ith the floods and landslides continuing into the third week yesterday, religious leaders have urged that we need to go beyond religious, racial, political or social and other differences in the mission for the provision of relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of more than half a million victims. Just as death is no respector of persons, so is a natural disaster. People of all races and religions were affected, though as usual the impoverished people were more vulnerable. So the recovery mission also needs to go beyond differences and be a national effort.
For the past few months, a major irritant to national unity was the issue regarding the resolution approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at its sessions in Geneva. The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Sri Lanka, called for an impartial probe on alleged war crimes with the mechanism involving not only Sri Lankan Judges but also foreign Judges or experts. This created a major controversy among the majority community and also concerned in the security forces.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking to high ranking Army officers at Temple Trees last Thursday assured that the probe mechanism would be domestic and no foreign Judges would be involved.
Our sister newspaper The Sunday Times in an exclusive report yesterday said the Prime Minister’s assurance came ahead of the 32nd sessions of the UNHRC from June 13 to July 1. On June 14, the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein is expected to refer to Sri Lanka in his opening remarks. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is to make a statement on Sri Lanka’s performance record the same day. On June 29, Prince Zeid, in accordance with the mandate given to him by the Council, will present an oral update on the implementation of the resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
According to the report, more details of the arrangements for the domestic mechanism will be given by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who accompanied President Maithripala Sirisena for the unprecedented meeting with the group of seven leaders in Japan last Thursday and Friday. They returned yesterday.
The Prime Minister told Army Officers that the government believed there was a need to return more of the vast extents of private land taken over by the military during the war which ended in May 2009. According to statistics, in the Jaffna area outside is High Security Zone, 58.73 acres of private land are still being occupied by the military. This is besides an extent of 86.22 acres of State land that is over and above the extent where military installations existed, the newspaper report said. The Prime Minister also briefed Army officers on the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to be set-up on the lines of South Africa’s TRC which won worldwide respect and praise.
Some analysts believe that Sri Lanka extensively briefed the US and other key players on the practical and effective steps taken by the National Government for reconciliation, a just peace and a just society based on the hallowed precepts of equality and unity in diversity.
Not surprisingly the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil diaspora represented by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), in their initial reaction, have opposed the move for a totally domestic mechanism. But with the international community, as seen especially during last week’s G7 Summit, firmly supporting the Sri Lanka Government, the Geneva issue is likely to be sorted out in a just and fair way for the common good of all.
Another important step towards fulfilling some of the provisions of the UNHRC resolution was taken by the government last Tuesday, The Sunday Times revealed. Premier Wickremesinghe got Cabinet approval for the setting up of a high-powered Office of Missing Persons (OMP). It will be similar to a special commission of inquiry. According to the 18-page draft law, this office will provide assistance to relatives of missing persons and set up a database of missing persons. Essentially it will be based on the International Convention for the Protection of All People from Enforced Disappearance, to criminalise enforced disappearances and to issue certificates of absence to the families of missing persons as a temporary measure of relief.
With this accommodation on the Middle Path, we hope there will be national unity to move towards the mission of reconciliation and a just peace, good governance, democracy, accountability, transparency and a just society.