By G.K. Nathan –
Recently concluded General Debate at the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sri Lanka External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said that “The noticeable recent tendency to selectively and arbitrarily intervene in the internal affairs of states flies in the face of this principle and dilutes the confidence so carefully nurtured in the UN system.” During the same session United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has highlighted the need to find a political solution immediately to the underlying factors of the conflict in Sri Lanka and drew the attention of Prof G.L. Peiris that a political solution should be found “without further delay.” Contrary to the above assertion by Prof. G.L. Peiris at the UN, International community did not intervene in Sri Lanka, as they did in countries in the Middle East; but their appeal to stop the war, to respect human rights and seek reconciliation fell on deaf ears of President Rajapaksa. Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) conducted a ferocious war without any respect to international humanitarian and international human rights laws in the guise to “get rid of terrorism” at the end death was put at 40,000 and that figure has been upped to 75,000 at the book launch of “Still Counting the Dead” by Frances Harrison. During the war and thereafter, evidence has emerged from independent sources, more are still coming to light that war crimes and crimes against humanity have occurred during the prolonged military conflict which ended on 18 May 2009.
Western countries and human rights organizations have called for an Independent International Inquiry to determine the truth; only recognizing that Sri Lanka is made up of multilingual, multiethnic and multireligious people will help to move towards reconciliation suitable for a country with a mixed and complex social set up. Unfortunately, the end of “war against terrorists” neither brought real peace nor protection of human rights in the country; on the contrary, the human and political rights of people of Sri Lanka have deteriorated, further. Hundreds of thousands of people, Tamils and Muslims were victims of the conflict, have not returned to their original places of residence because those areas are either declared as High Security Zone (HSZ) or occupied by the armed forces. A recent media report revealed sixteen of the nineteen divisions of Sri Lanka military are in the North and East of the Island. GSL’s economic activities mostly focus on building roads and bridges with borrowed money contributing to inflationary pressure on the economy, while the working conditions are worsening and employees’ unrest is spreading and demanding equitable and fair working conditions. At the same, time political power and wealth is accumulating in the hands of a few. Disappearances and murders are happening with full impunity and being used as a way of silencing dissent. Deterioration of social and economic conditions of the people is driving them to suicide which is one of the highest in the world and the people have become the victims of forces unleashed by the current regime. Will this sew the seed of dissent and uprising of the people?
The forthcoming 14th session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2012, Sri Lanka is one of the sixteen countries whose human rights record will be reviewed. This gives an opportunity to critically look at Sri Lanka’s human rights record and assess what GSL has done, since the review in 2008. Also, at the 22nd session of United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2013, Sri Lanka’s progress with respect to the resolution A/HRC/19/L.2 which was passed at 19th Session proposed by USA and supported by countries from Europe, South America, a few from Africa and India was the only one from Asia will be scrutinized. The scrutiny at UPR and UNHRC sessions should define a new path to follow, to determine the accountability followed by reconciliation among multilingual, multiethnic and multireligious people of Sri Lanka.
Political Developments and Concentration of Power
In 1976, all Tamil Political parties formed an umbrella organization named Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), to press for their legitimate rights with sympathetically disposed countries. The same year, the first national convention of TULF was held at Vaddukkoddai, Jaffna and a historical resolution was adopted; saying that “The Convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of Free, Sovereign, Secular and Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation”, which was referred to as “Vaddukkoddai Resolution for Self Determination”. At the General election held in 1977, the people of North East Sri Lanka (referred to as Tamil Eelam) overwhelming endorsed the resolution, supported by 82% of the people. At the same election, J.R. Jayewardene also had a landslide victory mainly supported by Sinhala people that defined a definite cleave between Sinhala and Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The constitutional structure enacted at the time of Independence by the British colonial power, proved unsuitable for a complex society in Sri Lanka. This aggravated the political and economic development in Sri Lanka, mainly due to the failure of Sinhala majority governments of different persuasion to recognize the democratic rights of Tamils and to implement past agreements between Tamils to devolve power, which eventually led to declaration of right to self determination. Failure of Tamil politicians to make progress through democratic process led the Tamil youths to take up arms, which was later supported by India; but the strategy failed to bring a resolution of conflict, as it happened in Bangladesh. This set the stage for three decades of armed rebellion developing into a full scale war, which further alienated the two communities, as demonstrated in elections after the end of military conflict. The democratic Western democracies which have helped many “nations” to liberate themselves have to take a proactive role via UPR and UNHRC to mount pressure on Sri Lanka and to persuade the GSL towards, reconciliation.
