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UN and SL

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 22 September 2017 00:00

Statements made by presidents at important forums may not necessarily reflect the sentiments of their countrymen, but bridging this divide is crucial for political survival. 

President Maithripala Sirisen addressing the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, pointed out that all were aware that haste would not yield good results on reconciliation. He called for international support and recommended that a slow and steady path was the most suitable one to restore religious and communal harmony so that people of all communities could live in peace and harmony as equal citizens.

He said that during the last two-and-a-half years the Government had taken several important steps that were necessary for consolidating democracy, freedom, good governance, and the rule of law. This was clearly in response to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad bin Hussein, castigating Sri Lanka for tardy and inadequate implementation of the resolution on accountability and reconciliation which it had co-sponsored at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September 2015 at the latest sessions.    

Last week Zeid urged the Government to swiftly operationalise the Office of Missing Persons and to move faster on other essential confidence building measures, such as release of land occupied by the military, and resolving long-pending cases registered under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  He also called for the PTA to be replaced with a new law in line with international human rights standards.

He warned that if stronger steps were not taken protests by victims indicating their growing frustration over the slow pace of reforms would grow. He also underscored absent commitment to establish transitional justice mechanisms and to establish a clear timeline and benchmarks for the implementation.  

“This shouldn’t be viewed by the Government as a box-ticking exercise to placate the Council, but as an essential undertaking to address the rights of all its people,” he said. Sri Lanka’s opposition was quick to dismiss the UNHRC statements and pushed to have the Disappearances Act postponed for a second time. 

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was the lone voice in insisting the proposed Act would not be implemented retrospectively but there was disappointing silence from both the UNP and SLFP members on attempting to clearly communicate the provisions of the Bill and how it would protect civil liberties for generations to come. In such a vacuum fear mongering won the day. 

The Disappearances Act is the latest example of how the reconciliation process has been stalled and undermined by politicians. It is no secret that the Government is extremely wary of doing anything that would give the upper hand to loyalists of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yet in doing so the Government is ignoring the moderates and minorities who gave this Government its mandate and are drifting dangerously towards majoritarianism of the worst kind, racism. 

Ever power-hungry the Rajapaksa faction is gathering stronger extremist elements around them and polarising reconciliation and stirring divisions on ethnic lines. This is likely to reach a crescendo over the new Constitution, effectively scuttling any power sharing mechanism and path towards peace. Unless the president and the prime minister use their collective powers to address these issues competently they may find that it is the patience of the locals, and not the international community, that runs out.

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