For many well placed Sri Lankans with friends in powerful places the UNHRC’s 2015 resolution is like the dog’s tail that they wish to straighten and knowing it well the government, who cosponsored the UN resolution reluctantly has moved at snail phase to address the longstanding demands for accountability and reconciliation linked to its 27-year civil war that ended in 2009. But it is advisable for those in powerful places opposing the government, to assist the government to make changes in the system to comply with the UN recommendations; than just howling at the Western Nations of using UN to bully a sovereign nation, for it is not going to solve anything.
In this country of 20 million, more than 200,000 people have died in the many riots prior to 1983, and during the bloody violent civil war, that over lapped two insurrections. For many years Sri Lanka held the ignominious record of having the highest number of disappearances in the world, this situation persisted even after the civil war had ended in 2009 and continued into the negative peace years to 2015. In the north, civilians bore the brunt of horrific abuses by both the government security forces and to a lesser extend the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that killed politicians and security personnel off the battle field. Though LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009, it was at a heavy price to civilians. United Nations estimates put civilian deaths during the final months of the civil war as high as 40,000. In the south from 1987 to 1989, the insurrections led by the Janatha Vimuktha Peramuna (JVP), attacked many government facilities and executed political opponents. On the other hand government security forces operated with impunity, forcibly disappearing and executing anyone deemed to be supporters of the separatists; these abuses during the conflict in the north were documented by local and international human rights groups and two United Nations inquires; while the serious abuses due to the JVP insurrections in the south received no attention.
On the promised transitional justice mechanisms, it took unity government over 18 months to formally create an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), as set out in the resolution and enacted by parliament. The gazette notification took place just as the Human Rights Council session got underway this week and a few weeks before Sri Lanka is to present an oral update on steps it has taken to carry out the resolution. Then on the subject of investigating Human Rights abuses, committed by both sides involved in the nearly three-decade-long civil war, there are well-documented allegations of laws-of-war violations, particularly during the final months of the war, which includes summary killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, torture, and sexual violence. Though the government agreed to report back periodically on the progress on its investigations and prosecutions related to these many crimes as adopted in the consensus resolution, to date no action has been taken on the matter. Repealing and replacing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), was a key undertakings in the resolution to make security sector reform, including replacing PTA with a new legislation that meets international standards. On this subject the government has to date floated various drafts that in some cases are worse than the existing law, which remains in effect without noteworthy progress. Sadly, on war crimes investigations have not got off the ground or even pace of release of political prisoners are not at all satisfactory, even though the legal profession is allowed to function without political interference under the unity government; nothing has occurred at the courts in the recent past to confirm if it is functioning any better. It is said that a purely domestic court procedure will simply not succeed in overcoming the widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises. Under these circumstances, at least foreign judges should be allowed in as observers to follow the proceedings, especially when war crimes related cases are investigated in local courts; as the preferred hybrid court system would be in conflict with the current system and would involves changing to the constitution. What is worse, the opposing mafia are doing so only reciprocating to their friends in powerful places to retain power; for they continue to benefit, even after 2015 when their friends were voted out by the people. Sadly, these people though in majority are scattered round the island and controlled or more correctly dictated to by these friends of the mafia in powerful places. Example of their combined effort was seen in the Bond Scam, the Highway Robbery, prefabricated houses, VW car factory, Methanol Distillery, the Goggle Balloon and so on a long list of devious dealings that have occurred in the post 2015 with a unity government in place. Under these circumstances, what is the hope for full implementation of the resolution, that these mafia stands to lose more than to gain anything. Bitter Truth is this Mafia has no borders, no ethnicity, no religion just united to keep the power to control the wealth of the nation for their own benefit.
For its part the UN has expressed concern on the slow progress to date in establishing the promised transitional justice mechanisms, as it is casting doubt on the government’s willingness to deliver this conflict-related justice; especially with the authorities continuing to detain people under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and government failing to initiate reforms to the security sector and criminal justice system, such as establishing accountability for police abuses or bringing criminal laws in line with international standards. Therefore the importance to inspire public confidence on this matter cannot be overstressed and cannot ignore its negative impact on the credibility of the government’s efforts to meet its obligations to provide promised new mechanisms. Sadly, the mafia have their friends in the Unity Government too; the leaders of the two main political parties in the government need to have a constant eye on this problem to get the governance sailing in the correct direction. Thanks to the active opposition some ministers have been released from discharging their duties and sent to the back benches, but there are still more cleaning to be done if good governance is to prevail in the country. Sooner the Unity Government leaders accept these realities the better, for it would benefit the country as a whole and in particular those communities marginalised by the war. It would also silence their opponents, who continue to bark from time to time, saying that the western nations are interfering into the affairs of a sovereign nation; for what is not known to the public is that pulling the strings of power is a coterie, propped up by opponents in parliament with a desire to regain power.
Why are the Sri Lankan officials delaying the implementation of UNHRC’s 2015 resolution on Sri Lanka? For just setting up various reconciliation offices and talking of progress is not the same as implementing the resolution. Perhaps, that is what the opponents of the government are aiming to achieve for their petty political gain, denying the poor communities marginalised by the war of their basic human rights. For a Dog’s Tail can never be straightened and if they understand the language of human rights; they should have by now put those words into action by helping the government. As Swami Vivekananda the Hindu saint said, sometimes it is better not to straighten the tail of a dog, instead to straighten our heart and head; the best route left for these officials to follow is to take necessary steps to fully implement the United Nations Human Rights Council’s October 2015 resolution; seek evidence that justice is being achieved. For sure, Sri Lankan failure to do so would result in UN imposing sanctions that would prevent countries funding Sri Lankan projects and many nations restricting imports from Sri Lanka. Therefore as Head of State, the President should be bold, detach himself from party politics to put the country ahead of his political party; to get his government to put forward a specific time-bound implementation plan to establish transitional justice mechanisms agreed and pledged in the resolution.