Almost a month after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva, the government has commenced work on preparing an action plan to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
A joint committee has been set up to coordinate the formulation of the action plan.
The task has been assigned to the Defence Ministry, External Affairs Ministry and the Attorney General’s Department.
The visit of the Indian parliamentary delegation to the country last week and External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris’ impending visit to Washington next month have pushed the government to make some moves in the path to reconciliation.
Following the government’s move towards formulating an action plan to implement the LLRC, a meeting of party leaders of the governing UPFA was summoned last Wednesday.
The meeting was held before the weekly Cabinet meeting.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa chaired the meeting and explained the necessity for the UPFA to reach a consensus on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation since the 14 coalition parties of the Alliance held diverse views about the implementation of the recommendations.
“Some parties in the government have publicly criticized the recommendations and various views have been expressed,” the President told the gathering.
Rajapaksa asked the party leaders to give priority to reaching a consensus on implementing the recommendations.
The President said the party leaders should go back to their party’s decision making bodies and discuss the recommendations and hand over in writing the party’s stance on each LLRC recommendation and propose the implementation method.
The party leaders were then asked to hand in the stance of each party on the LLRC recommendations to the Presidential Secretariat by tomorrow .
The Presidential Secretariat is to study the proposals submitted by each party and prepare a complete report, which would be taken up at the next party leaders’ meeting.
Minister Peiris distributed copies containing the summary of the LLRC recommendations among the party leaders.
The government has made this sudden move realizing that time was running out for Sri Lanka since the international community is closely watching the developments in the country’s reconciliation process.
The US government is awaiting Minister Peiris’ visit to Washington on May 18 to discuss in detail the efforts taken by the Sri Lankan government in reconciliation and the implementation of the recommendations of its own mechanism – the LLRC.
Even the visit by the Indian parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka from Tuesday to Saturday was an indication of India’s need to keep the Sri Lankan government engaged in the reconciliation process.
The Indian delegation led by Opposition Leader of the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj paid great emphasis on the need for the government to expedite its reconciliation process and to formulate a political solution soon.
Swaraj during an event last Thursday reiterated India’s commitment to remain closely engaged with the government to advance the process of rehabilitation, reconstruction and national development.
The delegation emphasized the need for a genuine political settlement to the ethnic issue.
However, the Indian delegation during a meeting at the External Affairs Ministry with Peiris and other officials, sought to clarify the controversy over the political solution.
The Indian and Sri Lankan governments have been engaged in what seems like a diplomatic row over a political solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The issue came to a head when Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna during his visit to Sri Lanka earlier this year made a statement to the media that President Rajapaksa has assured him that a political solution to the ethnic issue that goes beyond the 13 th Amendment will be implemented soon.
Soon after Krishna’s departure, government members including the President denied giving any such assurance to the Indians.
The Rajapaksa government even failed to respond to a letter from Krishna to Peiris on March 15 seeking clarification on the Sri Lankan government’s stance on the political solution.
The Indians responded to the Rajapaksa administration’s failure by deciding to vote in favor of the US backed resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva calling for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
Swaraj and the Indian MPs asked Peiris if the Sri Lankan government was going to formulate a solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment.
The government has said there was no decision yet on going beyond the 13th Amendment. At which point the Indian delegation had said the Indians would be pleased if the political solution would go beyond the 13th Amendment.
Swaraj then stated that a political solution based on the 13th Amendment would be a good start to address the issues faced by the ethnic minorities.
During the Indian parliamentary delegation’s visit to the Sri Lankan parliament, they were in for a surprising statement by UPFA MP Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle.
Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody welcomed the Indian delegation.
Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva explained to the Indian delegation about the government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the LLRC report.
He then introduced the wife of the late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to the Indian delegation in parliament.
De Silva explained to the Indians that Dr. Fernandopulle was a victim of terrorism in the country.
Dr. Fernandopulle then told the Indian delegation that a suicide bomber killed her husband when he participated in a New Year festival in 2008.
She said that while there are a lot of LTTE sympathizers, not much attention has been focused on the people who have suffered due to the actions of the LTTE.
A United Country
The Indian parliamentary delegation, which was focused on a political settlement, also noted that a political solution should be within a united Sri Lanka.
During a meeting with the TNA, the Indians urged the need fore the solution to be within a united Sri Lanka.
Congress MP Manicka Tagore was quoted in the Indian media saying that the delegation had firmly told TNA leader R. Sampanthan that a solution to the grievances of Tamils should be found only within a united Sri Lanka.
Sampanthan had agreed with the Indian view.
However, the TNA had complained to the Indian delegation that the government is moving lethargically on the power devolution process.
Swaraj had meanwhile assured the TNA that the Indian delegation during its visit in Sri Lanka would stress the need for devolution of power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Swaraj had told Sampanthan that she would raise these issues with President Mahinda Rajapaksa when they met him.
The delegation’s call for the TNA to resume their dialogue with the government and find a political solution was met with resistance by the TNA.
