Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Monday, March 26, 2012

         --Jehan Perera

The Sri Lankan government attempted to make the best of a bad situation by pointing to the narrowness of its defeat at the UN Human Rights Council last week.  Out of the 47 countries on the Council, 15 of them supported Sri Lanka and voted against the resolution on Sri Lanka proposed by the United States.  In addition there were 8 abstentions, making a total of 23 countries that did not vote for the resolution.  As this was only one less than the 24 who did vote in favour of the resolution the government sought to claim a near victory over the world’s superpower.  The government’s bitterness was also reflected in its official statement after the vote that even its genuine efforts to bring about reconciliation in Sri Lanka had not been recognized at the UNHRC.  President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself addressed a public meeting and said that the defeat in Geneva would please the LTTE proxies and Tamil Diaspora but not the people of Sri Lanka.

Underlying the emotional response to the UNHRC resolution from within ranks of the government was the perception of unfair treatment that many of Sri Lanka’s general population also shared. A glance at the newspaper headlines on the events that transpired the day after the vote in Geneva would reveal the negative feelings of government leaders.  These headlines included We will not let anyone intervene in Sri Lanka’s affairs; Be united to defeat foreign conspiracies; Do not give India any economic concessions; Mervyn (Minister of Public Relations) threatens to break limbs of journalists; NGO conspiracy to create anarchy; and US resolution has set a very dangerous precedent.  However there were also more positive headlines, in which sources that were not a part of the government were quoted, and which gave the news coverage a greater degree of balance such as US resolution not inimical to Sri Lanka; Frequent reporting to UNHRC averted; and Tamils must get justice and lead a life of dignity.

There has been a strong feeling within Sri Lanka that the government had been singled out for unfavorable judgment, which is felt even by those who are not necessarily supporters of the government.  This sentiment has been compounded by the observation that many of those in the Tamil Diaspora who had once championed the cause of the LTTE, and funded its war machine, had metamorphosed themselves into human rights defenders in Geneva. Some of them were seen in the company of world leaders. During the final stages of the war many of them had denied that the LTTE indiscriminately and forcibly recruited children while holding the civilian population hostage.  Even sections of the TNA took the same position instead of urging the LTTE to let go of the people and the children.  But at the UNHRC the Tamil Diaspora and TNA were seen as campaigning against the Sri Lankan government on the same human rights platform alongside well known international human rights groups.


In retrospect, a preamble to the UNHRC resolution that mentioned the past context in greater detail and the role of the LTTE and its supporters in contributing to the human rights debacle at the end of the war might have made it more palatable to public opinion within Sri Lanka.  This is an issue that may be considered at future sessions of the UNHRC when follow up assessments of developments in Sri Lanka are taken up.  It has been said that only those who come before the temples of justice with clean hands can expect the courts to mete out justice on their behalf.  The sense of grievance of the Sri Lankan government and the majority population of the country, that countries and groups that were guilty of human rights violations themselves had passed strictures on Sri Lanka, needs to be addressed if a change of heart within the larger population of Sri Lanka is to be obtained.

Another issue that has evoked a strongly negative reaction from the government is the possibility of the UNHRC resolution being made into an instrument to pursue charges of war crimes against it.  While the UNHRC resolution does give the centre stage to the LLRC and its recommendations, it also contains language that can be construed as seeking to go beyond it.  The resolution also critiques the LLRC report by “Noting with concern that the report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law.”   Although the LLRC did address issues of accountability in its report, this was not done in a comprehensive manner, as it was not a part of the mandate given to it by the President who appointed them.  Therefore the LLRC findings on accountability are limited and it recommended independent investigations to be carried out into the few cases it looked into, including the controversial UK Channel 4 video.

Proponents of the UNHRC resolution have often sought to explain the resolution as a moderate and harmless one that merely calls on the government to implement the constructive recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  The thrust of the LLRC recommendations pertain to the rebuilding of Sri Lanka’s political institutions that have been progressively dismantled in the course of nearly three decades of fighting the LTTE.  Today there is widespread criticism within Sri Lanka about the manner in which the present government in particular has set about dismantling the independence of public institutions and further politicized the public service.  It has been a near miracle that the LLRC was able to go as far as it did despite the infirmities in its appointment and mandate, and the general political environment in which nationalist discourse prevails. 


Despite the good governance focus of the LLRC, and ostensibly of the UNHRC resolution itself which gives central place to the LLRC recommendations, the Sri Lankan government has reason to be concerned.  In its original draft version, the UNHRC resolution opened the door to an international presence within Sri Lanka in regard to accountability issues.  The draft resolution stated that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures mandate holders were to provide technical assistance and advice to the Sri Lankan government on implementing accountability measures, and the Sri Lankan government to accept it.  This imposition of an external mechanism was anathema to the government especially in view of the strained relations with the UN High Commissioner.  In any event, it is difficult to imagine any government in any part of the world that would wish to have external parties sit in judgment over the conduct of a war fought by its armies or even offer advice on how to protect human rights that has to be accepted.   

