Sri Lanka's growing concern about the continuing selective adoption of country-specific actions directed at this country in the Human Rights Council, and its rejection of this approach driven by electoral compulsions of some member countries that can erode the credibility and impartiality of the Council was well articulated by Ambassador PM Amza, Sri Lanka's Head of Mission to the European Union, speaking to the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with the countries in the South Asia Region, earlier this week.
He stated that Sri Lanka categorically rejected the previous two Resolutions adopted by the Council in March 2012 and 2013, as they were a result of a politicized and ill-conceived process that polarized the membership of the Human Rights Council. He said this approach was in contravention of the UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, as well as the Human Right Council Resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 which call for cooperation and genuine dialogue as well as impartiality in the method and conduct of the work of the Council.
"However, notwithstanding our rejection of these resolutions, the Government is continuing with its genuine and credible commitment to the reconciliation process within the framework of its own mechanism, the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. We believe the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is the best mechanism to engage with countries on all human rights issues in an equal and fair manner," Ambassador Amza said.
State of play
Speaking on: "Sri Lanka: state of play ahead of the March 2014 session of the UN Human Rights Council", he said that although it was stated that these resolutions on Sri Lanka are to help and encourage the country to achieve reconciliation and durable peace, it served the exact opposite. The conflict affected every aspect of Sri Lankan life. Unfortunately, during the conflict that saw the widespread violence unleashed by the forces of terror, Sri Lanka did not see such relentless efforts by certain countries to expose the brutality of the forces of terror and help the country in its fight against terrorism; as they do now to "Bring the global spotlight on Sri Lanka", through resolutions, or INGO reports, or TV Channels with sinister motives.
"All those who are on a crusade against us were in a deep slumber then. Today, part of the international community seems to be in a rush to pronounce judgments on Sri Lanka which are preposterous. Their patience is said to be wearing out and are of the view that only intrusive measures and ultimatums would yield results," he said.
Ambassador Amza was strong in his criticism of a section of the International Community for being prejudiced stating "They have already prejudged that our own efforts are insufficient and substandard to resolve the unprecedented issues and challenges that we had to face at the end of the conflict. We have proven them wrong by resettling almost all 297,000 IDPs, clearing over 98 per cent of areas identified for demining, rehabilitating 11,758 ex-combatants including all 594 child soldiers, providing livelihood support to the returnees and rehabilitees/beneficiaries, rebuilding the North with over US$ 3 billion worth investments, phasing out security presence and withdrawal of HSZs, holding elections even in the former theatres of conflict, establishing civilian administration and institutions, maintaining a healthy economic growth, and also, embarking on a domestic process of reconciliation just an year after ending the conflict, and the painstaking efforts taken since July 2012, to implement the (LLRC) recommendations. Regrettably, there is great reluctance to acknowledge what the country has achieved with its limited resources, but with the unlimited desire and will, to do what is right for the country".
With the focus on the progress of implementing the LLRC recommendations, seen even by the strongest critics of Sri Lanka as being an important foundation for genuine reconciliation and the strengthening of peace and understanding among the Sri Lankan people, it is useful to see the actual and tangible progress made in this important task of national importance, apart from the international interest.
Ambassador Amza has referred to some of the progress achieved, which are significant, when taking into consideration the short time since establishing the LLRC in 2012, and the constraints of funds, human resources and the major task of working under post-conflict conditions, when there are still sections, both here and abroad, who are keen to pursue the policies of separatist terrorism in this country.
Former LTTE child soldiers
It is important to note that the resettling of almost all 297,000 IDPs was begun even before the LLRC was established, and completed before five years since the fighting ended. This is despite foreign countries and human rights organizations based abroad alleging that these people would never be released; that they were being kept as prisoners behind permanent fences, as happened during the Bosnian war, and some organizations such as Amnesty International even passing resolutions to break the padlocks of these "prisoner camps". Little is it realized that the resettlement of such a large number of IDPs was done in less than five years, when the resettlement of a much lesser number who were the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US has taken very much longer, when there was no bloody conflict, landmine clearance or such hazardous work involved.
The many and varied aspects of implementing the LLRC recommendations proceed with what is seen as a remarkable record of success. The Presidential Commission to investigate cases of alleged disappearances of persons in the Northern and Eastern Provinces during the period 1990-2009, this week concluded its public sittings in Jaffna, where 984 people made submissions from Feb. 14-17, 2014, in the towns of Chavakachcheri, Kopay and Jaffna.
