Here lies the APRC

Sixty three sessions and 18 months after it was constituted, the All Party Representative Committee( APRC) which was due to present its final proposal for a final solution to the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka last week, instead handed over a set of guidelines for the implementation of the 13th Amendment which is already in place.

The Committee which had almost completed its main report, has instead decided to ‘deliberate’ further after several minor coalition partners are reported to have put up resistance about the quasi-federal nature of the proposal being drafted.

Ironically, the APRC which was established initially as a body comprising all parties represented in the 225-seat parliament, during its latter stages it comprised no opposition parties, making it a committee full of the government’s coalition partners alone.
In a sense, it was this home-and-home nature of the much-hyped committee that ensured that some kind of report was handed over to the President last week. One of the chief snags dogging the committee was the fact that opposition parties, namely the JVP and the UNP were pulling in different directions with regard to the nature of the permanent solution. The UNP wanted a solution based on more federal lines while the JVP would not hear of anything – even 13th Amendment based proposals – that did not recognise the ‘unitary’ nature of the state.

With both parties effectively out of the picture, the government could exercise a free hand with the President himself then able to intervene when things were not going the administration’s way.

To APRC Chairman Prof. Vitharana’s credit, he has attempted to do an honest job of work with regard to drafting a proposal for a permanent solution to the national question. His task has been severely undermined sadly, by the administration itself, which has chosen to make the APRC nothing more than political eyewash aimed at appeasing the international community, and making it believe that the government is serious about a political solution to the problem while they also pursue a military path.

As several constitutional experts have already pointed out, why would the government want the APRC to recommend how to implement the 13th Amendment, when the guidelines for that have been set almost two decades ago? And, when the APRC Chief consulted experts with the aim of further expanding the provisions of the 13th Amendment, including provincial police powers etc, why did the powers that be, axe the move?

Many insidious manoeuvres and blatant attempts to tie the hands of the committee have seriously eroded any previous confidence the public may have had in the APRC. The Mahinda Chinthana, President Rajapaksa’s fancy election manifesto that later turned into his policy statement after he ascended office, promises to involve all parties in parliament in the process of drafting a final solution. More importantly, he promised the solution would be presented to the public within three months of assuming office.

The Sri Lankan public might not be naïve enough to believe in that kind of timeline stemming from an election promise no less, but 18 months is certainly time enough.

Amidst the alleged human rights abuses that are part and parcel of military offensives, and the government’s intransigence on matters like Karuna’s notoriety in the east, the APRC has been its strongest weapon. The APRC provided a degree of legitimacy to the government’s claims of liberation, because it was seen as being the back up to a bloody military push that had displaced civilians and cost hundreds of lives. The constant delay with regard to the handing over of the final draft, gives credence to the claims of our international partners and organisations, that are baying for blood in terms of setting up a permanent UN Human Rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka to inquire into alleged atrocities.

The CFA is now dust. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons’ (IIGEP) 18 month tenure draws to a close in a few months without any tangible progress on the inquiries into alleged human rights abuses. And now, the APRC becoming nothing more than another government tool.

With these developments, any genuine efforts to ensure that transparency and a permanent political solution evolves from all this mayhem, has now been severely compromised. It remains in the government’s best interest, if it wishes to avoid further censure from the international community, to keep the APRC as independent as possible, and to honestly allow majority will to hold sway.
To continue to meddle in matters pertaining to the APRC’s deliberations would enhance the notion that its proposals are being presented in bad faith, and without the backing of the people’s representatives that are in the majority. Furthermore, lack of involvement by the opposition will only result in this proposal too, like all others that have gone before it, will be defeated in parliament by the government’s detractors.