Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for October, 2016

Sri Lanka joins the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

Posted by harimpeiris on October 27, 2016

Sri Lanka joins the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island of 26th October 2016)

 

Earlier this month, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multi-lateral forum of seventy member countries. OGP is a relatively new kid on the block, in the international cooperation and partnership scene, having been launched only in 2011, largely as an initiative of the Obama Administration and would be one of its foreign policy success stories and legacies to the international community. OGP seeks to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to its citizens, improving governance, strengthening democracy and making societies more open.

The current Sirisena / Wickramasinghe Administration was elected on a policy platform in which good governance and anti-corruption are foundational. It is noteworthy that in late 2014, as signs of an early election were emanating from the then Rajapaksa Administration and when civil society organizations and movements were beginning to raise their voice over governance and corruption issues, Rajapaksa advisors and acolytes were claiming that good governance and anti-corruption are not issues of mass mobilization and regime change catalysts.  However, the twin elections of 2015 proved that together with anti-incumbency tendencies, that in Sri Lanka as elsewhere, that governance and anti-corruption are issues that matter with voters. In Sri Lanka, especially the Sinhala electorate is very invested in the Sri Lankan state and punish at the polls, those who are thought to have abused state or political power.

There is great interest in the international community regarding Sri Lanka’s new policy trajectory, since it is so vastly different to its predecessor. The change that Sri Lanka peacefully and democratically brought about is stunning, when viewed from overseas, even more than it is when viewed locally. Especially in the area of foreign policy, Sri Lanka moved from an era of increasing isolation through self-imposed walls of non-engagement and a siege mentality, especially during the Rajapaksa second term, to a situation where as Foreign Minister Samarweera so often describes as “tearing down the dividing walls and building bridges of friendship” to not just the East but also the West.  Accordingly, there is keen interest on the progress of Sri Lanka’s reform process in general and good governance initiatives in particular. President Sirisena was a special guest at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London earlier this year and his presence is also sought for a similar event in France towards the year end.

 

Membership in the OGP is by invitation only and Sri Lankan can be justifiably proud that last year, Sri Lanka’s then new government was invited to join the OGP, the first South Asian nation to have qualified and to have joined the OGP. Accordingly, by invitation, in October last year, Sri Lanka endorsed the OGP declaration and committing to its objectives and but became a fully participating country of the OGP, through the adoption of its national action plan. Through the endorsement of the OGP declaration, member countries commit, essentially to foster a domestic culture of open which empowers a country’s citizens and delivers better governance for them.

 

OGP promotes and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government. Members of the Open Government Partnership commit to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption, and other international agreements in regard to human rights and good governance. The Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, more popularly known as the sustainable development goals, is a key platform of the OGP framework.

 

The key instrument for the implementation of open governance in Sri Lanka is the OGP, National Action Plan (NAP). Sri Lanka’s first ever OGP, National Action Plan was carefully prepared through an inclusive consultative process, which witnessed community based dialogues in all nine provinces of the country. The National Action Plan contains policy reform commitments in about nine different thematic areas of governance including but not limited to education, health, environment, ICT, right to information and women’s affairs.

 

Implement Sri Lanka’s OGP commitment through its National Action Plan, is the key requirement in the National Action Plan (NAP) framework.  Sri Lanka is not short on good policy programs and action plans. However it does have a very poor track record on policy and plan implementation. Sri Lanka has very many good laws in place, but which are sadly and all too often a dead letter in implementation.  From human rights, to witness protection to anti-torture, anti-ragging, and anti-corruption, Sri Lanka has sound laws and good policies and plans in place. However, our human rights track record is abysmal, our witnesses in judicial proceedings are not protected, torture is rampant in our criminal justice system and ragging is endemic in our institutions of higher learning while anti-corruption measures are still weak in both enforcement and prevention.

 

The real challenge facing the government is to ensure, that its international commitments on good governance, through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) framework does not go the same way as many other fine plans that Sri Lanka has, but does not really implement. The real challenge then is to implement, our own good intentions of good governance and domestic policy reforms.

