1 March, 2024


Sri Lanka’s National Interests Lie In Cooperation Not Confrontation

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

It cannot be coincidental that hardly two weeks after the UN Human Rights Commissioner named the team that would investigate past human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the South African reconciliation initiative is also moving forward again.  There was a pause for a while, but once again there is an appearance of movement.  A high powered South African delegation headed by its Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to be in the country in the next few days.   This was a visit that was expected to take place in June.  But the visit was kept in the background, perhaps due to the protests raised against any South African or foreign mediation by nationalist coalition allies of the government.  However, the appointment of the three experts to advice and guide the investigating team appears to have jolted the government to once again present the South African initiative as an alternative.

The main difference between the South African and UN initiatives is that they look at past with a different emphasis.  The South African initiative is explicitly meant to promote reconciliation as its first priority.  It combines an ascertaining of the truth about the past with the pursuit of political reform that is based on the lessons learnt from the past.  On the other hand, the UN investigation has its main objective as being to ascertain the past so that those who have committed wrongs and serious crimes could be held accountable and brought to justice. The government’s concern is to protect those of its political and military leaderships who can face punishment by international tribunals. It is unacceptable to the government that those who led the war against the LTTE, which resulted in unexpected success, should be punished after having defeated the LTTE in battle.

The appointment of three experts to assist the team of UN investigators has been a major step in the UN-led accountability process.  The government’s decision at this time has been to reject this accountability process as violative of the country’s sovereignty and also its national pride.  A more basic cause would also be the concern that the international investigating mechanism would consist of persons who were biased against the Sri Lankan government position. The governmental refusal to cooperate with the UN investigation is indicative of a likely denial of permission to the investigative team to enter the country. However, this will not stop the investigation from taking place.  If it cannot take place within the country, it will take place from outside it.  The three experts selected by the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights are mainly expected to play a supportive and advisory role and provide advice and guidance as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.

Peacemaking Experts

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay has stated, “I am proud that three such distinguished experts have agreed to assist this important and challenging investigation. Each of them brings not only great experience and expertise, but the highest standards of integrity, independence, impartiality and objectivity to this task.”   The experts are Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, Silvia Cartwright of New Zealand and Asma Jahangir of Pakistan.   Mr Ahtisaari was a president of Finland, one of the most peaceful countries in the world, which during the long period of the Cold War learnt to coexist as a neighbor to the Soviet Union even though its heart lay with the Western democracies.  Mr Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on account of his mediation in the Aceh conflict in Indonesia.  The separatist war waged by rebels in Aceh came to an end through a negotiated political settlement, and therefore spared Indonesia the bitter aftermath of a military solution.  Those who are peace makers are not oriented towards looking at the past for the purpose of punishment but rather to reconcile.

Ms Jahangir, who has been the head of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has had a long association with Sri Lanka due to the long friendship and collaboration she enjoyed with Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam.   Highly educated and cosmopolitan, Dr Tiruchelvam was a bridge between Sri Lanka and the international community.  He also sought to be a bridge between the government and opposition, and was one of the co-architects with Prof G L Peiris of the political package that was presented by the then government as the solution to the ethnic conflict.  This earned Dr Tiruchelvam the enmity of the LTTE who wished for a separate state, and not for a solution within a united Sri Lanka, and he was assassinated by the LTTE.  There is little reason to believe that Ms Jahangir would be influenced by those who supported such LTTE terrorism.

Sri Lanka is a country that is deeply embedded in the international community, and has signed virtually every one of the UN and other international treaties and covenants.  In addition, it is dependent on the international community for its imports and exports which account for the larger part of its national income.  Therefore it would be ill advised for any government to believe that it can fight against the UN or any one of its elected assemblies, which is what the Human Rights Council is.  It needs to find a way to cooperate with the UN investigation.  Perhaps a model can be found in the way it has been collaborating in recent months with the UN within Sri Lanka on the issue of humanitarian work.

An Example

For the past year the government has been working cooperatively with the UN and international humanitarian agencies working within the country to conduct a joint needs assessment on humanitarian needs of war-affected people.  The Joint Needs Assessment that has been conducted since last year by the government in collaboration with the UN Humanitarian Office in Sri Lanka together with other international organizations working within the country is in the process of coming to fruition.  It has been an example of a carefully designed structured collaboration that is intended to ascertain the situation on the ground with regard to war victims and the post-war difficulties they experience and what can be done.  It shows that the government and international community can work together for the common interest when decisions are taken together.

