BY SULOCHANA RAMAIAH MOHAN
The government of Sri Lanka is gearing up to face the UNHRC during the 2015 September Review in Geneva. It’s quite like being caught on the horns of a dilemma, on one prong it faces answering to the ‘list of war criminals’, and on the other the ‘list of those who surrendered to the government Forces’ during the final phase of the war.
The government took a significant step in working cordially with the UNHRC mandate regarding the reconciliation process. Which was initially mandated on the former Rajapaksa regime which challenged every move of international community till it finally faced defeat at the Presidential elections, giving a ‘sense of relief’ to the UNHRC body, who brought in the US sponsored Resolution passed on Sri Lanka in 2012, but never saw it progress under former President Rajapaksa’s leadership.
The new government on the other hand in an attempt to renew damaged ties with the countries that had been antagonized by Sri Lanka in the recent past, continuously reiterated that ‘we failed as a nation to achieve meaningful reconciliation’ and showed its willingness to comply and to work with the UNHRC mandate but after amending a few clauses.
The Foreign Ministry has formed the special Task Force on Reconciliation and Transitional Justice has been established which will liaise with other government ministries and line agencies working on reconciliation and transitional justice issues.
The government also said it would approach the South Africans to see if a similar South African Truth Commission (TRC) customized to suit Sri Lanka, to investigate the allegations of rights abuses could be formed and it is closely working with apartheid activist of South Africa, Dr. Ivor H. Jenkins office in South Africa, who worked on a reconciliation and peace building initiative for Sri Lanka for almost eight years. Dr. Jenkins said that Sri Lanka govewrnments should realize that you cannot set the agenda for negotiation all by yourself; determine the solution and outcome of talks all by yourself; decide who sits on the other side of the negotiation table, all by yourself; be an equal negotiator and the facilitator of the talks (referee and player), all by yourself.
When Minister Samaraweera was in Geneva in March 2015, in the process of postponing the March Colombo Review till September he assured the heads of the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council that they would take advice and ‘technical assistance’ from the Human Rights Office when they conduct a domestic mechanism and would not hesitate to prosecute anyone if found guilty under Sri Lankan law.
The Government is also in the process of returning some of the private lands in Jaffna occupied by the Military to the civilians, they’ve even removed several road blocks that were causing inconvenience to the public, re-designated the victory day celebration as ‘Remembrance Day’ for all who perished during the war and many more, helping the refugees in India to return to Sri Lanka. Appointing civil servants as governors to the Northern and Eastern Provinces were some of the key achievements that were counted as ‘satisfactory’.
However, prompt action is called upon from the new government to release the political prisoners and all those who had surrendered to the Security Forces during the final phase of the war, and there have been some of the foremost clauses that need to be addressed without further delay.
After the new government was formed, several of the US based VIPs such as US Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights, Tom Malinowski Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, repeatedly urged the Sri Lankan government to pursue vigorously, complaints on missing persons and take the cooperation of the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
However, on the sixth, the commemorative day at the Mullivaikkal was held on 18 May, a report by the International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lanka released by human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka that there are 110 who surrendered to the government Forces during the final phase of the war on 18 may 2009.
Her report said that a large number of witnesses saw more than a hundred LTTE military and civilian administration leaders surrender to the Sri Lankan Army. The vast majority of them, have subsequently disappeared and, according to eyewitnesses, was last seen in the custody of the Sri Lankan military.
“Those who surrendered on 18 May 2009 were screened and put in a barbed wire holding area just south of the Wadduvakkal Bridge, which was in the control of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Many surrendered with an elderly Catholic Priest, Father Francis Joseph, who recorded the names of those surrendering in a list to simplify the task for the military, the report said.
In the meantime, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) last week announced that they were going to release a list of Sri Lanka war criminals and perpetrators of genocide for committing mass killing of Tamils and raping Tamil women and have identified around 43 names, too.
Against this backdrop of questioning, the credibility of the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints regarding Missing Persons by many Tamils and the civil societies of Sri Lanka, the commission submitted an interim report to President Maithripala Sirisena containing cases on ‘alleged abductions and disappearances’ that occurred during the period of 1 January 1983 to 19 May 2009, which said that by 9 April 2015 the commission received 16,153 complaints from residents in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and 5,200 complaints from the families of the security forces personnel and further said that 60% of the allegations were levelled against the LTTE and 30% against the security forces and 5% against armed groups and 5% against unknown groups.
When Ceylon Today contacted India’s Human Rights activist Avdhash Kaushal who was part of the advisory panel of the Missing Persons Commission (MPC), yesterday, he said that he was not informed lately on their role in the MPC.
“The Sri Lankan Government is not in touch with me. Earlier too the government headed by Rajapaksa also called me just once and it seems that they did not like any of my interventions or suggestions.”
As a regard to the credibility of MPC appointed by the former President, he said, in a democratic set-up everyone has the right to praise or criticize others. However, I myself feel that people of Sri Lanka require a peaceful solution. That is achieved only by forgiving one another and forgetting the past.
Sir Desmond de Silva
Sir Desmond de Silva who chaired the MPC’s Advisory Committee said that work of the Advisory Council ends on the 15 August.
He also reiterated that the Darusman Report which was highly condemnatory of the Sri Lankan Government and the Army, claiming to have found credible evidence of war crimes against the SLA, amongst others, this was published in 2011. One of the members of that commission was someone whom I know
– Yasmin Sooka.
We are both on a UN Panel of experts to be used on Commissions of Inquiry. Having contributed to the Darusman Report with this condemnation of the government, it was this very Yasmin Sooka who was, then, chosen by The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to provide another report – An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014. Once again there was heavy criticism by her of the Sri Lankan security forces. This report went worldwide. This is just an example of how true professionalism is viewed by the international community.
“Do please inform me if any of you or anyone known to you, made objections to someone who had already found fault against the Sri Lankan Government in a UN-sponsored report being used for another report which was to some extent going to cover the same ground? Why the silence? Why no criticism? Why no complaint to the Bar Council in England?” he asked.
When asked whether his team were paid exorbitant amounts as fees by the former government to work on commission, Sir de Silva said “Forgive me if I do not go into the envy driven issue of fees. All I will tell you is that they are significantly less than what I was receiving for a matter I was dealing with for the Government of Qatar just before I came to Sri Lanka.”
The Commission lately revealed that they have held regular meetings with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and have obtained their views and experiences gained in other parts of the world particularly on matters relating to missing persons at the end of a conflict.
The government’s new initative to invite the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will restart from where matters ended. Will the group refer to the earlier findings or will they continue to work with the government from where it stopped working on the reconciliation process, is left up to the government and the group, and it would definitely expose the authenticity of the entire work produced, at the end… truth does not come in different styles and shapes.