Ironically it was India, whose vote against Sri Lanka came as a great shock, which also softened the potentially adverse impact of the UNHRC resolution on the Sri Lankan government.  It did this by negotiating an amendment to the clause relating to external technical assistance to ensure that it only came after “consultation with, and with the concurrence of,” the Sri Lankan government.  Whereas the original draft resolution seemed to make it compulsory for the Sri Lankan government to accept the UN High Commissioner’s technical assistance and advice, the final resolution gives the Sri Lankan government the opportunity to minimize international intervention that is unacceptable to it.  In his letter to President Rajapaksa after the vote at the UNHRC, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explained that the Indian delegation had “spared no effort and were successful in introducing an element of balance in the language of the resolution.”  

At a time when Sri Lankan government leaders may be feeling a sense of betrayal at the vote in the UNHRC it is also important for them to realize that Sri Lanka is part of the international community, and abide by the commitments that they and previous Sri Lankan governments have made.  When it fought the war against the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government did receive the political and military support of virtually the entire international community, including the United States that sponsored the UNHRC resolution and India which voted for it.  This political and military support was given to Sri Lanka on the understanding that after the end of the war there would be structural reforms that addressed the political roots of the conflict.

Significantly, in his letter to the President, the Indian Prime Minister also reiterated his “conviction that a meaningful devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would lead towards a lasting political settlement on many of these issues and create conditions in which all citizens of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their ethnicity, can find justice, dignity, equality and self-respect.”  The implementation of LLRC recommendations, particularly those relating to the devolution of power, can go a substantial part of the way in meeting those commitments and ensuring that countries that are now critical of Sri Lanka will resume their positive support for it in the years ahead.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Addressing the nation and the international community on Independence Day President Mahinda Rajapaksa made many inspirational statements.  These could be regarded as statements of government policy that will charter the future course of the country. The President’s speech was also finely tuned to appeal to the nationalism of the masses of people and their sense of patriotism.  Making reference to the economic crisis that country was experiencing and which is eroding their standards of living he said that "We would be able to exist as an independent, sovereign state only if we strengthen our economy. We have to get together and work just as we got together and worked with dedication to defeat terrorism."

The President’s promise with regard to economic prosperity was important the context of the pessimism that has set in on account of balance of payments difficulties.  For months, in the face of governmental denials, independent economists have been warning that the country’s economy is imbalanced with imports far exceeding exports. The economic success has led to huge imports and the country's trade deficit touched a record USD 9 billion in the first 11 months of last year, shrinking its foreign currency reserves to USD 6 billion by January 2012.  Foreign reserves stood at USD 8 billion in July 2011.  Now the Central Bank has announced a devaluation of the rupee which will have adverse consequences on the cost of living to the masses of people.

At the Independence Day celebrations the President made it evident that he saw a foreign hand attempting to destabilise the government and deny the country its hard won gains.  He said “Conspiracies and propaganda of terrorists based overseas have not abated still. When such things happen abroad some people here do various things to destabilize the Motherland.”  He also paid his government a big compliment by saying that it had achieved more in terms of development in three years than had taken place in the previous fifty years.  This was clearly an inspirational assertion on the part of the President who was certainly pointing to the foundations that his government was laying for the future development of the country.

It is unlikely that in making his overstatement on development that the President was seeking to downplay the achievements of the past by his illustrious predecessors in the governance of the country.  In the 1950s there was the Gal Oya development scheme that opened up the vast territories of thick jungle land in the east to agriculture that turned it into a rice bowl and provided land for the landless peasants in other parts of the country. This was followed by the Mahaweli River diversion scheme that commenced in the late 1970s that irrigated vast extents of the central and north central parts of the country, the opening up of the economy and investment in Free Trade Zones that brought in foreign investment in the form of the garment factories in the 1980s and the million houses project of the early 1990s. 


It would appear that the President was envisaging the development that could take place in the country after the major economic projects completed in the past three years started to yield their full potential.  For instance the great port at Hambantota that is anticipated to bring the world’s shipping fleets to Sri Lanka has yet to become serviceable on account of a large rock that has still to be removed from the entrance to the harbour.  Another major development project, the huge coal fired power station at Norochcholai, has also to become fully functional on account of frequent fire outbreaks in its teething period.  But like the road network that is being built, epitomised by the Southern Expressway, and the beautification programme in Colombo, once these glitches are rectified there is no doubt that the economy will receive the turbo-boost that the President has seen in the achievement of the last three years.

The challenge for the government will not be in convincing the Sri Lankan people who are ready to believe in the President’s promises.  The people will surely look to the future with optimism due to their faith in the government’s ability to deliver on what it promises, as it did in defeating the LTTE.  The government also had to deal with international pressures upon it.  The most serious pressure comes from the vexed issue of human rights violations that took place in the course of the last phase of the war.  Once again the government has to face the international human rights community at the Geneva sessions of the UN’s Human Rights Council in March this year. On several occasions the government promised the international community that the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission would take care of this problem. 

