Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2014
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Archive for July 28th, 2014

Ramaphosa and Government’s Policy shift on Reconciliation

Posted by harimpeiris on July 28, 2014

Ramaphosa and Government’s Policy shift on Reconciliation

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews and The Island)


Several weeks after Cyril Ramaphosa, Vice President of South Africa and Special Envoy of President Zuma to Sri Lanka, arrived in Sri Lanka to assist us in our search for durable post war peace and reconciliation, it is possible to observe several tactical moves by the Rajapakse Administration with regard to its post war reconciliation policies or the “North and East issues” as the Mahinda Chinthanaya, the Way Forward, manifesto of 2010, calls Sri Lanka’s unresolved ethnic problem.

 The Cyril Ramaphosa Visit

 That Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, visited Sri Lanka at all was a small step forward for Sri Lanka’s snail paced post war reconciliation process. For the half decade after the end of the war, the government has been steadily stating that it will not entertain any foreign involvement in the post war reconciliation process. However, events overtook them and the international jurisdiction of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) resulted in repeated resolutions on Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). President Rajapakse also acknowledged Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law by signing in 2009, a joint statement with UN Secretary General, committing the country and his administration to three things, namely, post war rehabilitation, a political solution and accountability. However, there has been slow or no progress in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), notwithstanding claims to the contrary by the Administration, mostly because the national action plan on implementing the LLRC, does not really seek to implement the recommendation, only to make claims that no problem exists.

 Accordingly the Government now finds itself in the position, that the South African initiative is its only credible international alternative to the UNHRC process in Geneva and is accordingly compelled to engage with it. The engagement however has been less than competent. Firstly there is no formal interlocutor or counterpart appointed to deal with Special Envoy Ramaphosa, an uncoordinated two man act between Ministers Nimal Siripala De Silva and GL Peiris is not a formula for a cohesive government policy.  The farce with the Cabinet Spokesman claiming that the special envoy was a tourist on holiday, would have resulted in any other country, in the resignation of the Media Minister, at least as Cabinet Spokesman, but then Sri Lanka is, as the Tourist Board says, truly a land like no other. So despite the saber rattling by the Government’s resident in house pit bulls, namely the NFF’s Wimal Weerawansa and the JHU’s Champika Ranawaka, the South African initiative is on. It is now up to one of Africa’s most exciting and promising politicians to try and nudge the process forward and seek to restart a stalled reconciliation process. Regrettably the constraints of time prevented Vice President Ramaphosa from visiting Delhi after his visit to Sri Lanka, because the full support of the Indian government would be needed to provide the South Africans with international support, in facilitating reconciliation in Sri Lanka. There is suspicion in the West, that the South African process may be just to bail out the Sri Lankan government from the mess it finds itself in Geneva.

 The Reappointment of Maj.Gen (Rtd) Chandrasiri as the Northern Governor

 Demonstrating a schizophrenic approach to dealing with the Tamil people of the North, where the UPFA polled only 17% of the popular vote and that too mostly from Rishard Bathurdeen’s Muslim constituency of displaced northerners, the Rajapakse Administration just has no sense of even how to win friends among the Tamil polity or to have a minimum degree of consent of the governed. Major General Chandrasiri was the former Security Forces Commander in Jaffna and a good military officer. Upon retirement he was appointed Governor of the Northern Province, a majority Tamil province. During the Northern Provincial Council elections, Governor Chandrasiri, in an unprecedented act of political partisanship and in actions completely unbecoming a Governor, actively campaigned for the governing UPFA. He rushed around to their meetings, sat on their political stages and actively participated, if not led the Government’s state patronage led NPC polls effort. The result was a resounding repudiation of the Rajapakse Administration in the North, it secured only 17% of the popular vote. If the Governor had any self respect, he would have resigned. Now, perhaps in gratitude for his partisan politics he has been reappointed for five years more, demonstrating that the Administration is not serious in permitting the Northern Provincial Council to function, even with the extremely limited powers that provincial councils enjoy. The Governor’s real remit seems to be, to try and run the provincial administration by passing the Chief Minister and the elected representatives of the Tamil people, through the Chief Secretary and the military.  

 The Appointment of  Experts to assist the Commission on Missing Persons

 In an action that again ran counter to the strident rhetoric of Sinhala nationalist elements in the Government and its stated repudiation of both a war crimes probe and international experts, the Rajapakse Administration reversed itself on both these counts, though it did so after effectively ensuring total silence on the same in the Sinhala media. The government by gazette extraordinary,  not only extended the term of the “Disappearances Commission” headed by retired Judge Maxwell Paranagama, which has to date received over nineteen thousand complaints of missing persons, but also expanded the scope of its activities to include an examination of whether war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka’s civil war. To add icing to the cake it appointed three distinguished international legal experts, with relevant expertise on war crimes and related issues, to assist the commission. One can only hope that the under resourced Commission and its mandate undefined experts would be successful in addressing these contentious issues that are obstacles to post war reconciliation and a durable peace in Sri Lanka. 


