Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2010
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A TNA Solution to the UN Panel

Posted by harimpeiris on July 28, 2010

The past week was certainly a bad one for Sri Lanka from a foreign relations standpoint. Firstly Sri Lanka received the news that despite much lobbying, the UN Secretary General had proceeded with the appointment of a panel of experts to assist and advice him on issues regarding Sri Lanka. Then there was the missive by the European Union giving fifteen conditions the government must pledge in writing to fulfill in order to receive a conditional six month extension of the GSP plus trade benefits.

One could of course take a view that there was no problem  with all this and as the US suggested, that the UN panel was a “resource” we could use and similarly as the EU suggested, the GSP plus conditions were measures beneficial to the advancement of human rights of all Sri Lankan citizens. However that was not the view adopted by the Government. The Foreign Ministry was quick to announce that the UN panel would not be issued visas to enter Sri Lanka to which the UN countered that the panel had no plans to do so. The government was to condemn the EU conditions as a gross interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, while the EU maintained that it was merely requiring compliance by Sri Lanka with its already acceded international obligations regarding universal human rights. The European Union by the way is our largest trading partner and a political dispute with a large and influential bloc of nations is hardly in Sri Lanka’s national interests. Similarly an ongoing and public spat with the UN is hardly a desirable situation for Sri Lanka which prides itself as a respectable member of the international community of nations.

A political statement and a political problem

The government has correctly observed that the appointment of the UN panel and the suspension of the GSP plus trade benefits is a political move. Indeed it is. But if significant entities such as the UN and EU are politically unsympathetic to Sri Lanka, it may be well worth considering the reasons why. As Dr.Dayan Jayatileke, our astute former Ambassador to Geneva has observed in his Daily Mirror column this week, at least part of the reason for the international activism on Sri Lanka can be the absence of a process of political reconciliation one year after the conflict. He argues quite convincingly as he has been doing consistently, for devolution to the provinces in keeping with the 13th amendment to the constitution and for a political will to implement the statues that are on the books. The Mahinda Chinthanaya “Idiri Dekma” the election manifesto of President Rajapakse and the UPFA, which is the stated political vision that guides public policy and policy formulation in pages 54-57 of the Chinthanya referring to the “problems in the North and East” has a range of reconciliation measures from the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections, to a roll back of the high security zones in Jaffna from prime hereditary private agricultural lands, to a well resourced resettlement and reconstruction in the North and East, most of which has occurred in the breech, one year after the conclusion of the war. The absence of progress on these issues, while perhaps unnoticed by the wider Sri Lankan public concerned with their day to day lives, is not unnoticed internationally and is of concern especially to Western nations, host to significant and influential Tamil Diaspora communities. Such concerns manifest themselves eventually in initiatives such as the UN panel and EU GSP plus conditions.

President Rajapakse and devolution

President Rajapakse as one political analyst observed can never get any politically stronger in the future than he is today. He may get institutionally stronger, through eliminating any limits on his ability to hold presidential office indefinitely and vesting ever more powers in the office of president. But he will not get politically any stronger than he is now, in a political honeymoon of a convincing reelection, basking in the afterglow of a comprehensive military victory over the LTTE and facing a weak and divided political opposition. Accordingly the current context provides the window of opportunity for President Rajapakse to implement a political solution to the ethnic problem. To that willfully blind, vociferous and influential but miniscule section that asks “what ethnic problem?” the simple response would be that Sri Lanka has a divided, indeed bitterly polarized society. Minority communities, especially the Tamil community is alienated from the Sri Lankan State and the political solution sought is one that would create a more inclusive State reflective and tolerant of the rich diversity of her peoples. If sharing power in the center is anathema then it must be done at the periphery in the provinces. To simplistically limit the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka to the LTTE is to ignore the significant political dialogue on these issues of a pre LTTE era as reflected in the Bandaranaike / Chelvanayagam pact and the Dudley / Chelvanayagam pact.

India and the 13th Amendment

India was since the Rajive Gandhi assassination been adamantly and understandably anti LTTE. In the battles against the LTTE from 2006-2009, the Indians gave considerable support to defeat the LTTE. Security wise they shared intelligence and cracked down on the LTTE lifeline in Tamil Nadu. Militarily they assisted the Sri Lankan Navy with information required to destroy LTTE resupply vessels on the high seas, never objected to Sri Lankan weapons purchases and most importantly by their own policy position, which is influential globally held off international pressure on Sri Lanka till we finished off the LTTE. Of course the fact that we were going after a terrorist group, designated as such by most of the world, from the US to the EU, in addition to India helped. However the destruction of the LTTE has enabled the Indians to voice concerns for Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka without being construed as or risk being misinterpreted as support to the LTTE or its separatist aims. Clearly the Indian government, with its South block, intelligence services and overall establishment in full agreement has been impressing on the Sri Lankan government the need to implement devolution of power and implement a political solution.

A TNA concurrence to the solution

The world accepts the TNA as the most significant, though not the sole, democratic Tamil political representation. A solution that has the concurrence of the TNA, would be seen as legitimate and accepted by the Tamil people and is most likely to see a fading away of the pressure on human rights abuses and other criticism of the Sri Lankan State. In fact the best antidote for a politically extreme Tamil Diaspora is a moderate TNA. The TNA has already taken some swift steps to moderate its stance, which should be recognized in the South. They dumped the politically extreme and pro LTTE elements within the party, by refusing nomination to their former MPs who were LTTE nominees. They have unilaterally and perhaps rather obviously accepted a united Sri Lanka and seek a political solution within an undivided Sri Lanka and generally have provided reasonable parameters within which the Sri Lankan government can engage. Engagement with the Tamil leadership, dialogue, compromise and reaching a sufficient consensus with on a political solution are a necessity we cannot ignore and a mandatory requirement for a secure and prosperous post war Sri Lanka.

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