29 September, 2020

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The UN Rapporteur’s Remarks On Sri Lanka Are Against Peace & Pluralism

By Dinesh Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

During her ten-day mission to Sri Lanka, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, made remarks on SL and its ‘selected cultural minorities’. Those remarks stand against the principle of Pluralism and thus, will not contribute to build sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye said that the SL government “must put in place some urgent, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the dignity, identity, equality and right to participation in all walks of life of Sri Lanka’s minorities”.

She further stated, “Efforts by the Government to implement good and inclusive governance must include guarantees that minorities become part of decision-making processes and have a place in state- and provincial administration. Consultations with minority groups on issues affecting them should be regular, institutionalized and systematized.”[1]

Her statement that was supported by her visits to selected cultural communities (as she visited and emphasised on Sri Lankan and Up-Country Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Burghers, Christians, Telugus, Veddas, Malays, and Sri Lankan Africans) indicates that she concerns about ethnic and some other cultural minorities. Her position, therefore, intends to encourage the SL government to focus on those and similar kind of selected cultural communities as special groups of people that should be politically privileged. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye’s position itself and her emphasise on adopting an institutionalized approach towards selected cultural-minorities are manifestations of either Minoritarianism directly or Majoritarianism indirectly. Thus, as I will demonstrate, her statement and the presumption behind the statement discourage the application of Pluralism in SL government’s efforts to find a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye

The Fundamental Error

The fundamental error of Rita Izsák-Ndiaye is that she encourages the government to broaden up and institutionalise the privileged representation of selected cultural communities. Her approach limits the application of Pluralism as it discriminates non-cultural communities such as labourers, farmers, consumers, fishermen, graduates, non-graduates, urban communities, rural communities, etc. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye’s presumption behind her adopted position further indicates that she even does not consider non-cultural communities of which some of the groups are minorities are also communities that she is missioned to protect (This is because she may be tasked to embark on her mission with a typical UN mandate!).

This fundamental error is made not only by Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, yet by most of us when dealing with the society. We, unintentionally or intentionally, either try to politically privilege or discriminate Minorities or Majorities in the cultural communities, especially when we pay attention to divided societies that based on cultural cleavages such as Ethnicity or Religion. The danger in this approach is that as the constructivists’ view, “often the politicization of ethnic identities is endogenous to the political process and in the absence of political-institutional constraints identities tend to be more fluid”[2]. Therefore, politicised or politically privileged ethnic or religious groups tend to subsume all other groups and communities and often it creates “pathological situations” as it was in Yugoslavia and Rwanda[3].

The Sri Lankan Experience

Since the Independence the ethnicity and the religion over and over again dominated SL’s political discourse and the agenda. In 1956, Bandaranayke’s ‘Sinhala language only’ policy came to the forefront of politics whilst the Minority Tamil community leaders demanded for ethno-federalism. Thereafter, in 1972, the new constitution privileged Buddhism over other religions and furthermore, discriminated minority University students by adopting a standardisation policy on the basis of ethnicity for University entrance whilst the Tamil youths, including Velipille Piribaharan, the deceased leader of the LTTE, stood and started a bloody civil war against the Majority rule. Even after 1978 and during the President J. R. Jayewardene’s era, Sinhala-Buddhism played the Majority role in politics whilst the Tamils opposed to it violently. Still the country maintains the same majority-minority division and the agenda settings in politics and interestingly, international representatives like Rita Izsák-Ndiaye is also willing to endorse and encourage the existing ethno-religious cleavage that fuels the Ethnic Civil War which consumed thousands of humans in Sri Lanka.

As said, the above described trend privileged ethnicity and religion over other identities such as non-cultural identities in politics in SL. The SL is a country that has a society with multiple and often cross-cutting identities. For example, a person in SL can and with regard to non-cultural identities be a ‘labourer’ who is a part-time ‘farmer’ in a ‘rural’ village. Therefore, he simultaneously maintains at least three multiple and cross-cutting non-cultural identities, namely a labourer, farmer and a rural community member. At the same time he can have a cultural identity and be a Tamil-Buddhist as there are 22,254 Tamil Buddhists (another cultural minority) and eleven Tamil Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka.[4]

However, the existing approach in Sri Lanka and the approach proposed by Rita Izsák-Ndiaye that based on ethno-religious cleavages suggest only to focus on and privilege the person’s cultural or ethno-religious identity and to ignore rest of the identities he has. Therefore, the adopted approach does not appreciate multiple and cross-cutting identities that exist in SL. Since the cultural identities such as ethno-religious identities are endogenous to the political process and in the absence of political-institutional constraints identities tend to be more fluid, they subsume all other identities in SL and dominate them. This trend is against the principles of Pluralism and, in practice, discourages socio-political entities to encourage non-cultural identities in individual, group and the state (or even international) levels.

