Political Will Is Necessary To Face Geneva Challenge

By Jehan Perera

There is no reason to hurry to hold elections when both the Presidency and Parliament have two more years remaining of their terms of office. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa has asked his party members to be ready for elections in the New Year. Although he did not say which election would take place, a presidential election is the more likely. The President remains the ruling party’s greatest single asset. He is honoured by a large majority of the country’s people as the leader who freed them from the bondage of war and terrorism. Together with his charisma, this adds up to an unbeatable combination. The failures of governance continue to pale in comparison to this achievement in the minds of the voting population.

The opposition has yet to produce an alternative to rival the President.
The presidential desire to hold early elections may be attributed to increased international pressure on the government to deliver on the two UN Human Rights Council resolutions passed in the previous two years. It appears that Sri Lanka is becoming a test case with regard to the will of the international community to give teeth to the UN Human Rights Council. Media reports indicate that the United States will send its newly appointed Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal to Sri Lanka next month to review the progress of implementing measures outlined in the previous resolution on Sri Lanka ahead of the UNHRC session in March.

International Investigation

Indications of the government’s thinking are that a fresh presidential mandate can deflect the international challenge of direct international intervention in the country’s internal affairs. This is the threat that arose during Commonwealth Summit when British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would use his country’s position on the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that an international investigation into alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka would take place unless the Sri Lankan government itself came up with a credible investigation process. However, the short time frame before the next UNHRC session in Geneva makes it necessary for the government to take some concrete actions within the next three months.

What is most needed at this time is evidence of such concrete actions taken in respect of the two UNHRC previous resolutions. Indeed the visiting US official will be coming to Sri Lanka for the purpose of ascertaining the progress the government has made in terms of implementing these resolutions. Those resolutions called for the government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and also to establish a special mechanism to investigate the issue of human rights violations in the last phase of the war. Before it goes before the UNHRC next March, the government needs to show concrete progress on both these matters.

The government’s strategy to deal with this challenge is to send its top civil servant and presidential secretary, Lalith Weeratunge, to Geneva in advance of the UNHRC sessions to lobby with the representatives of countries that are members of the UNHRC. He will be able to show documentation of successes in achieving targets in respect of resettlement of displaced persons, rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres and rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by war. But the weakness of the government’s response will be in terms of the rejection of its efforts by the TNA, which represents the bulk of the war-affected people.

The implementation of LLRC recommendations is a priority for the government in view of the approaching March 2014 Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. Among the preparations that have got under way for the UNHRC sessions are moves to implement more recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. One such widely publicised measure is to conduct a census on deaths and injuries to persons and property damages due to the “conflict in the past more than 30 years.” It is being carried out jointly by the Ministry of Public Administration and the Department of Census and Statistics. A statement from them said, “It is essential to ensure that while all the families/persons directly or indirectly affected by the conflict are counted, they are not counted twice.”

Census and Statistics

The Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics, is reported to have said that in respect of families of those who were killed or reported missing during the final stages of the separatist war in May 2009, “evidence forwarded by third parties or relatives will not be accepted. Any information would have to come from the immediate family members.” He is also reported to have said, “We know that Prabhakaran and his family have been killed, but will not include that in the census as none of his family members is here to give the information.” Not surprisingly, in these circumstances, the TNA has protested against the census that is being conducted by the government. The problem is that the government has used a method of collecting data that is not accepted by the TNA and does not seem to be comprehensive to an objective outsider.

A further weakness of the government’s response to the UNHRC is that its implementation of the LLRC recommendations in respect of larger policy issues is virtually non-existent. So far the government has not dealt with issues relating to the greater devolution of power and securing the independence of the judiciary, public service and police, and strengthening the investigations into the past that flow from these. The Chief Minister of the newly elected Northern Provincial Council and his councilors are unanimous in objecting to the role of the presidentially appointed Governor who wields more effective power than they do. The national anthem continues to be sung in Sinhala only, and not in both Sinhala and Tamil as recommended by the LLRC, and there is no day set aside to commemorate all who died due to the conflict.

It is also most absurd but true that hardly anyone in Sri Lanka, and this includes the intelligentsia of the country, knows anything about the LLRC and its recommendations. This is borne out by workshop after workshop that I have attended in different parts of the country and at all levels of society, including Rotary Clubs in Colombo. This document remains confined to the website of the Presidential Secretariat. The government has not printed and distributed this bulky document to the people. Only a handful of NGOs have printed summaries and easy to read commentaries, which shows what can be done by the government on a much larger scale if it has the political will to do so.

In these circumstances it is difficult to see what positive development will come out of the diplomacy of the presidential secretary’s planned visit to Geneva. It is also difficult to see how a fresh mandate given to the President after the Geneva sessions in March will get the government off the international hook. In the absence of concrete changes prior to the next meeting of the UNHRC, an international resolution against the government appears increasingly unavoidable. The government has the charismatic leadership, the executive power and legislative super-majority in Parliament to do the needful, but it still does not appear to have the political will to do what needs to be done.

8 Comments for “Political Will Is Necessary To Face Geneva Challenge”

  1. Saro

    Jehan Perera is shouting to the ears of a proverbial deaf mule.

    • Malin

      SL govt has committed genocide are trying to hide under this ‘false development’ rubbish and lying to the world about it. The SL army and govt must be taken to the international court for crimes committed during the last stages of the war.

    • David Janz


  2. I have been watching and reading your recent articles relating to the Post War Sri Lankan Political progress in Sri Lanka and the Challenge the country is going to face in Geneva this time . I totally agree to your points as they all reflect the facts
    currently prevailing in Sri Lanka , especially matters relating to Tamil issues.

  3. Lion

    The Sunday Leader has deteriorated beyond belief. Shame on you all.

  4. S. Makenthiran

    Mervyn Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and other clowns should be advised to keep their mouths shut when Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal comes to Sri Lanka. She is an attractive married lady with a child, and people of the caliber of Mervyn Silva should not propose maariage to her. The latter proposed marriagt to 70 years old Navin Pillai when she visited Sri Lanka, and so no repeat performance should be allowed.

  5. It is time, GOSL take initiative in getting at least some done,before March 2014. Prolonging this will not benefit anybody.

    We stand accused by UNHRC & many countries feel we should have done more.

    I am also concerned if HE PRESIDENT gets the right advice, and series of actions that will produce results. Some of the advisors are sometimes dwinling in the past or agree with India & have become a mouthpeice of India.

    Another area GOSL should tap is the EXPAT community who still beleives in our country. Those expats are full of ideas, that can be useful in formulating a policy to counter demands made by UNHRC & most western powers.

    This is just an opinion, others can too address this issue if they have something to offer……..J

  6. mahendra

    Yes, it is the true picture of the present situation here. All should be together in a situation like this. All parties should meet and evolve a national strategy to face this situation.

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