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Friday, March 18, 2011 - 05.32 GMT

AI campaign undermines SL reconciliation
– Amb Wickramasuriya
‘Let’s open dialogue than point fingers’

 

The people of Sri Lanka need and are receiving international community support for reconciliation, reconstruction and healing. I feel that the campaign by Amnesty International to criticize Sri Lanka undermines these immediate needs, stated the Sri Lankan Ambassador in US Jaliya Wickramasuriya.

No one benefits from finger-pointing back and forth, least of all those living in Sri Lanka, he said in a letter addressed to James McDonald, Sri Lanka Country Director for Amnesty International in New York and invited Amnesty International to open a dialogue about issues pertaining to Sri Lanka.

The LLRC was established by Sri Lankans for Sri Lankans. It is exploring the past to guarantee continued peace in the future. And so far, the process has been both productive and peaceful. It has also been transparent; all the testimony is posted on the LLRC’s website and is unbiased," the Ambassador said.

Referring to a recent claim by Amnesty International that Sri Lanka was holding 1,900 people in prison without due process, Ambassador Wickramasuriya said what Sri Lanka has in fact done is offer 11,696 former LTTE militants amnesty and rehabilitation. Of that number, over 50 percent have already completed job and educational training and have entered the workforce and university and are now part of society. Others are now undergoing rehabilitation.

Full text of the letter:

I have read recently of allegations that Amnesty International has leveled against Sri Lanka. I am writing today in the hope of opening a dialogue with Amnesty International on these and other issues.

The people of Sri Lanka need and are receiving international community support for reconciliation, reconstruction and healing. I feel that the campaign by Amnesty International to criticize Sri Lanka undermines these immediate needs.

I am sure that Sri Lankans and Amnesty International are in agreement over the need for long-term, lasting peace. That is, after all, why we established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

I understand that your organization does not feel that the LLRC is a valid process that will meet that need.

So be it. The LLRC was established by Sri Lankans for Sri Lankans. It is exploring the past to guarantee continued peace in the future. And so far, the process has been both productive and peaceful. It has also been transparent; all the testimony is posted on the LLRC’s website and is unbiased.

Sri Lanka’s delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva said Thursday that the LLRC, “is a domestic process pursuing an agenda of restorative justice to lay the foundation for continued reconciliation."

It asked that the commission be given, “the required time and space for the domestic process already underway, in fulfilling its objectives.”

When forming the LLRC, Sri Lanka turned to South Africa’s experience with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I would note that while that commission’s work is today considered a success, it was not without controversy in 1995, when it was formed.

It goes without saying that Sri Lankans were disappointed that Amnesty International chose not to provide information or testimony to the LLRC. That, we felt, should have been part of the open discussion that the LLRC has encouraged in Sri Lanka.

I frankly fail to see the downside for Amnesty International in participating in this process.

After all, Amnesty International’s own policy states: “Amnesty International campaigns for the effective establishment and functioning of truth commissions when crimes have been committed. In particular, the organization campaigns for truth commissions to take a victim-centred approach and to uphold the right of victims to obtain truth, justice and full reparation.”

Aside from the LLRC, let me specifically address a recent claim by Amnesty International. I don’t believe this accusation to be true, and therefore I don’t see how it benefits Sri Lankans actually living in Sri Lanka.

On March 8, 2011 Amnesty International issued a report claiming that Sri Lanka was holding 1,900 people in prison without due process. Your group also included the loaded language that these people are “are vulnerable to a range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody.”

What Sri Lanka has in fact done is offer 11,696 former LTTE militants amnesty and rehabilitation. Of that number, over 50 percent have already completed job and educational training and have entered the workforce and university and are now part of society. Others are now undergoing rehabilitation.

How many nations in the world offer terrorists rehabilitation and jobs? I know of no others.

In addition, more than 500 LTTE child soldiers have successfully completed a rehabilitation program and have been reunited with their families and schools.

These programs are part of a broader effort by Sri Lanka to repair the damage done by 26 years of conflict. The government has rebuilt infrastructure such as roads, electrical lines, schools, hospitals, public buildings and water systems. Over 30 de-mining machines are now in operation in the North. LTTE landmines remain a formidable threat to returning civilians, and several NGOs and more than six nations are assisting Sri Lanka with de-mining. The government has hired more than 500 Tamil-speaking police officers, and it is recruiting more. The government has also initiated talks with the Tamil National Alliance party, and local elections were just completed.

Your group is frequently calling for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. As a Sri Lankan with many Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim relatives and friends, I would like to suggest that these developments are proof-positive of reconciliation at work. But these advances have not been noted by Amnesty International.

People who have traveled to Sri Lanka and returned to the U.S. have told me of their own positive experiences and observations during their visits, including many Tamils.

There can be no question that peace and reconciliation are underway in Sri Lanka. There has been no loss of life due to terrorism in Sri Lanka since the May 2009 end of the conflict. That simple fact affords 21 million Sri Lankans the ultimate human right: Living freely in peace, without fear.

The Government of Sri Lanka is committed to reconciliation and the redevelopment of those areas affected by the long conflict. I know that your organization is well-intentioned and that you wish the best for all Sri Lankans. We both know that the damage done by the conflict won’t be undone overnight, but that progress is being made.

It is in that spirit that I suggest again that we open a dialogue about these issues, rather than revert to finger-pointing back and forth – No one benefits from that, least of all those living in Sri Lanka.

 




 

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