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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


  The non- Tamil and mainstream opposition appears to be taking a long term view of political change in the country.   This may be why the UNP invited civil society groups to join with it in opposing the 18th Amendment when its first year anniversary comes on September 8 this year.  The 18th Amendment to the Constitution has presented a roll back to the untrammeled power of the Executive Presidency, giving back to the incumbent the power to make unilateral appointments to all top positions in the government machinery, including the posts of Chief Justice, Election Commissioner, Bribery Commissioner and Inspector General of Police.  It took away checks and balances necessary for good governance and restraint on the abuse of power.  The government justified the constitutional change as being necessary for the political stability that will generate economic development.   In addition, the 18th Amendment further increased the power of the President even beyond that envisaged by the framers of 1978 Constitution. It abolished the two term limit on the Presidency and giving the President the right to contest elections without any limit on length of tenure.  As a result President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be the most powerful leader that Sri Lanka has ever had.  Modern technology would give him the ability to centralize rule in a manner the kings of the ancient past could never have.  But along with this centralization have come major problems of governance that put democracy into jeopardy.  At the present time, however, these problems do not seem a predominant concern for the majority of the national electorate, who continue to give the government thumping majorities at every election that is held.   At the same time the opposition is unable to take on the issues that have the government on the back foot internationally, and which it is handling in a manner that is creating more and more friction with a section of the international community. These are the issues of war crimes in the last phase of the war and the absence of any forward movement towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the immediate post-war period.  This is because on both these issues, the government is able to mobilize the forces of ethnic majority nationalism against what it claims are the impositions of the international community.  The mainstream and non Tamil opposition that requires ethnic majority support for political success does not dare take up the issues of either war crimes or a political solution for fear of being denounced as traitors.   


With its phenomenal ability to win elections, there should have been consensus in the country that the government is successful at governance.  However, Sri Lanka today presents a picture of extremes.  There is also an appearance of optimism and dynamism that coexists with the deep rooted problems of governance which are less obvious.  At the present time the country is hosting a delegation from African Commonwealth countries.  They have come to assess a first hand Sri Lanka’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2017.  The government has presented the remote and lightly populated southern district of Hambantota, the birthplace of the President as the suitable venue for the games.  Visiting foreign delegations are reportedly impressed by the models of the Commonwealth Games village that has been prepared by the Sri Lankan government, which is sparing no effort to win the bid.    The delegates from abroad will have little doubt that the government will be able to deliver on its promises.  This is a government that created world history by totally defeating a rebel army known as the world’s worst most deadly terrorist organization within four years of its election.  But there is another side to this picture.  The billions of rupees that the government is prepared to invest in Hambantota means there will be less for the rest of the country.  The government is investing very heavily in the Hambantota district which is the home base of the President.  But there are 24 other districts in the country.  Most of them are relatively poor and some even poorer, such as those in the north and east of the country where the three decade long internal war was fought.   Good governance is about the equitable distribution of resources so that all people in all districts benefit from government resources.  It is also about power sharing in which decisions by the central authorities are made in consultation with the local authorities.  Good governance is also about the rule of law where even government leaders are subject to the rule of law and no one is above the law.  The obvious problem with governance in Sri Lanka is the manner in which power is centralized in the Presidency and the constitutional provisions that put any incumbent President beyond the law.  If the President chooses to suppress reports of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry or reports provided to him by the heads of security agencies, there is nothing that can be done.  But this erodes the confidence of the general public in the institutions of state.   


  A fortnight ago there was a murderous assault on a senior journalist in Jaffna. The assault took place near a military sentry point in a town that is saturated with the military.  There is a doubt as to how anyone who did the assault could have got away without being apprehended.  Following local and international protests the government ordered an investigation into this assault.  However, it is reported that the police report lies with the President.  It is like the report of the Presidential Commission to report into serious human rights violations in 2007 which suffered a similar fate.  The truth lies suppressed.   It is no cause for surprise, and every cause for sadness, that a senior academic Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole with a social mission has felt impelled to flee Jaffna rather than place his faith in the law enforcement and justice mechanisms available in that part of the country.