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The BBS and a catalyst for a Buddhist Muslim conflict

Posted by harimpeiris on July 28, 2014

The BBS and a catalyst for a Buddhist Muslim conflict

By Harim Peiris

(Published on Groundviews and the Island)


The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Sri Lanka’s catalyst for opening up a new Buddhist verses Muslim conflict, perhaps due to boredom now that a thirty year civil war has ended, follows more by design than accident a classic military strategy of an escalation or advancement and then a tactical retreat due to over reach. Immediately after the previous attacks as well, whether in Dambula or Nugegoda, there was silence for awhile and similarly after the anti Muslim events of “Dark June 2014”, there has been a steady denial both by the state security establishment and the extremist perpetrators of responsibility for the violence, the former denying connivance and the latter denying instigation. Both want to blame a spontaneous mob.

Sri Lankan society unequivocally condemns

 Political leaders, both those allied with the government and the opposition have taken aim at the BBS  as an extremist group bent on violence against religious minorities, both Muslims but also Christians. The Government’s own ministers ranging from Rishard Bathuideen to Vasudeva Nanayakkara and including such stalwarts as DEW Gunasekera and Tissa Vitharana have been unequivocal in their condemnation of the BBS. The main opposition UNP, through its media spokesman former minister Mangala Samaraweera has directly held the state intelligence agencies responsible for support to the BBS, while the UNP’s area MP for Beruwela and Aluthgama, Palitha Thewaperuma has also alleged police cover up. Lawyers have alleged that the JMO is falsifying evidence regarding the deaths of the three Muslim persons, claiming stab wounds, when they were actually gunshot injuries, raising the question as to who carried guns that day. The Bar Association has formally lodged a complaint with the Attorney General’s department regarding the BBS and understandably the ethnic minority parties are even more concerned, with Minister Rauff Hakeem a publicly troubled man and TNA leader R.Sambanthan condemning the anti Muslim violence. Even President Rajapakse felt compelled to visit the victims, talk vaguely of compensation and thereafter claim, quite correctly, that the true Buddhist path was both moderate and non violent. Clearly the Sri Lankan polity is reacting negatively to the Aluthgama and Beruwela violence and the response has been two fold. Firstly the standard blanket denials, lacking much credibility but now more insidiously, a rationale for the violence.

The Dalada Maligawa attack did not enrage mobs

 The General Secretary of the BBS in a full page interview in a leading national newspaper, on Wednesday 16th July has sought to articulate what in essence is an excuse for not just the violence which occurred but also possibly lay the ground work for future violence. Firstly the ethics of giving extremist groups, the oxygen of free publicity and the veneer of respectability through media interviews, is itself an issue which should be avoided, given that Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha is on record in the same newspaper stating that the media should bear some responsibility for the rise of extremist groups, due to giving them undue prominence and free publicity. They are also intolerant, even of other monks, voicing contrary views and attack their press conferences

In the interview, the BBS chief states that a mob became incensed due to an alleged assault on a Buddhist monks, three days prior to that. However, mobs get enraged spontaneously and immediately, not after a three day cooling off period, unless instigated and orchestrated thereafter. The alleged assault on the monk or his driver over a traffic altercation was anyway before the courts. So the BBS rally was a contempt of court, since it was about a matter pending before courts.

Moreover, the gravest and most dastardly, cowardly and utterly contemptible attack of all time on the religious traditions of our country and society was the Dalada Maligawa attack by the LTTE. However, to the credit of Sri Lanka and her then leaders, there was no anti Tamil pogroms or a repeat of Black July’83, the folly of attacking civilians for a terrorist outrage had been learned. Highly unlikely that a traffic altercation unlearns those lessons without a lot of help .

A possible ground work for future violence 

The most troubling aspect of the BBS rationale for the violence of the past, is the ground work that it lays for further violence. Firstly is the claim that there are Muslim extremists and that it is these forces should be examined. The staunchly pro government National Shoora Council and the All Ceylon Jamaiyyatul Ulama are the BBS definition of extremist. Even if one considered some unknown Muslim activist groups in the East, there activities are not violent. Just perhaps fervent in religious belief and practice. As one young social media activist put it quite simply after Aluthgama “some people seem more interested in fighting and killing for their religion than in practicing its teachings and precepts”.

The other rationale for further violence lies in the premise, advanced by the BBS, that Sinhala Buddhists face threats from the other minority religious groups, the government is doing nothing about it and hence this may lead to further violence. Now the theory that Sinhala Buddhism is under siege, rather than progressing has been a thesis argued in the political arena especially by the JHU and  also the NFF. Especially during the Rajapakse presidency this message has just not resonated with the public. It is hard to imagine or portray President Mahinda Rajapakse as being a betrayer of Sinhala Buddhists in anyway. On the contrary, both the Tamil and Muslim communities, through their voting behavior clearly see his administration as hostile to them. Conversely the JHU and the NFF, which have been raising alarm bells about threats to Sinhala Buddhism has fared very poorly at the recent provincial polls. A message that does not resonate with voters, is now being touted by the BBS as the rationale for violence.

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