J.R. Jayewardene became the Prime Minister for about a year under the 1972 constitution which was changed to Executive Presidential system of government with a limit of two six year terms for the president; he was sworn in as the first executive President of Sri Lanka on 4 February 1978, after three decades of parliamentary system of government, since Independence. The 1978 constitution was written and adopted without the participation of Tamil Members of Parliament from North East Sri Lanka; similarly, Tamils boycotted the introduction of 1972 constitution which deleted the unalterable Section 29(2) protecting the rights of minorities in the country that was the only protection the minorities had in the 1948 constitution; when Sri Lanka gained Independence. The 1972 and 1978 constitutions were drawn by Sinhala community and it failed to recognize Rights of Tamils and meet their aspirations to live within a united country, another lost opportunity.
President who was empowered as the Head of State and Head of Government made the President all powerful; Parliament and Members of Parliament became subservient to the President. The passing of draconian laws such as “Protection of Terrorism Act in 1979” and Amendment to the constitution preventing Tamils advocating separation to sit as a Member of Parliament further weakened the bridge between the Sinhala and Tamil communities, worsened human rights in the country. President J R Jayawardene was never sympathetic to the Tamils rights or their plight; a review of his political history in the past few decades is a witness to his adverse view of Tamils’ and their rights. Two of the worst pogrom against Tamils occurred in 1977 and 1983 under his presidency; his comments on Black July 1983 Pogrom against the Tamils, said it all and demonstrates his antagonism and disregards to Tamils, as citizens of Sri Lanka, as shown in the quotation given below:
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion…Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” [J.R. Jayawardene, President of Sri Lanka, Daily Telegraph, July 1983]
The comments by Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International on Black July 1983 Pogrom in March 1986 are still true to the last letter, though almost three decades have passed, since then.
“Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether in the last few years…These events are not accidental [but a] result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan government…Democracy in Sri Lanka does not exist in any real sense.”
Asian Human Rights Organization in an article, reviewing the Presidential system of government in 2001 under the title: “SRI LANKA: Behold the Throne of Anarchy: The Constitution of Sri Lanka and failure of law enforcement agencies” made a critical observation that “The 1978 Constitution, which was tailored to give the first president absolute power, made inevitable the diminishing in importance of two major institutions for the enforcement of law. These two are the Department of the Attorney General, which also acts as the main prosecution institution of Sri Lanka, and the police.”
At the presidential election held in 1994, both candidates from the major political parties United National Party (UNP) and Peoples’ Alliance (PA) mentioned explicitly that if elected, as the President of Sri Lanka, they would introduce a system of devolution of power as a means of resolving the national question and bring changes to the executive presidential system. Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga of PA was elected as the President and she abandoned the above two policies, but introduced the 17th Amendment as an improvement to the 1978 constitution.
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution seeking to de-politicize vital governmental functions was presented to Parliament in September 2001 and enacted in October 2001. The Constitutional Council however was constituted in March 2002; consisted of the Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, a person appointed by the President, five persons appointed by the President on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and one person nominated upon agreement by the majority of the members of Parliament belonging to political parties or independent groups other than the respective political parties or independent groups to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belong and appointed by the President. The constitutional council to maintain independence made recommendations to the appointment of members to Public Service Commission (PSC), the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), National Police Commission (NPC), Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Independent Elections Commission. A significant feature of the 17th Amendment is the creation of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with powers to hear appeals from decisions of the PSC and the Police Commission, giving more democratic rights to the people of the country without any bias based on race or religion. President Mahinda Rajapaksa failure to appoint the Constitutional Council derailed the process and the implementation of the 17th Amendment, since 2006. Having sabotaged the constitutional process President Rajapaksa made appointments to higher offices to satisfy his whims only. This explains why there is unresolved and increased number of human rights cases, crimes and murders in Sri Lanka during his reign.
