Less than 3 years ago, as Sri Lanka emerged from its 30 year long struggle against LTTE terrorism, there were many ‘prophets of doom’, including in this Parliament, who misjudged both
Sri Lanka’s will and capacity.
It was said that the IDP welfare villages set up were a “humanitarian catastrophe” and that malnutrition, disease and death would be rampant and the government was not interested in de-mining and that the conflict affected areas will remain unused forever.
Given this backdrop, the verifiable facts on the ground prove the ‘prophets of doom’ dismally wrong.
The socio-economic, nutritional and mortality indicators in the IDP villages housing the displaced, were deemed commendable by international standards, to that of a normal population of this magnitude.
Out of the estimated 2061.53 Sq. KMs contaminated with land mines & UXOs, as at the end of March 2012, 1,936.80 Sq. KMs, or 94% of the area had been cleared. 80% of this de-mining work was carried out by the Sri Lanka Army, which is a remarkable achievement in any post-conflict situation.
From a high of 297,000 a little under 3 years ago, 98% of the IDPs have left and numbers at the only remaining welfare village at ‘Manik Farm’ has come down to 6022 persons (1800 families), and the Government has pledged to resettle those remaining by the end of June this year. Here again the government has borne most of the cost, spending 360 Million USD for the IDP resettlement programme. An initiative aimed at the construction of over 78,000 new houses in the North has been launched which includes those built under the North East Housing Construction Programme (NEHRP) with donor assistance.
The High Security Zones have been reduced by 63%, from 4098 Sq KM to 2582 Sq KM. The emergency regulations lapsed completely with effect from 30 August, 2011. Since then, and with improvement of the security situation in the former conflict affected areas, civil administration has been fully restored and the role of the military has been increasingly confined to security related matters.
As for the LLRC, the domestic mechanism based on the principle of restorative justice established by the President of Sri Lanka on 15 May 2010 to make recommendations aimed at ensuring that there is no recurrence of the unfortunate situation of the past and to promote national unity and reconciliation amongst all communities in Sri Lanka, we now have a clear document with which to engage and consolidate peace.
The LLRC report accepts the position that the protection of civilian life was a key factor in the formulation of policy for carrying out military operations and that the deliberate targeting of civilians formed no part of this policy. It notes that military operations were conducted professionally, but if there is evidence of transgression by individuals, this of course should be examined.
The Government of Sri Lanka has not contested the conclusions of the LLRC, unlike NATO, which is strongly contesting the position taken by Judge Philippe Kirsch in the COI Report on Libya with regard to the need to further investigate NATO operations in Libya. We have yet to see western countries critiquing NATO’s position on this matter, which is a clear application of double standards on their part, when compared to the strident calls being made in relation to alleged events in Sri Lanka based on the flimsiest of evidence.
In fact the Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva was to observe in tabling the LLRC report in Parliament on 16 December 2011, “It is a matter of the greatest importance to the government to have the truth relating to each of these matters established in a manner that puts controversy to rest for all time. The government has asserted clearly on many occasions that, if reliable evidence is available in respect of any contravention of the law, the law of the land will be set in motion”. The Leader of the House was also to note that “the government, of its own accord, has already carried out a series of measures including a comprehensive census in the Northern Province, which will enable firm and verifiable conclusions to be arrived at on issues involving accountability, without any element of conjecture or speculation”.
Sound prioritisation no doubt is an essential aspect of a practical strategy for implementation of these recommendations, where it is important to distinguish between measures addressing humanitarian needs as a matter of urgency, and longer term initiatives.
We must remember that there are many issues on which recommendations have been made in the LLRC Report – such as de-mining, IDP re-settlement, ex-LTTE combatants, de-militarisation, socio-economic and livelihood development - which as I have already observed is at an advanced stage of implementation.
GOSL has also taken steps to disarm the so-called ‘paramilitary groups’. In order to bring about an end to the possession of unauthorised weapons, an institutionalised process with legislative oversight has been set up to record specific details on weapons recovered, and also setting a deadline for surrendering of illegal weapons, as was done in the Eastern Province.
In order to evolve a multi-party consensus with respect to constitutional changes, the government has sought the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), while being also engaged in bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties, as well as Muslim representation in furtherance of this objective. The government has already nominated its members to the PSC and is awaiting the nomination of members representing the opposition, especially from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), after which sittings can commence.
Following its launch in January 2012, the Government is also effectively implementing the Trilingual Policy aimed at enabling Sinhala, Tamil and English competence to Sri Lankans. The 10 Year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka provides the blueprint for the first determined effort by any administration since 1987 when Tamil was made an official language, to seriously implement the provisions for a Trilingual Sri Lanka already available in the law with the passing of the 13th amendment to the constitution. Already more than 1600 Tamil speaking police officers have been recruited and the Civil Service in the North and East is largely composed of members of the Tamil and Muslim communities.
19th HRC Resolution on Sri Lanka
The resolution ignored the significant steps taken and results shown by GOSL over the past near three years since the ending of LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka – action which has few precedents and which will be hard to replicate in comparable situations;
It prejudged Sri Lanka’s intention to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, less than three months since this domestic mechanism put in place by GOSL was made public, and the time-bound National Human Rights Action Plan, which has many synergies with the LLRC, has commenced implementation in a structured manner. In doing so, it also undermined the well-entrenched rule of international law that domestic remedies must first be exhausted, and amounts to an undue interference in an internal process.
Given that Sri Lanka would in any case come up for comprehensive discussion during the HRC’s second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October this year, the haste with which this resolution was sought to be imposed, brings into serious question the motivations of its proponents, who seem to disregard the principles upon which the HRC was founded, as a forum to address developments concerning human rights of all countries, in a cooperative, non-selective, and impartial manner.
With 15 countries voting with Sri Lanka, and 8 countries abstaining, the final result in Geneva was that 23 countries, out of a total of 47 members of the Human Rights Council did not support the Resolution, while 24 supported it. Many countries which voted with Sri Lanka were acutely conscious of the danger of setting a precedent which enables ad hoc intervention by powerful countries in the internal affairs of other nations. The 8 abstentions also reflected clear resistance of pressure by powerful countries to support the resolution by less powerful developing countries on a matter of principle. The resolution therefore finally became an example of a highly selective and arbitrary process within the Council not governed by objective norms or criteria of any kind, the implications of which were not lost on many countries.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, our policy in respect of all matters will continue to be guided by the vital interests and well-being of the people of our country, in keeping with accepted legal norms. Sri Lanka remains confident, that as we have done in the past, over time, we will be able to prove to all, including the present day ‘prophets of doom’ who continue to shift goal posts and apply double standards when it comes to Sri Lanka, that they were wrong.