The LLRC made a large number of recommendations based on its findings which were far reaching and extensive.  These included investigating specific incidents of human rights violations, including the authenticity of the Channel 4 video broadcast in the UK which showed scenes of battlefield executions.  The recommendations also include instituting reforms in governance such as ensuring that the police and public service become independent of political interference and that a political solution is found to Tamil grievances. The LLRC even gave the broad contours of this political solution through the improvement of the existing Provincial Council system of devolution, and supplementing it with power sharing at the centre and more grassroots level decentralization.

The LLRC also has recommendations that are simple and easy to implement if the government has the political will to do so.  These include having the national anthem sung in both Sinhala and Tamil languages and remembering all victims of the war at national events.  In Recommendation 9.277 the LLRC stated that “the practice of the National Anthem being sung simultaneously in two languages to the same tune must be maintained and supported.”  In its final Recommendation 9.285 it stated that it “strongly recommends that a separate event be set apart on the National Day to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict and pledge our collective commitment to ensure that there should never be such bloodletting in the country again.”


The ideal occasion for the government to have shown its intention of implementing the LLRC recommendations would have been at the Independence Day celebration itself. There was a giant audience of both Sri Lankans and diplomats from around the world watching the event live on their television sets and in person at the site of the event itself. The government could have got the national anthem to be sung in both the Sinhala and Tamil languages.  This would have sent a very positive message to the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka who amount to about a quarter of its population that they were being treated equally and with respect on Independence Day.  The government could also have made a gesture of remembering all victims of the war on that occasion and eased their sorrow even as they watched the nation rise again.

In his Independence Day speech President Rajapaksa made reference to the LLRC report when he said, that the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has stated that all are responsible for this problem. All those who act according to their conscience should take heed of this statement. Therefore, we have already started implementing what was in the Commission. The report was tabled in Parliament on December 17. Since then we have done a lot.”

However, despite the President’s commitment to the LLRC report the national anthem was sung in Sinhala only as it has on previous occasions.  The language issue which commenced with the implementation of the Sinhala-only Act of 1956 divided the Sinhala speaking and Tamil speaking people as no other issue has.  Despite the President’s resolve to reach for reconciliation, there was no break with the past in the actual practice of the government.  When the President did refer to those who had lost their lives in the three decade war, he remembered only the patriots who sacrificed their lives, not all the victims of the tragic conflict as recommended by the LLRC. 

It is unfortunate that the President failed to take the opportunity presented by Independence Day to show the nation and the international community that it had already begun to implement the LLRC recommendations, and make a break with the past.  The LLRC itself thought fit to mention in its final report that its interim recommendations made about a year earlier had yet to be implemented. Another opportunity must be found sooner rather than later to demonstrate to the nation and to the international community that deeds will follow words. The hopes of the vast multitudes who believe in the President’s promises must not prove to be in vain. 

Monday, January 30, 2012


The government’s approach to problem solving after the end of the war has been two fold.  One is to set up mechanisms that would give a different perspective on the problem.  With the overall improvement in the country’s post-war situation evident to both citizens and foreign visitors alike, the government has its own story to tell.  The government established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the mounting international pressure on it on account of alleged war crimes in the last phase of the war.  The report of the LLRC that was released to the public in November last year has obtained sufficient international acceptance to give the government more breathing space.

The alternative governmental approach towards dealing with problems has been to deny their reality and accuse others of engaging in conspiracies against it.  This was evident in the government’s response to the decision of seven media organizations to stage a Black January protest in Colombo against the killings and disappearances of journalists that have taken place with impunity in the past in different parts of the country, and which have continued to hinder the free expression of ideas even in recent times.  The government utilized the power of the state media to deny and discredit this claim.  Days before the protest those who were involved in organizing the protest were described by the government media as LTTE supporters, notwithstanding the demise of that organization over two and half years ago.

The name “Black January" was chosen by the organisers to put the spotlight on attacks on the media that have occurred in the month of January.  The first victim was a freelance photo journalist from Trincomalee, Subramaniam Sugirdharajan who contributed to “Sudar Oli”. He was killed by an unidentified gunman on 24 January, 2006 in Trincomalee. It was Sugirdharajan who provided photographs to the Tamil media on the killing of the 5 youths in Trincomalee, early January, 2006. Other January attacks included the torching of the “MTV/MTB” media station, the killing of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009, and the disappearance of political columnist Prageeth Ekneligoda in 2010.

On the day of the protest the government acting through the police sought a court order to stop the demonstration on the grounds of public security.  In addition, government members organized a much larger parallel demonstration at the same venue.  At the pro-government protest there were placards labeling the organisers of the protest, as traitors and supporters of the LTTE. According to media reports, these pro-government demonstrators were armed with clubs and disrupted traffic.  But the police which had filed for a court order to prevent the free media protest from taking place merely looked on.


A similar governmental strategy was followed a fortnight earlier in Jaffna in regard to a protest against missing and disappeared persons which happened on a very large scale during the war, particularly in the North and East of the country.  After the war’s end there was an expectation that the government would take steps to ensure that the whereabouts and fate of those who were missing or disappeared would be ascertained.  But to the grief and frustration of their families this did not happen.  The government has failed to heed even the interim recommendation of the LLRC in this regard which was made over a year ago.

