Now that the dust has almost settled, following the hectic campaign to first ward off and then to defeat a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva, the question that keeps popping up is; "what is the Government’s position vis-à-vis the LLRC report?"
The answer is blowing in the wind. A multitude of voices from Government ranks, not surprisingly, has caused the confusion. If there is one constant, it is confusion, so much so that one wonders whether this is deliberate Government strategy.
Take the following sequence of events. On Monday, four Cabinet ministers met the media at the Ministry of External Affairs. Among them was the President’s special envoy to the Geneva sessions who is already on record saying that the Government is in the process of implementing the LLRC report. Then another minister who was in Geneva says, "Various people can have various opinions on the LLRC report… but the LLRC report is not the Dhammapada or the Bible." He forgot to mention the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita. He then says the LLRC has exceeded its mandate. Not to be outdone, the Minister of External Affairs says the LLRC report cannot be implemented overnight because then the people might think that it’s being done due to international pressure.
On Thursday, the Acting Media Minister says at the post-cabinet news conference that "the Cabinet will take a decision on the strategy of implementing the LLRC report’s recommendations…. The Sri Lanka Government has not made any official decisions or statements on these issues". For good measure he says that ministers may have different views but they are not the views of the Government.
In Japan also this week, the Defence Secretary was quoted in a Sri Lankan embassy release as having told the Japanese Foreign Minister "the Government (of Sri Lanka) is clearly committed to reconstruction of infrastructure, road and irrigation networks in the country; bringing normalcy back to the (North and East) region is one of the key priorities of the Government and Sri Lanka is fully committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC."
During the week the President has also spoken on the Government’s commitment to reconciliation efforts though not anything specific about the LLRC.
What we can decipher from all these varying statements is that the Government has good intentions, but does not know how to set about the task, particularly because the LLRC report has several embarrassments for it. Some of the recommendations have nothing to do with ethnic reconciliation, but everything to do with good governance.
The External Affairs Minister’s baffling logic is that the Government shouldn’t implement the LLRC report overnight, not because it cannot be implemented overnight, but because "the people will think it is being done because of international pressure". In other words, don’t do anything good for the country because people will say the world asked you to do it.
That has exactly been our point all along. Why did the Government have to wait, and wait, till a Geneva vote now hangs over its heads to get things going here?
The LLRC was created as an escape route from the demand especially from Western countries to establish a war crimes tribunal under international supervision. Now, the Government finds itself in a bind and at odds with the recommendations of the LLRC report.
Even now, forget Geneva. The country, especially the Ministry of External Affairs, is smarting from the defeat last week at the UNHRC. Its foreign policy is in such shambles that it couldn’t get India to even try and abstain. The Minister is yelling about double-standards at the UNHRC and of the US. This is just like his comment to the Cabinet before the vote that the US has diplomatic missions in all the voting member-states and how hard it is to lobby against the resolution. It is almost as if the Minister was born only yesterday. We all know that not only the UNHRC but the entire world order is replete with double standards. Are we then to opt out of the world order, reform it, or accept its realities?
The Government is quoting the US position on the UNHRC’s overwhelming vote against Israel’s settlements to prove double-standards. But isn’t the UNHRC vote against Israel correct? The Government cannot say it is incorrect. By that yardstick is the UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka also correct? Then, is Sri Lanka guilty of double-standards?
As much as Sri Lanka is urging the world that it be permitted to ‘move on’ after 30 years of a virtual ‘civil war’, the Government must also now ‘move on’ from Geneva.
It is true that the LLRC acted outside its mandate but the mandate given by the Government itself was flawed. Without now quibbling as to who is at fault, we should recognise that here is a report that has largely been accepted, though not in toto, by a wide spectrum of opposing viewpoints. Even western countries hostile to Sri Lanka have accepted several of its recommendations as have the people of this country.
The outgoing US Ambassador has reported to Washington (see Café on page 2) that "for the diaspora accountability was a top-priority’ but Tamils in Sri Lanka were more ‘pragmatic in what they can expect’. The Sri Lankan Tamils were more concerned with improving their rights, freedoms and economic prospects. They believed pushing for accountability was unrealistic and counter-productive."
We all know that Washington often ignores the factual reporting of their envoys for what they see as the ‘bigger picture’ of their worldview. That analysis is accurate. So, if the Government is howling at the Lankan Tamil Diaspora, it owes it to the Sri Lankan Tamils in this country to get a ‘move on’.
If what the Government says is that it will pursue its own reconciliation – and good governance policy independent of the Geneva resolution, so be it, even if rings of the old Sinhala saying to describe keeping one’s pride amidst calamity; "ìu jegqk;a lula keye" /jqf,a je,s .Efjkak fyd| keye". (It is alright to fall on the ground, but one must not get sand on one’s moustache).
It would be prudent for the Government to establish a mechanism that will oversee the implementation of the LLRC report and measures towards reconciliation and good governance; a mechanism that will be subject to Cabinet and Parliamentary scrutiny, but that will get things done swiftly. The present Inter-Ministerial Committee is an inefficient eye-wash.