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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 22 September 2013 11:49
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Sunday Pol logo*SAARC and Commonwealth monitors’ reports to the international community
*Military under scrutiny in the North

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“Governments that block the aspirations of their people, that steal or are corrupt, that oppress and torture or that deny freedom of expression and human rights should bear in mind that they will find it increasingly hard to escape the judgement of their own people, or where warranted, the reach of international law.” – William Hague


Elections to three provincial councils have ended and by the time this newspaper reaches its readers on Sunday morning, the winner would be known. The question however would be whether there will be any “real” winner.
Regardless of who emerges victorious at the provincial polls, especially in the North, it must be understood that the country is yet to fully heal from the war and the campaigning in the North has so far done more harm than good to a community that is waiting hopefully for reconciliation.
The election campaign saw Sinhala nationalism and Tamil nationalism reaching a level that is unhealthy for a nation speaking of reconciliation after concluding a 30 year long war.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government called on the people in the three provinces that went in for elections to help the government carry out its good work and in the North, the people were asked to vote against separatism. The main Tamil political alliance in the country, the TNA meanwhile stating it had not faith in the Rajapaksa government to find a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict called the voters in the Northern Province to vote for its candidates to ensure the establishment of an internal self governing authority (ISGA), which was a demand of the LTTE.
The TNA has also continuously called for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who earlier forged an alliance along with other leftist members in the government to oppose any move to amend the 13th Amendment last week, said that the TNA’s election manifesto was an attempt to divide the country.
He has said that Sovereign power belongs only to a Central Government.
He has also added that the Northern Provincial Council would be assigned the same powers as the other provincial councils and would not be given any powers that have not been vested with the other councils.
According to Nanayakkara, the devolution of power according to a federal system would lay the foundation for a separate state.
Members of the TNA who were engaged in election campaign work were under constant attack in the North and the party has alleged that the military was being misused by governing party members.
The pre-election attack on the residence of TNA candidate Ananthi Sasitharan in Chulipuram, Jaffna was indicative of the level of violence that had followed the campaign trail.
Sasitharan is the wife of slain LTTE Trincomalee Leader, Elilan. Her electoral platform was based on a campaign for justice for the persons who had gone missing during the final stages of the war.
Following the attack, Sasitharan told the media that supporters governing party ally, the EPDP and several military personnel had forcibly entered the premises and attacked the people at her residence.
Election monitors, CaFFE said in its interim report on the provincial council elections has stated that around 100 assailants had gathered around Sasitharan's house and fearing her life she has left her house secretly.
“When election monitors rushed to the scene, they were initially prevented from entering the site and were later assaulted when they pressed for access,” CaFFE stated.
CaFFE National Organizer Ahmed Manas who was in Jaffna at the time of the attack has said that there were a large number of Military personnel in the area. “The military was deployed in numbers just as the incident took place.”
Among those injured in the attack was an election monitor of PAFFREL who had visited the place after receiving a complaint of a previous attack.

Bulldozing its way

While the TNA is favoured to garner a majority in the Northern Provincial Council, the governing UPFA is determined to try and bulldoze its way.
The Sinhala extremist factors in the Rajapaksa government verbally tore the TNA election manifesto to bits and measures were taken to initiate legal action against the manifesto. TNA leaders have now been summoned before the court next month to give an explanation.
While Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim political leaders are engaged in power battles, the hapless masses continue to grapple for their survival, especially in the North.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was last week quoted in the media as saying that there is an attempt to create a religious war in Sri Lanka.
He has observed that some people are trying to instigate such a war by creating an environment for it and has called on the people not to be misled by false allegations and fall prey to attempts to corner Sri Lanka internationally.
The Rajapaksa government while blaming various elements of conspiracy theories has thus far failed to build confidence among the minority communities and create an environment that any citizen in the country could live in dignity and enjoy the constitutional rights that have been vested with them.
As stated in the previous column, the biggest problem faced by the country is the communalism that has been harnessed in society greatly by Sinhala communalism and also by Tamil and Muslim communalism.
The Northern Provincial Council election saw the polarization of Sinhala and Tamil communities by the political leaderships.
The statement by the National Peace Council last week that it believed that the increased polarisation in the polity due to the competing nationalisms of the electoral campaign should be overcome soon after the election is over should be taken into heart by the political leaders of all hues in the country.
“It would be best for all politicians to abstain from inciting hate against the other,” the National Peace Council rightly stated.  

