Government Gives Into Pressure, Agrees To Implement LLRC
- GL gives document to Clinton without Cabinet Consent Fonseka towing US line?
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has once again shown its duplicitous foreign policy by agreeing to US demands to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) while claiming otherwise before the people.
During External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris’ recent visit to Washington, the Rajapaksa administration gave a document to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlining the government’s approach towards implementing the LLRC recommendations.
The document was prepared by the Presidential Secretariat and handed over to Peiris to be presented to Clinton.
Interestingly, the document handed by Peiris to the US government official as the Rajapaksa government’s action plan on implementing the LLRC recommendations was kept a secret and not even shown to the Cabinet of Ministers.
Only a few senior government members have been privy to the contents of the document and even senior officials of the External Affairs Ministry were unaware of what was contained in the document.
It is for this reason that a senior External Affairs Ministry official told the media early last week that Peiris had not handed any document to the US government and that the LLRC Action Plan was still being prepared.
The government had kept the document under wraps amidst calls by the US government to publicize the action plan, making it clear that policies of the Rajapaksa government are finally decided by a handful of people.
The President and a few senior government members have decided to keep the document hidden due to several reasons.
The government while placating the US needs to save face before the people and most of all some of its coalition partners.
Once news of the document became known, the government attempted to make it out that it was not the LLRC Action Plan that was being prepared with input from the coalition partners of the government.
However, The Sunday Leader learns that the document handed by Peiris had outlined the LLRC recommendations with certain time frames.
For example, the releasing of details about the detainees the government has said would be done in about one month.
The Rajapaksa administration has also assured the US government that elections to the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils would be held this year.
It is learnt that the government has explained how and when it planned to initiate the implementation of the recommendations while not specifying the date of completion due to practical issues.
The Rajapaksa administration has said the LLRC recommendations that do not require legislative approval would be carried out through relevant state institutions without any delay.
The document has categorized the LLRC recommendations into four sections – National Policy, Final Phase of the Conflict, Human Rights and National Security Concerns, and Resettlement and Development.
Peiris has noted that Human Rights and National Security Concerns would be given priority by the government.
The Rajapaksa government has also stated that some of the recommendations made by the LLRC would also be taken up for discussion at the proposed parliamentary select committee to formulate a political solution to the ethnic issue.
Diplomatic sources however say that Peiris’ document only gave a general outline of the government’s plans and that action needed to be taken.
Meanwhile, the US government said it would continue to stand by the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka.
Spokesperson for the US State Department Victoria Nuland said last week, “We stand by the Human Rights Council decision, as we did at the time, and we continue to.”
US Raps SL
The Rajapaksa administration was however rapped in the US Country Reports on Human Rights for 2011 released at the US State Department on Thursday.
The report’s executive summary stated, “The government is dominated by the president’s family; two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts as defense secretary and minister of economic development, while a third brother is the speaker of parliament. A large number of other relatives, including the president’s son, also serve in important political or diplomatic positions.”
Starting off with this statement, the report stated that the major human rights problems were unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas, which led many to regard them as politically motivated.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the media at the release of the reports said that through these human rights reports the United States Government makes it clear to governments around the world that they are being watched.
“We are watching and we are holding you accountable,” she said adding that the US makes it clear to citizens and activists everywhere: “You are not alone. We are standing with you.”
She added, “We will defend their rights; not just on the day we issue these reports, but everyday.”
“But this is at the core of who we are. This is central to what we believe. And this is the work that will continue administration after administration, secretary after secretary, because of its centrality to our foreign policy and national security.”
The US government with the release of the 2011 country reports on human rights has re- iterated the emphasis the Barack Obama administration would pay to address issues of accountability and human rights.
President Obama has said, “History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people that govern by consent and not coercion are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.”
Fonseka and Human Rights
Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka plays a decisive role in the issue of accountability and human rights, especially during the final stages of the war.
It is this very reason that the Rajapaksa administration has through various means tried to keep him silent.
However, acting on local political compulsions and under pressure from the international community, President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week granted a conditional pardon to Fonseka.
The euphoria behind Fonseka’s release on Monday died down towards the latter part of the week mostly due to the realization that he would not be able to contest an election for a period of seven years since the President had only remitted his prison term.
A US resident, Fonseka’s case was taken up by the US government calling for his release after identifying him as a political prisoner.
Nevertheless, realizing the skeletons that may be hiding in Fonseka’s cupboard due to his alleged involvement in human rights violations during his tenure as the army chief, the US Report on Human Rights for 2011 states, “A number of human rights organizations accused Fonseka of being involved in a wide range of human rights abuses during the war, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and indiscriminate firing on civilians in the war zone.”
