Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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The Elders Speak out and an Israeli model for Sri Lanka

Posted by harimpeiris on August 5, 2010

Mahinda Rajapakse has for decades been the Patron of the Sri Lanka – Palestinian solidarity association, and is widely popular in Palestine with a road named after him in Ramallah, the West Bank capital of the Palestinian Authority.  Accordingly the important role that Israel played in assisting Sri Lanka conduct its own war on terror through the supply and servicing of the Israeli built Kfir jet squadron and other defense cooperation is indeed paradoxical.

 Israel cooperates with the UN

Earlier this week, the Israeli government announced a significant policy shift in that it was going to cooperate fully with a UN appointed international inquiry panel into its interception of a Turkish bound flotilla seeking to break its blockade of the Gaza strip. In doing so Israel acknowledged that the vast preponderance of international opinion favored the inquiry, that cooperation with the inquiry was crucial to restoring its relationship with Turkey (an important ally) and that avoiding the inquiry was very much more likely to ensure an adverse report in which its side of the story was not heard. As Israeli Premier Netanyahu confidently stated “Israel had nothing to hide”. Now the push for an UN inquiry on the Israeli action was a significant reason for Sri Lanka being unable to secure IOC or NAM support for opposing the appointment of the UN Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka.

The rationale which Israel used to arrive at its decision to cooperate with the UN, as opposed to screaming that it is interference in the domestic affairs or national security of Israel has rather obvious lessons for Sri Lanka, in that cooperation may be better than obstruction. This from a country which has the steadfast backing of the US, home to a Jewish population that can rival Israel. We risk thumbing our nose at India, home to a Tamil population very much bigger than all Sri Lankans combined.

Israel follows has a very tough policy in its dealing with the Palestinians but this from a political approach where the two states solution is becoming accepted consensus internationally and increasingly domestically in Israel. Sri Lanka should be cautious that its post war “peace” does not create in the North and East, our own versions of the West Bank and Gaza, a seething mass of humanity that bitterly resents the State that claims to represent them.

 

The Elders Speak 

Nelson Mandela is a respected international statesman, a man who endured decades as a political prisoner but emerged with no bitterness or rancor to transform his strife torn country into a vibrant democratic rainbow nation. Together with others such as Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Marti Ahrtisaari, Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, (many of them Nobel peace prize winners and former heads of state) they form the Elders, a very influential group of persons who form and shape international opinion and receive a receptive ear from current leaders of governments worldwide.  People such as they contribute towards the formation of international opinion and not Wimal Weerawansa lying on a pallet on Baudhaloka Mawatha in front of the Rupavahini cameras.

Two days ago the Elders issued a damming statement on Sri Lanka, which should be an eye opener to our policy makers in government. The Elders after welcoming the end of the war sound a very strong cautionary warning that “However, these signs of progress are tainted by intolerance of debate or dissent and a culture of impunity that protects those close to the government. The Elders now believe that the Sri Lankan government’s domestic conduct, as well as its recent unacceptable treatment of the United Nations in Sri Lanka warrants a firm, public response from its most influential friends – particularly China, India, Japan and the United States as well as the non-aligned group of countries. Only the European Union has taken any direct action by suspending Sri Lanka’s preferential trading access (GSP Plus scheme) for its failure to respect its international human rights obligations.

Among recent events that most concern the Elders are:

  • The persecution, intimidation, assassination and disappearance of government critics, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders. Ongoing detention of an estimated 8,000 suspected ex-combatants without charge or access to legal representation, their families or independent monitors.
  • The government’s failure to withdraw wartime emergency laws more than a year after the end of the conflict with the LTTE.
  • Lack of action by the government to address the political marginalization of ethnic minorities that was at the root of Sri Lanka’s thirty years of war.
  • Unacceptable behavior towards the United Nations — including a siege by demonstrators of UN offices in Colombo, led by a Cabinet Minister — following the UN Secretary-General’s appointment of a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by both sides during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.” (Statement of 3rd August 2010, www.theElders.org)

 

The Recommendations

The Elders have a very tangible list of recommendations that they make to the governments of India, Japan, China and the US to impress upon the government of Sri Lanka that the following remedial steps and measures be taken.

  1. Withdraw wartime emergency legislation and make a public commitment to uphold the human rights of all citizens of Sri Lanka, including minorities.
  2. Allow immediate ICRC access to the estimated 8,000 people detained on suspicion of being ex-combatants.
  3. Co-operate with the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability, including granting visas if requested.
  4. Ensure that any prosecutions are based on evidence and not political expediency; cease political interference in the work of the judiciary.
  5. Allow domestic and international NGOs and media to carry out their work in Sri Lanka without harassment, intimidation or undue restrictions.
  6. Begin a meaningful process of consultation with people in the north and east of the country on land issues and economic development as well as constitutional reforms to address long-standing political marginalization of ethnic minorities.
  7. Ensure the security of United Nations operations and personnel.

The Elders, eminent seniors and states persons on the world stage have stated what is unmentionable in Sri Lanka. That to paraphrase Shakespeare in Hamlet, that “all is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark” (or indeed in the Republic of Sri Lanka). Blanket denials and bashing the messenger will not help in the long run, addressing the very specific issues mentioned above would.

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