The outcomes of these surveys have provided very detailed information that would enable an appropriate response to address the people’s needs.  These surveys have assessed the needs in areas such as food, water, sanitation, housing, livelihoods, education and child protection.  The preliminary results provided evidence that the urgent humanitarian crisis was over for 90 percent of those who were war-affected.  This has been to the credit of the government.  The Joint Needs Assessment will show the gaps that need to be filled so that all the war-affected people can finally be taken care of and be the mark of a responsible government.

In the current context it is commendable that the JNA was carried out because there was some uncertainty towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year regarding its viability. In conducting the Joint Needs Assessment, the government and UN were able to negotiate that there should be a shared responsibility for the outcome.  The field assessment process comprised several activities which included preparatory work that had to be done prior to the commencement of field activities.  The major task was the development and appraisal of the questionnaires by both parties.  The entire exercise was under the control of the two co-chairs of the steering committee representing the government and UN. The principle of shared responsibility was accepted.  It suggests the way forward to the government in dealing with the issue of post-war accountability which is the one that is most troubling to the government.

The principle of international law is that it gives priority to national legal processes as the first resort, before matters can come before international tribunals.  But for this principle to operate there must be a credible national mechanism. This is what the South African initiative can provide.  The government can establish a credible national investigation in partnership with the international community. The positive experience of the Joint Needs Assessment may increase the confidence of the government that it can work in partnership with UN fact finding bodies.  On the other hand, a total rejection of the UN investigation will make the government vulnerable to a one-sided and ex-parte judgment that will be very likely be unfavourable to it and pave the way for punitive actions, including economic, political and personal sanctions, which will not at all be in Sri Lanka’s larger interests.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Ms Pillai doesn’t want to know about the baddies.

    She only wants to know how Prabakaran and his LTTE outfit were eliminated,and to prosecute the Srilankan Army and the Govt Leaders and put them away for good as the baddies..

    Mr Ramposa on the other hand wants to know more about the baddies and try to make the goodies forget about the bad acts and get along with the baddies who now pretend to be goodies.

    And this Eminent Christian NGO Dr Jehan is right..

    This Paki Mum who evidently was a bosom pal of Dr Tiruchelvam probably didn’t read the fine print when she agreed to the scope of her employment.

    Her poor friend Dr Thiru was bumped off long before 2007.

    Is that right?…

  • 1

    While South Africa TRO is waved in the South intermittently,
    the North is imperilled non-stop:

    Situation report from Jaffna Catholic Diocese- June 2014:
    ”…… in some public festivals and tournaments held in Jaffna and Vanni, organised by the army, the prizes were beer-can-cases and arrack-bottles. In the stalls of these public festivals alcoholic drinks were freely available for sale for all, including the teenagers. …..”

    Chandra Jayaratne tells LLRC, September 2010:
    ”……..Free availability of liquor, cigarette and drugs…..”

    Young religious visit their own suffering brothers and sisters in Northern Sri Lanka
    by Rev.Fr.Lasantha de Abrew s.j., 25 October 2010:
    ”… The high military presence in these areas makes the resettled persons more tensed, uncomfortable and uneasy. The regular visits of the soldiers to their half built houses and temporary sheds, frequent arrests of the young males on various justified and unjustified charges, and inviting the children to the camps to watch films make them uneasy. ….Easy availability of DVD shops, liquor, smoking even promoted by the soldiers could be the causes for such lack of interest. …”

    • 1

      When the govt cannot let the elected NPC function, what, how and why can South Africa come in and do anything please?
      PTF for Northern Province is in the hands of the Governor and not in the hands of the elected body? What’s going on? I don’t understand this.

      • 0

        Entirely correct.
        MR through his proxy the Governor stymies all efforts of the NPC from doing its job,even without the “land & police” powers.
        MR is slowly increasing the number of votes against him.

  • 1

    This is a good article by JP, however, he writes ” It is unacceptable to the government that those who led the war against the LTTE, which resulted in unexpected success, should be punished after having defeated the LTTE in battle”.