Focus on the North

Nevertheless, local and international attention is focussed on the conduct and outcome of the Northern Provincial Council elections.Postal-Votes North 410
Sri Lanka’s Head of Mission to the European Union, Ambassador P.M. Amza, addressing the Meeting of the European Parliament’s Delegation for the Relations with the Countries in South Asia, (DSAS), on September 17th said, “the Northern Provincial Council elections scheduled on 21 September, for the first time since the establishment of the Provincial Council system in Sri Lanka in 1987, has infused political momentum into the once war-stricken region.”
Be that as it may, German Ambassador Hanns Schumacher addressing the UNHRC in Geneva noted that the elections in the Northern Province could help to reconcile and enfranchise the Tamil population, but only if they are free and fair and if the 13th amendment is not revoked.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s visit to the North also happened during the election campaign and several members of the diplomatic community also visited the North in the run up to the election.
High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Maj Gen Qasim Qureshi was one such visitor to the North.
Pakistan now has a greater role to play in monitoring affairs in Sri Lanka since forging a close relationship with the country. India’s strained relations with Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s strained relations with the US have resulted in a close link between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
It is no secret that it was Pakistan that played a key role in securing the votes of the Muslim nations for Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in March this year when a US sponsored resolution was taken for a vote for the second consecutive year.
However, Pakistan has been under fire from Muslim leaders in Colombo when anti Muslim sentiments erupted from various parts of Sri Lanka.
With the resolution on Sri Lanka coming up for reviewing next March, Pakistan is now closely monitoring the situation in the country.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that the provincial elections in Sri Lanka are an important opportunity for reconciliation in the country.
He called on all parties last week to take part in the electoral process in a peaceful manner.
He described the election as a way to “foster political reconciliation and to build confidence between Sri Lankans after many years of conflict.”

Reports on polls

The provincial council elections, especially the Northern Provincial Council elections would play a crucial role in future discussions on Sri Lanka and reconciliation.
SAARC and Commonwealth election monitors are to prepare reports on the provincial council elections with special attention being paid to the Northern Provincial polls.
Former Indian Elections Chief and the Head of the SAARC Election Monitoring team, N. Gopalaswamy has said that the final report compiled by them along with the monitors’ observations would be given to the international community.
He has noted that it would help the international community understand how the polls were conducted in Sri Lanka.
According to Gopalaswamy, the SAARC monitors had received complaints on the interference by the military in polls-related activities from the time the elections were announced in the North.
The SAARC monitors are to issue an elaborate report on Monday (23) and it is expected to provide an analysis on the Northern Provincial Council elections.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth election monitors have they will pay attention to the entire process leading up to the Northern Provincial Council elections when compiling the final report on the polls.
Former Vice President of Kenya and head of the Commonwealth election monitoring delegation in Sri Lanka, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka said in a statement that the task of the delegation is to consider all the factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole, and to assess whether the election is conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Sri Lanka has committed itself, with reference to its own election legislation as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments.
“We will consider, among other things, whether conditions exist for free and competitive elections; whether the Elections Commission is independent and effective; the transparency of the process; whether candidates have been free to campaign; what role the media has played; whether voters have been free to express their will; and whether the results process is transparent,” Musyoka has observed.

UNHRC on SL case

International attention on Sri Lanka was continuously witnessed last week when the US and Germany referred to Sri Lanka during the General debate on the “Human rights situations that require the Council's attention” at the ongoing UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
The US statement expressed concern over the reported incidents of violence in Sri Lanka
“We remain concerned by violence against religious minorities, excessive use of force by the military against peaceful protestors, violations of freedom of expression, and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists,” the US delegation noted.
The US said Sri Lanka should set dates for Special Rapporteurs to visit and provide relevant access.
Germany meanwhile has said its concerns remain high with respect to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Delivering a statement German Ambassador Hanns Schumacher has told the Council that concrete steps to implement the LLRC report or investigate atrocities alleged to have been committed at the end of the civil war in 2009 have not been taken and the issues remain unresolved.
“At the same time, conditions for the work of journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs continue to deteriorate,” Schumacher noted.
The UNHRC attention will also be focussed on the murder of five university students in Trincomalee in 2006.
An Amnesty International delegation including Sri Lanka experts are to raise the matter at the UNHRC.
Dr Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the students, is traveling with the delegation. The case remains unsolved to this day, despite witnesses claiming that Sri Lankan security personnel were responsible, Amnesty International has said.
Since his son’s murder, Dr Manoharan has led a vocal campaign for justice. Subsequently, he and his surviving family members have been forced to flee the country.
In Geneva, he is to present a petition to the Council with 50,000 signatures on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the EU Amza has told the EU parliament that the Government has requested specific information on the allegations regarding people being threatened, following their meetings with the High Commissioner, as it is in the interest of the Government, to investigate into it.
He has further noted that action has been taken in keeping with the government’s commitment to improve the human rights, inter alia including appointment of a three-member Commission in August this year, to investigate on the missing persons related to the conflict, with the mandate of reporting within six months.

CHOGM count down

Amidst all these issues, the Rajapaksa government is continuing with its planning work for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November.http://secretariat.thecommonwealth.org/Shared_ASP_Files/GFSR.asp?NodeID=251759&AttributeName=FileNameAccording to the government, apart from India and Canada, all other member states have confirmed their participation at the summit.
The Indian government has said that it is yet to decide on the level of its participation at the CHOGM.
Spokesman at the Indian External Affairs Ministry Syed Akbaruddin has said that India will decide on the summit in due course.
“Our view has been that we will take a call on this in due course. And this has also been reflected elsewhere including by the organisers. We will take a call well in time and we will also inform you on this,” he has said.
The Indian government is under severe pressure from Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu to boycott the summit in Sri Lanka as a mark of protest against the actions of the Rajapaksa government.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 September 2013 11:49