Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2010
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Wimal and the UN Experts Panel

Posted by harimpeiris on July 15, 2010

The excellent political theatre that was dished out on Baudhaloka Mawatha, by the Hon.Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of Housing, Construction and Common Amenities, brought into stark focus and public consciousness the very real issue of the UN Secretary General’s Expert Panel on Sri Lanka. The Cabinet level street drama itself ended rather predictably, the only missing aspect being the absence of calls by religious leaders, that the honorable minister and self proclaimed fivefold weapon of the motherland, should save himself for future service to the nation. This was perhaps compensated by the visit to the scene of the protest by His Excellency the President. No doubt the “Wimal versus the UN” street drama would provide its chief actor with sufficient material to brag about, brownie points and political capital for a long time to come. But it is such excellent political theatre that one is tempted to suggest that the show should be on Broadway and if the Hon.Wimal is part of the Sri Lankan Government delegation to the UN General Assembly in September this year, (as he was last year); he can do the sequel in New York, actually opposite the UN Secretariat and should the New York Police be not as accommodating as our own police, we have the added bonus, that Minister GL Peiris has sufficient reasons to claim that our democratic freedoms in Sri Lanka are superior to that of the United States.

However beyond the comic political theatre, the UN panel raises some important issues that require careful examination.

The UN panel is an intervention in our internal affairs

The UN Panel is indeed a direct international intervention in Sri Lankan affairs. Its focus, mandate and remit is about Sri Lanka and what happened in the conduct of our war. It is also the most serious unilateral international intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs in post independent Sri Lanka. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), might have been more a more visible foreign involvement due to the presence of troops, but they were there on invitation by President Jayawardena subsequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord and was a bi lateral move by our neighbor, which though a regional power is still a single nation. The UN on the other hand is multilateral and the panel was appointed despite our stringent opposition and extensive lobbying. Clearly the UN Secretary General believes he has sufficient support within the UN for his actions. The inability of Sri Lanka to get any multi lateral support against the Panel subsequent to its appointment, including from the Non Aligned Movement, is also proof of this fact. Worst still the Experts Panel is clearly most likely to be only the start and not the end of UN involvement in our affairs, unless we take some corrective action.

It’s all based on the Joint Statement

When Sri Lanka was under some international pressure towards the end of the conflict last May, to wrap up the end game in a negotiated manner and desist from using heavy weapons and seek to minimize collateral damage, the government decided to get Ban Ki Moon to come over right after the fighting ceased and give our battles and victory a clean bill of health. That endorsement in a joint statement in May 2009 came with the caveat that we would pursue three objectives, namely rehabilitation and reconstruction of conflict affected areas, a political solution that addresses the causes of the conflict, through a dialogue with all parties and especially the Tamil parties and measures to deal with possible violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The following are some relevant extracts from SG 2151 of May 2009, the joint statement by the UN Secretary General and the Government of Sri Lanka.

“The Government expressed its commitment to ensure the economic and political empowerment of the people of the north through its programmes.  

  President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations.  The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  The Government will take measures to address those grievances”.

Reflects a lack of credible progress

The UN Secretary General appointed the panel to advise him, one year after the end of the conflict and one year after the above statement. If one examines the pledges above and there are more pledges in the statement on demining, reintegration of combatants etc, the government pledges various things which can generally be considered as having been observed in the breech. Firstly, the government promises economic and political empowerment of the people of the North. See if even Government Minister Douglas will claim that this has occurred. Streams of visitors to Jaffna braving the pot holed A9 does not constitute economic empowerment. While Rome was not built in a day, the general impression is that adequate resources are not being allocated to the task and most of the resources are from the international community, such as food from the World Food Program (WFP) and shelter materials by UNHCR. Secondly, the government pledges to implement the 13th Amendment and despite Presidential and General Elections being held in the North, no moves are on to conduct the Northern Provincial Council elections. Thirdly and finally on the accountability issues, a Sri Lankan Commission has been appointed, but headed by the man widely seen as responsible for the acrimonious end of the IIGEP experience and the failed Commission on Grave Human Rights Abuses (failed because of no final report and no prosecutions), there is a significant credibility gap internationally with regard to the CR De Silva Commission and it is clearly a gap we did not bridge.

A political solution

Of the three issues above, post conflict rehabilitation we would need to do for humanitarian and equity reasons and to continue to claim to be a civilized society. It’s the absence of a political solution or at least a credible political process, of engagement with the Tamil polity and its dominant representatives, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the world is suspicious about our intentions and the trajectory of our post conflict socio political order. A political solution that receives the approval of the TNA would have international credibility and reduce the political pressure on the accountability issues, which anyway we should do domestically with the emphasis on truth and reconciliation and not crime and punishment.

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