The Chairman of the Commission Maxwell Paranagama is on record that the Commission was well received in Jaffna stating that "Everyone, including government officials and religious leaders were very cooperative".
Responding to concerns over the weekend that witnesses could be intimidated, Mr. Paranagama has stated that the Commission would not hesitate to take severe action against any person trying to intimidate witnesses who appeared before the Commission. "I will take any available legal provisions to deal with it," the Chairman said.
The Commission has to date received a total of approximately 16,000 complaints from all parts of the country and approximately 9,300 complaints of disappearances are of civilians and 4,300 are of security forces personnel. Due to the increased load of work President Rajapaksa has extended the mandate issued to the Commission by a further six months tills August 12, 2014.
There is an important aspect of this probe into cases of alleged disappearances of persons in the North and East. Through representations made to the Commission it is now known that some of those who were reported as believed to have "disappeared" are in fact residing in some foreign countries, mainly in the West. Once a complaint of disappearance has been made, it is the task of the Commission to probe the matter till a proper conclusion is reached to "close the file", to use the bureaucratic jargon.
However, when official attempts have been made to verify and confirm the presence or not if such persons in the countries named, those making the official inquiries have come up against a stunning wall of silence. The embassies and foreign offices of the countries where they are said to be domiciled now, refuse to provide any information, even when told it is for the proper conclusion of an inquiry on a matter affecting human rights. Interestingly, these are countries that make considerable noise about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and calling for probes into those allegedly disappeared. This attitude will only ensure that there will always be some people "disappeared" from Sri Lanka, who enjoy the comforts of life in the West.
Implementing another recommendation of the LLRC, there are now specific measures to ensure the maintenance of law and order, particularly the disarming of any illegal armed groups.
One aspect of the conflict was the presence of illegal armed groups operating in the theatre of conflict, as well as security groups authorized to carry arms for reasons of security to persons and places, deemed necessary at the time. The latter groups were disarmed very early after the conflict, despite political affiliations. According to the Status Report on the National Plan of Action on implementing LLRC recommendations, steps have been taken by the government to completely eliminate the presence of illegal armed groups, and the necessary measures will continue to be implemented to ensure that such groups do not re-emerge.
Child soldiers and ex-combatants
The military use of children was an important aspect of the LTTE's buildup of the forces of terror. Children were forcibly taken from their homes or schools, the affected Tamil parents were helpless to prevent this brutality. Most of the children taken were trained to carry arms and help the fighting cadres of the LTTE. Some were brainwashed to later become suicide cadres. In many instances they were used as human shields to protect the armed cadres of terror.
Through many years of the conflict in Sri Lanka the LTTE fooled the special UN Rapporteurs on Child Soldiers who had discussions with it about the release of these children. The promises to free them were never kept, and it is believed that many of them were part of the human shield used by the LTTE in the final days of its battle with Sri Lankan forces.
Under the rehabilitation of ex-combatants in implementing the LLRC recommendations a major achievement has been made with regard to the rehabilitation of those who had in most cases been deprived of their childhood. One of the first steps taken in the process of reconciliation was to attend to the needs of these children. It is noteworthy that all 594 LTTE child combatants were rehabilitated and reunited with their parents within one year.
The work on the rehabilitation of ex- child combatants has now been completed, through a comprehensive scheme for rehabilitation and reintegration of the former child combatants. They have been given the opportunity and assistance to return to school to pursue their studies; some have sat the GCE Advanced Level Examination and even qualified to gain university admission. Those who had missed school are encouraged and facilitated to complete their formal education requirements while engaging in gainful employment. Action has also been taken to create employment opportunities in the former conflict affected areas in consultation with the private sector, with increased access to secondary and tertiary education, and training in vocational skills.
It is also important to note that 11,872 ex-combatants of the LTTE have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. It is on record that only 171 ex-combatants remain in rehabilitation following legal proceedings. This speed of rehabilitation is a record in reconciliation that cannot be easily matched in other theatres of prolonged and brutal conflict and combat.
These are some of the key indicators of the commitment towards implementing the recommendations of the LLRC. The progress made so far, in less than three years of LLRC activity, and only five years after the end of a 30 year conflict, stands out as the strongest case for patience in achieving the true goal of reconciliation, without the negative impacts of undue haste caused by external pressure.