In the present situation where there is no movement forward in finding out what happened to their loved ones, their families will ever be ready to join anyone who will champion their cause.  There is a requirement that all civic activities, including social gatherings, should be notified in advance to the security forces.  The large scale presence of security forces belonging to one ethnic community where the people belong to another ethnic community also exacerbates the possibility of misunderstandings and mistrust.  Therefore the people feel disempowered and too intimidated to organize anything due to the tight governmental control over dissent in the North.

In this context, a demonstration in Jaffna on behalf of missing and disappeared persons organized by the breakaway faction of the JVP obtained popular support especially amongst the families of the victims.   Although the JVP has traditionally been viewed as a Sinhalese nationalist party, its breakaway faction has been trying to reach out to the Tamil people in the North.  This is appreciated by the relatives of the missing persons, even those who might not have much sympathy towards the other objectives of the JVP.

However, in a manner that was similar to its treatment of the free media protest in Colombo, the government took action to disrupt this meeting.  Whereas in Colombo the judiciary was utilized to limit the protest, in Jaffna the army blocked the JVP demonstrators from travelling to their destination in Jaffna.  Around 800 persons who were heading towards Jaffna along the A9 road were blocked at Omanthai. According to media reports they were heading towards Jaffna in 20 vehicles including 12 buses.   In addition, government members in Jaffna organized an even larger demonstration against those who were calling for the missing and disappeared to be located denouncing them as pro-LTTE activists.


The problem with these government reactions to public protests undertaken by different segments of the population is that they do nothing to resolve the problems that exist.  If problems that exist are to be solved there has to be preparedness to change. If there is no preparedness to change, problems will not be solved.  The killings and disappearances of journalists is a real problem and accounts for why Sri Lanka ranks close to the bottom of world rankings on media freedom.  So is the problem of killings and disappearances of Tamil civilians during the war which is why there is an unceasing international demand for accountability.

In the coming month, the government will be forced to defend its human rights record before the international community at the annual sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  One of the main achievements that the government is likely to place before those who accuse it will be the LLRC report.  In their report, the Commissioners of the LLRC gave a prominent place to the protection of the free media and called on the government to investigate past killings and disappearances of journalists.  The LLRC also noted that their interim recommendation  had not been implemented.  These included providing details of those held in government custody to their relatives and the fate of those who were killed or disappeared to be made known.

The onus is on the government to solve problems, and not to postpone their resolution or to deny that they exist at all.  There may be some problems that the passage of time heals or makes irrelevant.  However, problems that have to do with the memories of people who went missing or were killed in brutal circumstances will almost surely never go away on their own.  The recent decision of the French government to make it illegal to deny the alleged massacre of one million Armenians by Turkey in 1915 as an act of genocide is a pointed reminder to us in Sri Lanka. The present government of Sri Lanka must not leave the unhealed memories of the recent past to grow, multiply and haunt Sri Lanka a hundred years from now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Sri Lanka's internal war and terrorism lasted for three decades and ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE.  The overall cost in terms of lives lost, property destroyed, development opportunities foregone, emotional suffering and migration of Sri Lankans is incalculable.  The bitterness and animosity that the last stage of the war caused would be a permanent scar on the inter-ethnic relations unless there is a genuine reconciliation between the government and the Tamil leaders on the one hand and between the ethnic communities on the other.

The Norwegian government's effort to facilitate a peace process in the period 2002-06 was the last attempt to achieve peace through peaceful means. The National Peace Council supported this final effort, and it is our regret that we could not generate a people's movement for peace that would have put pressure on the warring parties not to go back to the battlefield.  It was and remains our conviction that the outcome of peaceful negotiations would have been superior to those of a military solution and would have made a smoother transition to peace while providing a political solution.  If it had succeeded much loss of lives and property would have been avoided.

The several efforts made to end the war through peaceful means were necessary and courageous attempts even though they failed.  The war and terrorism arose out of a long festering ethnic conflict, the roots of which were not adequately addressed, and still have to be addressed even though the war has ended.  The Norwegian-facilitated peace process had the goal of a peaceful solution through negotiations, and even reached a point where the government and LTTE agreed to explore a power sharing solution within a united Sri Lanka.  But we must study the reasons for its failure and seek to apply the lessons from such failure.

The willingness of the Norwegian government to subject its peace initiative to independent scrutiny, even critical scrutiny as in this case, is an example of transparency and openness. Now that the war is over, we urge Norway and the international community to support Sri Lanka to achieve a political solution and post-war development. Members of the international community, including the United States, European Union, India and Japan that were directly involved in the peace process need to continue with their efforts to ensure peace with justice in Sri Lanka. Â

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.


One of the outcomes of the visit to Sri Lanka by the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has been the resurrection of the concept of “13th Amendment Plus.” Speaking to the media at the conclusion of his visit, the Indian Minister said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pledged to improve on the devolution of powers presently granted to the provinces in terms of the 13th Amendment.  However, when questioned as to whether the Sri Lankan government had given any commitments regarding this improvement or a time frame in which it would do so, Mr Krishna was constrained to admit that no such undertaking had been given.  It appears that the Sri Lankan government has once again been able to get itself out of a problem.  But this does not mean it is closer to solving the problem.