  A glance at the media headlines would indicate signs of deep discontent in society that are not reflected in the election results.  A few weeks ago there was the scandal about the import of substandard petrol that ruined thousands of cars.  Now where is another report of the import of substandard cement that could cause buildings to collapse in the future. There are also stories of people taking the law into their own hands on the grounds that the police will not act or will protect the wrongdoers.  The opposition presidential candidate for whom over 40 percent of the national electorate voted continues to languish in prison on controversial charges that were ratified by military courts. 

The problem with the suppression of the truth of what happened is that it erodes confidence in the institutions of governance.  This is what leads people to take the law into their own hands.  The latest crisis is the breakdown of respect for the law in with regard to the rumour of “grease devils” who attack women and children.   According to witnesses and police there are men who wear balaclavas that cover their heads and leave only the eyes exposed and who grease their bodies and move about at night to commit criminal acts.  Some alleged suspects have been caught and killed by vigilante groups.  They may be innocent persons.  Some were said to be traveling salespersons.  A justification given by the vigilantes is that the police do not take action when these suspects are apprehended because they are connected to the government machinery.  It is clear that there is a breakdown of confidence in the integrity of national institutions.  

The progressive debilitation of the system of checks and balances in Sri Lanka’s democracy preceded President Rajapaksa.  The promulgation of the so-called autochthonous or “home grown” constitution of 1972 was a turning point.  That constitution put the executive branch of government firmly in the saddle and made the positions of the judiciary and public service subordinate to it.  The unanimous passage in Parliament in 2000 of the 17th Amendment to the constitution was a belated recognition of the need to ensure checks and balances to the power of the Executive, which had got increasingly concentrated in the hands of the President.  The opportunity for enforcing good governance was finally dealt a death blow by the 18th Amendment, which is why a 19th Amendment is necessary for good governance to be restored.

Free Media Movement and civic activists took part in a public protest rally

Members of the Free Media Movement and civic activists took part in a public protest rally in Jaffna on Tuesday August 16.  They protested against government inaction following the brutal attack on senior journalist G Kuganathan of the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper.  He was beaten on the head with iron poles and was warded in the intensive care section of the Jaffna General Hospital.  His assailants escaped despite the attack taking place within fifty metres of a military sentry point in the heart of the town, which is under heavy military control.  A report submitted by the police to the President remains a confidential document.

Four members of NPC took part in the protest. They consisted of two Governing Council members and two staff members.  NPC also provided financial support for the transport of journalists from Colombo who travelled to Jaffna to provide solidarity with their colleagues in Jaffna. Earlier NPC issued a media release condemning the attack on Mr Kuganathan and the impunity with which attacks on media freedom had taken place in the past.  In its statement, NPC said "A code of silence, a facade of investigations and a failure to prosecute suspects are the main characteristics of this impunity. None of the killings or attacks on media institutions have been solved. This has led to a climate of fear and self-censorship within journalists and also the larger society. This is not democracy where fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are protected by the Government of the day."


There are two narratives of the end phase of the war that are battling for dominance.  The first is that of the Sri Lankan government that emphasizes the victory over the LTTE and terrorism and the securing of the country’s unity and sovereignty.  It also asserts that the war was conducted according to international law with a policy of minimising civilian casualties. The other is the account of the expert panel appointed by the UN Secretary General which is a severe indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s lack of adherence to international norms in the conduct of the war.  This report has drawn on the information available within the UN system and also the reports of human rights organizations.

The UN panel report, also known as the Darusman report in deference to its chairman, is over 200 pages in length.  It was issued to the public in March this year.  Although well written, not many would wish to labour many hours to read it unless especially motivated as students of the Sri Lankan conflict or as advocates of a position.  This is not the case with the UK Channel 4 video titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields† that made its appearance in June this year.  It is of one hour’s duration and provides a graphic account of what is presented as the last days of the war.  It is readily accessible on the internet to those who wish to see it, if they are prepared to brave its warning that it contains scenes that could be very disturbing.

