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News Features  


 

MULTI-PARTISAN APPROACH A MUST To counter UN allegations
  • Call to expedite credible reconciliation process
  • Need to unite as ‘one nation’ stressed
By Wilson Gnanadass
The entire country is engrossed today in the Workers Day celebrations.
Apparently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call to focus this year’s May Day events on the United Nations Secretary General appointed panel report on alleged war crimes is going to be the theme for almost all the political parties that would be engaged in the celebrations.
If the President’s call to make the May Day’s celebrations to protest against what is commonly described as the ‘Moon Panel Report’ ends successfully, then it would perhaps be the first ever step taken by the entire country to oppose in unison the UN report.

If, there is unanimity among all political parties and non political actors over the panel report then one wonders whether there is provision in the UN’s regulations or the Security Council to pull up a country over any matter, be it war crimes or some corruption charge.
However, albeit several political parties and groups have expressed solidarity with the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government, there are still some powerful forces in the country that have not yet spoken a word about the Moon panel report.

Besides, there are also some political parties that have not yet overtly pledged to stand by the government’s war against the UN, in countering charges of war crimes during the final stages of the Eelam war in 2009.
This then could be an opportunity for the UN to take Sri Lanka to task and being cognizant of this fact, President Rajapaksa has invited all the parties to join hands to forge ahead on a common platform in order to strongly counter the UN and the Super Powers.

Mum on report
Nearly six days after Ban Ki-moon belatedly released his panel of expert’s report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, the UPFA government has not yet made any official clarification or denial of the report.
While the government at international level is slow to react and very cautious with its words, within the country the UN has been lambasted, further calling the report ‘flawed’ and ‘totally baseless’.
The government’s silence on the report to the UN has been confirmed by none other than UN spokesman Martin Nesirky himself.
To some, this is subtle diplomacy to generate the much needed heat within the country first before getting into the ring and taking on the UN openly.
What has been considered as an unofficial government response to the Moon panel report so far is the only document prepared by the Foreign Ministry to aid a discussion on foreign policy responses to the UNSG report known as ‘discussion paper’.
The report has been prepared by the Research and Development for Foreign Policy Formulation of the External Affairs ministry on April 26, 2011, and released by the Inner City Press.

Multi-Partisan Approach
Be that as it may, what is expected today is an approach that would include opinions and voices of all the political parties represented in parliament.
Serious questions are raised as to whether the government is working towards achieving what is known as the ‘Multi-Partisan Approach’ to address the Moon panel report and the contents of it.
Surprisingly, UNP’s deputy leader Sajith Premadasa has gone on record calling on all the parties to unite together to approach this issue while other parties like the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and of course the civil society including the National Peace Council (NPC) also echoing similar sentiments.

Among these parties, while some want the government to simply reject the report, others point out that while also rejecting the report, the government should expedite the process of reconciliation.
A few other members of the civil society and academics worry as to whether the government will mess up the whole issue by trying to take credit for itself by not accommodating the views and opinions expressed by others. They point out that this is not the time to ‘play politics’ but put to proper use the opportunity available to Sri Lanka to show her true spirit of ‘togetherness’, similar to the show of unity demonstrated by the Sri Lankans, irrespective of caste, creed or colour during the 2004 tsunami.
One wonders whether at least at a crucial hour like this, all the political parties will unite together or on the contrary show their differences which will strengthen the case of Ban Ki-moon against Sri Lanka. It is a time testing exercise for the public of Sri Lanka to wait and see.
Overtly expressing opposition to the UNSG or the panel report is also expected to be counterproductive as many intellectuals have pointed out.

For instance, even today’s island-wide protest against the UN could further provoke and antagonize Ban Ki-moon and this in turn could bring adverse effects to the country in particular.
As reported previously, some trade unionists have already expressed their discontent over the government’s efforts to hijack the significance of the Workers’ Day celebrations, adding that the issues concerning the Sri Lankan work force have been swept under the carpet and that the Moon panel report issue has overshadowed them.
As a result, nobody is talking about the escalating cost of living and the increasing prices of essential commodities.

