Monitoring progress

Friday, 14 September 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Government, which is juggling several internationally important events at the moment, will have one more ball to deal with as the United Nations Review Team arrives today for what promises to be an interesting tour. 

The team, which will consist of officials from India, Spain and Benin, will evaluate Sri Lanka’s post-war reconciliation progress as well as monitor the progress made on implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). 

The Government, led by External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, has been quick to downplay the significance of the visit by pointing out that the review team is merely acting as rapporteurs and have no authority to judge the actions taken by the State. 

Prof. Peiris at a press conference earlier this week also stressed on the fact that the visit has no connection with the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka that was passed in March but rather the result of a letter inviting UNHRC Head Navi Pillay to the country 11 months before the events in Geneva. 

He insisted that it was customary procedure for such a high profile visit to be preceded by a technical team that will set up the groundwork for the Pillay tour. The Universal Periodic Review that Sri Lanka is also undergoing in tandem with other developments was also dealt with lightly by the Minister, who pointed out that all UN member states underwent such an evaluation every four years. 

The ‘business as usual’ attitude has been somewhat dampened by political analysts, who have focused on the change of stance by the Government, which was virulently opposed to any monitoring team before and after the events in Geneva. Nonetheless, the Government has imperviously brushed away any questions over the change of mind, instead preferring to insist that there has been no change and anyone is welcome to tour the country. 

In fact this idea has been further enhanced by the Government reserving disapproval on the British delegation choosing to visit the north independently on a plane chartered by the High Commission rather than signing up for the Government-sponsored ones. Yet it is unclear whether the review mission will also be similarly allowed to travel as it wishes around the country.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and Southern Asia Robert O. Blake is also in the country for his own evaluation tour, which will see him meeting minority political parties including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). 

These discussions, set in the present environment of failed talks between the TNA and the Government as well as post-election negotiations for the Eastern Provincial Council, will undoubtedly be riveting. Blake has repeatedly called for the resumption of talks with the TNA and its bid to form the Eastern Provincial Council adds more political presence to such a request. 

Meetings with civil society and other stakeholders will lend more relevance to this short but crucial visit. Despite Sri Lanka’s confidence that it will sail through the international hiccups with the aid of China, maintaining the country’s international image and showing it in a positive light still remains a challenge.