President Rajapaksa when he first contested for Presidency in 2005, he too said in his election manifesto, what others presidential candidates have said before him; that Presidential system of government will be replaced by Parliamentary system of government. Having enjoyed absolute power as President, he too abandoned his promises and amended the constitution to keep him in power for life by removing the restriction of two six year terms with 18th Amendment. The same 18th Amendment transferred the power in the 17th Amendment to the President from the Constitutional council. The 18th amendment of the constitution was adopted with hardly any debate in the Parliament and laid the foundation for life term presidency. President gained constitutional authority to make all senior public service appointments without going through the independent process.
This is another example of absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Socio-Political Arena since Rajapaksas’ Ascendency
Many changes that have taken place since the current President came to power are due to failure to honour commitments by this regime, which has left a negative impression in the International arena and Sri Lanka President is shunned, except by countries like China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and reluctantly India. The Sri Lanka society has become polarized by the corrupt practices and many are opposed to the current government. But, the euphoria of military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the disunity in the main opposition party has helped the Rajapaksa regime to maintain power with dwindling majority support for the regime; except in Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) Election twice as many voted against the government, but President used his incumbency to form EPC government. If North Provincial Council election is called, which is due since 2009, a similar result as in EPC is expected, confirming the country is irreparably divided.
Fifth President Election held on 17 November 2005 in Sri Lanka brought changes for the worse and the war unleashed against LTTE discarding international humanitarian and international human rights laws, the country is still facing the dire consequences. At that time Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa contested as a Presidential candidate, he said that “he is opposed to federalism and that he would renegotiate the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with LTTE” with one eye on the election outcome and vote bank of Sinhala chauvinists. The CFA was signed between Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe when he was the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and LTTE in 2002 under the patronage of USA, EU, Japan and Norway; many countries made representation to both parties to resolve the three decades long Sinhala-Tamil conflict equitably and peacefully. Dishonoring the International understanding and expectation from the peace process, the announcement by Mahinda Rajapaksa had desired outcome and smaller parties which drew their support from a section of Buddhist monks and mainly people from lower economic strata of Sinhala Buddhists society, supported Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is unfortunate that LTTE in their shortsighted wisdom, who were in control of most parts of North East Sri Lanka at that time, ordered Tamil voters to boycott the Presidential election. In the Northern Province only 2% of voters participated in the Presidential election and Mahinda Rajapaksa received 50.3% of the votes and was elected with a narrowest of margin ever recorded, dashing all hopes of reconciliation in Sri Lanka because of his publicly announced stand against CFA. If not for that call from LTTE, most of the Tamil voters would have likely voted to the Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe who signed the 2002 CFA, the results would have been different; the tragedy Tamils experienced under the authoritarian regime of President Rajapaksa could have been avoided.
President Rajapaksa using his over arching power, without any other considerations and unilaterally ended the CFA in 2008; then unleashed a vicious onslaught on the LTTE, ignoring the welfare of the people of Sri Lankans, many thousands of Sinhala soldiers and Tamil people died in the war. West refused to accept his militaristic stance, but with military supply received from China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia, he continued the war to a bitter end. India gave tacit approval for the military operation, provided military training to personnel and supplied Intelligence to conduct the war against LTTE. India is strangely not paying any attention to allegations against GSL for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Contrary to call from Western democratic nations’ for an Independent International Inquiry based on UN Experts’ panel report and Human Rights Organizations, India’s silence is astonishing. The political and military leadership of LTTE was completely wiped out and the war came to an end on 18 May 2009, together with that death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The victory of Sinhala armed forces brought great jubilation to Sinhala population in the Island, while Tamils silently mourned the losses of their people and destruction of everything belonged to them. President Rajapaksa has become the modern era King Dutugemunu (King Dutugemunu who defeated Tamil King Elara in 206BC at Anuradhapura and built a tomb to honor the fallen Tamil king) of Sinhala people and his popularity soared.