Sampanthan had insisted that a solution to the Tamil question will only be possible with foreign involvement since their dialogue with the government had been ineffective.
The TNA maintains that the party and the government have been unable to reach a substantive agreement on issues even after a year of talks.
Meanwhile, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi last week said the, “blood spilt and the sacrifices made by Tamils” in Sri Lanka would not go waste and a separate nation will come into existence some day.
“A separate Tamil Eelam rings in the ears of Tamils living all over the world as a liberation song. The sacrifice of lives and the blood spilt by Tamil people in Sri Lankawould not go waste,” Karunanidhi had stated in a letter to DMK members.
He had further stated, “if not tomorrow, Tamil Eelam will come into existence day after.”
Govt. insists on PSC
Regardless of the TNA complaint of the ineffectiveness of the dialogue between the party and the government that stalled several months back, the government continues to stick to its guns.
Karunanidhi’s statement has also gathered fire from members of the government who insist that the only solution to the issue would be a political one.
The Rajapaksa administration continues to say that the final solution to the ethnic issue would be formulated by the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC).
The PSC that has received parliamentary approval is at a standstill with the TNA refusing to nominate its representatives to the committee until the party reaches a substantive agreement with the government on the solution to the ethnic issue.
The government continues to call on the TNA to join the PSC while blaming the party for the delay in commencing dialogue on the political solution.
Acting Cabinet Spokesperson, Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told the weekly Cabinet briefing that the TNA is obliged to participate in the parliamentary select committee discussions and the President has appointed a Committee to create a platform for discussions.
“The solution must satisfy all stakeholders and the TNA is not the only stakeholder in the process,” he said.
“Therefore after having lengthy discussions at the parliamentary select committee the decisions should be approved by parliament with a two-third majority. Recommendations of the all party conference could also be discussed at the parliamentary select committee,” Abeywardena observed.
The Indian delegation during its visit impressed upon the government the need to expedite the process, a fact that the Indians have been pushing since the end of the war in 2009.
The Indian government is bound to continue to engage the Sri Lankan government on the whole reconciliation process when Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa visits India next month.
The government is also preparing its report to be submitted to the UNHRC at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Sri Lanka’s human rights due to be taken up on November 1, this year.
The UNHRC is to take up the UPR during the sessions between October 22nd and November 5th in Geneva.
Although the government is working on the human rights action plan, it has failed to show any genuine interest in the matter.
Certain sections in the government have expressed displeasure at the delay in implementing the human rights action plan that has received Cabinet approval.
One of the key reasons for the delay according to government members is the lack of a designated ministry to coordinate the implementation.
Months after receiving Cabinet approval, a cabinet sub committee is still looking at ways of operationalizing the action plan and waiting for proposals from the relevant state institutions on the recommendations made in it.
The government had a designated Human Rights Ministry during the period of the war, which was not re-established after the 2010 general elections.
A senior government minister said that Plantations Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is asked to work and respond on human rights related issues only when required.
Samarasinghe is currently working on Sri Lanka’s report to be presented at the UNHRC at the next sessions on the UPR.
Be that as it may, the government would have to focus on human rights and its commitment towards safeguarding them given the increase in the number of abductions and disappearances reported in the country.
Kumar’s Saga Continues
Sri Lanka’s white van abductions and disappearances that have been continuing unabated for the past few years came under scrutiny recently with the abduction of two activists of the Frontline Socialist Party formed by the JVP dissidents. Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle were abducted on the 6th by unknown persons and were released on the 10th after the Australian government also intervened to secure their release.
The Australian government called on the Sri Lankan government to find the whereabouts of one of their citizens, Gunaratnam, who had travelled to Sri Lanka with a passport with a different name.
There was much mystery surrounding Gunaratnam’s abduction. Speaking to The Sunday Leader from Australia via Skype, Gunaratnam insisted that he was abducted by sections of the security forces with the support of the government.
He explained that the abductors could not have carried it out with the kind of vehicles, weapons and locations and free movement in the city without state sponsorship.
“Although I was blindfolded, the way the abductors addressed each other indicated that they were affiliated to a security unit in the country,” he said.
When asked if he had made any statement to the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) following his release as stated in the media, Gunaratnam noted that he had signed a statement that had already been prepared.
“My abductors dropped me off near the CCD building in Dematagoda. I did not know what it was and I was asked to go straight inside without trying to run away since the people inside were waiting for me. Once inside, they handed me an already prepared statement and asked me to sign it,” he recounted.
Therefore, Gunaratnam says that he is still unaware of the contents of the statement.
According to him, the Australian High Commissioner and the Second Secretary had arrived at the CCD office after he had signed the prepared statement.
Gunaratnam believes that he was abducted due to the new political movement launched by the JVP dissidents.
He added that when he went into the CCD, the government could have questioned and investigated into all the allegations being levelled against him including those related to the use of several aliases.
“There was no investigation on the allegations that have been made public,” he said adding that he was questioned mostly about the new political movement, its activists and links.