By Hand / In Person
7th October 2010
Chitta Ranjan de Silva Esquire, PC
The Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
24, Horton Place
Submissions to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
Thank you for the opportunity afforded to me today to make oral submissions before this Commission.
Importance and Scope of the Commission
The Commission meets at a time of historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to charter a new course and make a fresh beginning after decades of violent armed conflict between her peoples. The historic military victory achieved by the armed forces of Sri Lanka under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapakse, provides a unique and historic opportunity to heal the social wounds of the past and move forward through a process of ethnic reconciliation as a nation towards a common destiny of post war prosperity and progress.
The Commission mandate and inquiry is into matters of utmost importance to Sri Lanka. At the outset I would like to submit that this Commission does not as some have, as some have contented a particularly restrictive mandate. The mandate to make recommendations that promote national unity and reconciliation provides a very wide scope.
These submissions will focus not on some idealistic future, but that which is more realistic and possible given existing political dynamics and constraints on the government.
The Commission as the repository of trust of its appointing authority, the President, should be aware that it is in President’s own interest that this historic opportunity for a lasting and just peace is secured.
Here is what President Mahinda Rajapakse told the whole world at the United Nations 65th General Assembly sessions on 23rd September 2010.
“The entire focus of our nation, is now on building a lasting peace; healing wounds, ensuring economic prosperity and guaranteeing the rights of the whole nation to live in harmony. We are mindful that in order to fulfil these aspirations, economic development and political reconciliation must go hand in hand. Towards this end, constitutional changes which appropriately reflect aspirations of our people will be evolved with the full participation of all stakeholders ….. Sri Lanka recognises the challenges we face, among the greatest of which is healing the wounds of the recent past. To this end, earlier this year, a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has been established, giving full expression to the principles of accountability”.
Background and Context
Sri Lanka’s recent history of the past three decades has been violent and conflict ridden. Three decades of violent conflict has resulted in a deeply divided and polarised society. We may have united the nation geographically but remain polarised ethno socially.
In response to a simplistic and blanket denial of the alienation of the Tamil people from the Sri Lankan State, the response should be to look at the public security assessment and measures. It is not possible to simultaneously argue the need to maintain emergency law, war time levels of defence expenditure, troop deployment at war time levels and a network of security installations in the North, not found anywhere else in the country and still maintain that the Tamil people are not alienated from the Sri Lankan State.
While a military campaign has successfully united a divided land, what is now required is a heart and minds campaign, a reconciliation process that seeks to unite a divided people.
Mahinda Chintanaya Measures
Attention of the Commission is drawn to the excellent measures mentioned in the Mahinda Chintanaya (Idiri Dekma) of 2010. The Chintanaya was proposed by the President, mandated by the people and most importantly perhaps, deemed politically viable and possible by the current administration. The President has only strengthened politically since his re-election in January 2010 and there is no cause for not implementing the Chintanaya.
(i) Page 54 of the Chintanaya states “I will re-establish the Northern Provincial Council under the 13th amendment with immediate effect. (10 months after the Presidential election is not immediate by any definition).
(ii) Page 58 of the Chintanaya states “The All Party Conference continued simultaneously and through its Representative Committee critical political issues were subject to open discussion. Rather than imposing a solution from above, I have sought to arrive at a solution through discussion and dialogue with political parties, civil society organisations and the people themselves”. (Accordingly the report of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), chaired by the Hon. Prof.Tissa Vitharana should be made public and its recommendations implemented).
(iii) Page 61 of the Chintanaya states “Given the security risks the high security zones will be gradually phased out” (However even one year and four months after the end of the war since May 2009, the artillery range protection extent of the Jaffna High Security zone remains, though no conceivable threat of artillery attacks exists).
(iv) Page 63 of the Chintanaya states “Each family that is resettled will be provided with Rs.50,000 to construct temporary shelter and additional building materials worth Rs.50,000. On a long term basis, Rs.325,000 will be provided to each family to reconstruct houses destroyed in the war. (However as this Commission is aware from its findings through sittings in the Wanni, no such monies have been made available).
I would respectfully submit to this Commission that it is in the President’s interest as well as that of all Sri Lankans that the excellent recommendations mentioned above in the Chintanaya be implemented forthwith.
