Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • March 2011
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Mohan Peiris meets Ban Ki Moon

Posted by harimpeiris on March 3, 2011

Late last week, on 23rd February 2011 a Sri Lankan Government delegation led by Attorney General Mohan Peiris and comprising Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Ambassador Palitha Kohonna and Major General Shavendra Silva, now our deputy Ambassador to the UN, met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and a team of his senior officials. The Government of Sri Lanka, through Deputy Foreign Minister Neomal Perera first denied the meeting, reported in the Daily Mirror web, but then retracted the denial and claimed the meeting was on legal issues as reports and photographs of the meeting was splashed over the Internet by the New York based news agencies. The government should really have a more sophisticated media management policy than inaccurate denials of factual realities.

1.     Increasing international pressure

Now Attorney General Mohan Peiris meeting the UN Secretary General comes within the context of several developments. The UN experts panel appointed to advise on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, has reached the end of its extended deadline of end February and its report is expected to be handed over within a few days. Insiders in New York predict that the report will be quite critical of the Sri Lankan government and possibly call for an international investigation. Sri Lanka did not cooperate with the expert panel. They were not issued visas to travel to Sri Lanka nor to have any engagement with the government baring the LLRC, an offer the experts declined. Now a formal report to the UN is a serious thing. Various sections of the UN system follow up and proceed to act on such reports. Even if Sri Lanka holds off on the report reaching the UN’s Security Council, due to Chinese and Indian support, the UN Human Rights Commissioner and the Council in Geneva will again be reactivated on Sri Lanka based on the report.  On March 1st, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Bob Blake has stated on record that Sri Lanka can be hauled up before an international inquiry if there isn’t a domestic remedy that meets international standards. The UN and the US, combine to present a tough international response on the accountability issues.

2.     The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

The LLRC is presented by Sri Lanka as its domestic accountability mechanism. Accordingly there is a heavy responsibility on the part of the Sri Lankan government in its own defense and self interest to do everything to enhance the credibility of the LLRC in terms of its results. The LLRC in public sessions has recorded hundred of testimonies of women who were eyewitnesses to the surrender of their husbands and sons to state security forces after the war whose whereabouts are not known. Further the interim recommendations of the LLRC on humanitarian and rehabilitation issues have not really been implemented with any degree of enthusiasm or generosity by the government. On the contrary the government seems uninterested in the welfare of the war affected Tamil people, easily the most voiceless, weak and vulnerable sector of our society. An interesting exchange took place in Parliament recently as recorded in Hansard, where the TNA claimed and the Government did not deny that of five hundred tractors gifted by India to the war affected IDP farmers of the Vanni that less than one hundred reached the poor IDP farmers, struggling to rebuild their lives after war. Instead a hundred each was expropriated by the Cashew Cooperation and the Coconut Development Board. So much for foreign aid to war affected IDPs. Reconciliation Sri Lankan style!

3.     Counting on India and China

With the UN and the US slowly hardening their attitude towards Sri Lanka, the government will be counting on India and China to help Sri Lanka internationally. However two dynamics will work here. China does not allow itself to get isolated internationally in the defense of its friends and like in the case of Sudan, when everyone else on the UN Security Council backed referring Sudan to the ICC for war crimes, China declined to use its veto. Similarly on Sri Lanka others track Indian policy. For India’s various interests, a political solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, for the Sri Lankan state to accommodate the diversity of its society and a reconciliation processes that unites a deeply polarized Sri Lankan society is important and it is in our own interest to change course and move in that direction.

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