The Sri Lankan government’s response to the UN expert panel report and to the UK Channel 4 video has, from its inception, taken the form of denials and denunciations.  The material in them is described as fabricated, biased and ill motivated by a desire for revenge at the defeat of the LTTE.  The sources of information are also accused of being tainted, being either NGOs or Tamil Diaspora. As a result, the notion of an international conspiracy has a wide acceptance within Sri Lanka.

In such a situation of opposing versions of the same event, the solution would seem to be a third report of an in independent group.  The government has, however, sidestepped the increasingly vociferous international demand for an independent international investigation into the alleged human rights violations and war crimes by referring to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission it has appointed.


The Sri Lankan government has presented the LLRC as a legitimate and viable mechanism that precludes the need for an international investigation at this time, and even in the future.  This is on the basis that international remedies are only necessary when national ones have failed.  The LLRC has already issued an interim report and its final report is expected in November this year.  The US government has given importance to the LLRC by officially informing the Sri Lankan government through a diplomatic note that it expects the LLRC’s final report to be presented for discussion next year at the UN’s Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

However, with the LLRC’s final report yet to be published, the government has taken additional action to counter the UN expert panel report and the UK Channel 4 video at the international level.  Last week’s government launch of a book titled “Humanitarian Operation—A Factual Analysis† and a video titled “Lies Agreeed Upon† was the government’s reply to the UN expert panel report and the UK Channel 4 video.  They were both launched at a large gathering in which high ranking members of the Sri Lankan security forces were present in large numbers.

In addition, a sizeable number of foreign diplomats and media were also present.  There were also a few NGOs also present who had previously been excluded from government events that had anything to do with national security and counter terrorism.  Their presence could be taken as evidence of a greater willingness on the part of the government to positively engage with other perspectives in a more accommodative spirit.

The government’s report and video provide an opposite perspective to that found in the UN expert panel report and the Channel 4 video.  They focus on the LTTE and on its brutal methods.  The government narrative goes back in time to cover the period in which the LTTE first engaged in acts of terrorism.  It does not start where the international narrative starts from, which is the last phase of the war.  As a result the government narrative provides a context in which the ferocity of the war in its last phase can be better understood from the nature of the LTTE which held a population of over 300,000 hostage during that period. It is worth noting that the government’s willingness to concede that civilian deaths were unavoidable and did occur during the last phase of the war has come along with the release of this report and video.


There is no doubt that the government narrative will be the one that dominates and prevails within Sri Lanka.  It will prevail regardless of the content and quality of the government report and video.  This is because most people within the country experienced at first hand the fear of the LTTE’s brutal terrorism even if they did not suffer directly at its hands.  The government report and video will further strengthen the feeling of people within the country that the international community is biased and anti-Sri Lanka in its targeting of the government.  This will lead to a further hardening of anti-Western sentiment as it is generally perceived that the West that is seeking to punish the government for ridding the country of the LTTE.

On the other hand, that section of the international community that is urging an independent international mechanism to investigate the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war is not likely to change its position either.  The government report focuses on the LTTE, its methods and actions over the years.  There is no mention at all of the excesses of the government’s counter terrorism strategy of which there were so many, and also of the impunity, elements of which continue to the present time  The politically partisan nature of the government report can also be seen by its failure to even mention the break up of the LTTE by the defection of its eastern commander during the period of the much maligned Ceasefire Agreement which was signed by the present Leader of the Opposition and was brokered by the Norwegian government.

So what remains are two narratives, one that dominates internationally and the other that is dominant within the country.  These two narratives are at loggerheads with each other and appear to have no meeting place.  Neither of these narratives is going to be a vehicle for reconciliation in the future, as each will be fiercely resisted and debunked by the other.  Therefore it is unlikely that there will be peace building and reconciliation by going down the road of trying to prove whether or not war crimes took place.

In this context of polarization, the healthiest option is peace building and reconciliation through a political solution in which Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others of smaller ethnic and religious communities, such as the Burghers, Malays and Borahs decide together what to do about the past and what the country’s shared future should be.  This is what the government together with the opposition political parties ought to be working hard at achieving.