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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 25 August 2013 09:03
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Sunday Pol logo*Opposition forms broad platform through SAMAGI Agreement
*Pillay’s report will decide the country’s fate

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
– Martin Niemoller

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government will this week face a litmus test on the position of democracy and humanSunday P-August 25 2013 rights in the country during the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
There has been a lot of buzz in the days leading up to Pillay’s visit and the government is seemingly working overtime to create a ‘good’ image of the human rights situation in the country.
What the government has forgotten is that it has no one but itself to blame for the concerns raised by the international community and UN organizations on issues faced by the country.
Despite its arrogance, the Rajapaksa government is well aware of the impact Pillay’s report would have on Sri Lanka in the next few years. After concluding her visit to Sri Lanka, Pillay is to make an oral presentation next month during the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions on the progress made in Sri Lanka since the adoption of the second resolution at the Council in March this year.
The international community would take Pillay’s observations on Sri Lanka to discuss and decide its next moves where Sri Lanka is concerned.
Given the observations made by parliamentary delegations from the EU and UK that visited the country recently, that there was a lack of proper progress in Sri Lanka, Pillay, who is attuned to the goings on in the country would be able to see for herself the ground situation during her five day visit.
It is unlikely that the Rajapaksa government would succeed in its attempt in convincing the UN High Commissioner by showing ‘progress’ on ground through its sudden actions.
It would be wise for the government to understand that dealing with the international community and UN organizations is different to the Medamulana doctrine that is applied when dealing with local politics.
The last time a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the country was soon after the Rajapaksa government had launched the humanitarian operation in the North.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Pillay’s predecessor, Louise Arbour visited Sri Lanka in October 2007 and in her parting statement, said, “Throughout my discussions, government representatives have insisted that national mechanisms are adequate for the protection of human rights, but require capacity building and further support from the international community.
In contrast, people from across a broad political spectrum and from various communities have expressed to me a lack of confidence and trust in the ability of existing relevant institutions to adequately safeguard against the most serious human rights abuses.”
This time around Pillay during her visit would also look at the comments made by her predecessor, the government’s commitments undertaken following the end of the war and the progress made following two UNHRC resolutions within a span of two years.
The government would therefore have its work cut out during this week, but an honest approach with a true conviction to honouring its continuous pledges would be a positive move forward that would also help the nation.


Further militarization?
The Rajapaksa government in its new found enthusiasm to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report is either wittingly or unwittingly creating an impression of militarization of the country.
The Rajapaksa government’s move to deploy military personnel to hold high offices in the state sector as well as to address civil affairs has created a sense of militarization in the country that has seen the end of a three decade long war.
Be that as it may, a move by the government to implement a recommendation in the LLRC has now ended up looking as if the country is being pushed further into militarization.
In the run up to Pillay’s visit, President Rajapaksa decided to remove the Police department from the Defence Ministry by creating a separate Ministry for Law and Order.
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga has said the Law and Order Ministry would function under the President.
However, the icing on the cake was the appointment of Retired Major General Nanda Mallawarachchi as the Secretary to the new ministry.
Mallawarachchi is a former Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army and the present Sri Lankan Ambassador to Indonesia. With the new appointment, Mallawarachchi joins a long list of military personnel to hold offices in civil institutions.
Following the Rajapaksa government’s latest move the Asian Human Rights Commissioner issuing a statement noted, “The recommendations of the LLRC are made within the framework of the rule of law. Under the rule of law, law and order simply means the establishment of the supremacy of the law and the enforcement of the law through legitimate authorities, which are the civilian police, an independent Attorney General’s department as prosecutor, and an independent judiciary. Under the rule of law, the place of the military is to be in the barracks and to serve only when called for, when there is a threat to the nation. However, what is happening in Sri Lanka now is the process of bringing the military to the forefront under the pretext of maintaining law and order.”

