Govt. Forced To Rethink Relations With India
- JVP launches new movement while Govt. tries to get its act together
- Indo-US relations continue to grow
Neighboring India will once again become a key player in monitoring Sri Lanka’s post war progress among the international community come November, forcing the Sri Lankan government to now think twice about its recent actions towards India.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government, although weary of Indian support in facing issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation in post war Sri Lanka in front of the international community, is also hopeful that it could play on the sentiments of historical relations to get Indian support.
The appointment of India, Benin and Spain as a troika to review Sri Lanka during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled for November by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week, has made the government gear up for another round of building relations with the international community.
The three countries appointed to review Sri Lanka’s UPR voted in support of the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions this March.
The government is currently in the process of preparing its report to be sent for the UPR this November. A committee headed by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is preparing the report while monitoring the implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan. The deadline for the report to be sent to the UNHRC in Geneva is July 23rd. The government is particularly concerned about India being among the countries to review Sri Lanka. India was chosen as a country to review Sri Lanka’s UPR after drawing lots.
Whether it was good luck or bad luck that got India chosen as a member of the troika would only be known in November.
Soon after the appointment of the troika was known, senior government members had mixed reactions. Several senior government ministers noted that the government would now have to work towards building its relations with India rather than trying to antagonize the neighbor.
The government has on two occasions acted against India since the conclusion of the UNHRC sessions in March.
The government first voted against the Indian candidate at the election for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and then Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge last month criticized India’s role during Sri Lanka’s conflict.
India for its part has always noted the Sri Lankan government’s actions and considered them at decisive moments.
Given the recent actions of the government, it would be wise for the Rajapaksa government to realize that blame would squarely fall upon itself, if India takes any firm action in relation to Sri Lanka.
The government has still failed to realize that India’s vote in support of the Resolution in Geneva in March was a culmination of a series of developments.
However, the Rajapaksa government is aware of the difficulties it would have to face at the UPR in November in the presence of India. The government knows very well that India would be difficult to convince with just any explanation since New Delhi has a good assessment of Sri Lanka and its developments.
Since the UNHRC Resolution in March, the government has been unable to make any convincing progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the reconciliation process. All what the Rajapaksa government has managed to inform the diplomatic community is of a plan on formulating an Action Plan on the LLRC.
The government has extensively explained its planned Action Plan and how it would be formulated without any concrete steps being taken in the actual implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
However, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris on May 18th presented a document to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that provided a general outline of what the government intended to do with the LLRC recommendations.
The action has been seen as yet another time buying exercise by the government and an action similar to how the government has engaged with New Delhi. The Indians are unaware of the contents of the document handed to Clinton on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
US-Indian relations would also play a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s position in the international community, especially during the UPR. US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta is to visit New Delhi this week from Vietnam.
Panetta is on a weeklong tour in Asia, which commenced in Singapore. A senior US defence official has said US-India defence ties are extremely important in a whole host of ways.
“Strategically, we see India as a partner with whom we have a lot of common interests and a lot of areas where we can work well together,” the official said. Panetta is to also discuss with India the long-term trends in South Asia and the rest of the region.
“We’re trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual,” the official had said. Interestingly, Panetta’s visit comes just a month after Secretary Clinton’s visit to India. The two visits indicate the development of relations between the US and India.
The Rajapaksa government would also need to realize that most of the US and Indian interest in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process are similar and most actions related to Sri Lanka would be taken through a consultation process. Since the UNHRC sessions in March, any high level official from the Rajapaksa government is yet to make an official visit to India although Indian officials including a parliamentary delegation have visited the country. Several Indian government ministers are to also visit Sri Lanka in the next few months. Given the growing Indo-US ties, the Rajapaksa government would have to think twice before trying to push away neighboring India when Sri Lanka is on the agenda of the international community.
Interest in the North
Several members of the international community have expressed concerns over the military presence in the North ahead of Sri Lanka’s UPR.
The call to demilitarize the North was first made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris’ visit to Washington last month. While Clinton made the request on May 18, President Rajapaksa the following day, May 19, said during his Victory Day speech that the government would not remove the military camps in the North.
After hearing Rajapaksa’s comments, members of the international community have begun to express concerns over the military presence in the North.
UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka John Rankin made a controversial statement with regard to the military presence in the North and East, which was viewed by the Sri Lankan government as disputing the President’s statement. Rankin was summoned by Peiris and informed of the government’s concerns and displeasure over his comments.
However, the Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, has informed Australian High Commissioner Robyn Mudie that the military was gradually reducing its presence in Jaffna. Hathurusinghe had made this comment during Mudie’s visit to the North last week. Mudie was informed that the police are replacing the security forces since a civil administration has been established in Jaffna. Hathurusinghe had also said that the military had returned most of the houses and lands occupied by them in Jaffna.
Meanwhile, members of the government had also extended an invitation to a group of Conservative members of the British parliament to visit the country’s North and observe firsthand the post war development taking place in the region.
