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, July 4, 2011


The international pressure on the government on human rights issues is continuing without respite.  In the aftermath of the Channel 4 video released in the UK, the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner, Navaneethan Pillai has once again brought the issue of an international inquiry to the fore.  She has said that there is a high level of expectation in the international community that the Sri Lankan government will seriously inquire into the allegations of civilian killings and prisoner executions highlighted in the video.  Her words take on weight in a context in which the US has now followed the UK to warn the Sri Lankan government that the international community will find itself obliged to examine other options unless Sri Lanka itself moves in this regard. 

So far the government has responded to these pressures in an uncompromising manner.  It continues to deny the validity of the allegations leveled against it and has come up with a version of the video that it says is the original, and which it says proves that the Channel 4 version was doctored.  The government would get its strength from the backing of the people for its position.  A recent newspaper poll indicated that a majority of the respondents wanted the government to ignore the international concerns.  There is hardly any public opinion that is prepared to take a stance at variance from that of the government in the prevailing circumstances.  Government leaders have been routinely denouncing those who want an investigation of the allegations as being LTTE supporters and traitors.

The government has also been relying on its growing dependence on countries such as Russia and China to safeguard it in the international arena.  Both these countries have veto power in the UN Security Council and are extremely influential with many other countries.  However, the price that Sri Lanka may be called upon to pay for this growing dependence can also be high and with long term costs to the country.  There have been recent criticisms of loans taken from China for infrastructure projects that are overpriced and with interest rates that are higher than given by the traditional aid agencies, such as the Asian Development Bank.  Some of these loans are also tied, with procurements to be done from China even if lower cost options are available elsewhere.


Support from Russia too appears to be coming at a price. In the UN General Assembly, Sri Lanka recently voted against Georgia and in support of the Russian position.  But in doing so it helped to strengthen the case of two separatist regions in Georgia. These are Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are backed by Russia. Sri Lankans who continue to remember India’s backing for Tamil separatists many decades ago cannot be supportive of another country doing the same, even if that country is its international ally. As a country that has suffered so much from separatism, Sri Lanka ought not to support it in other parts of the world.  Unfortunately, it appears that for political reasons rather than for principled reasons, Sri Lanka was part of a minority grouping of 13 countries, and that included North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Myanmar.

The Georgian resolution in the UN General Assembly reiterated the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees back to their homes.  Apart from politics, the right of return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes is a basic and fundamental human right which Sri Lanka would wish the world to acknowledge in the case of its own resettlement of internally displaced persons and refugees.  According to media reports, this was the third time in the last few years where Georgia brought this resolution before the UN General Assembly, and on every occasion it has been passed with an increasing majority.  This means that Sri Lanka voted with a shrinking minority of countries when it voted against the Georgian resolution. 

The growing isolation of Sri Lanka’s government from the community of democracies in the world was its absence at an international gathering under the same name in Lithuania last month.  Among the countries represented at this meeting of world leaders was India. The Community of Democracies is a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic countries, with the goal of strengthening democratic norms and institutions around the world. The organization was founded in 2000.  As a new wave of democratization spreads across the Middle East, the Community of Democracies is refocusing its efforts on supporting successful transitions to democracy. At the meeting in Lithuania special attention was given to emerging democracies and civil society’s involvement in governance.


As part of their commitment to democracy the organizers of the meeting of the Community of Democracies had obtained a video message from the recently freed Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She has paid a heavy price for her leadership of the democracy movement ever since winning the last free elections in Burma by a large majority and thereafter being imprisoned by the military leaders.  She has shown great commitment to democracy and has not compromised and joined the military junta to save herself or obtain a position of power. Instead she speaks of her hope that her country would be democratic in the near future.  Instead of taking the side of the Burmese people and its democratically elected leaders, the Sri Lankan government has taken the side of the military leaders. 

It is unfortunate that at the present time the Sri Lankan government gives the appearance of turning its back on the democratic countries of the world and joining with those countries that do not value or practice democracy.  In this adverse context, it is the role of civil society and the business sectors to keep the country’s links with the democratic world alive.  The business community is heavily tied with the Western democratic countries in particular, which are the main markets for Sri Lanka’s exports.  The increasing call for economic sanctions against Sri Lanka on the grounds of its non-adherence to norms of international human rights could jeopardize those markets.  Already Sri Lanka’s economy has not obtained the foreign direct investment that was anticipated to multiply after the end of the war.

There is also a role for civil society. At the meeting in Lithuania, there was a strategic dialogue that included both civil society and government representatives.  There are changes taking place in inter-governmental thinking that was reflected in the speeches made by world leaders at the Community of Democracies.  US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who played a major role at the meeting said that the purpose of this strategic dialogue was to engage with civil society at the same level as with government.  She said the US was supporting new tools such as internet use to promote democracy and also create a new "Lifeline" fund to support NGOs in trouble, with legal representation in case of legal challenges, medical fees in case of physical attack, prison visits in case of imprisonment and also replacing equipment in case offices and physical assets were destroyed.  Rather than isolating Sri Lanka, it would be much better if the government follows internationally accepted norms of democracy and enters the Community of Democracies.

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