News & Updates
Both news media and general public can find important information
about updates, alerts and events that impact human rights in Sri Lanka

Problem Is Not With The Messenger

2013 Sep 09

By Dr Jehan Perera

She is highly educated with a refined intellect and a former judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa. When I met her, along with a small group of civil society activists, she did not come across as arrogant or one to hold grudges, but sober and thoughtful. However, the visiting UN High Comissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay has come under scathing criticism from sections within the government.

They have accused her of bias due, in part, to her Tamil ethnicity, and of having an anti-Sri Lanka agenda. They have also said that the government has shown its good faith by inviting her to visit Sri Lanka. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva perhaps expressed the divergent sentiments regarding Ms Pillay’s visit best.

Speaking to the media Minister Silva said, “Her arrival in Sri Lanka is a victory. The international community will no longer be able to level false and preposterous allegations against us on the international level. At the same time, we believe that given the present situation in Sri Lanka, she will be able to see a far different picture to what is painted by our opponents. If she fails to see this, then she is looking at Sri Lanka through a different set of glasses. There is a mandate for Navi Pillay. And that mandate only allows her to come here and inspect. She has no right to give orders to the government. Neither will the government accept orders given by such a person.”

LLRC is the blue print the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay is bound to take make findings that are relevant to the resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2012 and again in March 2013. Ms Pillay is required to present an oral update on the implementation of the two resolutions to the UNHRC when it meets for its next session in October. She is also required to submit a comprehensive report on this matter in March 2014.

Both UN resolutions took the position that alleged violations of international humanitarian laws (war crimes), and other human rights laws during the period of the war, needed to be investigated by the government. But beyond that, both resolutions called on the government to implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC, which include measures to ensure national reconciliation in the future through practices of good governance, poverty alleviation and economic development.

The LLRC report contains the blue print and, possibly, the best ever thinking produced by a government-mandated group of experts on how to unite the country and its people, and to become a modern democratic state that is able to hold its own in any international forum on the issues of good governance and human rights.

The members of the LLRC were handpicked by the President who has years and years of experience with those who have run the governmental system of the country in the past. Therefore, it has to be the case that what the LLRC commissioners recommended in their report would be in the best interests of the country.
The visit of Ms Pillay is to find out to what extent the government is implementing its recommendations.

The government has pointed with rightful pride to the economic development that has taken place in the former war zones of the North and East, the very high proportion of internally displaced people who have been resettled, and the former LTTE cadres who have gone back to their homes after undergoing rehabilitation.

Language committees are being set up in all parts of the country, where the two official languages are being taught to those who wish to learn, and government officials in particular are being encouraged to undergo language training. More recently, the government has set up a new ministry of Internal Law and Order under which the police is vested, and has set up a commission to look into the fate of missing persons. These are all in accordance with the LLRC recommendations it has promised to implement.

Ignorance or poor accessibility

On the other hand, my experience when participating in civil society-led discussions on the LLRC with different groups of people shows that there is abysmal ignorance on the part of the general population, and even of government officials regarding the LLRC, its findings and its recommendations. The original English language report comprises 388 pages. There are now lengthier Sinhala and Tamil versions in translation. But they are not accessible in printed form or even in summary form.

They are only accessible on the internet, to which relatively few in Sri Lankans have access. There is no government programme to popularize the LLRC, its findings and its recommendations. The essence of democracy is people’s participation, so that people both know and take part in implementing what is in the national interest alongside the government. But most government officials know next to nothing about the LLRC.

During her visit, Ms Pillay said that she had come to Sri Lanka with an interest to look at the present situation in the country and to meet its people, rather than to dig into the past. She said that this was in accordance with the wishes of the government.

If the government is serious about implementing the LLRC, as it has said it is, there is nothing to fear from Ms Pillay’s visit.  No country is perfect; all countries have flaws in their democracy, in their systems of justice and in the gaps between those who have and those who have not.

What is important is the sincere effort a government makes to improve the lives of all people, the ‘Well Being of All’ or ‘Sarvodaya’, as Mahatma Gandhi (who had his tutelage in South Africa, the birthplace of Ms Pillay) coined the term for what he intended society to be.

Search News & Updates