The invitation had been extended to the British parliamentarians including Dr. Liam Fox during a meeting they had with UPFA parliamentarian Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha and Presidential Advisor Arun Tambimuttu.
Tambimuttu last week told the media that the British parliamentarians would visit Jaffna to witness the current situation in the North. He had noted that the British MPs have responded positively to the invitation extended to them.
British parliamentarians David Amess, Guto Bebb, Nick de Bois, Alun Cairns, Alan Duncan, Sheryll Murray, Richard Ottaway, Andrew Turner and James Wharton have been invited to visit the North.
The international community’s renewed interest in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process was manifested in the adoption of the Resolution on Sri Lanka calling for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
The government is yet to comprehend that the country is now officially on the agenda of the international community with the adoption of the Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC sessions. Therefore, the Rajapaksa administration would not be able to limit the implementation of the LLRC recommendations to a document that was given to Secretary Clinton by Peiris last month.
UPFA undecided on LLRC
The government however has not made any clear official comment on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation.
Albeit making claims of the government’s commitment to implement the LLRC recommendations, the governing UPFA is yet undecided on its official stance on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation.
The President in April this year called on the coalition parties to submit their stances on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation. The deadline to submit the reports was stated as April 28th. However, even by June, the key coalition party of the UPFA, the SLFP, is yet to submit its report.
The SLFP Central Committee last week appointed a committee comprising Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, G.L. Peiris and Basil Rajapaksa and President’s Counsel Saliya Mathew to prepare the report on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. The committee is to prepare the report and submit it to the Central Committee for approval before forwarding it to the government.
The time frame to prepare the report is yet unknown since Minister Basil Rajapaksa is currently overseas and expected back in the country in a week’s time. Another coalition partner of the government, the JHU, had last week submitted its stance on the LLRC recommendations to the Presidential Secretariat.
The party has however decided to remain quiet about its observations until the President returns to the country. The JHU is scheduled to hold a press conference between the 9th and 13th of this month, when the President would be in the country, to publicize the party’s observations on the LLRC recommendations.
The JHU in its report has made a significant observation with regard to the National Anthem. The JHU has stated that the National Anthem should also be sung in Tamil. The party has explained that singing the National Anthem in Tamil would help members of the Tamil community understand better the meaning of the anthem and build a positive feeling towards the country. The party has also observed that the LLRC has overstepped its mandate in discussing the devolution of power since the Commission was to look into the period between the signing of the CFA in 2002 and the end of the war in May 2009.
As for devolution, the JHU while maintaining there was no ethnic issue in the country has stated that it did not accept the devolution of power to the large Provincial Councils, but recommended devolution of power to the grassroots.
The opposition parties have so far failed to put pressure on the government to implement the LLRC recommendatiuons or to demand that the government reveals the undertakings by Peiris during his visit to the US last month.
Peiris during his meeting with Clinton handed over a document outlining the government’s approach towards implementing the LLRC recommendations prepared by the Presidential Secretariat. However, only a few members of the government know the contents the document and even the Cabinet of Ministers is unaware of the document. Members of the government have expressed displeasure at being kept in the dark about the document handed over to the US government. The commitments by the government to the US government therefore is not yet known by a majority of the ministers.
Be that as it may, the failure by the opposition political parties to demand that the document is publicized, although disappointing, is not shocking.
The main opposition UNP led by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is engaged in playing the role of negotiator between the government and the TNA to get both parties back to the negotiating table and to commence the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) on formulating a political solution to the national question. Wickremesinghe is the mediator between President Rajapaksa and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan.
Nevertheless, the process is currently at a standstill with the government calling on all parties to participate in the PSC to discuss a political settlement while the TNA maintains it will participate in the PSC only after reaching a consensus with the government on the solution at a dialogue between the two parties. However, it was UNP Communications Division Head, parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera who made the best observation on the current situation in the country. He said the UNP is yet to get the support of the people disgruntled with the current government. He said there were a large number of people in the country who are displeased with the government since it has failed to deliver. “While a lot of people are not happy to vote for the government at an election, they are not confident to vote for the UNP as well,” Samaraweera noted.
New JVP Movement
Meanwhile, the JVP last week launched the Anti-Imperialist People’s Movement in a bid to build the party’s momentum.
The Movement was launched at an event held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) with the participation of 20 civil society movements, trade unions and intellectual organizations.
The JVP has decided to launch this movement after analyzing the current situation in the country where the government’s duplicitous foreign policies have put the country in a difficult situation.
The Movement is to commence an aggressive campaign to expose the government’s failures in dealing with the international community, lack of a proper foreign policy and the adverse impact on the country as a result. Head of the National Bhikku Front, Ven. Dambara Amila Thero and JVP politburo member K. D. Lalkantha have been appointed Co-conveners of the Movement.
The JVP while carrying out an intense 45-day campaign in the districts to reinforce its strength at grassroots level is to back the new Movement as the party’s path towards the next few years.