The Indian government has consistently expressed its interest in a political solution to Tamil grievances.  India has a particular interest in the 13th Amendment, as it was formulated in the aftermath of the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 of which India was the prime architect.  Despite the end of the war more than two and a half years ago, little has been forthcoming so far in terms of an advance towards a political solution that is based on devolution of power.   The Sri Lankan government’s announcement that it is considering a senate or upper house of parliament that would be a bridge between the centre and the provinces may, in fact, be part of a design to offer an alternative to the devolution of power.Â

The undefined and elusive concept of a post-war solution of “13th Amendment Plus” was first articulated by President Rajapaksa during the height of the war in 2008 when there was mounting pressure on his government to reconsider the military option in view of its very high human cost.  On occasion the President seemed to refine the concept further when he said that it would be “13th Amendment Plus One” though little indication was given as to what either the “plus” or the “one” would mean in concrete terms.  In the absence of anything concrete, these concepts were taken to mean a commitment to devolve more power to the provinces than existed at that time.  The LTTE that was waging war against the government did not accept the 13th Amendment at all.Â


Ironically, it was not only the LTTE that found the 13th Amendment to be wanting.  Even politicians who contested provincial council elections and had become chief ministers of provinces have complained bitterly about the shortcomings in its implementation.  A key weakness is the near total dependence of the provincial councils on the central government for finances.  The provincial councils are severely restricted in their power to raise their own funds which has made them hopelessly dependent on the central government.  Another serious weakness has been the existence of a concurrent list of subjects which are shared by the central and provincial administrations.   In practice, where there are such shared powers the central government has had no reservations about monopolizing those powers.Â

In this context the President’s promise of 13th Amendment Plus at the conclusion of the war was an attractive reassurance to those who were concerned about the high human costs of the war.  This promise was most useful to the Indian government in warding off the pressure from its volatile state of Tamil Nadu where there was mass agitation that India was helping the Sri Lankan government to defeat the LTTE.  As the 13th Amendment was designed in terms of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987, the promise of 13th Amendment Plus was a vindication of India’s role in the elimination of the LTTE. The presidential promise held out the hope that once the LTTE was out of the picture, there would be no obstacle to the government making the 13th Amendment work successfully by strengthening it where it was weak.Â

However, two and a half years after the elimination of the LTTE the promise of 13th Amendment Plus has not been forthcoming.  On the contrary the appearance is of a reversal, in which the powers of the provinces are being further reduced.  The passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution which centralized even more powers in the presidency has eroded the autonomy and integrity of all other institutions in the country.  In addition, with the elimination of the LTTE, government leaders began to say that no further devolution of powers was necessary. Some have even begun to speak about abolishing the devolution of powers entirely.  There are sections of the government who do not wish to have any institutional obstacles that would prevent them from doing whatever they decide.


Despite the visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister bringing the issue of increasing the devolution of powers to the provinces back to the public debate it is not likely to go beyond that.  During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, Mr Krishna gave support to the Sri Lankan government’s intention to have a Parliamentary Select Committee work out the modalities of a political solution to the ethnic conflict.  The TNA has made a pertinent observation that if they are unable to reach a consensus with the government, it is not likely that they will be able to reach any sort of consensus with the several other political parties in Parliament.    The fate of the All Party Representatives Committee which met 128 times over a four year period and whose final report was never released by the President’s office, does not bode well for the outcome of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

In the light of these circumstances, the prospects for political reform, devolution of power and a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the near future looks dim.   At best these will remain matters for the future that is still far off.  What has been said during the visit of the Indian Minister is in the realm of words and sentiments. The better option for those who seek justice for the war-affected Tamil people, would be to focus on improving their concrete circumstances on the ground.  The primary areas of concern are to improve the livelihood of the war displaced people and their housing conditions. The government needs to be supported by the international community in reconstructing the north and east according to the needs of the people.  The Indian commitment to build 50,000 houses for the war affected population is an exemplary action in this context.

The other area of importance is that of the role of the military in the North and East.  Especially in the north, the military plays a decisive role in day to day matters. Civilians need to feel that military presence in these areas is to support and empower war affected communities and not rule over them but sustain and protect democratic values.   The management and oversight of the military forces will need to be changed if it is to become more acceptable to the people.  The military must be accountable for their actions in the north at least to a body from civil society consisting of people of the area.  Sooner rather than later it is also necessary for the military to return to barracks and the police entrusted with the maintenance of law and order as called for by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  While the dialogue on political reform must go on, the quality of life of the people as manifested in their day to day affairs must be simultaneously improved.


The visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to Sri Lanka this week comes at an important time.  Several noteworthy events are billed to take place during his visit.  In June 2010, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised that India would donate 50,000 houses to meet the needs of the war affected people in Sri Lanka’s North where the last battles of the war were fought, and which turned much of it into a wasteland.  But so far this promise has been confined to the pilot phase, and only a thousand of these houses are in the process of being built.  

Now there are bigger tasks that have to be taken on. Amongst these are the launching of the second (main) phase of the housing project for the internally displaced persons of the North and the reconstruction of the northern railway to Jaffna.  These projects have been slow to get off the ground and are in contrast to the major infrastructure projects that have been done with Chinese assistance.  

