Sri Lanka, as an independent sovereign nation with 65 years of proud history of uninterrupted democratic governance and 83 long years of adult franchise in electing governments is fully able to implement the accepted recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a probe mechanism set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Some resurgent nations without sufficient experience in democratic governance may require international guidance and assistance to rectify errors in democratic practices and strengthen democratic values. However, it is not applicable to Sri Lanka, a nation which enjoyed adult franchise not only before most of Asia, Latin America and Africa, but also some of the European countries.
The government has continued with its genuine and credible commitment to the reconciliation process within the framework of the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC and kept the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) informed in this regard.
As Minister of External Affairs, Prof G. I. Peiris said in a recent media interview, Sri Lanka has the institutions, the resources and the will to take forward the rebuilding of the country, continue strengthening the economy, and ensuring a decent life for all the people, no matter their religion, ethnicity or political affiliation. He said that amid the complex situation left by a conflict of almost 30 years, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has had to establish priorities among the almost 300 tasks fixed by the Reconciliation Commission.
It has been a little more than four years since the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and signs of progress are visible everywhere you go in the country. After bringing back normalcy to the lives of the civilian population, the government has taken positive steps to address issues of accountability.
The UNHRC head Navinethem Pillay's assertion that if certain concerns are not comprehensively addressed, ‘the international community will have a duty to establish its own inquiry mechanisms’ is absolutely incorrect assertion. Furthermore she has no mandate to make such a claim.
Let us take a look at some of the achievements and actions taken during the last four and half years since elimination of terrorism. Mine clearing in the north of the country is complete and more than 11,000 former LTTE members have been rehabilitated and reinserted in society, with equal rights. Some of the female LTTE cadres were trained and recruited to the Police force.
By virtue of an intense investment program and the recovery of productive activities such as fishing and agriculture, the economy of the northern province (where the population is mostly Tamil) grew by 22 percent in recent years, compared to a national rate of 7 percent.
The reconstruction of homes, highways, schools, hospitals and other social projects and the reinsertion of 397,000 people displaced by the conflict, along with the search for thousands of missing people are other tasks requiring more time but showing progress.
The UNHRC, at the onset of its debate on Sri Lanka in its next session in March 2014, should take cognizance of the fact that the government has fulfilled its most important promise given to the people of Northern Province as well as to India and the rest of the international community by holding elections for the North Provincial Council in September 2013.
The elections for three province, North, North Western and Central, which by all accounts have been free and fair - the ultimate 'litmus test' of any democracy and the Northern Province, won by the ethnic Tamil party the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), while the most populous multi-ethnic, multi-racial of provinces - the North Western and the Central, overwhelmingly returned the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), with popular votes of 66.43% and 60.16% respectively.
The Northern Province, where elections were held for the first time since the introduction of the Provincial Council system in Sri Lanka in 1987, the ruling coalition received 18.38%, the leading opposition United National Party (UNP) 0.68 %, while the ITAK secured 78.48%. As President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated, "holding an election to provide the people in the North who were under terrorist control for three decades the right to elect their own administration, is a victory for the government".
The government is totally committed to the devolution adopted under the provincial council system and will continue to work with all Provincial Councils in the country, which includes the new Northern Provincial Council. Therefore, Ms Navinethem Pillai’s "recommendation" to work with the Northern Provincial Council is a misnomer and has hallmarks of prejudgment on the delivery of a sovereign government's responsibilities.
Some governments, with their own agendas are against the independent path taken by Sri Lanka, and together to former LTTE members who went abroad with a lot of financial resources, have started a campaign of discredit. It is a fact that sections of the Tamil diaspora had strongly opposed Tamil parties participating in this election.
In fairness by Ms Pillai, it must be noted that she has stated in her press statement at the end of her visit to Sri Lanka that "the LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives" and that "those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organisation". Thus she conveyed a strong and clear message to the Tamil diaspora affiliated with the former LTTE.
Other steps taken to implement LLRC recommendations include, appointment of 3 member Commission to Investigate Allegations of Abductions and Disappearances related to the conflict, cooperation with the ICRC on the missing persons and engagement with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID), country-wide census on missing persons and drafting of a witness protection act.
While existing provisions in the Penal Code and the ICCPR Act criminalise 'hate speech', steps are underway to further strengthen the law against hate speech through a new amendment, under which those found guilty will be liable to imprisonment for a period not less than five years and not exceeding twenty years.
The issue of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders was comprehensively addressed in our statement under Agenda Item 2 - General Debate on the first day of the Council. The government is fully committed to the protection of human rights defenders.
As Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to UNHRC pointed out, over the years, Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to be constructive and proactive engagement with the mechanisms of the Council including special procedures, treaty bodies and the UPR.
While welcoming consideration of UNHRC’s technical cooperation in the process of reconciliation, Sri Lanka however notes that technical cooperation provided in full cooperation and consultation with the Government of Sri Lanka, must complement the ongoing reconciliation process.
The UNHRC pays disproportionate attention paid to Sri Lanka, largely at the behest of parties with vested interests. Such focus considerably complicates the on-going delicate process of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is not a situation that requires the urgent and immediate attention of the UNHRC. Sri Lanka needs to be encouraged, not impeded.
As the Minister of External Affairs said, the threatening and the international pressure are not the path for us to go forward. The international community should give us a vote of trust, because the Sri Lankan government has the greatest will to do things right and is dedicating great resources to reconciliation and reconstruction.
The UNHRC as well as the countries planning on various resolutions should consider the facts presented by Sri Lanka and realize the need to provide time and space to fulfill its obligations.