Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for April, 2019

Christian forgiveness the key to rebuilding unity after Easter massacres

Posted by harimpeiris on April 29, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 27th April 2019)

Sri Lanka, in 2019 was celebrating ten years of peace and quiet after the end of our brutal, decades long civil war and sadly that tranquility was shattered by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Colombo, its suburbs, Negombo and Batticalo. The wanton targeting of innocents with extreme violence is contemptible and the horrific costs in terms of shattered lives is tragic and sorrowful. Emerging from the ashes of our civil war, Sri Lanka deserve better than renewed violence and sectarian conflict. Even as President Sirisena has convened an all-party conference and a multi religious forum to discuss the current state of affairs, a few preliminary observations can be made.

1) Colossal failure of state security

It is almost incomprehensible how a vast terror network could have been established and made operational in and around Sri Lanka, without the knowledge of our much-vaunted security establishment. This is not really a military failure, but a security failure for which the police and especially the state intelligence apparatus needs to held primarily responsible. The President has accordingly called for the resignation of the IGP and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense. Holding somebody responsible for this colossal security failure would be an important first step in reestablishing confidence that the Sri Lankan state is able to perform that most basic responsibility of a nation state, namely the protection of its citizens. Specific security lapses, like how such a large amount of explosives were smuggled into the country, how they were moved around, bombs assembled, attacks planned, a suicide bomber who was arrested and then later released, widely reported as due to political pressure by a presidential governor appointee, why information from local Muslim leaders of radicalization was ignored or at least not monitored for a violent stream and why warnings from foreign intelligence agencies were ignored should all be fully investigated and those guilty of gross negligence and dereliction of duty held responsible.

 2) Christian forgiveness should be harnessed

It is laudable that after the Easter Sunday carnage that all Christian leaders, while still grieving the loss of innocents and loved ones, have unitedly advocated forgiveness in the midst of that pain and reassured the Muslim community that the actions of a depraved few were not being ascribed to all. Rev.Fr Jude Fernando, the priest who was celebrating Mass at St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, when the attack occurred and who survived, stated thus “we love peace. We forgive. Our God is a God of peace, He is not a God of revenge. We love each other. We forgive”.  Christian Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, speaking in parliament on the re-imposition of a state of national emergency stated “we are grieving, but we will not allow hate and revenge to overtake us… we do not respond to perpetrators who acted out of hate with hatred”. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakeem acknowledged this when he tweeted “I bow to the Christian community and the Reverend clergy who have proven their magnanimity in practicing the word of Christ “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. It is crucial that neither a backlash against other innocents nor communal violence is allowed to reoccur. The very essence of Easter Sunday, is that Jesus Christ came into the world, suffered as we do, took humanity’s sin on Himself, was unjustly crucified and rose again. It is a celebration of new life. That reality the suicide bombers cannot rob and they should not be allowed to let their hatred bread hatred.

That Sri Lankan communities are coming together rather than pulling apart through these horrific incidents was even recognized internationally, where in the British House of Commons, debating the loss of British lives in the attacks, special mention was made, that Sri Lankans are coming together, rather than pulling apart in the face of this tragedy.

This does not however mean that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacres are to go Scott free, especially to wreak more mayhem. They must be neutralized, held accountable and justice should prevail. The attacks were not just on the victims, not just on Christians, but on all of us. The most crucial aspect of justice for the entire Christian community is the fundamental right to worship in peace and safety, in association with fellow Christ followers. A fundamental practice, which Christ followers have adhered to, through millennia, whether persecuted by the Roman Empire in the first century, or various other groups, ideologies and isms in the twenty first century.

3) Muslim leaders must squash the extremist violence

Sri Lankan Muslim leaders, both their secular political leadership and the religious leaders, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama have unequivocally condemned the Easter Sunday massacres, distanced their community from the same and expressed their sorrow and grief over the situation. They would however, need to do more to address violent radicalism within a small sliver of their number. The reality is that the Saudi Arabian funded Madrasa’s in the Eastern province and a particular interpretation of Wahhabism as preached by the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) advocates violence. Islamic scholars and theologians would need to do much more, to challenge, dilute and mitigate the violence advocated by the NTJ.

Sri Lanka can and must rise out of this carnage and once again proceed on the journey of peace and unity, a journey we began afresh, a decade ago at the end of the civil war. We cannot afford fresh violence on new fault lines. The security establishment has the responsibility to prevent violence, religious leaders to engender harmony and political leaders to foster social cohesiveness rather than divisiveness.

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Mangala sets the record straight on UNHRC resolution

Posted by harimpeiris on April 5, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 4th April 2019)

Earlier this week, former Foreign Minister and current Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who recently celebrated his unbroken thirty years of public service as a parliamentarian, issued a lengthy statement which sought to set the record straight and correct misconceptions about the UNHRC process and Sri Lanka’s policy and position in that regard. The situation was aggravated by the conduct of one member of Sri Lanka’s delegation who had a solo press conference and claimed to have corrected the UN High Commissioner, a former president of Chile, who promptly denied the same. Later in the week, the opposition JO / SLPP has challenged the Government to correct what they claim are contradictions, between Minister Mangala’s statement and the statement of current Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who is undoubtedly fortunate to be Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, as a national list MP, who was forced to resign his previous portfolio in 2015, after public and his ministerial colleagues outrage over his unconscionable defense of the Avant Garde floating armory. However, the issues raised are more important than the personalities involved and deserve objective examination.

