Practical steps to meaningful reconciliation

17th February 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Several valuable recommendations are contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) Report and they are all the more compelling because they have issued from a Presidential Commission. In pursuance of this, we the undersigned call upon the government of Sri Lanka, in consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leadership of the Muslims, to take steps to implement the recommendations. In this statement we have highlighted certain important recommendations. The government is morally bound to implement the proposals of its own commission or otherwise stand indicted of a lack of sincerity.

A lasting solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be reached only if power, including police powers, land use and allocation, and fiscal and budgetary authority is devolved to the Provincial Councils in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka; but the government is stalling. In the context of this statement we refer in particular to the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The governance of the Northern Province should be handed over forthwith to democratically elected representatives of the people. We also state that without restoration and empowerment of the civil administration, effective demilitarisation, resettlement of Tamil and Muslim displaced persons, disbanding paramilitary forces, releasing illegally detained persons and rejuvenating the local economy, all talk of reconciliation is a deception.

There have been a number of proposals which if implemented would have gone some way towards ameliorating the conflict; the Mangala Moonesinge Report, President Kumaratunga’s proposals in the 1990s, the draft constitution of 2000, and the Majority Report of the Experts Committee advising the APRC. Now a set of recommendations has been made by the President’s LLRC appointees. Notwithstanding our criticisms of the LLRC in the Concluding Note below we are of the opinion that if the government implements the most important of its Recommendations, progress can be made towards reconciliation of the communities.

Demilitarisation
The ubiquitous presence of and pressure exerted by the armed forces in the Northern and Eastern Province engenders grave and direct fear among the people and inhibits social life. Militarization and armed paramilitary groups are the root cause of harassment and are associated with abduction and other unlawful acts. The spread of military tentacles into reconstruction projects is alarming and military sponsored expansion into small and medium business undertakings are taking precedence and steamrolling the local community out of the neighbourhood economy. Commitment to the concept of the primacy of civilian democracy over military power makes it imperative that the LLRC recommendations quoted below be implemented forthwith and in full. This needs the approval of no Parliamentary Select Committee or endorsement by the TNA. There is no justification for procrastination.

“The Commission, as a policy, strongly advocates and recommends to the Government that the Security Forces should disengage itself from all civil administration related activities as rapidly as possible” – (9.134).

“It is important that the Northern Province reverts to civilian administration in matters relating to the day-to-day life of the people, and in particular with regard to matters pertaining to economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries land etc. The military presence must progressively recede to the background to enable the people to return to normal civilian life and enjoy the benefits of peace” – (9.227)

The importance of demilitarisation extends beyond the North-East. There is alarm in the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in other parts of the country about mounting military involvement in civilian life such as state corporations and businesses, construction and urban development, provincial governorships and the diplomatic service. Demilitarisation of civilian and economic life is the common demand of people of all communities. The peril of military involvement in financial matters and sinecures of prestige has been well learnt in recent years from the Burmese, Egyptian and Syrian examples to name but three.

High Security Zones, paramilitaries and child soldiers
The LLRC Report deals with High Security Zones (HSZs) in paragraph 9.142 and recommends a review for the purpose of releasing more land to the public. We call for the immediate dismantling of all HS zones which serve no rightful purpose. All occupied land must be returned to rightful owners. The Report refers to illegal armed groups in paragraph 9.73 and to the alleged crimes of the EPDP in paragraph 9.208, but only calls for further investigation in both matters. We fail to see why paramilitaries and armed goons are allowed free reign in the Tamil areas at all. It is the duty of the state to disband these unlawful groups forthwith; the state needs no LLRC recommendation to carry out its bounden obligations. We support the recommendation that past activities of these gangs be investigated with a view to prosecution where warranted.

We support the recommendations in the report (9.77 to 9.80) regarding rehabilitation, return to families and provision of employment opportunities for former child soldiers. The recommendations in respect of tracing families or tracing child soldiers (9.81) are also commendable and need to be acted on. These are completely non-controversial matters, but it is regrettable that the government has commenced no action. There is no reason whatsoever for delay.

Unlawful detention
In ten paragraphs in a separate subsection titled “Treatment of Detainees” the Report deals with several aspects of lawful and unlawful detention and the treatment of detainees. The following passages are of particular note.

“However, the Commission expresses concern over some detainees who have been incarcerated over a long period of time without charges being preferred. The Commission stresses again that conclusive action should be taken to dispose of these cases by bringing charges or releasing them where there is no evidence of any criminal offence having being committed” – (9.70).

All places of detention should be those, which are formally designated as authorized places of detention and no person should be detained in any place other than such authorized places of detention. Strict legal provisions should be followed by the law enforcement authorities in taking persons into custody, such as issuing of a formal receipt of arrest and providing details of the place of detention – (9.67).

