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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 08 September 2013 12:27
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Sunday Pol logo*Calls to probe allegations levelled by Pillay
*Internal dissention growing within the govt

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“It is important everyone realizes that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not... Wounds will not heal and reconciliation will not happen, without respect for those who grieve, and remembrance for the tens of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others who died before their time on the battlefield, in buses, on the street, or in detention. As one wife of a missing man put it poignantly: ‘Even when we eat, we keep a portion for him’.” – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay concluding her visit to Sri Lanka.


Over four years after the end of the war, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government now has its work cut out in convincing the citizens of Sri Lanka as well as the international community of the work done towards reconciliation and addressing issues of accountability since defeating terrorism.
The parting comments made by UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay last week is indicative of the war the Rajapaksa government is yet to fully face and conquer if it could. Sabre rattling apart, it is now time for the government to resort to sincere commitment towards reconciliation, honour its pledges and show true patriotism.
Pillay is to submit an oral report on the situation in Sri Lanka at this month’s sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. Her oral presentation would be used as a benchmark by the international community to measure the progress made in post war Sri Lanka and the commitment shown by the government in addressing the deep-seated issues faced by the communities in the country.
The Rajapaksa government was none too pleased with the large numbers of individuals and groups that made representations to the UN Human Rights Chief on the many issues faced by the people at present. Nevertheless, what the government needs to comprehend at this point of time is the helplessness of the masses.
It is not always that people would turn to a total stranger for solutions to problems and justice. However, most often when people have been ignored and mistreated by their own, the only option is to look for outside help.
The people who queued up to meet Pillay in the North and in Colombo show the desperation of a large number of people to speak out their stories, their woes and seek some form of redress. The Un Chief was therefore spot on in saying that the suffering is still not over even though the fight is.
It also does not look well on the government when reports are published of persons who had met and made their cases known to Pillay during her visit were facing threats even before the UN Human Rights Chief had boarded her flight to return to Geneva.
As has been pointed out by the opposition political arties, the UNP and mostly the JVP, it is the Rajapaksa government that has paved the way for the international community and the UNHRC to interfere in affairs of the country.
Pillay’s hard hitting press statements made on the eve of her departure has signalled members of the international community who are not on a constant watch on the situation in Sri Lanka that there are issues to be addressed.
International organizations have also called on the Rajapaksa government to investigate into the allegations levelled by Pillay that security forces personnel have harassed people who met her during her visit to Sri Lanka.
Pillay had expressed concerns that victims of abuses and their family members, activists, and journalists had received visits and other harassment and threats from the authorities after meeting with her and other UN officials.
She had said that reprisals against people who talk to the UN were an extremely serious matter and that she would report it to the UN Human Rights Council.
“It’s outrageous for a government that is hosting the UN human rights chief to have their security forces harass the people who met with her,”  Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch has said.
“The Sri Lankan government should announce that ‘visits’ or other forms of harassment of those who spoke to the high commissioner will be punished. And the government should make sure they punish officials who’ve already done so.”
Human Rights Watch has called on the authorities to take all necessary measures to end the harassment of all those who met with Pillay and ensure their security.
The organization has reiterated its call, also made by Pillay, for a strong and effective victim and witness protection programme in Sri Lanka.
“Despite promises to Pillay of unfettered access, Sri Lankan authorities have gone about business as usual in harassing those courageous enough to come forward to talk about the country’s many human rights problems,” Adams has said. “A government that doesn’t care enough to call off its security forces for a few days while the UN’s rights chief is visiting is a government that plainly doesn’t care about respecting basic human rights.”

GL’s late tackle

Be that as it may, in usual fashion, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris was awakened from his deepG L Piris 360px 16-02-13 slumber after Pillay left the Sri Lankan shores.
Peiris, who was briefly in London to deliver the keynote address at a Cambridge symposium on economic crime, decided to summon a hurried news conference at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on Monday (2).
Peiris said that the report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka by United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights -Navi Pillay was “unfair, wrong and biased.”
He said the “tone and substance” of the report showed a “distressing lack of balance.”  
Peiris contested several of the points made by Pillay in her report.
“The report she has just produced is indicative of a prejudiced mind and in no way shows the fairness and open-mindedness of an official undertaking such a mission, the longest she has spent in any one country,” the Minister has told the media in London.
Unlike Yugoslavia and Cambodia where post-conflict reconstruction took years, he said that Sri Lanka had made remarkable progress in reconstruction efforts in just four years since the end of the conflict.
He has said that the government had already invested US$ 3 billion in infrastructural development and in creating new opportunities for the people of the north.
This statement alone is testament to the inability of members of the government to comprehend the real concerns expressed by the international community.
The call for the Rajapaksa government is to move beyond infrastructural development towards healing the wounds that have been caused during the long period of conflict and to restore rights in the country. “However, physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace. Clearly, a more holistic approach is needed to provide truth, justice and reparations for people’s suffering during the war, and I have repeated my previous offer of OHCHR’s assistance in these areas,” Pillay said before leaving Sri Lanka.