This pathological trend was echoed in the SL Prime Minister’s statement in which he stated that Buddhism would be given the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s new Constitutions as well. As I observed in my previous article[5], this is a manifestation of Majoritarianism, one of the main causes of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Similarly, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye’s statement, on the other hand, encourages Minoritarianism, again one of the main causes (at least in its perceived forms) of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Therefore, since the Majoritarianism and the Minoritarianism contributes to the ethnic problem in SL, the SL Prime Minister’s and Rita Izsák-Ndiaye’s theoretical and policy oriented positions do not support and encourage Pluralism in SL. Hence, both of them stand against building a harmonised society in Sri Lanka and their positions are counterproductive in achieving sustainable peace in SL.

Lack of Knowledge and Awareness:

According to her statement, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye thinks that the “SL Government must implement good and inclusive governance to include guarantees that minorities become part of decision-making processes and have a place in state- and provincial administration”[6]. However, this is against all the principles of Westminster democracy. How can she ask a government to privilege a Minority will without considering the Majority’s will?

According to the Westminster political principles that Sri Lanka affirms, SL appreciates the Majorities will. However, when it comes to the will of cultural communities such as ethnics and religious, the government of SL has no other option, yet to accept the Sinhala-Buddhist majority’s will. So, how could Rita Izsák-Ndiaye force the SL government to privilege Minorities and go against decades old principles of Westminster? She cannot. Although the SL government includes the Minorities when taking political decisions, in reality, the Majority rules.

However, the SL admired Westminster approach did more harm to her citizens than good it has done. Majoritarianism and, on the other hand, perceived Minoritarianism killed more than hundred thousand of humans during the Civil War in SL. Hence, the country needs an approach that go beyond Minoritarianism and Majoritarianism (and may be as well as the Westminster).

Minoritarianism or Majoritarianism are not Solutions

However, it is not the counter-Westminster approach that proposed by Rita Izsák-Ndiaye that would solve problems in SL. Why?

As I said, the Westminster approach in terms of privileging the country’s ethnic and religious majority has done more harm than good to SL as the ethnic-civil war killed more than hundred thousand humans in SL. Therefore, either privileging the Majority or discriminating the Minority or vice versa create the same effect and contribute to the same harm. Hence, the country needs an approach that goes beyond privileging cultural Majorities or Minorities. It is to appreciate the Sri Lankan societal reality that values citizens of SL who have multiple and cross-cutting identities.

Therefore, an appropriate approach should be based on Pluralism that would include non-cultural identities as well. However, as noted, the ethnic and religious euphoria has killed thousands of humans in SL and millions of lives in all over the world. Hence, as the constructivists view, “often the politicization of ethnic identities is endogenous to the political process and in the absence of political-institutional constraints identities tend to be more fluid”[7]. Therefore, politicised or politically privileged ethnic or religious groups tend to subsume all other groups and communities and often it creates “pathological situations” as it was in Yugoslavia and Rwanda[8] (or even in SL). Hence, we must think out of the box to find a sustainable solution and have to consider the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, is also not a solution, yet a part of the problem.


[1] [http://www.adaderana.lk/news/37479/seize-the-momentum-for-minority-rights-protection-un-rights-expert]

[2] See,   Philip G. Roeder (2012) Power dividing: The multiple-majorities approach in Stefan Wolf & Christalla Yakinthou (ed.) Conflict Management in Divided Societies: Theories and Practice, Routledge: London, p. 71.

[3] Ibid.

[4] [http://www.dailymirror.lk/105937/-Tamil-Buddhists-in-SL]

[5] [https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-proposed-constitution-will-worsen-the-ethnic-issue/]

[6] [http://www.adaderana.lk/news/37479/seize-the-momentum-for-minority-rights-protection-un-rights-expert] (op cit.)

[7] See,   Philip G. Roeder (2012) (op cit.)

[8] Ibid.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    5

    Dinesh,

    ” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye”

    “Her statement that was supported by her visits to selected cultural communities (as she visited and emphasised on Sri Lankan and Up-Country Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Burghers, Christians, Telugus, Veddas, Malays, and Sri Lankan Africans) indicates that she concerns about ethnic and some other cultural minorities. “

    She is UN special Rapporteur on minority issues. She is NOT Rapporteur on majority issues.

    SL successive govts committed Tamil Genocide from 1948.
    This govt army is occupying N&E. Building viharas in N&E…

    This govt co sponsored a resolution in UN and now does not want to implement it now.

