Former Royal Rugby captain CR (Bulla) De Silva, the Attorney General and loyal friend of President Rajapaksa, must indeed be a puzzled man, even as a whole host of senior officials from the Attorney General’s Department, which he headed in the not too distant past, take wing to Geneva, to play defence, where the US is sponsoring a resolution in the UNHRC, regarding Sri Lanka and its post war reconciliation track record.
CR De Silva, chaired and together mostly with other distinguished former Sri Lankan State officials, were commissioned by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to report on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) after the end of Sri Lanka’s bitterly polarising and devastating three decades long ethnic conflict. This appointment came after the UN Secretary General appointed his own panel of experts to advise him on similar matters on Sri Lanka. After over a year of countrywide public hearings, written representation and field visits to the former conflict areas, the LLRC issued its final report and recommendations.
Last year in 2012, at the UNHRC, the United States sponsored a resolution that basically called on Sri Lanka to implement its own LLRC recommendations. The UPFA regime, reacted by sending a delegation of over one hundred persons to Geneva on a jaunt to help stave off the resolution. It passed with a comfortable majority, with the significant addition of India in support of the resolution.
This year the follow up procedural resolution is more than guaranteed to pass and the government has more or less decided against a high profile fight, in the face of an inevitable defeat and more or less decided to try and duck underneath the bouncer rather than hit it out off the grounds. But what the 2012 and indeed the impending current UNHRC resolution requires of Sri Lanka is that it implements our very own LLRC proposals and recommendations. That the Rajapaksa regime is fighting tooth and nail against implementing the LLRC report must be the cause of consternation to its former members and indeed inexplicable for most right thinking Sri Lankans.
Now implementing the LLRC report was handed over to a Committee headed by the President’s Secretary and head of the home civil service Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, who laboured long and created an LLRC implementation action plan. Together with Mr. Mohan Peiris, our current de facto Chief Justice (his appointment being the subject of legal challenge in the Supreme Court and rejected publicly by Chief Justice Dr. Bandaranayake) claims that Sri Lanka has made great progress in implementing the LLRC proposals. The world begs to disagree with Mr.Weeratunga, his committee and their action plan and self evaluated progress. Indeed excellent work, research and publications have been done, by various local and international entities, which demonstrate that the LLRC action plan, ignores the key recommendations, has a mismatch between recommendations and proposed actions and indeed has not resulted in any remedies or reforms and merely maintains the status quo, which the LLRC recommended should be changed. So basically the UNHRC resolution faults Mr.Lalith Weeratunga and / or his Committee which included Mohan Peiris and is indeed a position in which people not inclined to be ardent believers of the State media and propaganda machine might well be inclined to agree.
However, the political debate on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka clouds the two important and substantive issues raised at Geneva, which are relevant to Sri Lanka and her people. They are namely (i) what is the state of basic human rights in Sri Lanka? And (ii) what is the progress on post war reconciliation that has been achieved?
(i) What is the state of human rights in Sri Lanka?
The latest text of the UNHRC resolution makes mention of the unconstitutional (as determined by the Supreme Court) removal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake from office with the aid of the country’s security forces. An independent judiciary is often the last line of defence in the rights of a citizen against unlawful state power and fundamental rights applications have been an important constitutional and legal safeguard to citizens, whether to FUTA, GMOA, free trade zone workers, torture victims, PTA detainees, private land victims of high security zone among many others. Now the Attorney General’s Department, now directly under the President’s office would have us believe that Sri Lanka is a land with no human rights abuses by the State. However the presence of survivors overseas, who are slowly coming out with their stories, in graphic details that are admissible as evidence in a court of law, would mean that the period of blanket denials by the AG’s office on behalf of the Sri Lankan government, will not be viable as a long term solution.
(ii) LLRC implementation and progress on reconciliation
The LLRC itself laments the non implementation of its “interim recommendations” and should it be able to, would no doubt lament the non implementation of its final recommendations. Three years after the war ended, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election has not been held, merely because it is an election that government is destined to lose. There has been almost no victim centered reconciliation on crucial issues such as missing persons and also almost no assistance except by INGO’s for livelihoods and assistance to war widows, war orphans, women headed households and the war disabled. While the government touts it much vaunted rehabilitation for former LTTE cadres, over five hundred long term (over 10 years) detainees, neither tried nor convicted of crimes continue to be held under the PTA often for such offences as not reporting a family member connected to the LTTE or providing them with food or shelter. The magnanimity the State shows former senior LTTEers such as Karuna and KP, seem to be missing for the LTTE sympathiser, the poor Tamil villager who was the cannon fodder in the LTTE’s misguided terroristic venture.
Sri Lanka and the shared future of all her peoples would be much better off, if the Lalith Weeratunga and Mohan Peiris Committee on implementing the LLRC recommendations was to actually ensure that the letter and spirit of the LLRC recommendations be implemented, speedily, fully and completely, which is exactly what the world seems to be telling Sri Lanka in Geneva.