The commission has put its finger on a pervasive and persistent problem in the breakdown of law enforcement and justice in the country; illegal detention without adequate cause, failure to prosecute or release, and detention at unauthorised locations at which victims are alleged to be tortured or eliminated. Does a responsible government need the recommendations of a presidential commission to eliminate such practices forthwith? The government is dragging its feet while detainees linger in jails and camps.

The next of kin of detainees have the fundamental right to know of the whereabouts of their family members and they have the right of access to detainees. The LLRC notes numerous representations were made about this matter.

“A large number of representations were made with regard to those whose whereabouts are unknown, sometimes for years, as a result of abductions, unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention, and involuntary disappearances” – (9.43)

Land; Return of IDPs; Return of Muslims
Some recommendations in respect of land issues overlap the larger of question of devolution of land powers to Provincial Councils (9.124, 9.126 and 9.150). Other matters such as expediting the return of Muslims evicted by the LTTE to the North and steps to prevent the legitimisation of properties forcibly occupied during the war are worthy of support. These issues will be more complex in implementation than the matters adverted to previously as they require legislation and will certainly need the establishment of administrative support mechanisms. The government must demonstrate its good intentions by declaring its intention to implement these recommendations and state the time frame within which they will be completed.

We recognise that the full reintegration of IDPs into the community and ensuring the return of the Muslims (covered in 9.103 to 9.108 and 9.109 to 9.113, respectively) are important issues. The same is true of the broader discussion in paragraphs 9.121 to 9.152 dealing with several land related matters. While recognising the need for patience on these matters we are perturbed that there seems to be a lack of seriousness on the part of the government in getting started on the job. A matter of more immediate concern is that the provision of basic facilities is neglected while IDPs languish in dire conditions.

Concluding Note
Right thinking people of all communities are dismayed by the whitewash of atrocities against the civilian population committed by the Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the war. The LLRC has ignored allegations about the military targeting safe zones, hospitals, and locations where tens of thousands were packed together. The large scale and permanent displacement of the people of the Vanni and the destruction of homes and built infrastructure portends an effort to change the ethnic population profile of the region. The LLRC has documented LTTE atrocities and concluded that it is guilty of human-rights violations. Taking into account all these we believe that there is prima face evidence of human-rights violations by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE; we demand an independent investigation.

The purpose of this statement is to express our dismay that the government is taking little follow up action to get down to simple actions that are not particularly controversial if there is a genuine commitment to democracy, human rights and reconciliation. Since in this statement we wish to emphasise matters that can be implemented expeditiously, we have not engaged in extended discussion of two fundamental concerns; that accountability for human rights violations must be followed up, and that a political solution based on devolution is the only feasible permanent solution. Nor is this document comprehensive since we have not dealt with women’s issues, education, compensation, restrictions on travel and the hard to understand delay in rebuilding the railway to the north – a one time artery of commerce and people movement.

Signatories

  1. Priyadarshani Ariyaratne
  2. Niran Bandaranaike
  3. Lionel Bopage
  4. Kumar David (Prof)
  5. Sunanda Deshapriya
  6. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
  7. Marshal Fernando
  8. Sarath Fernando (Monlar)
  9. Bhavani Fonseka
  10. Mano Ganesan
  11. Sivaguru Ganesan (Prof)
  12. N Ganesanathan (Dr)
  13. Ruba.H.Gnanaratnam
  14. Farzana Hanifffa (Dr)
  15. S.H. Hasbullah (Prof)
  16. Rohini Hensman (Dr)
  17. Jay Jayasingam
  18. Kumara Illangasinghe (Bishop Emeritus)
  19. M. C. M. Iqbal
  20. Vickremabahu Karunaratne (Dr)
  21. S. V. Kasynathan (Dr.)
  22. Uvindu Kurukulasuriya
  23. Sumanasiri Liyanage (Dr)
  24. S. Nagendra
  25. Suppiramaniam Nanthikesan
  26. Anita Nesiah (Dr)
  27. Devanesan Nesiah (Dr)
  28. Lanka Nesiah
  29. Vasuki Nesiah
  30. Nigel V. Nugawela
  31. Rajan Philips
  32. Mirak Raheem
  33. Lionel Rajapakse
  34. Mahinda Ratnayake
  35. Surendra Ajith Rupesinghe
  36. Jeanne Samuel
  37. Shireen Saroor
  38. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (Dr)
  39. Willie Senanayake (Dr)
  40. Sabapathy Sivagurunathan
  41. Daya Somasundaram(Dr)
  42. Ram Subramaniam
  43. Jonathan V Thambar
  44. J. Thiruchandran
  45. Selvy Thiruchandran (Dr)
  46. Bradman Weerakone
  47. Lal Wijenayake
  48. E Vivegananthan

Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in 1996 in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. Focusing primarily on issues of governance and conflict resolution, CPA is committed to programmes of research and advocacy through which public policy is critiqued, alternatives identified and disseminated.