The US rejection


Meanwhile, the US has refused permission to Adjutant General Major General Jagath Dias and Military Secretary Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe to participate in a military programme scheduled to be held in Auckland, New Zealand in September.
Their applications have been rejected by the US on grounds of accountability issues.
Dias headed the military commission of inquiry that probed the Weliweriya incident that resulted in the death of three youths when the army was opened fire on villagers who were demanding clean drinking water.
Ranasinghe was recently appointed Commanding Officer of the 53 Division.
They were reportedly among three Majors General nominated by the Sri Lanka Army to participate in the ‘Pacific Army Management seminar’ scheduled to be held in September.
The US has accepted the nomination of Security Forces Commander, Wanni, Major General Boniface Perera.
The US had last Monday informed the Army of the rejection of applications of two officers.
Ranasinghe’s nomination for another US sponsored project was rejected several months ago.
Dias earlier served as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany accredited to Switzerland and the Vatican. However, he was recalled to Colombo in 2011 after the Swiss Attorney General had said a criminal investigation could be opened against Dias following a complaint filed by two Swiss human rights advocacy groups.
TRIAL (Swiss association against impunity) and the Society for Threatened Peoples (SPM) had made a criminal complaint against Dias for alleged war crimes. The Swiss Federal Attorney General in 2011 had decided that a criminal investigation will be launched if Dias was to return to Swiss territory, because of “his personal involvement in the atrocities committed”.
“Therefore, if information was to be brought up to the Federal Prosecutor’s attention that Jagath Dias, not enjoying his current diplomatic status anymore, were to come back to Switzerland for whatever reason, the Federal Prosecutor, on the basis of the facts described above, would open an investigation against him,” the Attorney General’s Department is quoted to have said in 2011. The complaint however did not proceed to investigation stage on the grounds that Dias was no longer present on Swiss territory.
Speaking of the rejection of two army officers by the US, Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya addressing the media last week had said that Ranasinghe was initially cleared for a US training after he was rejected on a previous occasion.
“It is not clear why he was rejected again,” Jayasuriya had said adding that in the case of Dias, he had been refused a training programme at the National Defence College as well because of his involvement in the 57 Division.
“I think until that issue is cleared, that problem for him will keep resurfacing,” the Chief of Defence Staff had observed. “With regard to Major General Dias a decision has to come from the top,” Jayasuriya had added. The US seems to have blacklisted several divisions of the Army over allegations of rights abuses.
India’s deafening silence
What with all these issues the Rajapaksa government is adamant to make a huge success out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris last week visited India and Pakistan to personally hand over official invitations to the government heads to attend CHOGM.
India has so far remained silent on its participation at the meeting, but used the meeting with Peiris to discuss the latest situation in Sri Lanka.
India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said the Indian government is yet to decide on its level of participation at the CHOGM.
“The Government has not yet taken a decision on the level of its participation at the 2013 CHOGM,” Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid has said in the Rajya Sabha during Question Hour last week.
Replying to supplementary questions, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur has said a “well thought decision will be taken” in this regard.
She had further said the decision to hold the CHOGM in Colombo was taken in 2009.  On issues related to human rights violations in Sri Lanka, she had said the government has been engaged with that country and it has also been raised at the UNHRC.
Opposition has been increasing from Tamil parties to the Prime Minister’s participation in the CHOGM in Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, the Rajapaksa government stated that there was no problem with India since the Indian government has remained silent – all is fine since the Indian government has not made any official comment.
Apart from Peiris, Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was also in India on an official visit. Wickremesinghe observed that the opposition parties would demand for the government to hold a general election next year since the country was facing many issues on every front.
The Indian government however is under pressure from the South to take a firm stand against Sri Lanka on several issues including that of Indian fishermen who are in Sri Lankan custody.
Meanwhile, security has been stepped up in India following an alert from the Intelligence Bureau that terrorists plan to sneak in through the Palk Strait from Jaffna in Sri Lanka and attack Madurai and Mayiladuthurai in the State, the Indian police have said.
The Press Trust of India has reported that Superintendent of Police Mayilvahanan has said there was information that eight terrorists plan to infiltrate by sea and coastal people have been advised to inform police in case they saw any strangers.

GL to Pakistan


While India is mum on its decision on Sri Lanka, Pakistan has expressed its support to Sri Lanka at the UN.External Affairs Minister Peiris visited Pakistan following his visit to India to extend the official invitation to CHOGM to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lanka on Friday issued a statement saying that Sharif is looking forward to attend the CHOGM.
The support of Muslim countries received by Sri Lanka at the UNHRC during the US backed resolution in March this year is mainly due to the campaign launched by Pakistan. It was Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who directed Pakistan’s envoy at the UNHRC to muster support against the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the Rajapaksa government’s failure to effectively address the anti-Muslim campaigns in the country is now putting pressure on the Muslim countries headed by Pakistan, which are new found allies of the government.
Pakistan in such a scenario will be faced with a dilemma of building its relations with Sri Lanka when Indian relations are strained while also representing the position of the Muslim community in the country.
In April this year Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Jalil Abbas Jilani visited Sri Lanka and he was informed by Muslim politicians and activists in the country of the hate campaign that was carried out heavily at the time.
It was two weeks ago that a mosque in Grandpass was attacked a day after Ramazan by extremist elements. The government has so far managed to resolve the issue and would have to ensure that such attacks do not continue, especially if the country is looking at strengthening ties with Muslim nations.
Samagi campaign
Apart from dealing with the international community, the Rajapaksa government would also have to face the increasing public dissent in the form of a broad platform of opposition political parties, civil society organizations and trade unions. The move is initiated by the main opposition UNP.
All parties on Wednesday signed an Agreement for Consensus called SAMAGI to secure and revive democracy in the country. The agreement contains ten principles.
According to the UNP, the present government had commenced a “dictatorial journey” by introducing the 18th Amendment in 2010 and abolishing the independent commissions which were established through the 17th Amendment to enable social justice and good governance.
The opposition parties say they believe that the Executive Presidency has given enormous powers to the President to act dictatorially and therefore, it should be abolished. The coalition of parties say they will unanimously focus on the need to formulate a new constitution favourable to all communities in place of the existing one which concentrates too much power on one individual.
The new SAMAGI Agreement is aimed at creating a common platform, not only for political party members, but for all groups of people in society who are concerned about the direction in which the country is heading.

Last Updated on Sunday, 25 August 2013 09:03