  • 7
    4

    “The fundamental error of Rita Izsák-Ndiaye is that she encourages the government to broaden up and institutionalise the privileged representation of selected cultural communities”

    Did she say this or you are twisting?

  • 4
    2

    Dinesh,

    You should have added this to your reference list.

    Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, on the conclusion of her official visit to Sri Lanka, 10-20 October 2016
    http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20709&LangID=E

  • 4
    6

    Dinesh Dodamgoda:

    If you read Hilary clinton’s emails, the mega plan is to create humongous economic blocks by means of free trade agreements. Then devide countries alone ethnic lines and cause politcal instability. Then use United Nations to impose their model of polical reconciliation as it suit to them. them multinationals, mega banks etc., control the world from one world’s center. That is what was happening.

    Just wikileak is exposing it.

  • 4
    0

    The UN is impotent. Our own UN rapporteur, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy confirmed this just recently in the US, when asked about what the UN is doing to prevent the use of human shields in the imminent war in Aleppo Syria.

    These UN representatives only represent the snobbish upper echelons of their respective societies, and they run around the world enjoying free lunches with diplomats and lives of comfort. Then they go on “tours of duty” and write a report to be shelved some where in Geneva or New York, run around university campuses in the West and earn speaking fees to fatten their already fat wallets.

    They do not live the lives of the people they claim to speak on behalf of, or take in to account any context and feasibility of their recommendations being implemented on the ground.

    They are all talk, no action, and worse – they whitewash real human rights abuses by pretending they are doing something to prevent/address it.

  • 4
    3

    A well written article. Beautifully analysed. Good food for thought.

  • 5
    1

    What the well meaning Dinesh proposes comes too late for Sri Lanka. Too much blood has flown over the bridges to put the divide back. The Westminister system was a garland of roses given as the Tamil saying goes to a pack of monkeys in the form of the Sinhala politician. It is indeed a good idea to have pluralism. This may have been possible prior to identities becoming entrenched. The Sinhalaya now thinks that the Mahawamsa myth is really true, that Sri Lanka is exclusive to him. The Demala thinks that the North-East belongs to him and given the link with TamilNadu, the hope is retained that this will become an eventuality. Thambi-Thopis think that they will rule the world and little Sri Lanka as well when the kingdom comes. Pluralism just does not work. It would be wise to try out some form of devolution in the hope that Sri Lanka will remain a unitary states. Wisdom requires that this be done soon.

  • 4
    1

    Mr. Dinesh Dodamgoda,
    Today’s politicians of the so called new Regime are further complicating the suggested equation by the International Community towards balancing the major communities using the reconciliation factor on both sides of the equation. Are you serious in giving them more and more factors for more and more equations to balance? Please be realistic and see how to help them stay clear instead complicating and taking the Country through the same old down trodden cycle.
    “According to the Westminster political principles that Sri Lanka affirms, SL appreciates the Majorities will. However, when it comes to the will of cultural communities such as ethnics and religious, the government of SL has no other option, yet to accept the Sinhala-Buddhist majority’s will. So, how could Rita Izsák-Ndiaye force the SL government to privilege Minorities and go against decades old principles of Westminster? She cannot. Although the SL government includes the Minorities when taking political decisions, in reality, the Majority rules”.
    The majority rule in Sri Lanka has only one principle and that is to be Hegemonic and commit genocide on minorities. While the new Government is a continuation of the past to date, your botheration is a waste of time. When did Sri Lanka take into consideration the suggestions/requests made for parity of status by the minority party from the time of independence?
    What is the necessity for any outsider to tell how to manage your life if your home is a happy home?

    • 2
      0

      Richard,

      Dinesh wrote the following as well:

      “However, the SL admired Westminster approach did more harm to her citizens than good it has done. Majoritarianism and, on the other hand, perceived Minoritarianism killed more than hundred thousand of humans during the Civil War in SL. Hence, the country needs an approach that go beyond Minoritarianism and Majoritarianism (and may be as well as the Westminster).”

      So, it seems to me that he doesn’t appreciate Westminster that much.

