By Jehan Perera –
The government took a key step forward in rejoining the international community on equal terms when it reached agreement with the United States and other Western countries in the UN Human Rights Council to co-sponsor the resolution on the future its post-war accountability procedure. For the past six years Sri Lanka was on the defensive internationally for its conduct of the final phase of the war. From 2012 onwards it was at the getting end of increasingly adverse resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council. The resolution in 2014 mandated an international investigation into the previous. Every year the meetings of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva became the occasion of confrontation abroad and for political mobilization inside the country in which ethnic nationalism took the centre stage.
The new government’s agreement with the United States to co-sponsor the draft resolution that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday is an indication that each sides sat collectively to sort out the difficulty. Unlike its predecessor the present government has acted on the rational basis that a policy of confrontation would not resolve the problem but only aggravate it. Though the confrontational approach of the preceding government was common at home it was major to an internationally imposed outcome which would have produced a bad predicament worse. The government’s issue solving method enabled it to convince the United States, and other Western countries, to drop the particular reference to a hybrid judicial mechanism. This was the most controversial function of the UN Human Rights Higher Commissioner’s report on Advertising Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
The latest draft resolution of the UN Human Rights Council on advertising reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka affirms “the significance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, such as the Unique Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.” This was in contrast to the UN Human Rights Higher Commissioner’s Report that named for a hybrid judicial mechanism with the participation of international judges, lawyers, prosecutors and investigators to guarantee the credibility of the accountability approach. The replacement of the emphasis provided to the hybrid judicial mechanism and its replacement with a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism would give the Sri Lankan government a greater measure of credibility in dealing with the nationalist sentiment within the nation.
The government is preparing to meet the political challenge that it expects from the opposition with regard to the compromises it is creating in Geneva. Getting dealt with the dilemma in Geneva, the government is now moving towards guarding itself politically within the nation. It is conscious that it is sitting on best of a volcano of ethnic nationalism. This is the identical volcano that developed the background for the assassination of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike in 1957 when he tried to allay Tamil nationalism by conceding language and devolution rights to the men and women of the Northern and Eastern provinces, to the uprising of the JVP in 1987 when President JR Jayewardene signed the Indo Lanka Peace Accord to bring an finish to the Tamil uprising by conceding devolution of energy, and to the downfall of the UNP government in 2004 headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when he attempted to have a negotiated political settlement with the LTTE via the Norwegian facilitated ceasefire.
More than the weekend the newly appointed Minister of National Dialogue Mano Ganesan referred to as two meetings, a single each with heads of media organizations and yet another with civil society activists to discuss the forthcoming Geneva resolution and how very best to take its message to the general population. The meetings have been chaired by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who pointed out that the Geneva resolution that the government was co-sponsoring was not only about a probe into war crimes allegations, but was also about restoring democracy and bringing national reconciliation. He explained that the judicial mechanism for accountability would be one that was Sri Lankan and approved by Parliament.
At the civil society meeting, he indicated that the presence of international legal personnel in this judicial mechanism would not be as mere tokens. He pointed out that Sri Lankan judges held high positions in courts in foreign nations and it could be the other way round also, specifically in instances exactly where the neighborhood knowledge was either lacking or required to be supplemented. Such an international presence is anticipated by the Tamil polity which has no faith in the Sri Lankan judicial approach in relation to concerns of the war and the conduct of the Sri Lankan military during the war and its aftermath. This would also be the position of international human rights groups and numerous foreign governments.
Even so, the involvement of international judges and legal personnel in the judicial accountability approach in which the leaders of the former government and military are implicated will supply a political rallying point to Sinhalese nationalist leaders. The former leaders of the government who gave leadership to the war effort that saw the final victory over the LTTE and the military that created it achievable have been broadly perceived by the Sinhalese polity to be war heroes. There is tiny or no want on the part of the ethnic majority Sinhalese population to see them differently. So far the news media seems to be cooperating with the government in downplaying the compromises produced in Geneva and the implications for the country. The voice of the nationalists within the opposition has not been receiving the higher levels of publicity that they received during the period of the prior government. But this is probably to alter soon after the resolution in Geneva is passed with the Sri Lankan government co-sponsoring it, and the time for implementation begins.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe seems to have taken note of the lessons of the previous. In the course of the abortive 2002-2004 peace process he and his government confronted the then president Chandrika Kumaratunga who undermined him. On this occasion the Prime Minister is operating closely with President Maithripala Sirisena who has the credibility to give him covering assistance against Sinhalese nationalism. During the 2002-2004 peace process, the government did not actively engage with civil society in taking optimistic messages of the peace method to the individuals. The early meeting that the Prime Minister chaired with civil society groups indicates that he appreciates the function that civil society played in advocating the lead to of very good governance in the course of the presidential and common elections earlier in the year. In a democracy unless there is well-known understanding and acceptance of the need to have for reform it is unlikely to be effective. Sri Lankan civil society organizations have a track record in taking advocacy and educational messages to the common population.
It is significant that the draft resolution recognizes the need to have for a method of accountability and reconciliation for violations and abuses, including those committed by the LTTE as highlighted in the UN report. The Sinhalese folks need to know that the accountability process is meant for all who violated human rights and committed war crimes, and is not targeted only against the government. Action against financiers and other international operatives and agencies will be an integral element of the criminal investigation that the UN Higher Commissioner’s report has proposed by way of the recommended involvement of international personnel in the accountability procedure. At the identical time, it is also essential for the government not to lose sight of the concerns of the Tamil population on the ground. They could not require to be convinced of the merits of possessing an international component in the Sri Lankan judicial mechanism to ensure accountability. However, their interest in a swift return to normalcy requirements to be taken into account. The requirements of the war-affected folks of the North and East are urgent ones. The government has announced a mechanism to deal with the past that will be based on a fourfold system which will include a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation, an Office of Missing Persons, a judicial mechanism with special counsel to be set up by statute and an Office of Reparations.
As initial self-confidence developing gestures, the government can have a prison census and folks uncover their missing ones so that no one particular gets lost in the program, either deliberately or inadvertently. It can also speed up release of persons detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act with no charge and also the release of land taken more than throughout the war back to the individuals. There is also a want to help displaced persons who nevertheless number in the tens of thousands to resettle in their original areas if that is what they want. This is a difficulty that continues to have an effect on a massive proportion of the 90,000 strong Northern Muslim neighborhood who had been forcibly evicted from their homes in the North by the LTTE in a single of the war crimes that took location in the course of the course of the war. The benefits of the transitional justice approach will be applicable to all communities, as will accountability. Many of the required actions do not need to have any new mechanism but the political will of the government.