The victory was achieved: discarding the joint statement between President Rajapaksa and United Nation Secretary General at the conclusion of his visit to Sri Lanka on 23 March 2009, which “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and President Rajapaksa agreed that it “will take measures to address those grievances”. President Rajapaksa also ignored the appeal from Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner who arrived in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on 29 April 2009 to “win the peace” by putting the needs of civilians above its desire to continue its military advance. The Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development on Sri Lanka, Japan, the EU, USA and Norway have gone further, asking the Sri Lankan government to offer amnesty to LTTE leaders. All appeals fell on deaf ears. Instead of using his popularity to resolve the long standing Sinhala-Tamil conflict and bringing the victors and losers together to establish an accountability process followed by reconciliation, President Rajapaksa pursued his self interest and called for the Presidential election two years ahead of schedule and without honoring his pledge to abolish Presidential system of government, when he contested in 2005.
Sixth Presidential Election was called on January 26, 2010; only reason was to use his popularity and consolidate power within a small group of people, mainly his siblings and relatives. President Rajapaksa, the commander-in-chief of Sri Lanka armed forces, fought the Presidential election against the vanquished Sri Lanka Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who won the war against LTTE, but he was ungraciously removed from his post. President Rajapaksa was victorious gaining 57.3% of the popular vote; the Sarath Fonseka was locked up in prison on various charges soon after the election. Division was reiterated, North and East of the Island overwhelmingly voting for Sarath Fonseka; Tamil People having experienced oppression under President Rajapaksa voted for a change hoping it could not be worse for than under President Rajapaksa.
Parliamentary election was held in April 2010, following the Presidential election, the governing United People’s Freedom alliance (UPFA) won 144, United National Front (UNF) 60, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) 14 and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) 7 making up the 225 seats in the Parliament; where 60.3% of the people voted for UPFA. By November 2011, the Parliamentary strength of UPF has increased to 161 by coaxing opposition members from UNF to join the government by offering positions at the treasury bench and succeeded in persuading enough number to gain two third majority in the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Treasury bench is made up of a Prime Minister, 10 Senior Ministers, 50 Ministers and 34 Deputy Ministers for a country of about 20 million people; 95 government Members of Parliament occupy the treasury bench, which may be nearing the Guinness book of record. Almost eighty percent of the budget is under the control of President Rajapaksa who is also the Defence and Finance minister; one brother Basil Rajapaksa, as Economic Development Minister, controls almost all economic activities within the country. Another brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as Defence Secretary is responsible for more than 10% of the budget allocated for defence expenditure which must be one of highest percentage in the world during peace time. One wonders, whether strengthening of the military is the first step to bring the population under their control using the armed forces, if the government is challenged by uprising of disaffected people in the country. Will Rajapaksa regime succeed against rise of people’s power?
Media Freedom is virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka. South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) pointed out rightly, what is known to many that “The Defence Ministry’s website regularly charged specific journalists with ‘treachery’. The Defence Secretary continues to regularly denounce journalists by name on the state television and dismisses the allegations that the government is behind the attack.” A number of Sinhala and Tamil media outlets have been vandalized under this regime and carried out with impunity, because no one has been ever captured or charged to date. One of the few newspapers which challenge the GSL policy and action is “The Sunday Leader”; its editor Ms Frederica Jansz has been threatened by Defence secretary in a telephone conversation which was published worldwide. “The Economists” reported “SRI LANKA’s powerful defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, seemed to threaten a senior newspaper editor with death in a profanity-strewn outburst.” Similarly, the former editor of the same paper Lasantha Wickremetunge was threatened; sometime later, en route to work on 9 June 2009 he was murdered in cold blood in broad daylight. Murderers are still at large. The editorial published posthumously the Sunday after he was killed; Lasantha notes that “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.” After the majority ownership of “The Sunday Leader” changed hand, Ms Frederica Jansz was sacked from editorship and has sought refugee status in a foreign land fearing for her life. Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said, since President Rajapaksa came to power, 8 Tamil journalists have been killed and no one has been brought to trial to date; further 20 to 25 Tamil journalists have either fled the country or missing. Absence of press freedom reminds of a totalitarian state?