  • 3
    2

    Dinesh,

    This is not from UN.

    http://www.ft.lk/2015/03/17/the-llrc-what-lessons-have-we-learnt-about-reconciliation/
    This article reveals two opportunities that the present Government of Sri Lanka ought to seize. First, the Government should work swiftly towards implementing the LLRC’s recommendations during the next six months in order to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation and accountability. Some of the LLRC’s recommendations may in fact be easily implemented in the short term. Where recommendations are not easily implementable, good faith measures may still serve to demonstrate the Government’s commitment. The following list of recommendations and good faith measures (classified by thematic area) may be considered: 1.Disappearances and killings: Publishing the Udalagama Commission Report which provides findings and recommendations on high profile human rights violations including the killing of five students in Trincomalee in 2006 and the killing of 17 aid workers in Muttur also in 2006. 2.Demilitarisation: Discontinuing the practice of calling out the armed forces to exercise police powers under the Public Security Ordinance. 3.Land: Releasing portions of land acquired by the military in Valikamam North, Jaffna. 4.Detention: Publishing a comprehensive list of detainees and making the list accessible to their families. 5.Devolution of power: Publishing the All Party Representative Committee’s final report on constitutional reform and devolution of power. 6.Freedom of Expression: Enacting a law that guarantees the right to information. 7.Rule of Law: Investigating violations of human rights perpetrated by armed paramilitary groups during and immediately after the war. Second, as discussed in this article, the transcripts of the LLRC’s public hearings offer a valuable body of information pertaining to the nature of rights violations originally reported to the LLRC. Our analysis reveals the potential for serious gaps between this body of information and the LLRC’s final recommendations (e.g. incidents relating to sexual violence and torture). Therefore, the new Government has an opportunity to build on the work of the LLRC by reappraising existing information on rights violations, and establishing a credible domestic accountability mechanism. How these opportunities are seized and acted upon may determine the future trajectory of reconciliation in the country. The one critical lesson we have learnt in the three years since the LLRC published its final report is that reconciliation in Sri Lanka can no longer afford broken promises and false commitments.

  • 3
    2

    “Lanka Fulfilled Only 11 % of Pledges to UNHRC and 20% of Pledges to LLRC”, Says Study P.K.Balachandran
    http://www.veriteresearch.org/download-pdf_spreport.cfm?pdf_id=52
    Sri Lanka has fulfilled only 11 percent of the pledges it had made to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September 2015, and only 20 percent of the commitments it had made to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2011, according to a study by the Colombo-based think tank Verite Research.
    Of the commitments made to the UNHRC, the report says: “Overall, the implementation is slow. Of the 36 commitments made in regard to Resolution 30/1, only four have been fully implemented. Progress in the implementation of a majority of commitments – 22 commitments – has been poor.”
    In 61.1 percent of the cases, progress has been “poor”. In 25 percent of the cases there has been “partial progress”; and in 2.8 percent of the cases there has been “no progress”. The government has met its commitments in 11.1 percent of the cases.
    In regard to the implementation of the pledges made to the LLRC, Verite Research says that only 20 percent of the commission’s 189 actionable recommendations have been implemented. There has been “partial implementation” in 57 percent of the cases, but progress has been “poor” in 22 percent of the cases.
    Positives
    Looking at the positives, the study notes that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has signed the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances. The cabinet has approved a proposal to set up an Office of Missing Persons and has also decided to issue Certificates of Absence to the families of missing persons.
    The report on the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform has submitted its report and the Constitutional Assembly, which is to write a new constitution for the country, has set up sub committees, including one on power sharing.
    The government had lifted the ban on 269 Tamil individuals and eight Tamil Diaspora organizations saying that their links to Tamil militancy were not established.
    Negatives
    On the negative side, the report observes that there has been no progress on the promise to substitute the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a new anti-terror law which will be in line with international best practices. Arrests under the PTA took place only recently when a cache of weapons were found in Chavakachcheri in Jaffna district.
    “There has been no review of convictions under PTA, including those secured on the basis of confessions and torture in custody,” the report says.
    Verite Research quotes Prisons Minister D.M.Swaminathan to say that in March 2016, there were 158 PTA detainees in 11 prisons, out of whom 32 had been convicted.
    It notes that government is yet to investigate the 2014 anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama in which four people were killed. The riots, (instigated by the pro-government Bodu Bala Sena), had turned the Muslims en masse against the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 8 2015 Presidential election.
    8,218 acres in North Still With Military.
    Despite President Maithipala Sirisena’s promise to get the military to return all civilian lands it had taken over during the war years within six months of coming to power, 8,218 acres belonging to private citizens are still with the armed forces in the Tamil-majority Northern Province.
    This is so even though the government owns 29,605 acres in that province, the report informs, the report says.
    The India-inspired 13 Constitutional Amendment of 1987, had made it mandatory to form a National Land Commission to draft land policy. But the commission is yet to be established. The result – the Minister of Lands determines land policy “unconstitutionally.” In 2013, a census of deaths, injuries and damage to property during the conflict was conducted, but it is yet to be published, the report notes.

  • 1
    1

    We need to first sort out the cultural/language/ religious based discrimination by the GoSL before taking up the non-cultural based issues. Listen to the UN reports and act otherwise there is no reconciliation

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