A welcome endorsement | Sunday Observer

A welcome endorsement

19 September, 2021

Countries that have had battles take a long time to heal. This can be seen from countries from the UK to the US. Sri Lanka, where a conflict raged for almost 30 years, is no exception.

The processes of accountability, reparations and reconciliation could take years, if not decades. Although the conflict ended only 12 years ago, Sri Lanka has come a long way in terms of addressing these concerns unlike many other nations.

There is a notion that Sri Lanka has to engage in these processes for the sake of the international community. That is far from the truth. It is purely a homegrown exercise that should benefit the people of Sri Lanka, who had lived through 30 harrowing years of discord and rancour. They now deserve peace and amity.

In fact, this was the very message conveyed to the international community by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) now underway in Geneva.

Judging by the sentiments expressed by representatives of various countries at the UNHRC sessions, the world is gradually taking note of the steps being taken by Sri Lanka to address Human Rights and Accountability concerns. In a landmark development, 15 out of the 19 countries that spoke about the Core Group’s Resolution on Sri Lanka indicated broad support for Sri Lanka. Those countries included Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, Pakistan, South Korea, Eritrea, Egypt, Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Laos, Iran, Japan and Azerbaijan. Their main argument was that Sri Lanka should be given the time and space to address these issues without undue interference by Western nations.

China and Russia, the two veto power wielding Members of the UN Security Council, led the campaign on behalf of Sri Lanka. China in its national statement said that it is against the interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs under the guise of human rights.

It also commended the Sri Lankan Government for actively promoting and protecting human rights, promoting national reconciliation and combating terrorism.

Addressing the Council, the Japanese representative said, “With respect to Sri Lanka, while there is room for improvement in the areas of national reconciliation and human rights, we understand that the Government is taking various measures including an investigation by a Commission of Inquiry and payment of compensation. It is important that Sri Lanka continues to take voluntary actions and the international community supports Sri Lanka in this effort”.

The statement by Japan was significant, as it had earlier abstained from voting when the Sri Lanka Core Group (UK, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia) presented the Resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC back in March this year.

The support extended by these countries is a victory for Sri Lanka which is striving to emerge from the embers of battle. An even more significant development is the acknowledgement by UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in her Oral Update to the UNHRC that Sri Lanka has indeed made tangible progress in the Human Rights arena.

Bachelet commended the Government for undertaking several reforms to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with the practices of other countries but also keeping in mind the current transnational nature of terrorist networks.

Sri Lankans have painful memories of the ISIS-inspired terror attacks of Easter Sunday 2019 that killed nearly 300 people and strong laws will still be needed to prevent attacks of this nature in the future. It must be borne in mind that some Western countries have anti-terrorism laws that are much harsher than the PTA in this post 9/11 world.

Bachelet also noted the release of 16 LTTE cadres who were in jail for terror offences. They were given a Presidential Pardon under a broad review of the punishments given to terrorism suspects. More such paroles are likely in the future as these youth are now rehabilitated.

In fact, Bachelet appreciated the appointment of an Advisory Committee on the legal process with regard to PTA detainees and urged the Government to expedite any remaining cases.

The Government’s plans for reparations for the victims of the battle as well for the rehabilitation of LTTE cadre also came in for praise by Bachelet. She also lauded the Government for initiating a dialogue on a gamut of issues with civil society groups and leaders. Moreover, the Government’s constructive engagement with the UNHRC as well as with the UN system in general was also mentioned by Bachelet.

This, we hope, will set the trend for a greater understanding by the UN of Sri Lanka’s genuine aspirations for peace and reconciliation through a domestic mechanism. In his address to the UN, Prof. Peiris made it clear that Sri Lanka does not seek any external initiative(s) to resolve its issues related to the conflict. The country’s Judiciary, Commissions of Inquiry and other domestic mechanisms were adequate to address all these concerns, he pointed out.

This does not, of course, mean that Sri Lanka will follow an isolationist policy with regard to issues such as accountability and reconciliation. Sri Lanka will take cognisance of any concerns raised by the UN system and other countries and also look at and learn from the experiences of other countries that have experienced similar events or battles. However, the resolution of these issues will be entirely through a home grown process, as per the statement made by Prof. Peiris. All Sri Lankans have a stake in this process that will bring lasting peace and reconciliation to this land and should contribute their ideas to make it a resounding success.