In the meantime the war affected people continue to live in temporary housing, either in their own land or in the homes of relatives.  Similar slow progress has been a feature of other Indian projects that could provide a boost to the country’s economic development.  However, demonstrating the ability to resolve problems ahead of the ministerial visit the two governments agreed to repatriate fishermen held in each other's territory and to also speed up a pact to jointly develop fisheries.

The timing of the Indian visit is also significant to Sri Lanka for another reason.  This is the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that starts on February 27 and continues for most of March.  The Sri Lankan government has a strong interest in ensuring that the issue of alleged war crimes in the last phase of the war is not taken up at this session or at any future session for that matter.  Indian support will be crucial to see that the Sri Lankan government is not taken to the dock.


Although the present government showed itself capable of eliminating the LTTE through military means, it has so far not been able to quell Tamil nationalism through political means.  At the present time the most visible location of this struggle is outside of Sri Lanka where the Tamil Diaspora groups are most active.  The issue of war crimes is their main weapon.  Strengthening this claim is the inability of the Sri Lankan government to make an internationally credible response to the accusation that it is not coming up with a political solution to Tamil grievances. 

The ability of the Tamil Diaspora to obtain invitations to attend the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress in South Africa has been viewed as a serious affront by the Sri Lankan government that boycotted the event.  The willingness of the ruling party in South Africa to give legitimacy to the Tamil Diaspora and its demands is a sign that other countries in the third world might begin thinking on similar lines. The moral influence of South Africa on the world’s conscience due to the enlightened post-apartheid leadership of former President Nelson Mandela cannot be underestimated. 

The Tamil Diaspora’s success can also be seen in the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reiteration that he will boycott the next Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka unless there is progress in Sri Lanka.  A spokesman for the Prime Minister has said that actual change must occur before Canada opens its mind to attending the 2013 summit in Colombo.  While Canada has the largest Tamil Diaspora in the world, its approach can influence other countries with large Tamil Diaspora populations. 

The danger for Sri Lanka is that the South African and Canadian stances might be an example to other countries from both the developing and developed countries when it comes to a vote at the Human Rights Council, if not in March this year then sometime in the future.  The end of the war against the LTTE on the military battlefield has not ended the Tamil nationalist struggle. The visiting Indian External Affairs Minister has expressed the hope for a lasting political solution to the outstanding issues between the Tamils and the government.  This condition might have to be satisfied if Sri Lanka is to continue to count on India’s support. 


So far the most promising response that the government has been able to come up with has been the release of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  The LLRC exceeded expectations in providing answers to the issues of governance and political reform.  Even the TNA which has made a severe critique of the LLRC report and called for an international investigation into war crimes has stated that some of its recommendations (on issues other than accountability) have positive elements that the TNA itself would support if implemented.  

The Indian government in its own response to the LLRC report said that it had “been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation."  More recently the UK government endorsed the recommendations of the LLRC on good governance and a political solution, while expressing disappointment on its findings with respect to accountability for war crimes. 

As an astute politician President Rajapaksa will be aware of the importance of keeping commitments.  During the height of the war, the President boldly promised that his government would go beyond the current limits of the 13th Amendment to “13 Amendment Plus” and he would deliver a political solution within six months of winning the last Presidential Election in November 2009.  Inexperienced politicians may believe that they can promise one thing and deliver another. But a politician with over 40 years of experience, as the President has, will know that the breakdown of trust with the electorate will almost surely guarantee defeat at the next elections.  

In dealing with international governments it is equally if not more important to keep commitments. The international community of governments is not as gullible as the voting public often is. It does not require much reading between the lines of statements issued by the international community, especially India, to understand that the assistance given to win the war came with an understanding.  The understanding was that Sri Lanka would deal justly with the Tamil people and address the roots of the ethnic conflict, which is what the LLRC itself is asking the government to do.  Having won the military battle over Tamil nationalism the government must deal with it politically and soon, through a just and negotiated political solution.


The TNA has yet to issue its follow up response to its initial rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  In a strongly worded statement the TNA noted that “The report of the LLRC is a serious assault on the dignity of the victims of the war in Sri Lanka, and as such, has not only gravely damaged the chances of genuine reconciliation but has further alienated the victims of the war.” It therefore called on the international community “to acknowledge the consistent failure of domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and take steps to establish an international mechanism for accountability.”