The immediate, short term measures
The immediate short term measures that are required are the humanitarian needs of the conflict affected people of the North and East. Generally what has occurred in the North has been release from the Manik Farm complex in Setticulam rather than a well resourced and planned resettlement in localities of original habitation. Significant additional resources (governmental, philanthropic, private and foreign) have to be devoted towards rebuilding dwellings, rural infrastructure geared towards livelihoods and community services especially health care and education. Also the people have suffered loss of property and persons. There is a need to document the same and prepare a scheme of compensation that can bring closure and assist in families moving on with their lives. Some of the immediate short term measures that can be recommended are;
(i) The establishment of mechanisms similar to the Manouri Muttetuwegama Commission established by the PA government in 1994, to document the missing from the JVP conflict of 1988/89, issue death certificates and devise a scheme of compensation. This is within the mandate of this Commission, but need to extend beyond the period of submission of the final report.
(ii) A second phase of the World Bank funded North East Housing Rehabilitation Project and other reconstruction projects such as NERP and NEIRP to reconstruct the war affect provinces.
(iii) To facilitate the private and voluntary sector in providing services to the conflict affected returned IDP’s on a scale similar to the post Tsunami disaster period.
The medium term measures at reconciliation
The medium term approach in the North as well as in the East has to be geared towards winning the hearts and minds of the people of the North and East. This is through engaging with the political and civil leadership of the Tamil and indeed the Muslim communities and making these communities genuine stakeholders in the new post war Sri Lanka and partners in the progress processes in the Northern and Eastern provinces and nationally. Some medium term measures that can be recommended are;
(i) Hold the Northern Provincial Council election and recognize the Chief Minister so elected and the Council and make them partners and stake holders in the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the North. The frustrations experienced by the elected (Tamil) Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, in relation to the unelected (Sinhala) retired Military Officers appointed as Governors should not be allowed to be repeated in the North (and indeed resolved in the East).
(ii) Implement the 13th Amendment, which is implemented everywhere else in the country, in the Northern Province as well.
(iii) Consider a roll back of the Jaffna High Security (HSZ) zones, located in prime hereditary private property at least from the extreme artillery range extents imposed when the LTTE artillery threat existed, to the normal parameters used in other HSZs elsewhere in the country.
(iv) Withdraw the emergency regulations and laws, (which indeed were allowed to lapse even during the CFA period and this is no ceasefire but post war victory). If not Sri Lanka will have the dubious distinction of being the only “peaceful” country governed under emergency laws and the suspension of or enjoyment of civil liberties only at executive pleasure.
(v) Commence a dialogue and a process of consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as the democratically elected and numerically dominant representative of the Tamil people.
The long term measures at an inclusive Sri Lankan State
Long term measures should be considered that makes Sri Lankan society more tolerant of its inherent pluralism and the Sri Lankan State more reflective of its rich diversity. It was LTTE murder victim and former TULF parliamentarian the late Neelan Tiruchelvam who articulated the anomaly of “imposing a (near) mono ethnic State on a multi ethnic polity”. Some measures that may be implemented in this regard are;
(i) Continue with the education and public administration reforms to ensure that Sri Lanka’s future generations and public service become multi lingual (as indeed has President Mahinda Rajapakse, to set the example).
(ii) Recruit more ethnic minorities, especially Tamils into the public service and security services, especially for deployment in the North and East.
(iii) Strengthen individual human rights and fundamental and democratic personal freedoms, by acceding to Sri Lanka’s international treaties and obligations through the passing of enabling domestic legislation.
The above measures while certainly not exhaustive are worth considering in Sri Lanka’s post war reconciliation and nation building process and respectfully submitted to the Commission.
Mr.Chairman, I thank you.
Harim W. Peiris
CC. The Honourable Members of the Commission
1. Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera Esquire, PC
2. Prof. Mohamed Thahir Mohamed Jiffry Esq
3. Prof. Karunaratna Hangawatta Esq
4. Chandirapal Chanmugam Esq
5. Hewa Mathara Gamage Siripala Palihakkara Esq
6. Mrs. Manohari Ramanathan
7. Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama Esq
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