History-making motion

Monday, 16 June 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THIS week opens with what could well become a momentous point in Sri Lanka’s history. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Parliament is due to debate on the pending United Nations investigation into the last seven years of Sri Lanka’s conflict that ended in 2009. Politics, reconciliation and Sri Lanka’s international reputation are on the line. Parliament will debate on whether to allow a team appointed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) into the country to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by both the security forces and the LTTE. A motion signed by nine ruling party Parliamentarians against the international investigation on Sri Lanka was submitted to the Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake last Tuesday. The motion, submitted by MPs Achala Jagodage, Malini Fonseka, Janaka Bandara, Uditha Lokubandara, A.H.M. Azwer, Shantha Bandara, J.R.P. Suriyapperuma, Nimal Wijesinghe and Duminda Silva, argued that the probe is detrimental to peace and reconciliation of the island and it is a challenge to the sovereignty and pride of the country. The move provoked a storm of criticism from Opposition parties who universally felt the Government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was attempting to use Parliament to cover itself and gain the political upper hand at the same time. Chief Opposition Whip and United National Party (UNP) MP John Amaratunga told media that the proposal was “comical” since the Government had already rejected the investigation at diplomatic level. The JVP also rejected the move as an effort to palm off responsibility to Parliament after the Government over successive years took unilateral decisions, which ultimately led to defeat at two successive resolutions and ended up with the investigation being initiated. Yet Opposition parties with the exception of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) cannot reject the motion without painting themselves as “traitors” in the discourse shaped by the Government. Even the middle route of abstaining from voting puts them in danger of being cast in an unpatriotic light as the Government steps up its propaganda on the issue. Speculation of an election next year also increases the stakes. The international community led by the UK and US are likely to be undeterred by Colombo attempts to discredit the investigators appointed by OHCHR. Analysts have also warned that the Government is burning the candle at both ends by not only defying the UN probe but also continuing its delaying tactics on New Delhi’s demands for a political solution through the implementation of the 13th Amendment. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s meetings earlier this month with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated that the change in leadership had not resulted in significant change in policy towards Sri Lanka. Even China’s increasing gravitational pull on Sri Lanka is unlikely to motivate India to stand by its neighbour against the UN investigation. While it may be too early to make a call on India’s stance, strong indications have emanated that India wishes to play a stronger global role and as such cannot ignore the situation literally on its doorstep. Opinions will vary but few fair-minded people would disagree that Sri Lanka’s international reputation and internal reconciliation hang in the balance as never before.