Internally Displaced People (IDP) resulted from of the long standing conflict for about three decades, made up of about half a million Tamils, close to two hundred thousand Muslims and a few thousands Sinhala people; examination of their current plight and taking remedial action will facilitate the reconciliation among all. Ignoring will only breed hatred and may face more upheavals caused by internal dissension or imposed externally. Half a million IDP are made up 187, 850 people displaced, as reported on 31 December 2007, of which 31,843 remained in welfare centres or temporary accommodation centres and 156,007 lived with friends and relatives. Immediately after the end of conflict on 18 May 2009, UN determined that 282,380 were incarcerated and about 40,000 people died in the conflict. Bishop of Mannar in his submission to Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) based on number of people lived in the area in October 2008 as per government record, and the people incarcerated based on figures released by UN agency, concluded that there is a short fall of 146,679 people. Why is this discrepancy?
The International Crisis Group (ICG)’s “Sri Lanka: Post-War Progress Report” updated on 13 September 2011 and a Submission made at Sri Lanka Parliament on 21 October 2011 on “North East Sri Lanka Report” by MA Sumanthiran Member of Parliament, both drew similar conclusions in their reports. The topics with adverse coverage are: Militarization and Insecurity; Resettlement of IDP; Rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants (considering GSL has ex-combatants with serious allegations as ministers); Political settlement on devolution and minority rights; Systematic eviction, land grabs and occupation by military; social and legal issues. Many of the issues raised remain unresolved. Members of President Rajapaksa’s regime, whenever an opportunity arises paint a rosy picture contrary to what is reported by independent sources. Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives, in an interview quoted what the people said to him, a true picture: “we may look better, but we feel worse.” Who will restore normalcy to IDP’s life?
Law and Order in Sri Lanka is at the lowest ebb under this regime; GSL is happy to ignore and no one could feel proud of the current deplorable situation. This would be reviewed in detail together with submissions from many at the forthcoming UPR and UNHRC sessions; only a few examples are highlighted here. Since, President Rajapaksa gained office of Presidency and his brother was anointed as the all powerful Defence Secretary, there are numerous examples of breech of law order that are carried with full impunity. A noteworthy example is, victorious Army commander in the war against LTTE was given a raw deal, first forced out of power and later imprisoned. If this meted out to Sarath Fonseka, how could ordinary people get justice from this regime?
Udalagama commission was functioning for about two years, without much cooperation from attorney general’s department and the GSL; until their term came to a sudden end on 14 June 2009. Commission was entrusted with 17 most serious cases of violations of human rights, but only completed work on five cases; three years has passed since their submission to the GSL and no follow up action has been taken on any one of them. Two cases one where five young students from Trincomalee and the other 17 local aid workers attached to the French humanitarian agency Action Conter la Faim (ACF), in both cases allegedly murdered by the Sri Lanka army, are being pursued away from Sri Lanka jurisdiction.
It is reported that one person disappears every five days in Sri Lanka, mostly picked up by “white vans” and abductees disappear without any trace at all, too many to list them. Latest one is an assault on judiciary where a senior Sri Lankan High Court judge was beaten up and hospitalized on Sunday 7 October 2012, triggering a one day strike by the judges of Sri Lanka courts, who were angry at perceived political interference in the courts procedures. It is not difficult to notice the similarity between the attack on judges and journalists; this does not augur well for a free society in Sri Lanka. What is happening is mostly due to deficiency or culpability of Ministry of Defence which is responsible for law and order in Sri Lanka. Law and order is at the lowest ebb in Sri Lanka, where will the people turn to?
Rajapaksa Regime Continues to Dishonor Commitments
Under the watch of United Nation, International Community and the immediate neighbor India, President of Sri Lanka and senior members of his government have perfected the art of evading accountability for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity which occurred during the military conflict between LTTE and Sri Lanka armed forces, for more than three years. The unilateral withdrawal from the internationally approved CFA between GSL and LTTE is a breach of commitment without any country acting adversely, which led to this war. Similarly, the joint statement which “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and agreement that it “will take measures to address those grievances” between UN Secretary General and President of Sri Lanka released on 23 March 2009 has not been honored. President Rajapaksa had made many promises during his presidency to India on issues related to reconciliation, finding a political resolution of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict, resettlement of IDP etc of no avail. How long is the world going to turn a blind eye?
