The opening of the next stage of the Southern Expressway from Galle to Matara later this month will see further progress of another major infrastructure development project under the Mahinda Chinthana. It demonstrates the commitment of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the tasks of national development through opening up of the country to valuable foreign investment as well as widening the roads to progress to the people.
In a New Year’s Day interview to the “Daily Mirror” done by e-mail, when asked what his personal goals for the coming year were, President Rajapaksa said: “I want to finish all the development projects as early as possible so that people will benefit out of them without having to wait for more time, ensure that our social infrastructure such as education, health, social welfare and livelihood schemes are implemented smoothly as they could have long term effects, bring maximum relief to the people, because for no fault of theirs they have suffered for nearly three decades, lay a strong foundation for our children and young people so that they will conquer the world…Last but not least, consolidate peace and harmony and achieve true reconciliation.”
The exhaustive interview saw the President comment on all major current issues. Among the very significant comments was what he said of those who continue to attack Sri Lanka on alleged issues of human rights violations and war crimes, which he saw as the work of those who could not accept Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism. As he described it, "They simply act as the voice of the defeated terrorists. They are both within and outside Sri Lanka. I don’t have to tell you the scale of the malicious propaganda that was set in motion since the early 1980’s. As governments, we have been weak in countering these and presenting our case forcefully. The only abuse is that we defeated the brutal terrorists which some people labeled as unbeatable."
Making specific reference to allegations of human rights violations, the President was strong in questioning where these “human rights crusaders” were during the thirty year conflict in Sri Lanka. "I reject that our government abused human rights. I cannot comprehend how those same people who accuse us now, waited in stoic silence when the terrorists for nearly three decades massacred thousands of innocent men, women, children, pregnant women etc. and governments of the day looked helplessly, being unable to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. Where were the so-called human rights crusaders then?" he asked.
President Rajapaksa’s observations are a good prelude to the task that the government is now preparing, to face what many consider to be a major hurdle in our dealings with the international community, especially with the issue of the situation relating to the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, and the post-conflict situation, due to be taken up at the next session of the UNHRC in March this year.
While Sri Lanka’s position on the defeat of LTTE terrorism, outdoing many stronger powers that have declared a “War of Terror” was vindicated in Geneva shortly after the victory that saw the regaining of freedom to all people of this country, and ensuring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country; the situation did change in later years. The influence of sections of the international community, who were strongly under the influence of the pro-LTTE Tamil organizations or the so-called “Diaspora” and the effects of internal politics in some member states of the 47-member UNHRC, a resolution critical of Sri Lanka adopted in 2012, and reiterated in 2013. The tactic of those who sought to attack Sri Lanka’s handling of the final stages of the battle against terrorism and post-conflict developments, in a move sled by the United States, was to call for independent inquiries into what took place in this nation’s agonizing battle for freedom.
Those who seek see Sri Lanka suffer for its defeat of terrorism, which was a threat to the entire South Asian Region, turned to the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to achieve their aims. What they now seek is to pillory Sri Lanka on how the major recommendations of the LLRC that relate to aspects of accountability have been implemented.
This is a task that is now receiving the fullest attention of the Government, with many Line Ministries engaged in various aspects of work regarding the most effective implementing of the LLRC recommendations, and showing the world that Sri Lanka is far from the “pariah” nation label that some would like to tar our image with, but one that has a very firm commitment to all values of human rights and full accountability that is known in any democratic society, with a well established judiciary and patterns of administration that can deliver good results to the Sri Lankan people, and to the genuinely discerning citizens of the world.
Moderates & skeptics
As one senior diplomat who has good knowledge of the workings in Geneva stated, what is necessary for Sri Lanka in this next round in March 2014 is to keep the both the moderates and skeptics among the member states of the UNHRC with us. What went against Sri Lanka last year was that we lost the support of some of these countries. It is necessary to show these nations that the LLRC is in fact being implemented, instead of fooling ourselves that those who abstained from voting last year were in fact voting with us.
According to the various Line Ministries that are handling the work of LLRC implementation that is much already that can be made out in favour of Sri Lanka. There is a considerable amount of unwarranted criticism made about Sri Lanka’s post-conflict record that will of necessity be corrected even before the crucial dates in March 2014. Clear steps are being taken on expediting the pace of implementing the LLRC recommendations, and there is a sense among those tasked with this duty to address impediments that affect the implementation efficiencies on certain recommendations.
There is now a very clear picture on the number of civilian casualties that can be placed before the UNHRC, which is in sharp contrast to the huge figures that have been bandied about by many “human rights crusaders” in the past three years. Of nearly 2,000 persons reported missing since the conflict it has now been established that nearly 1,500 had in fact joined the LTTE during the fighting, and the numbers confirmed as killed are much below 100. Similarly, it is a fact that the militias of the EPDP and PLOTE have been totally disarmed, and proof of this is seen in the peaceful polls conducted tom the Northern Provincial Council. Similarly, the seas of the North are completely free to our Northern fishermen, unlike when the conflict raged. The threat to them now is from a different source with no Sri Lankan links.
There are also clear indications that much progress has been made on the Witness and Victims Protection Bill which is now before a Cabinet Subcommittee, and expected to be tabled for debate with the least delay. Considerable progress has been made in the provision of economic and social support/trauma counseling to single mothers, those recently resettled and children, with substantial funds being allocated for the purpose. Similarly, much has been done by way of providing housing to the Internally Displaced, and steady progress has also been made in releasing both State and private land that was taken over by the Security Forces. There is a clear figure of just over 7,000 families remaining as IDP, which is strictly due to the need to complete the de-mining process in the lands where they would be resettled.
Serious consideration is being given to the legislation against Hate Speech, with concerns only regarding the legal structure it should take, and not the necessity for it. Another matter under careful study is the criminalization of enforced or involuntary disappearances.
The coming weeks should see much more being achieved by way of implementing the LLRC recommendations in the most practical and timely manner possible, and also in showing that Sri Lanka’s commitment to reconciliation remains unwavering. The question that would arise is not about the success of this implementing process, but what positions the known antagonists against us would take once the Sri Lankan position is made clear. Would they continue to listen to the voices of those who cannot face the defeat of the LTTE$, or give in to the pressures of domestic politics with elections due in some key members of the UNHRC later this year and in 2015. Whatever the reaction of such countries, success will come to Sri Lanka on how we can keep both the moderates and skeptics in the UNHRC with us.