The US has justified its call for Fonseka’s release claiming he was a political prisoner and therefore had to be released.
Be that as it may, the US has however failed to fight for the rights of the remaining political prisoners and detainees with the same zeal.
Fonseka seems to be trying to keep his end of the bargain by advocating the safeguarding of human rights after his release.
In an interview with the BBC a day after his release, Fonseka said that Sri Lanka must cooperate with any international investigation into alleged war crimes.
He said that some Sri Lankan leaders were ‘hiding their faces’ over the conduct of the war, as if they were guilty.
But Fonseka, who led the army to its 2009 victory over Tamil rebels, denied thousands of civilians were killed.
Fonseka told the BBC that the attitude of some Sri Lankan leaders gave the world the impression that they were guilty of something.
But he said that he, and not the country’s political leaders, was in charge at the end of the war and that he would not be “scared to come before anybody” asking questions about the end of the war.
He rejected accusations that thousands of civilians were killed in the closing phase of the army’s offensive.
It should at this juncture be noted that Fonseka was in fact in China during the last few days of the war.
However, Fonseka’s comment to BBC last week was indicative of his train of thought where he expresses interest in going before the international community to lambast senior members of the current administration.
As to whether Fonseka would be granted immunity before an international tribunal in the event he is to testify about the finals stages of the war and how it was conducted, remains to be seen but diplomatic sources say that he could be granted immunity “if action could be taken against the bigger fish”.
Elections as Diversions
While carrying out the implementation of some recommendations in the LRRC report, the government has decided on holding elections as a diversionary tactic.
Apart from the elections to the Northern and Eastern Provinces as assured by the Sri Lankan government to the US, elections to the rest of the Provincial Councils are to be held on a staggered basis commencing this year.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is well known for getting the maximum out of the country’s electoral process.
When the last Provincial Council elections were held, the government targeted three key areas. The elections were held from 2008 till 2009 coinciding with the war in the North and East.
The first issue targeted by the government was to use the mandate received at the Provincial Council elections as a mandate to fight the war.
The next was to further de-stabilize the main opposition UNP by getting the party to exhaust its few remaining seniors by putting them forward to contest elections where the party was defeated. The electoral results would eventually push the party into a leadership crisis, which the UNP continues to be plagued by today.
The final issue focused on by the government was to teach the JVP a lesson by making the party suffer massive electoral defeats at the Provincial Council elections.
However, this time around the government’s main focus in holding the Provincial Council elections is as a diversionary tactic.
A senior government minister confirmed to The Sunday Leader that a decision has been reached to hold elections to the Provincial Councils of the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces this year.
The holding of Provincial Council elections would also have an impact on any new alliance in the making under Sarath Fonseka.
With each election that is held where Fonseka is likely to play a key role, the novelty of his political leadership and policies would also lose its appeal among the people.
“It has been decided to hold the Provincial Council elections from this year,” a senior minister said.
He explained that elections to the Provincial Councils of the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces would be held after dissolving the Councils once the case against the North Central Provincial Council election concludes.
The Rajapaksa government is looking at using the Provincial Council elections as a precursor to holding General Election around 2014. Ranil’s Proposal While the government is looking at checkmating the opposition political parties through a string of Provincial Council elections, the UNP has expressed support in the formation of the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) to solve the national question.
Opposition and UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe last week proposed an agenda to help form the PSC.
In a statement to parliament Wickremesinghe had offered to help form the PSC and called on the government to build an environment conducive for the opposition parties to participate in the committee.
He had pointed out that such an environment is possible on an agenda based on implementing the recommendations of the LLRC Report including a devolution package, implementing the 13th Amendment and further building on it to achieve meaningful devolution and considering the bilateral discussions between the 3-member committee of the government parliamentary group and the TNA.
He had stated that the parliamentary deliberations will be within this framework and a report will be submitted to the parliament.
According to Wickremesinghe, the JVP and the TNA have been informed of the proposal.
The JVP has so far said it would not participate in the PSC and has called for the government’s stance on the national question.
The TNA on the other hand remains resolute in its stance that the agenda of the PSC should be the agreement reached at a dialogue between the government and the TNA.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile has also assured the TNA that his party will support all decisions arrived at during the bilateral talks between the representatives of the government and the representatives of the TNA.
“The Government has not objected to what we proposed above – in order to create a suitable environment for the PSC,” he had stated and urged the Leader of the House to endorse his party’s agenda.