Swiss, South Africa reconciliation attempt in Sri Lanka ‘ill-conceived’, says ICG

Switzerland’s backing of a South African post-Apartheid reconciliation initiative to bring adversarial parties in Sri Lanka to the negotiating table, is ill-conceived and has little chance of yielding any positive results, Alan Keenan, an ICG [International Crisis Group] Sri Lanka expert commented. Keenan "accused the Sri Lankan government of having no interest in fair negotiations with Tamil political parties, no intention to devolve meaningful power to the Tamil-majority northern province or the Tamil-speaking majority eastern province, and of going back on its many promises." The Swiss government funding and the South African brokering were behind the GTF convened and Burghof Foundation facilitated Berlin conference, informed circles say.

The ICG’s open criticism on the move is quite significant in understanding the competition among the Establishments of powers and their privatised ‘peace facilitation’ corporates, political observers commented.

While the pliant Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with its propensity for expressing willingness to compromise on long-standing core demands of Tamils on nationhood and the right to self determination, sent a delegation to South Africa to strengthen contacts earlier this month, and officials from Sri Lanka and South Africa has been visited each other several times in the last few years, ICG warned in a report last November that “Governments concerned with sustainable peace in Sri Lanka also need to be careful that their desire for constructive engagement does not end up facilitating Colombo’s intransigence and delaying tactics.”

"Current policies towards Tamils, especially in the northern province, were undermining their rights and damaging the prospects of a lasting political settlement," Keenan said, adding, “It is very important that both the Swiss government and the South African government make this lack of progress clear to the world and not allow the Sri Lankan government to mislead the world on this point. Both the Swiss and the South African governments should support a strong resolution at next month’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva,” said Keenan.

While an Amnesty International report at the end of last year described a “climate of fear”, crackdowns on dissent and continued reports of torture, resultant deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, Amnesty’s expert on Sri Lanka, Yolanda Foster, told the Swiss media that carried the story that “[t]he real issue is a continued culture of impunity and on-going violations. This is not just about the past," Foster said.

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