciliation are further away than ever.

Despite Government claims to have reduced the role of the military in the Tamil-majority north and east (a key demand of the HRC resolution) reports from the ground confirm continued military control over virtually all aspects of life. By refusing to restart negotiations with the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), or allow elections to the northern provincial council, the Government is fueling anger among Tamils and weakening support for the TNA’s moderate, pro-engagement approach.

The international community, especially member states of the Human Rights Council, must now demand action, not action plans. Sri Lankans of all ethnicities need independent and effective bodies to investigate the many serious human rights violations they have endured during the war and in the years since. They need independent police, judges and prosecutors, freed from the control of the president and the ministry of defence. Provincial council elections and demilitarisation in the north are crucial first steps to sustainable peace, and international development institutions, including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, should condition assistance on both processes.

This article originally published in The Interpreter – Lowy Institute for International Policy

Alan Keenan is Sri Lanka Project Director at the International Crisis Group.

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Latest comments

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    When you start with a claim without a shred of substantiation (40,000), you are basically saying ‘I am part of a game’. It is time that Keenan took a nap, so that he can actually wake up. Right now, he’s pretending to sleep. Sad.

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      Malinda Seneviratne:
      Why don’t you crawl under that rock, parading as an Editor-in-Chief’s chair, that the Rajapaksas provided you with at The Nation? Or are there more respectable reptiles already in occupation of that space?

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      It shows that Malinda Seneviratne is Licker and a sucker of vultures.
      there are no other words to explain.

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      Good stuff — way to go Alan! Keep up the good work! ICG should demand that the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting to be held in SL in 2013 be moved or aborted outright.
      The fact is that the International Community does double speak. A few weeks ago the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Circus meet in Colombo gave the regime a chance to display its massive military might on the streets of Colombo to provide security for delegates of an organization that is totally irrelevant – a colonial left over British imperialism that is now used by third world dictators to market themselves.
      The Rajapakse regime has systematically used and targetted the useless Commowealth organization to market itself internationally while wasting funds needed for recovery and reconstruction of war affected areas on Commonwelath Games bids, and useless shows such as the Commonwelath Parliamentary meeting and proposed Heads meeting. The Commonwelath needs to be shut down or asked to behave in a responsible manner and stop boosting third world dictators like Mahinda Rajapakse. Sri Lanka today is worse than Libya – a country run by 4 brothers and sons, and a massive extended family that is looting the public wealth while having a facade of democracy and development through holding of staggered elections and winning through fraud and corruption. The Commonwealth sanctioning this sort of regime is a disgrace and shows the moral and intellectual bankrupcy of the organization. ICG should lobby it to stop supporting MR and is Family and cabinet of goohs, criminals and fools.

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        ICG should target the Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting in New York on 29 September 2012, in the wings of the 67th United Nations General Assembly where the GoSL is to present its plans for 2013 Commonwealth Heads meet and ask countries to boycott or move the meeting..

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    Srilankan government has been pretending to sleep and having dreams for a long time. The time has come for Srilanka to wake up and act according to international community’s demand.

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    http://colombotelegraph.com/comments-policy/

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    Imbibed on impunity, the Bros. will NOT make any move to resolve
    matters as suggested by the I/C. They well know that with time, the Sinhala Voter will dance to their tune only. So far it has been so?

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    In the Roman Law there is a concept: “Nemo se tenetur”, the correspective in the Common Law is the right to silence. Basically, if you committed a crime, it is unlikely that you will accuse yourself. The UN reached a Salomonic 40 000 (in response to Malinda Seneviratne, the figures are actually much higher: governmental sources were counting more than 440 000 people in the Vanni right before the final offensive. Only 290 000 came out: 140 000. But we’ll take the UN for present debates). So we expect a new commission,and then another one. The goal is time. Every delay is an implicit endorsement to the policy of the Rajapaksa administration. So far the international community backs him up. Were the massacre of civilians in Libya and Syria so different? I don’t think so.

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    Well, if you make up the facts, as Alan Keenan does, you can say what you like. For example, what is the origin of his claim for 40,000 civilian deaths in Sr Lanka (presumably in the last months of the war)? He doesn’t say, because there has no credible evidence to support this figure. As for Sri Lanka being “masters of prevarication”, really it is an amateur compared with governments of the country where Mr Keenan is based: 40 years to investigate Northern Ireland’s “Bloody Sunday” massacre by the British army, over 20 years to admit the truth about the police cover-up of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, still no progress with the supposed official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq, families of victim’s of British army torture in Kenya cannot take legal action in British courts, etc, etc.

    Give us a break, Mr Keenan, sort your own nations’ crises out before giving unasked for advice to others.

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      How can you ask the tamils to prove that 40000 civilians died,when the government forced a news blackout on the rest of the world when hundreds of thousands of civilians were held as a human shield by the LTTE and the government was getting ready for the final assault.Due to the governments actions in hiding from the world what it was doing it has lost the presumption of innocent until proved guilty.

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        My friend, only with a lynch mob or under a totalitarian dictatorship does one lose the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

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          Candidly, don’t you think it is dictatorship or lynch mob mentality,when a government assaults its own citizens on a mass scale.A terrorist organisation hijacks the governments own ‘safe haven’ designated areas and holds hundreds of thousands of civilians hostage as human shields.The government attacks these terrorists by shelling and other weaponry and has a news blackout of all its actions and kills all the terrorists,but states that there are zero civilian casualties.So if the government behaves in a fashion akin to a totalitarian dictatorship or lynch mob that has no respect for innocents lives,why should the international community give it the benefit of the doubt when it thumbed its nose at the rest of the world and blacked out the news.

          Don’t you think it is fair, that since the government tried to wipe out the evidence with a complete news blackout,then the international community has to now rely on other sources to verify the facts and these sources may not be as perfect if there was news coverage at the time of action,so it is upto the government now to prove that these sources that the international community now rely on are unreliable and the government has to provide statistics that refute allegations that 40000 civilians was not in fact killed.The onus of proof has now shifted because the government changed the goal posts when kicking the goal and as a result changed the rules of the game and kicked an own goal.

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