Unnecessary fear
Is Sri Lanka unnecessarily getting jittery over the Moon panel report, is another question that is asked and unanswered.
If co-lateral damage in any war condition is inevitable and if the government could counter charge all allegations levelled against the armed forces by the Darusman led team during the final stages of the war, then some feel Sri Lanka need not panic unnecessarily.
Through its provocation and confrontational attitude towards the UN in particular, the UPFA government could further damage its own credibility in the eyes of the international community.
Former Foreign Secretary Nihal Rodrigo has correctly called all political parties to firstly calm down and think with a relaxed mind.
This is something that has not been displayed by the respective political parties ever since the report was leaked to a local newspaper.

Unlike the JVP, the JHU unusually has taken a stand this time to give the government some sensible advice by appealing to it to muster the support of all the political parties first before going against Ban Ki-moon.
In addition to a Sathyagraha the party has organized scheduled for May 3, the JHU has decided to meet the leaders of the political parties represented in parliament and urge them to join hands together with the government, shedding petty party political differences.
JHU legal adviser and western province minister Udaya Gammanpila says in the event a bomb falls from the sky aimed at Sri Lanka by one of the super powers, it will not only hit the Sinhalese but it could hit anyone irrespective caste or race.

Hence, he has called on all to join hands to show first of all the strength as ‘Sri Lankans’ and then to air their opposition to Ban Ki-moon’s interference.
The JHU is also planning to visit each political party leader and convince him/her to place his/her signature on a joint statement that is to be prepared shortly.
Secondly, the JHU is also planning to appeal to the opposition parties to accompany the government delegations in their tour abroad to convince the foreign governments regarding the Moon panel report and show the flaws in the report.

He says such a show of unity would help international community ease their anger against Sri Lanka.
Thirdly, the JHU is also going to urge the opposition parties to undertake a visit to the foreign embassies in Sri Lanka as a joint delegation to engage in dialogue with the foreign dignitaries regarding the panel report and explain to the foreign dignitaries the flaws found in the report.
According to Gammanpila this exercise is not to whitewash the mistakes allegedly made by the security forces in fighting against a ruthless terrorist outfit but mainly to point out the defects found in the report.
He says foreign dignitaries also should be informed of the commitment of the Sri Lankan government to the reconciliation process that is currently in progress.
The JHU’s decision was taken on April 26 and the party general secretary and Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka has been assigned with the task of making appointments with the respective political party leaders.

Reconciliation process
Meanwhile, it is also believed if Sri Lanka could continue with its genuine efforts to expedite the reconciliation process, without wasting much energy on visiting and revisiting the UN panel report over and over again, it would seriously help heal the wounds of the Tamil minority and besides shut Ban Ki-moon’s mouth permanently.
Even after a lapse of two years, following the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), if the government has not made any headway towards finding a lasting solution to the minority issues, then now is the time to do so.
Minority parties that have not expressed their opinions openly feel that the government has been rather slow in this sphere and have pointed out that it is still not too late for the government to expedite the process.
What the Tamil parties inform the government is to immediately repeal the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, resolving outstanding disappearance cases, ensuring due process for remaining LTTE detainees and providing measures for victims and survivors of the conflict, including by publicly accounting for civilian deaths and facilitating the recovery and return of human remains to their families.
Many southern based intellectuals feel it is not difficult for the government to do this given its two-thirds majority in parliament and of course the defeat of the LTTE. They believe if there is a will, these could be implemented immediately.

Constitutional and human rights lawyer and former chief of Transparency International J. C. Weliamuna says though it is a little too late, the government could still consider implementing some of the programmes aimed at creating a just society.
For instance he says the 13th amendment could have been implemented fully, immediately after the war.
He further says that the whole UN issue needs to be tackled with correct understanding of diplomacy, adding that there must be decent and professional diplomacy, which he says Sri Lankan lacks at present.
He says as far as the report is concerned it has a far reaching consequence and says the report suggests that there is evidence of war crimes. “But we have no way to verify it.” he says.
“This is the first time the public got to know that there was another side. It is too premature to say which side is correct.