However, the initial responses of international governments towards the report have been by and large favorable, especially with regard to the many recommendations on governance and on a political solution that would address Tamil grievances. There are many among the international community who are not aware of the past history of Tamil grievances and broken promises.  They are likely to be puzzled by the apparent total rejection of the LLRC report by the TNA.  They are likely to see an excessively demanding attitude asking for too much.  In responding to the LLRC report, the TNA appears to have considered the expectations of its supporters in the Tamil Diaspora as well as its voters.Â

The TNA's rejection of the LLRC report would seem to have arisen from the principal concerns of the Tamil populace it represents to come to terms with what happened during the last phase of the war.  One key factor is the Tamil Diaspora.  Sections of the Diaspora are not reconciled to the defeat of the LTTE and what it means in practice.  The LTTE kept the hope of an independent state of Tamil Eelam alive.  When the military strength of the LTTE was at its height, there was an increased willingness on the part of the Sri Lankan governments that had to deal with it to pay a price for peace.  This included extensive devolution of power and the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Even today the nationalist section of the Tamil Diaspora is able to sway Tamil opinion within Sri Lanka to take positions that were common during the war period.  Their was seen in a statement of several leading civil society figures who critiqued the TNA for not being sufficiently committed to positions such as self determination, Tamil nationhood and the merger of the North and East. This group was critical of US and Indian government positions with regard to accepting the post-war reality of accepting the provincial council framework. This statement titled Public Memo to Members of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance from members of Tamil Civil Society and issued on December 13, 2011 originated from the nationalist camp who wish to score one over the TNA.


There is also the pressure from below on the TNA that come from its own voter base in the former war zones of the North and East.  The LLRC report has come as a disappointment to those who experienced the full brunt of the war.  This section of the TNA's constituency had hopes about the LLRC that belied its mandate.  It seems that many victims of the war believed that the LLRC would actually give them immediate solutions to their problems.  The chief amongst these problems are finding out what happened to their loved ones who went missing and being compensated for what they had lost.

The LLRC received a positive response wherever they went.  Most of its sittings were in Colombo where many eminent personalities and well known organisations made presentations before it.  The demand was so high that the LLRC had to restrict the time they gave to many of them, although it made a positive attempt to accommodate all who applied to be heard.  The National Peace Council of which I am a member was one of those civic organisations.  The LLRC gave us a limited time and not all our members could speak.  Some of our members made written representations.  But we left the meeting feeling that we had we had been heard.

The LLRC also had sittings in all of the districts of the North and East where the war was fought.  It was clear that in these areas especially, the demand for the time of the LLRC far outstripped its availability.  In some places like Kilinochchi, where the most decisive battles were fought, there were literally thousands who asked to make their statements.  But only a fraction of them could be accommodated to give evidence before the Commissioners personally.  The others were given the option of making written submissions.

The thousands who sought to give evidence before the LLRC in the North and East did not do so simply to provide it with information for analysis and posterity.  They also wanted their problems solved.  Faced with the absence of any alternate problem-solving governmental mechanism, they were hoping that their detailed evidence would help the LLRC to find out what had actually happened to their loved ones.  They wanted to know if those who were missing were alive or dead, and if alive where they were.  They also wanted to get adequate compensation for their lost property and livelihoods to make a fresh start.


On the other hand, the LLRC's mandate was difficult.  It was not to investigate and find solutions to the problems of individuals.  The LLRC was not equipped with the investigative machinery for this endeavor.  Investigating even a single case of disappearance is a task requiring much effort on the part of investigating officers who have to get the statements from all those possibly implicated in a disappearance.  There is a need to sift evidence and take it before appropriate judicial authorities before a verdict can be given.  This was not a practicable task for the LLRC given that there were thousands of such cases before it.

Sri Lanka has had adequate experience in responding to practical problems arising out of a large scale destruction of property and loss of life in a short space of time, such as the Tsunami of December 2004.  Here the government responded effectively to enable those who were bereft of all their possessions and documentation to speedily reestablish their legal status.  The issuing of documentation in relation to the many who simply disappeared was also done with speed of accommodation.  A similar system could have been adopted in the immediate aftermath of the war to deal with practical problems of the populace, and can still be adapted to give succour to those who have suffered much.  Constructive actions by the government could help the TNA to steer the middle ground as called for by another Tamil civil society group last week.

A statement issued by a prominent group of Tamil civil society leaders recently on January 7, 2012 states that with the end of the war, it has become important for all ethnic communities of Sri Lanka to re-examine and re-evaluate their past.  They have raised the question of the eviction of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE two decades ago.  They stated that “The eviction represents one of the worst instances of the narrow, exclusivist thrust of the Tamil nationalist political campaign of the past thirty years. The failure of our civil and political leadership to understand and acknowledge this has prevented us from dealing with our own past, and with our own moral and political responsibility towards minority communities that live amidst us. An examination of how we have contributed to the polarisation of relations between our two communities has not been forthcoming even after the end of the thirty-year war.”

The call they make to the Tamil community is to “realise at least now that there is no exclusive political solution for the Tamil community, and that the question of political power sharing and equal rights confronts all minority communities.”  This same analysis applies to the larger issues that the Tamil community is confronted with today.   In the context of this civil society appeal, there is a need for the political representatives of the Tamil people, most importantly, the TNA, to reconsider their initial outright rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important official and public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country.


