President Maithripala Sirisena ordered the return of all land in the Northern and Eastern provinces that are owned by the people of those areas, soon after his return from New York where he made the notorious speech to the UN General Assembly. He issued these instructions during a meeting of the Presidential Task Force overlooking the development of the Northern and Eastern provinces. The President eagerly, has instructed the Presidential Task Force to plan out a speedy time frame and a proper structure in order to implement the project. He expected to present its progress at the next meeting. This certainly, is in keeping with the letter and spirit of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 of October 2015. When the president announced that he would go to New York and propose a new course of action before the UN, it was assumed that he might be taking a contrary course of action. Many Sinhala fascists hoped that he might announce that Sri Lanka would withdraw its assent to that resolution. That would immediately become a political matter of much contestation within the country leading to a conspiracy to oust the Yahapalanaya.
The co-sponsored resolution 30/ 1 which calls on Lanka to implement provisions relating to transitional justice remains a subject of hate for the racist opposition. Among others, the resolution has called for the return of all military occupied land and a many other reforms that would reduce the role of the military forces in the governance of the former war zones of the North and East. It also has many other features, relevant to transitional justice, such as making national laws be in compliance with international standards, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and also with regard to a constitutional settlement relating to inter- nationality power sharing. In New York however, the president limited his proposal to requesting the international community to respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and to appreciate the positive changes that have been taking place in the country. No new proposal or an amendment.
The Sinhala fascistic tendency within the country downplays the positive changes brought about by the government and instead focus attention on what has not changed. This extremism is notable both in the North and South of the country. What the government has achieved in terms of the Rule of Law, end to enforced disappearances and killings, and the amicable working relations the government has with the political representatives of the minority nationalities, is a break with the past. In this context, the meeting between President Sirisena and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely bring disgust among democracy in the country. It cannot bear much fruit, let alone bear fruit for the political coalition they are said to be negotiating on. A meeting of hearts and minds does not appear to be possible at the present time, when each of these two political rouges have to be thinking of their communal electoral prospects based on racial violence.
President Sirisena’s declaration that all civilian land will be returned to the people, whether it happens or not, is an indicator that the current thinking of the president and former president are not too far apart to be bridged. Former president Rajapaksa too gave such false promises. To mobilize Sinhala racism Mahinda continues to hold to the old racist stance that cost him the presidential election of 2015. The unwavering stance of the former president has been that the forces of Tamil nationalism are on rise, traitors are becoming more prominent, and that the unity of the country is at stake. He has also held that the hard fought military victory over the LTTE in 2009 is being surrendered by the current government which is overly subservient to the international community. He has also affirmed that he will not have any alliance with those who are traitors. Though President Sirisena’s recent call for the return of all land held by the military in the North and East provinces of the country is at variance with the former president’s exhortations, Sirisena also can easily change.
Fools believe, with the president Sirisena ordering the return of land to the Tamil civilians from whom it was taken away, the room for the president and former president to even stand together on the same political platform is remote. However, it is clear that the return of military occupied land has been taking place even prior to the change of government in 2015. Thus previous government too returned land to the people. But neither they nor the present government have been able to resolve the issue. If not the fascistic threat it would seem that there is a widespread consensus among the liberal and left members of, parliament and the national polity and the intelligentsia of the country that this ethnic conflict needs to be brought to a mutually acceptable end.
The problem for the president is that his contradictory words have suffered a crisis of confidence. This year alone the president has promised to return the land in January, March and August at different platforms. Three years ago the president visited the North and made a passionate promise to return all land back to the people within six months. But now another two years have elapsed and the job has yet to be done. This has been at the cost of the president’s credibility with the very people who turned out in their numbers to give one of the highest proportions of voter participation at a presidential election in the North and East and where he swept the polls.
With presidential elections due in less than fourteen months the president needs to be more serious this time! However, the government needs to go further than simply returning the land to the people if it is to do justice by them and win their hearts and minds.
Remarkably the people who had been let down again and again , did not show any sign of racial hatred to the Sinhala in their midst. This is a phenomenon that most that go to the North and East would experience, that there remains goodwill and the children will be friendly which shows that their parents have not taught them to hate. On the other hand within their hearts there would be bitter feelings, perhaps directed more at those institutions that failed them than at individuals. The destruction of their homes, places of religious worship, convents, schools, and even cemeteries has scarred them. They even said that cesspits had been connected to the remaining wells preventing them from using the water. These are the wounds that need to be healed. The resettled people need to be helped and the Lankan state needs to show it cares.
Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, BARRACKS LANE, COLOMBO 2
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