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By S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Under growing international pressure to deal with war crimes allegedly committed in the final stages of the conflict between Sri Lankan Government Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on August 5, 2014, extended the term of the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (PCICMP) to February 15, 2015. PCICMP had earlier been appointed on August 14, 2013.

Rajapaksa also announced that the Government was in the process of bringing in another three international panelists, expectedly from the Asian region, to expand the three-member International Advisory Council (IAC) appointed on July 15, 2014. Sir Desmond de Silva, a prominent British lawyer and former United Nation (UN) Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone; Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British barrister and a law professor who has been involved with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; and Professor David Crane, a law professor at Syracuse University in the United States (US) were appointed to serve in the original IAC.

Earlier, on March 21, 2014, President Rajapaksa amended the time period of the PCICMP to cover the period from January 1, 1983, to May 19, 2009, from the earlier notified time frame - June 10, 1990 to May 19, 2009.

The PCICMP, meanwhile, held public sittings in Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Batticaloa and Mullaitivu Districts from January to June 2014, in which the Commission received a large number of complaints, to date, at 19,284, including 14,284 from civilians and 5,000 from Security Forces personnel.

On March 27, 2014, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), by a vote of 23 states in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions, adopted a resolution for launching an inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed by both Sri Lankan Forces and LTTE rebels during the last phases of the civil war as, according to them, the Sri Lankan Government had failed to investigate the issue properly. Consequently, on June 12, 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), an investigative team comprising 12 members, including two forensic experts, a legal analyst, a gender specialist and investigators as mandated by the UNHRC to conduct its operations for a 10-month period, beginning in mid-June 2014 and ending in mid-April 2015. On August 4, 2014, Sinhala daily The Divaina reported that OISL had obtained testimonies of about 30 witnesses in the country, via Skype. The report further asserted that the panel had collected evidence to produce an oral report at the 27th session of the UNHRC, scheduled to be held in September 2014 in Geneva.

Unsurprisingly, on the day of the UNHRC resolution - March 27, 2014 - President Rajapaksa, rejected the resolution, declaring, "We reject this. This resolution only hurts our reconciliation efforts. It does not help. But I am not discouraged. We will continue with the reconciliation process I have started." Reiterating the Government’s stance on the UN investigation, Government spokesman and Media Minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, speaking at the weekly Cabinet briefing held in Colombo on July 3, 2014, observed, “Sri Lanka is ready to hold discussions at acceptable conditions but the Government which has been ascended to power (sic) by the people is not ready to be made equal with a terrorist organization.”

Significantly, the Government is continuing the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Report through the National Action Plan (NAP) approved by the Cabinet on July 26, 2012. As of June 3, 2014, out of the 144 recommendations of the NAP, 45 recommendations have achieved their objectives, while the implementation of 89 recommendations has 'progressed to a substantial extent' with long-term time-frames, and initial steps are being taken for the implementation of 10 recommendations. Regarding resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), nearly 766,307 IDPs (226,239 families) have been resettled from 2009 to April 2014 in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. According to the Joint Study by Ministry of Resettlement, Presidential Task Force (PTF) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of May 31, 2014, 30,007 persons (9,073 families) remain to be resettled, including 22,453 persons (6,766 families) from the North and 7,554 persons (2,307 families) from the East.

Highlighting the Governments steps on rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres, Major General Jagath Wijetilleke, Commissioner General of the Bureau of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (BCGR) disclosed, on June 4, 2014, that Sri Lanka has almost completed the rehabilitation of nearly 12,000 former cadres of the LTTE, and only 132 former LTTE members were currently undergoing the one-year rehabilitation program at the Poonthottam Rehabilitation Center in Vavuniya District.

Further, on the recruitment of more Kilinochchi youth to the Army as vocational tradesmen, Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, Commander of Security Force Headquarters - Kilinochchi (SFHQ-KLN), on July 5, 2014, stated that the recruitment of 125 women soldiers from the Kilinochchi area as vocational tradesmen had been completed under Phase 1. Under Phase 2, the Army expects to recruit as many as 500 young tradesmen, vocationally skilled in driving, clerical work, bakery, store-keeping, cookery, welding, agriculture, carpentry, masonry, fire extinguishing, cultural performances, electric work, general duties, etc.

On the other hand, on June 19, 2014, the Parliament gave approval to extend by another six months the time limit granted to the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) appointed on November 23, 2013, to formulate a political solution to the country's ethnic issue. Accordingly, the term of the PSC, which was earlier set to conclude on June 22, 2014, has also been extended to December 21, 2014.

Meanwhile, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest Tamil party in the country and considered as the political inheritor of the LTTE, on July 15, 2014, stated that Sri Lanka is a unitary State and has agreed to denounce separatism and accepted a united Sri Lanka for all communities. TNA had contested the Provincial Council elections on September 21, 2013, with an election manifesto calling for self-determination in the Tamil-dominated North under a federal structure. The TNA also agreed to submit an affidavit to the Supreme Court in this regard. Earlier, six petitions had been filed by representatives of Sinhala majority nationalist organizations alleging that the political objective of the TNA was to form a separate Government in Sri Lanka. The petitioners had also claimed that the TNA manifesto violated the Sixth Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which declared that no political party or other association or organization shall have as one of its aims or objects the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.

While receiving the Prime Minister of Portugal, Pedro Passos Coelho on July 20, 2014, President Mahinda Rajapaksa noted, "It would take time to heal the wounds of war because a lot of young people died from the south and the north." He further observed that he wished to see more foreign leaders visiting his country to experience the island's post-conflict progress and said that the war-devastated north had recorded over 20 per cent growth, highlighting the Government's development work in rebuilding infrastructure. According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the Northern Province had the highest rate of economic growth in 2011, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 27.8 per cent in 2011 (as compared to national average of 16.8 per cent) and 25.9 percent in 2012 (as compared to national average of 15.9 per cent).

The Sri Lankan Government continues to struggle against mounting pressure from prejudiced elements within the international community and surviving clusters of LTTE sympathizers in the Tamil Diaspora, even as domestic politics reflects some signs of greater ethnic accommodation. Indeed, the exceptional stridency of the international community on investigations in Sri Lanka has gone a great distance in feeding communal polarization and extremist trends in the country at a time when Colombo appears to be working to overcome the legacy of ethnic violence and past confrontation. The UNHRC's ill-conceived initiatives can only harm the cause, both of enduring peace and of securing justice in this long-tormented island nation.

[Source: SATP]

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