Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • May 2011
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A pledge of devolution to the Indians and a delayed peace dividend

Posted by harimpeiris on May 26, 2011

Sri Lankans celebrate the second anniversary of the military defeat of the LTTE, with significant pride in that achievement and justifiable joy that one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world has been effectively wiped out. However two years on, there are legitimate questions to be asked about the nature of the peace dividend that Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher have received. It is a question, if muted in Sri Lanka, is increasingly loudly asked internationally.

1.     Sri Lanka pledges a political solution to India

Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris visited India last week and had meetings with the Indian Prime Minister and other senior Indian officials. At the end of those meetings, the two governments issued a joint statement which covered the gamut of bi lateral relations between the two countries. For the umpteenth time the Sri Lankan Government pledged to the Indians the implementation of a political solution with the devolution of political power. As paragraph four of the joint statement stated “Both sides agreed that the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation. In this context, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation”.

Joint statements are serious things, as Sri Lanka realized through the joint statement with the UN Secretary General in May 2009. The pledge of accountability in that statement is the “member state commitment” that the UN used to establish the expert panel and proceed with following up on the accountability issues of the conflict.

 2.     Jalyalalitha wins big in Tamil Nadu

Jaylalitha Jayaram, affectionately known as “amma” by her people and leader of the AIADMK party was swept to power in a landslide victory at the recently concluded Tamil Nadu state elections. The Congress Party and the DMK of former Chief Minister Karunanidhi were demolished in the elections which saw the DMK go down to just twenty three seats in the state assembly and not even becoming the chief opposition party in the State Assembly. “Amma” is back with a vengeance and here is a political forecast. The Congress Party, not wanting annihilation in Tamil Nadu at a future general election will change its alliance from the out of favour Karunanidhi and the DMK to Jayalalith and the AIADMK. Chief Minister Jayalalitha should want to match her power in the State with influence in the Centre and should be amiable to such an arrangement.

All this of course is relevant to Sri Lanka because Jaylalitha has called for international war crimes charges on the Sri Lankan political leadership. Sri Lanka relies heavily on India to shield her from opprobrium at international fora and India has thus far solidly obliged. That Indian foreign policy though is likely to be under severe strain and ripe for change as Jayalalitha and the AIADMK becomes increasingly influential at the Center, in Indian politics. We should not take our commitments to India lightly.

 3.     Emergency rule and Democracy

Sri Lanka celebrates the second anniversary of the end of the war, while still continuing with the war time emergency regulations, which effectively erode the democratic rights of citizens. It is a very valid question as to whether our normal laws, penal code and criminal justice system is so inadequate (it seems to have served us well enough before 1983) that we now cannot live or govern without emergency laws. While there is a public debate about group rights in the context of ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka, surely there is no debate about our democratic rights and freedoms. These too are suspended at executive will through emergency regulations and it would be an appropriate peace dividend for them to be rescinded, normal law reestablished and individual and democratic rights and freedoms strengthened.

Much of the international concerns arise not from the war we fought, which the whole world supported, but at the nature of the, emergency law led, IDP not resettled, detainees not released, non reconciled peace, we are seem intent on installing.

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