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Going back and forth with the Diaspora

23 October 2021 12:43 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last month said in New York that Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions. And his Foreign Minister now says that the government has ruled out talks with banned Tamil Diaspora groups.


The President made his statement during a meeting with none other than the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on September 19 while he was in New York to attend the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. He stated that the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and went on to say that the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard.


Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris contradicted his statement during an interview with the Daily Mirror last week. It cannot be a personal view of the Foreign Minister as he made it as a public statement. The Foreign Minister is never expected to go against the President and hence it has to be concluded that it was the view of the President as well.

Minister Peiris, insisted that there will not be any direct talks with banned Diaspora groups as “that would be a violation of our law.” What could be the message that has gone to the United Nations with these contradictory statements? 


The reason for not talking to the Tamil overseas groups is not logical. If the government is really interested in having negotiations with those groups, it could have been done easily after lifting the ban, as has happened in the past. Subsequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987 the proscription on all Tamil armed groups were lifted. The LTTE was again outlawed on January 26, 1998 following the suicide bomb attack on the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy on the previous day. Then again on September 4, 2002 – on the eve of the peace talks in Thailand during which Prof. Peiris led the government’s delegation - the LTTE was de-proscribed.  


Given the occasion in which the President made his statement, he might have been serious about establishing an internal mechanism to resolve the internal issues of Sri Lanka and talking to the Tamil Diaspora. One cannot mistake the internal mechanism that he was referring to, since the Sri Lankan leaders have been talking about only one internal mechanism with UN leaders for the past nine years – a mechanism to carry out the accountability process for the alleged human rights violations during the war.


However, many doubted the statement as it suggested one of extreme impossibilities in politics, considering his stance on the “internal mechanism” and the Tamil Diaspora which was well-known. He is one of those who least believes in the existence of an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, negotiations to resolve it and a human rights issue in the country. Therefore, one cannot be surprised to hear these words from the President.

 

The reason for not talking to the Tamil overseas groups is not logical. If the government is really interested in having negotiations with those groups, it could have been done easily after lifting the ban, as has happened in the past. Subsequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987 the proscription on all Tamil armed groups were lifted


Yet, there never has been a demand even by the Tamil leader to engage with the Tamil Diaspora to resolve accountability issue or the ethnic problem. The Tamil Diaspora has in a way been a spring of strength to the local Tamil leaders, while at the same being a hurdle to take decisions independently. Thus, the rationale behind the President’s statement remains a mystery despite the retraction of it by the Foreign Minister being well understood. 


Hence, these controversies or negative messages to the international community or at least to the international agencies such as the UN were not unavoidable. However, leaders of successive governments, irrespective of their party affiliations, seem to be fond of giving false hopes to the international players before retracting them. For instance, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a joint communiqué with the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on May 23, 2009- four days after the guns fell silent for good in the northern and eastern battle grounds - gave an undertaking, accepting the “importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.” However, the UNSG appointed a team of experts to advise him on Sri Lanka in 2010 when the Sri Lankan government was dragging its feet on the undertaking. 


Then again, the former President hurriedly appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the same year to look into the reasons to the failure of the ceasefire agreement of 2002, but in fact to circumvent the UNSG’s experts committee. It seemed to be successful as the international community including the UN then highly relied on the LLRC report which was presented in 2011, to see an accountability process. Ten years on, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has been calling on the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the said report every year, through eight resolutions it adopted since.


The Yahapalana government on its part co-sponsored the 2015 UNHRC resolution which provided for setting up an accountability mechanism with the participation of judges and lawyers from Sri Lanka as well as Commonwealth countries. This was highly praised by the leaders of the Western powers and this along with the government’s new approach towards reconciliation and democracy eased the pressure on Sri Lanka by the international community, in respect of human rights. Thus, no country wanted a resolution on Sri Lanka being adopted in 2016.


President Sirisena exploited the situation. He was well recognized at the international fora and he said that it was due to his government’s commitment to uphold the human rights in the country that the country was being recognized. However, soon - in four months - he too changed. He while getting the credit from the international community for the 2015 resolution that was co-sponsored by his own government and telling the local audience that he rescued Mahinda Rajapaksa from the electric chair, told BBC in January, 2016 “I will never agree to international involvement.”


The merit or demerits of the actions taken by the successive Presidents – the signing the joint communiqué with UNSG, appointing the LLRC, cosponsoring the 2015 resolution or making statement on talking to the Tamil Diaspora- is not discussed here. The issue in question has been the backtracking on undertakings which become international obligations. In fact, the international players have not been distracted by these backpedalling on promises. Their actions take their course steadily, but slowly. 


The UNHRC first call on the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the LLRC and then gradually added allegations of human rights violations taking place in later years in its successive resolutions. It passed a resolution in 2014 recommending an international investigation on Sri Lankan human rights situations which was conducted in the same year. The report of the investigation had accused both armed forces as well as the LTTE of widespread violations. Last year they decided to investigate individual cases targeting individuals, setting up a fund and a repository of evidence. It is against this backdrop that the country has to engage with the international players.

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