The 13th amendment was introduced in 1987 devolving power to provincial councils, after being persuaded by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which has not been fully implemented over 2 decades starting with President J.R. Jayawardene who introduced this amendment to the current President Rajapaksa. Unification of North and East was done in 1988 by proclamations issued by President Jayewardene and the election was held for the unified North East council, so called Tamil Eelam. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on 16 October 2006 determined, on litigation started by coalition partner of President Rajapaksa, that the unification of North East council was null and void unless validated with a referendum by the people of Tamil Eelam. President Rajapaksa, instead of holding a referendum, as determined by the High Court, the North Eastern Provincial Council was bifurcated into two Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils on 1 January 2007. Eastern Provincial Council election was held in 2008 in the midst of military conflict. People are still waiting for the Northern Provincial Council election to be held; it is currently ruled by a military governor in a democratic country, even though military conflict ended more than three years ago. According to the 13th amendment the land and police power were to be devolved to provinces, but GSL has not implemented this part of the 13th amendment; instead GSL has introduced a land bill called “Divi Naguma Bill” which eclipses the little power given to the Provincial Councils under the 13th amendment regard to land. Successive GSLs have failed to honestly devolve power. Actions cast doubts, whether Sinhala rulers have genuine interest to devolve power and bring about reconciliation?
President Rajapaksa voluntarily promised to implement the 17th amendment which depoliticizes and ensures the independence in appointing officers to the highest office in the country. On the contrary, to add insult to injury to UPR and UNHRC resolutions, President Rajapaksa introduced the 18th amendment which removed restriction on two term ceiling on the executive presidency, leading to Presidency for life; emulating countries which are over throwing rulers by popular uprising. Also the 18th amendment replaced the hitherto defunct Constitutional Council introduced under the 17th Amendment (which was not fully implemented for the last six years by the current President Rajapaksa) and the servile Sri Lanka Parliament approved the changes on Sep 9, 2010, without a robust debate. Has President succeeded in subjugation of the people and the Sri Lanka Parliament?
The world is beginning to question the strategy being pursde by GSL and their attempt to thwart scrutiny. The UPR a new mechanism set up by UNHRC, to review human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years, offers a unique opportunity to meet the challenges from Sri Lanka to date. UN Secretary General has said that the UPR “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world.” Based on submission to UN Human Rights Council, Compilation Prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in accordance with paragraph 15(b) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 – Sri Lanka, 8 April 2008, A/HRC/WG.6/2/LKA/2 and submissions made by other Human Rights Organizations to UPR, 112 recommendations were made to Sri Lanka, at the 12th session on 13 May 2008. Sri Lanka agreed to implement 60 of the 112 recommendations and also made a voluntary commitment to implement 13th and 17th amendments. Failure of GSL to stand by its commitment to implement amendments, does not give much hope about other recommendations. This will be reviewed at the UPR session in November 2012. Will the actions at UPR, start the process to implement commitments of President Rajapaksa?
The Way Forward
Sri Lanka has drawn the attention of the world due to the ferocity of the final stages of the military conflict which ended on 18 May 2009, level of atrocities committed, in a short span of time, are far worse than what happened in the Middle East, before the West intervened. Western democracies and human rights organizations believe that there is convincing evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity has occurred and an Independent International Inquiry is required to establish the truth. GSL led by President Rajapaksa is the only surviving party to the conflict, the other decimated, is determined to prevent scrutiny with support of a handful of countries. GSL is running out of options and the recent statement by External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris that the International communities’ “recent tendency to selectively and arbitrarily intervene in the internal affairs of states” is made in the hope that may dissuade Western democracies from pursuing this matter or made as a premonition as to what is awaiting to happen to Sri Lanka. The GSL’s hope that everyone will forget in time is proven wrong by the action being pursued by Tamil Diaspora, about a million worldwide, and by about seventy million Tamils from Tamil Nadu and rest of India. Everyone who experiences the pain of Sri Lanka Tamils under the oppressive regime; will continue to pursue the case to a logical end, seeking the help of countries which empathize with the predicament of Sri Lanka Tamils. Also, supported by Tamils from Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Mauritius; all believe justice must be done to Sri Lanka Tamils, sooner than later.