Defining dictators

Following Pillay’s departure from the country, an interesting debate ensued last week. That was on the makings of a dictator.
Addressing the 62nd SLFP convention in the Maligapitiya Ground in Kurunegala, President Rajapaksa charged that he was not a dictator. He said that a dictator is someone does not hold elections. He went on to say that since assuming office in 2005, he has held 11 elections and that was the best indication that he was not a dictator.
The President in lighter vein said that although he had held elections, he could not help the failure of the Opposition Leader to win an election.
For President Rajapaksa a democracy is defined by the number of elections held in the country.
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe responded to this claim by saying that holding elections frequently is not a sign of democracy, but it is the holding of free and fair elections that was important.
Addressing a demonstration in Galle last Thursday, the Opposition Leader said that there needs to be media freedom, judicial independence and free and fair elections for there to be democracy in the country.
He further noted that Zimbabwe President Mugabe has elections in his country but that does not mean he is not a dictator.
He also said that he has been prevented from holding two election rallies for the forthcoming provincial council elections due to Presidential rallies.
Wickremesinghe that his election rallies have had to be cancelled since the President has decided to hold rallies at the same venue at the same time.

Dissention from within

While the President is engaged in defining the actions of a dictator, the there were visible displays of the dissention growing within the governing party.
It started with the controversial statement made by Public Affairs and Public Relations Minister Mervyn Silva during Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Silva was quoted in the media as saying, “I urge her to join me on a trip around the country. I would teach her the history of Sri Lanka - I would tell her about Maha Ravana. It was us who gave Kuveni in marriage to Prince Vijaya and if Madam Pillay is agreeable I am ready to marry her even tomorrow.”
Silva’s comment placed the government in a difficult spot and the President according to Pillay had apologised to her for the derogatory comments made by members of the government against her.
However, it is learnt that Silva had made the comment about Pillay with the clear intention of placing the government in a difficult spot.
Silva is still displeased with the attack on his son, Malaka Silva and the manner in which the case has been sidelined due to the involvement of a high profile off spring.
Nevertheless, Silva’s comment resulted in the President apologising to Pillay and the government for the first time conceding that the marriage proposal made by Silva to Pillay was indecent.
The government after admitting that such a proposition should not have been directed at a top UN diplomat has expressed its regret at the remarks made in poor taste.
Youth Services and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahappaeruma addressing the weekly news briefing of the UPFA at the SLFP Headquarters has told the media that he was disappointed and regretted Silva’s utterances, as it went against the norms of cultural and religious values of the country.
“Ms Pillay is only two years younger than my mother; how would I feel if someone made a similar suggestion to my mother? We are a highly civilised and disciplined nation with a great culture and civilisation. Therefore, I apologise for his mischief on behalf of the Cabinet,” Alahapperuma was quoted in the media as saying.
Also, governing party ally, the NFF led by Minister Wimal Weerawansa faulted another ally, SLMC for handing over a report with its suggestions to Pillay.
NFF Spokesperson, Mohammed Muzammil objected to the move by the SLMC to present suggestions to Pillay and said the SLMC's move would help Pillay prepare a false report on Sri Lanka.
Muzammil noted that Pillay would use the SLMC suggestions to compile a negative report on the country after her visit.
Meanwhile, the UNP last week said that government ministers who are displeased with the high levels of corruption within the system were now providing details about corrupt deals to the opposition.
Head of the UNP’s Communications Division, parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera told a news conference that some government ministers have started to leak documents to the UNP to bring it to the notice of the public.
He noted that there are some cabinet ministers who are against the corruption within the government.
He explained that since these ministers are unable to act against the corruption within, they were providing the UNP with Cabinet papers related to the corrupt deals.
According to Samaraweera, one of the latest corrupt deals is that the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) the constructed the Norochcholai coal power plant, which is a failure, had again been granted permission by a cabinet paper to carry out a water project in Attanagalla, Gampaha.
The UNP has set up a special unit to look into the corruption within the government.

Pressure on CHOGM

Apart from the UNHRC, the Rajapaksa government will also face a challenge come November at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo when some key members are expected to put pressure on the government to get its act together.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague has said that he and the British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the CHOGM and press Sri Lanka on issues related to human rights and media freedom.
He has observed that the UK government is very concerned about human rights in Sri Lanka including media freedom.
Hague has noted that they have decided to attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka considering the Commonwealth and its future.
“The Prime Minister and I have decided to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka. We think that the Commonwealth and its future matter so much that we must do that, no matter what the location,” Hague has told the House of Commons of the British parliament.
Answering oral questions raised at the House of Commons on Sri Lanka’s human rights violations; the Secretary of State has said the UK government raises those issues regularly with the Sri Lankan Government.
He has said the UK hopes to draw attention to the issues by attending the summit.
“We and other countries will continue to press Sri Lanka on those issues over the coming weeks,” Hague has told the House.
When asked about what progress is UK government seeking on Sri Lanka’s right issues ahead of the meeting in November, the Foreign Secretary has said all parties in the House seek progress in Sri Lanka on a wide range of issues.
These include, implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission; ensuring that there is media freedom and the operation of non-governmental organizations; and ensuring that not only is there reconstruction after the conflict, but that all political persuasions have a genuine ability to participate in democracy.

Last Updated on Sunday, 08 September 2013 12:27