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Reflections on gender Issues in reconciliation

Posted by harimpeiris on October 25, 2016

Reflections on gender Issues in reconciliation

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 21st Oct 2016)

 

The Sirisena / Wickramasinghe Administration is committed to reconciliation, reiterated most recently at the UN General Assembly in New York. But reconciliation is about the real lives of real people and many of the victims of the war, the scared survivors are women. The following are some perspectives on women’s issues in the post war regions, in the context of the ongoing reconciliation efforts.

 

War was hard, but the economic burdens seem harder,” says Kalaimagal Ponnambalam, a thirty-eight-year-old female shop owner in the North.

A report published by the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) revealed that the North and East combined were home to a shattering eighty-nine thousand (89,000) widows (based on a 2010 government estimate) at the end of the 26 -year old civil war that ended in 2009. Now crippled with a burden that traditionally is not theirs to bear, the darkness of poverty prevails leaving these women particularly vulnerable to the dangers of sexual harassment and exploitation. Six years after the end of the war, Sri Lanka has estimated the number of women-headed households in the island’s North to be a staggering 50,000. With more women having to step up as the breadwinners in their homes’ Sri Lanka’s former war zone is recording an increase in women turning to survival sex.

 

Now carrying the load that was once their husbands’, fathers’ or brothers’, poverty and lack of options are driving women to adopt commercial sex as an income generator. Community-based organizations claim, that these women, despite the enormous economic responsibilities they bear, do not possess the skills and the financial resources to support their families, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

In a survey being carried out by these community- based organizations, from 2010 to this date (the survey is being finalized) 1,500 female-headed households in the north, claimed there is reason to believe the sex trade is “slowly taking root in a region that boasts of tradition and culture”.

It is happening and therefore a need has risen for better livelihood support initiatives in the post conflict region.  “The great economic divide was increased by long years of war. It needs continuous and committed work “, said D.M. Swaminathan, Minister of Resettlement of Reconstruction.

The still “strong” military presence in the north, increase in domestic tourism, along with men from other parts of the island being based in the areas for work are somewhat regular reasons for an increase in commercial sex.

 

In addition, an increased number of Sri Lankan-born Tamils from the diaspora visiting their places of origin since fighting ended four years ago, has also increased demand for commercial sex, Shanthini Vairamuttu, a community worker from the district of Jaffna, said. With the increasing presence of Tamil diaspora in their home towns (places of origin), community women have often told that their daughters are often being viewed as sexual objects and in some cases, been sexually assaulted. Sexuality is largely considered offensive in the north, where caste and class are still decisive factors.

We may not know the level of the problem. In a country where commercial sex is illegal, the chances of finding the numbers would be difficult without substantial studies. However, this has now become a pressing issue and it deserves due attention and action thereafter. The MRG report called on the police to create Tamil-speaking desks in all police stations in former conflict zones, boost female representation among government officials in the north and east, as well as prosecute perpetrators.

 

Violence against women in Sri Lanka is too common an occurrence, gender equality is only a distant dream, and behind the closed doors of their homes, women across the island silently suffer the horrors of domestic violence.

As is sadly common in societies that has experienced so much violence for extended periods of time, spanning decades, it has left Sri Lankan society, with long term scars desensitizing the people. While there is uproar in the western world on issues such as these, here in Sri Lanka there is generally an under appreciation of and lack of awareness about crimes against women and as well as mental health issues arising from and consequent to the decades long civil conflict.

 

The surveys and studies reveal that both gender issues and economic hardships are indeed correlated and therefore go hand in hand. These issues require continuous and committed work towards sustained economic support, especially for women who are now responsible for their families and find themselves having several mouths to feed. These analyses suggest that, the time has now come to ameliorate grass root level issues for economic development and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

 

The progress on Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process, while perhaps slower than what many might have hoped are on a steady track, with fast paced progress on the new constitution, the passage of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Act and public consultations progressing on finalizing reparations and establishing a truth seeking mechanism. But especially for the most vulnerable sections of the victims, the women and children affect by the conflict, their livelihood needs, the very real day to day needs to re-establish their lives and provide hope and a better future for the younger generations, must continue to be a priority and be a genuine partnership between the community, civil society, donors and government policy makers.

 

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