    The international community that helped to eliminate the LTTE also sees the elimination from another angle. The enforced starvation of more than 300,000 or 446,000 including babies, use of illegal weapons, shelling and bombing of civilian targets within the demarcated ‘safe zone’ and internment of tormented people behind barbed wires, that, too, by separating husbands and wives.

    The off and on suscitation of South African initiative as a replacement by the government is to keep its international friends such as Cuba, China and Russia on its its side. This placation may result in showing may expose the government insincerity as in other appointment of commissions or committees of investigation.

  • 1

    Jehan, as usual, in the deed of cheering up of his friend King, poked a heavy hole into the perceivable immaterialness of OHCHR’s inquiry. By analyzing their profiles very carefully, he is very certain that none of the three advisers will be hard on the King. He is trying to say that the team will most likely to pamper the Royal Government, during the inquiry. And further he believes that Ms Asma Jahangir will go against those who killed her friend Neelan. So he argues“There is little reason to believe that Ms. Jahangir would be influenced by” the case that is going to be presented at OHCHR. He is not hiding why he is undertaking this difficult onus. That is because he wants to save the King from the genocide accusation in Mullivaikkal.

    As Dayan is no longer there, Jehan wants to take the role of “hiding the truth” for the Royal Family. Here it is in his polished words “The government’s concern is to protect those of its political and military leaderships who can face punishment by international tribunals.” Jehan wants to help the Royal Family successfully hide its crime it committed. For that, Jehan, instead of going on the same route of Dayan, which the Royal Family hated, he is inventing his own deference. Here is that secret, powerful defense “It is unacceptable to the government that those who led the war against the LTTE, which resulted in unexpected success,” be punished. If the reader does not understand the defense here it is: what Jehan saying on behalf of the Royal Family is, as they won the war it is not fair for to punish the Royal Family. Here Jehan wants to call it as war. But he tries to minimize the word “War” as it can provoke “war crime” during the investigation. So he comes out with another terminology. He is thoroughly justifying himself for using of it even before the inquiry come and determine it. That is “such LTTE terrorism.” Once he had declared it as s terrorism, Jehan is completely wiping out the “War Crime” as terrorism is a subject for internal inquiry. Internal Inquiry is what he is advocating in the rest of his article: An “internal Inquiry on terrorism,” in the country which does not have a Chief Justice. He wants to guarantee the UNHRC that this is a reliable terrorism inquiry so UNHRC need not interfere in the Island’s business.

    If we can once more go back to Asma Jahangir, here some more findings; because Ms Jahangir is coming from Pakistan Jehan safely assumes that she has to accept any Terrorism that existing in Pakistan should be exactly matching the one that can be in Lanka too. So Jehan denies her right to look at what happened in Lanka in detail manner. Further he assumes, because terrorism exists in Pakistan, she should be having the habit holding Pakistan government as harmless and honorable government. Then because there is an excellent government in palace in Pakistan, the other terrorism country Lanka also must have an equivalent government. Once he had finished building his accurate mathematical model of how to save the King (Dayan’s crude political model used in 2009 is not comparable with this at all)with all these safe and sure assumption, all what he needed is to create and let be active some terrorism in Lanka. So he gave his verdict to LTTE as terrorist. At that point, he with his perfect argument he has acquitted the Royal Government from all of its war crime.

    Well! Now the government has been saved from an international inquiry, by our expert brain Jehan Perera. But I still like to investigate, at least, one more thing. May I know what was Ranil doing in America for one month? He too was finding ways in America to keep the King on the power by acquitting him from “war crimes”. I doubt it because Ms.Clinton, that time American State Minister, who treats Neelan as a family friend, said LTTE cannot be compared with other international terrorist.

  • 0

    Jehan’s comments about Asma Jehangir is not true. She has given an interview to the BBC on how will they do the inquiry if the government refuse to talk with them.

    “BBC Tamil: During your inquiry who will you attempt to speak to?

    Asma Jahangir: We always talk to victims. That is absolutely essential. We will also speak to the persons who took the decisions during relevant times and try to understand their point of view. Some may not like to speak to us, but there will also be those who will be able to speak to us. From our experience sometimes some will get into contact with in secret. We will need to protect their confidentiality. If we are allowed to travel to Sri Lanka we will speak to the police. Also we will speak to a majority of the civil society including NGOs, media, etc.

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