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APRC final report yet to see the light of day By Namini Wijedasa

2013 Aug 01

Packed neatly into three cardboard boxes in United National Party Parliamentarian Ramiah Yogarajan’s office are 4,000 pages of printed booklets, meticulously compiled by Hansard reporters.  They are records of the Rajapaksa Government’s most comprehensive attempt at producing a “home-grown” political solution to years of ethnic strife: the All Party Representatives Conference (APRC).
Mr. Yogarajan, who was a member of the APRC, recently fished the documents out of their boxes, dusted them off and read through them. He was looking for something he had said at one of the meetings.

“During discussions on one day, somebody said that if Velupillai Prabhakaran is eliminated, all the problems will be solved,” he recounted last week. “Even the head of the APRC, Prof Tissa Vitharana, agreed. But I said, no. I said that from the day after Prabhakaran is killed, we will not be sitting here discussing these issues anymore.”

“This was proved right,” he said. “On 19 May 2009, they ended the war. On 30 June 2009, they closed up the Peace Secretariat and told us to leave.”

This month, the Government invited the public to make representations to a new Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) set up to “recommend and report on political and constitutional measures to empower the people of Sri Lanka to live as one nation”. It is the second PSC to be appointed on the ethnic conflict, the first one having been constituted in October 2011. Mr. Yogarajan points out that both committees have similar terms of reference—therefore, yet another reinvention of the wheel.

Besides, the APRC had already thrashed out so many of the most contentious issues. The final report, however, was never released by the President and will not form the basis for any discussions despite the effort and hours spent formulating it. Four years since the war ended, the Government is yet to propose a negotiated political solution but there has been no shortfall of committees.

The APRC itself arose from the All Party Conference (APC) which was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier in 2006. The APRC comprised representatives of all political parties that were members of the APC and was tasked with formulating a draft proposal for constitutional reform.

The President mandated the APRC to evolve a “home-grown new Constitution” which will provide “a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question”. Between July 2006 and June 2009, the group held 128 sessions. Sometimes, they met every week, with each round lasting several hours.

The Tamil National Alliance was not invited because the President felt there must first be a Southern consensus. The UNP left the process midway saying it prefers that the Government produces a draft agreement on which it could base further discussions.
Other parties also fell off towards the end—including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna. But in order to safeguard the authenticity and integrity of the final report, the remaining members did not change anything they had already agreed to, before their departure.

The APRC started talks based on two reports produced by a group of experts that had been appointed by President Rajapaksa to inform the process. These were called the Majority Report (signed by a majority of experts) and the Minority Report (signed by a minority of members).

“Every discussion was recorded and Hansard reporters from Parliament prepared verbatim accounts for us,” said Mr. Yogarajan. “We met at the BMICH annexe which belonged to the Peace Secretariat. All facilities were provided for us there. Totally, about 500 hours were spent. There were altogether 16 political parties initially.”

Heated debates took place behind closed doors as parties with different positions struggled to find common ground. The committee went on two foreign visits, one to New Delhi (sponsored by the Indian Government) and one to London (sponsored by the United Kingdom Government).

In January 2008, the APRC was called up on to produce an interim report even before the final one was out. “We got a request from the President,” said Nizam Kariapper, who represented the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress at the APRC. “He says, ‘Let’s not wait till the final report. Give me an interim report which I can implement immediately without recourse to any Constitutional amendment’.”
The Government was engaged in a military campaign against the LTTE and the President was being called upon to prove his commitment to a negotiated political solution. “The APRC worked tirelessly, holding special meetings,” said Mr. Kariapper.

A ten-page document emerged. It was watered down to two pages that advised the Government to implement the 13th Amendment to the extent possible. The report was signed by the JHU, MEP and SLFP, all of whom now say they oppose the 13th Amendment.
An elaborate ceremony was held to release the interim report. “The Peace Secretariat released a souvenir book,” recalled Mr. Kariapper. “A photo of Prof Vitharana handing the report over to the President was blown up on its cover. It was in the international media. Copies were sent to the diplomats and what not.”

It was after the release of this interim document that Provincial Council elections were held in the East. The final report of the APRC did not receive such treatment. It was presented to the President in August 2009 and with him it remained. It was only in July 2010 that Yogarajan and Kariapper compiled and released the proposal of the APRC and distributed it in Parliament.

The Government is now engaged in yet another effort to produce a “home-grown” solution to the power-sharing problems Sri Lanka faces.

Once again, President Rajapaksa has declared that he will implement whatever emerges from this latest deliberation—even if it is against his personal views—provided the people support it.  Nevertheless, the current group is on a weaker footing than any other group set up by President Rajapaksa to debate a political solution because it comprises only ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) members.

In his inaugural speech delivered in November 2005, the President pledged to “replace the hitherto held bilateral approach to peace with a multi-party approach”. What is happening now is a dramatic departure from this position.

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