“One needs to look at the International statutes and conventions and also geopolitical reality and we may not be able to understand the gravity of the situation. But we have a clear document that points out certain issues in Sri Lanka.
“From this report we have now got to know that there was a collapse of democracy during the war by even journalists being killed,” he said.
To counter all this, he has suggested the acceleration of a credible reconciliation process and has added that if Sri Lanka fails to do the reconciliation at domestic level, the fear could be a legal issue internationally.
He has further said that Ban Ki-Moon’s action is only a byproduct of the aggressive responses to Moon in the past by the Sri Lankan government. “So we must be careful in our words and deeds at least in the future,” he pointed out.

The victims
The whole issue is centred on the Tamil minority grievances for which still a credible process of reconciliation has not been formulated by the government.
In this whole exercise the Tamils of north-east continue to stand victimised as proper a solution has still not been placed before them, according to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran.
He says the plight of the civilians has not been addressed to properly by the government and even the main opposition is not talking about it at present.
“Militarisation and colonisation continue to take place. The High Security Zones and the Emergency Regulation and the PTA are still not repealed. Except for the infrastructure development, there has not been any other tangible development that has taken place in the north-east.
“The situation seems to be the same in these areas. People are continuing to suffer and the government is not even implementing the 13th amendment fully,” Premachandran said.
He further asked as to how one could expect the Tamils to support the present government when the reconciliation process is not fully implemented.

The discussion paper
The discussion paper put out by the external affairs ministry that is now in the public domain analyses the past current and prospective responses of Russia, China, India, the Non-Aligned Movement and others.
The document also places India on the spot and asks to favour the report without being influenced by the west.
In response to the Moon panel report that asks the government to initiate an effective domestic accountability process and establish an independent international mechanism to monitor the domestic accountability process, the discussion paper has suggested that evidence presented in the report may have to be physically verified locally.

Following are excerpts of the paper:
“The stance that India takes on the Special Panel Report and Sri Lanka is critical. It will also possibly affect the stance that Russia and China take on Sri Lanka. The stance may be framed around the following factors:
(1) India’s strategic interests with SL and the West,
(2) the GOSL’s commitment to resolve the issues of Sri Lankan Tamils,
(3) the GOSL’s ability to fulfill commitments made to India during the final stages of the last war,
(4) the Tamil Nadu factor and how the Sri Lankan Tamil issue will be used in upcoming elections,
(5) concerns about Sri Lanka’s growing relationship with China and having to deal with a Sino–Pak–Lanka Axis in South Asia,
(6) the GOSL getting closer to Pakistan if India takes a ‘harsher’ stand.
“Although the Government is heavily depending on China for protection at the UN Security Council level, China is yet to take a public stance on the issue:
(a) The contents of the full report
(b) the stance taken by India may have a significant bearing on China’s position.

“There are many factors including the publication of the full report and India’s stance on the issue that may influence Russia to abstain.  On the long run, a strain in relations between the USA/EU will be detrimental for the Sri Lankan Economy. This angle should be given priority in any geo political exchange.
“A possible united front by the diaspora is possible based on the HR violations contained in the report. However, this is unlikely in the short term.
“International Actors working on behalf of the GOSL may use the same international law based actions against Tamil Diaspora leaders as proxies of the LTTE based on the allegations levelled against the LTTE in the Panel Report.

“It would be interesting to observe the stance of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) given the major changes that have taken place in Egypt and that are taking place in Libya and given that both countries were major players in the NAM. India’s stand will be critical in relation to NAM’s stand.
Commenting on the UNSG the paper says the following:
“The immediate, public and strong line response of the state to the Panel report means that it has put itself in a delicate situation. Having started with such a reaction the Government will have to find ways to escalate the scale of their response even further as the implications of this Panel report plays out internationally and nationally in the future.

“The Government will have to carefully balance any implementation of any of the recommendations made by the panel with the need to show both the local and international polity that it has not ceded ground. This would leave a low margin of error for the Government.
“Given the complex political power game that takes place at the United Nations the future action of the Secretary General is unpredictable. What is clear is that he would have to function in a way that does not upset any of the five permanent members and so jeopardize his chances of being elected for a second term.