The main political representatives of the Tamil people, the MPs of the Tamil National Alliance, have been under pressure from the government which frequently refers to them as the “LTTE rump.”  During the latter period of the three decade long war, the LTTE was able to persuade the TNA politicians to fall in line with their position that the LTTE was the sole representatives of the Tamil people.  Prior to this capitulation, several leading politicians from constituent Tamil parties had been assassinated by the LTTE, leaving those who survived with little alternative option.  Some either joined the government or stopped criticizing the government in order to obtain government security to protect their lives. Those who preferred to remain independent of the government made the choice of falling in line with the LTTE.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the government leaders who frequently refers to the TNA as holding on to LTTE positions.  He has appealed those perceived as being influential in regard to the LTTE, such as the Indian media, to convince the TNA to be reasonable and to discuss how to resolve the problems of the Tamil people with the government.  There is a section of the government that sees the TNA as being unreasonable in continuing to insist on old positions held by the LTTE, such as the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.  But the LTTE also held on to the notion of an independent Tamil state and sought to achieve it through violent means.  By way of contrast the TNA has been the victim of violence by all sides and holds to the ideal of a federal Sri Lanka, which fall short of independence.

The situation that the TNA finds itself in today is not enviable.  The TNA is not only under pressure from the government.  It is also under pressure from the Tamil people who voted for it by large majorities in the areas in which Tamils predominate. The majority of those who voted for the TNA would be amongst the worst off in Sri Lankan society.  They lived in the midst of war that despoiled the North and East of the country for nearly three decades.  Only few of them were unscathed by the disaster that unfolded during that long period.  Invariably the war entered their lives, either by collateral damage, having their children forcibly recruited or being forced to flee from one place to the other.

Even today more than 100,000 Tamil people live displaced and outside of their homes, either with relatives or in transit camps awaiting relocation to their home areas.  They would be seeing the peace dividend in the form of government buildings that are coming up and roads being repaired and tourists from the rest of the country traveling along them.  But unfortunately for most of them these developments remain outside of their reach, as those contractors who build the government buildings and roads come from outside the North and East for the most part, and bring their own labourers with them.  Even the tea kiosks by the side of the road are manned by army personnel which means that the people who could have done that small scale enterprise are denied that opportunity as well.


So far the TNA has failed to persuade the government to deliver more resources to the people of the North and East.  In a democratic polity where politicians need votes of people to remain in power, it is inevitable that governments in power would prefer to allocate scarce economic resources to those who will vote for them.  As the TNA does not support the government and instead engages in confrontational politics with it, the government is not inclined to be responsive to the needs of people who vote for the TNA.  This keeps in motion a vicious cycle of neglect and hatred that is not good either for reconciliation in the country or for the people in the North and East.

As the political representatives of the war-affected Tamil people, the TNA has to consider engaging in politics that helps the people rather than leads to their neglect.  On the one hand, it is important for the TNA to keep the aspirations of the Tamil people in mind. It is also important that the basic needs of the people are also met so that lead a normal life in which there is material progress for themselves and their children.  The TNA needs to reconsider their apparent policy of total confrontation with the government at all levels.   As a beginning in the process of reconciliation with the government, the TNA could reconsider their strong rejection of the final report submitted by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to the President.

The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country. However, the TNA’s preliminary statement on it echoed that of international human rights organizations which strongly critiqued and rejected the LLRC report.  Earlier they had found fault with the composition of the LLRC and now they found it wanting in terms of international humanitarian law.  However, the TNA is not an international human rights organization but a political party.  Politics has been defined by those skilled in the profession as the art of the possible.


The TNA’s preliminary statement rejecting the LLRC report focused on its failure in holding the government accountable for human rights violations and war crimes and for attempting to pass them on to the failures of individual soldiers.  It stated that “The LLRC report categorically fails to effectively and meaningfully deal with issues of accountability.”  The TNA statement did not consider the LLRC’s analysis of the causes of the conflict and its prescriptions for the resolution of the conflict.  What the LLRC had set out in terms of good governance practices and a political solution was not new, and has been stated by the more liberal and thoughtful politicians and civil society groups on numerous occasions before.  But what was special this time was that the LLRC was appointed by President Rajapaka whose government has taken a diametrically opposed position on almost all of the issues addressed.

The government’s decision to make the LLRC report public could be due to a variety of reasons.  In the case of previous commissions of inquiry that seemed to come up with inconvenient truths, the government either stopped them three-quarter way or suppressed their findings, as in the case of the report of the All Party Representatives Conference on a political solution.  On this occasion there was considerable international pressure on the government to come out with the report, as the government itself held out that the LLRC report would provide the answer to international allegations of war crimes in the last phase of the war.  This is an opportunity to be taken and not rejected.  Although the TNA may find fault with how the LLRC addressed the issue of accountability, its analysis of the conflict and its prescriptions have much to commend in them.

As the third largest political party within Parliament and the largest Tamil one, the TNA needs to consider joining hands with the other political parties and with like-minded civil society organizations to ensure that the LLRC recommendations are implemented.  While the government has given the impression that it accepts the LLRC report, its decision making circles may believe it is not in their interests to implement the recommendations any time soon.  The LLRC’s vision is that of a plural and multi ethnic society in which there is the rule of law and checks and balances on unbridled power.  As a result it is possible that the government leadership will prefer to drag their feet when it comes to implementing the recommendations of the report.  It is important that the Tamil polity become a vibrant one that is integrated into the larger national polity.  It is in the larger national interest that the LLRC recommendations be implemented.