Three decades of all powerful Presidencies in Sri Lanka and before that parliamentary system of governments have not had a positive initiative to resolve the Sinhala-Tamil conflict pestering since Independence of Sri Lanka; on the contrary, Tamils have faced death, destructions and loss of universally accepted democratic rights. Different governments in Sri Lanka had opportunities to find a resolution to this conflict by devolving power and guaranteeing human rights, but none had the heart or ticker to resolve peacefully the conflict. Instead, Sinhala political parties used their opposition to any proposal for resolution of the conflict, from one to capture power from the other, merry go round of adversarial politics of Sinhala Polity went on all the time. The Last two Presidents, declared when contesting as candidates for Presidency in 1994 and 2005, that the Presidential system will be replaced with Parliamentary system of government. Unfortunately, like many other politicians in Sri Lanka, the promises are readily dumped soon after the election to the office. Dishonoring election promises has become part of Sri Lanka political culture in Sri Lanka. To Tamils doubt is being reinforced, whether there is a place for them in Sri Lanka, under the unitary system of government; hundreds of thousands have left Sri Lanka seeking safety and new life in foreign countries. Most of the people are slowly coming to realize that other options are needed, but in the meantime President Rajapaksa with 18th amendment has set the path for presidency for life. President Rajapaksa is following the path of failed totalitarian states and mimicking their heads, all have failed in recent time. Will the people succeed in enforcing change for a new dawn, only time will tell?
President Rajapaksa has continued to dishonor all promises made prior to the end of conflict; last one made to UN Secretary General in a joint statement “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and agreed that GSL “will take measures to address those grievances”. His undertaking given to UPR, that 13th and 17th amendments and 60 of the 112 resolutions passed at 2008 UPR will be implemented remains unfulfilled. Especially, the fate of the 17th amendment has been superseded by the 18th amendment empowering President to make all senior public service appointments, instead of the independent Constitutional Council. The scrutiny of current regime at UPR in November 2012 and UNHRC session in March 2013 is an opportunity that should not be lost. Is President Rajapaksa going to be shown the correct path to reconciliation?
In July 2006 President Rajapaksa appointed an All Party Representatives Committee (APRC), after 128 meetings, APRC made their submission in June 2010. Knowing the past actions of previous governments, TNA did not participate, UNP joined the boycott, though all other parties did, if President Rajapaksa wanted he could have implemented the proposal and shown to the world that he is for reconciliation. Disregarding that document, he went for the war and now he is facing the consequences of the war. President Rajapaksa is attempting to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), to repeat everything once more to delay the process of reconciliation, for the same reasons the same two parties are not willing to participate in PSC. For this process to succeed, it has to happen under the auspices of the UN, like in other countries. If President Rajapaksa is genuine, will he work with UN to find reconciliation between Sinhala and Tamil people of Sri Lanka?
President Rajapaksa’s somersault after the promises made to UPR regarding the implementation of 13th and 17th amendments and introduction of 18th amendment introducing “Lifetime Presidency” signaling the continuation of autocratic rule, which gives two options. The first option is for the people of Sri Lanka and the International community to take the necessary initiatives to stop the GSL, going down the path to totalitarianism by enforcing measures which have succeeded in other countries. The failure means accountability and reconciliation cannot be achieved, as long the Regime fails to follow universal standards and the concept of united Sri Lanka will be questioned. Then the second option for the people of Eelam Tamils is to exercise their right to self determination, which was endorsed by 82% of the electorate of the North East Sri Lanka in the General election in 1977 by voting for the Vaddukkoddai resolution, further demonstrated their solidarity by voting for TNA in the recent elections in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Tamil Diaspora held a referendum based on Vaddukkoddai resolution in ten countries: Norway, France, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy and Australia in April 2010; more than 200,000 Tamil Diaspora participated and 99% of them voted for the resolution. If President Rajapaksa is not willing to look at accountability followed by reconciliation, then the International community has to consider the second option. Will one of the two options stop the down ward slide to chaos in Sri Lanka?
*The author is an expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil based in Australia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org the views expressed are author’s own