Sri Lanka requires reconciliation

There is one self-evident fact, which Minister Mangala Samaraweera reiterates, and what the Rajapakse era Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report (LLRC) documents and articulates most clearly, which is that a nation after a violent decades long fratricidal civil war, requires healing through addressing the effects, causes and the conduct of such a brutal conflict. Fundamental political theory would teach us that non reoccurrence of such conflict requires addressing these issues. Unresolved they lead to renewed conflict. About two decades after the first JVP uprising, we experienced a second uprising.

While all Sri Lankans suffered in many ways from the conflict, there are direct victims, who lost their lives, family members, limbs, homes, properties and businesses in the conflict. Many others were traumatized by the war, in different ways. The war widows, the orphans, the maimed, the families of the missing, the PTA detainees, unskilled and socially non-integrated ex combatants and the conflict caused destitute are a constant reminder to all Sri Lankans, ten years after the end of the war, that significant unfinished work of reconciliation, still exists.

Our reconciliation process is internationalized

Sri Lanka, does not live in isolation in the world.  Our economy is closely integrated and globally dependent and so Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and our engagement with the world is crucial in our national interest. We did not even fight our war against the LTTE in isolation. With no domestic armaments industry, we fought our war, with globally purchased weapons and more importantly with international cooperation in intelligence and freezing of LTTE financing. Post 9/11, the West banned the LTTE front organizations and their funds, while India supplied the intelligence which enabled the Sri Lankan Navy to sink the LTTE weapons ships, in mid sea. The world demonstrated an interest in Sri Lanka’s war and post war reconciliation, because our conflict was internationalized especially through the dispersion of the Tamil communities around the world, post the 1983 pogrom. There are over one hundred thousand Sri Lankan refugees still in India, more than double that number in UK and Canada, with many others scattered throughout the western world and influential in the land of their adoption.  All of whom have families, relatives, properties and memories about Sri Lanka, giving those countries a legitimate interest in non-reoccurrence. It is a testament of this internationalization that the first foreign visitor to Sri Lanka when the war ended was the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon The joint statement between then President Rajapakse on behalf of Sri Lanka and the UN Secretary General, clearly lays out Sri Lanka’s international commitments and obligation to establish post war reconciliation through a political solution, address the effects of the conflict and provide accountability for the conduct of the war. It is the Rajapakse Administration’s unwillingness to implement its own commitments which saw increasing international strictures and growing concern, through the UNHRC resolutions of pre 2015. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of resolutions post 2015, took back the ownership and control of the reconciliation process, from being foreign driven to being locally owned and managed.

That vexatious issue of Commonwealth or foreign Judges

Unarguably, between the three issues of the effects, causes and conduct of the war, the most politically sensitive issue is dealing the conduct of our war. It is this issue which the Rajapakse return project and the JO political opposition and their allies seeks to capitalize on. The controversy is over the phrase “foreign or commonwealth judges, investigators, prosecutors.” etc. in the resolution. Firstly, that we require accountability for the conduct of the conflict is unarguable. That the LTTE was designated a terrorist organization by most of the world, was due to them being held accountable for their actions, including attacks on civilians and civilian targets. Accountability is two-fold. We cannot expect global cooperation in managing the international remnant of the LTTE, their funds and possible progeny without our own accountability and clear commitment to conduct our own national security and defense in keeping with international best practices and the rule of law, including international humanitarian law (IHL). It is in the interest of Sri Lanka’s military, now an increasingly important part of the UN’s global peace keeping forces, to demonstrate our professionalism and commitment to the highest standards and cooperate with UN processes. As recent CID investigations and indictments served by the Attorney General indicate particularly with regards some Naval personal and rogue elements in Naval intelligence, that human rights violations were not just part of the “war effort” but personal vendettas and brutality for profit.

At the outset it must be recognized that UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015, which Sri Lanka co-sponsored commits Sri Lanka to a “domestic process of accountability”. Very Sri Lankan and based in Sri Lanka. That the administration of justice in Sri Lanka is cross border is not alien to our justice system at all. Until 1972 our highest court of appeal was the Privy Council of the House of Lords in UK and in fact the Army officers accused of plotting a coup against Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike was acquitted by the Privy Council. Contrast that with the war winning, “best army commander in the world” Field Marshall Fonseka who was thrown in a local jail, after a dubious and seriously flawed local process, when he failed in his political challenge to the Rajapakses’ in a democratic election. Similarly, we impeached our Chief Justice after her court ruled against the Rajapakse regime. We started getting our house back in order only post 2015.

The Rajapakse era International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP), headed by a foreign (Indian) chief justice Bhagwatti, set up in consort with a Presidential Commission of Inquiry perhaps lays out a Rajapakse model for international involvement in domestic justice processes. As Minister Mangala Samaraweera correctly notes at length in his statement, UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015, takes back to Sri Lanka, our process of reconciliation with a firmly enshrined domestic accountability process.

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