Sri Lankan expatriates write to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Monday, 26 August 2013 00:00
Following is the full text of the letter written to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by a group of Sri Lankan expatriates:
We write you as Sri Lanka’s large and diverse expatriate community based in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia, Middle East and Asia. Although we live out of Sri Lanka, we still retain a paramount interest in the progress of our country, and the lives of our countrymen and women. In consideration of your imminent visit to Sri Lanka, we are compelled to express our view on the stand your office has taken with respect to Sri Lanka.
On 9 May 2009, Sri Lankans rejoiced the end of a cataclysmic civil conflict that for three decades had impeded the nation’s social, economic and developmental progress.
Thousands of soldiers had made the supreme sacrifice for their motherland, alongside the many innocent civilians ruthlessly subjugated to the LTTE’s attacks on civilian centres in all parts of the island. We also understand that many were tragically caught in the cross-fire during the final phases of the war and our hearts went out to the many men, women and children who were left homeless and destitute as a result of the carnage.
Celebrations with reflection
Our celebrations were not without considerable reflection and not founded on the bastions of a military victory. Thousands poured into the street with emphatic joy despite the tragedies that their families had endured over decades of prolonged civilian conflict. Even in the recently liberated areas of the north and east, people were united in their unanimous joy that the destructive civilian conflict was over. It was not a celebration of war, it was a celebration of peace. It was a product of sheer jubilation founded on the very simple concept of hope, that the violent backdrop that dominated their very existence was finally to be replaced by the prospect of harmony and progress.
Not all of us share the same political beliefs, or support the same political alliances. Nevertheless, every Sri Lankan was profoundly grateful to the Government of Sri Lanka and the leadership demonstrated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who by bringing an end to the war had ushered in a new period of hope and optimism in terms of our country’s future progress.
In our country’s relatively short history, this was the first time in 30 years that our countrymen in the north and east had the opportunity to share the same prospects of economic, social and educational advancement as their compatriots in the Southern and Western regions of the country.
Three decades of conflict has not failed to teach the nation a valuable lesson. As we grew up in the shadow of military conflict and the constant threat of terrorist attacks targeting civilians, we did not fail to realise the devastating consequences of civil, political and racial segmentation. Many of us realised at an early age that we all share a role in each other’s future, and that our opportunities, whether in terms of economic or social progress, could best be realised if we stood united, as opposed to being divided.
There is a famous colloquial quote that today has new meaning: ‘Whether I am Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher or Muslim, I am first and foremost a Sri Lankan, and my country’s interests are my prerogative’.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned by the end of the war was an opportunity to replace the seeds of discord that divided our country with a unified, common goal in the best interests of our country’s development. Opportunity during the war, particularly for the war-affected regions, was a distant concept.
As the Tamil Tigers consolidated their power in the north and east, systematically exterminated all opposition and imposed authoritarian rule, they deprived the population of these areas of their basic civil liberties. Their intrinsic right to educational, social and economic opportunities were replaced by the demand of allegiance and servitude to the cause of ‘Tamil Eelam’.
They were consistently denied the benefit to select their preferred government and participate in the nation’s development, and were prevented from enjoying the protection of our nation’s democratic institutions. If the war had continued, it would have sustained the overwhelming denial of freedom and liberties that was an inherent component of LTTE rule.
Economic and social development
Today, the Government has consolidated their expressed intention to develop and promote the Northern-Eastern region as a significant component of Sri Lanka’s economic and social development. Liberated from LTTE rule, the children of the Northern-Eastern region have access to educational resources they richly deserve.
Their parents have new opportunities in terms of employment and businesses have developed as a result of the Government’s committed investment in transport and infrastructure. These businesses are now the beneficiaries of the protection offered by the nation’s legal system and are no longer subject to the authoritative taxation regime imposed by the LTTE to fund their nefarious activities.
We note that the process of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economy has been endorsed and constructively supported by the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States of America, India, People’s Republic of China and many other Asian nations.
They have committed to the strengthening of bilateral relations and invested in long-term development assistance to support their commitment towards economic and social development. Sri Lanka’s destiny is no longer its own, it has been intertwined with the interests of nations that are committed to the most fundamental post-war goal recognised on a universal scale – reconciliation.
These nations have chosen to focus on the future, and have endorsed the Government’s efforts to provide constructive relief and development to the north and east as a vital component of the Government’s nation building efforts.
We do not dispute your office’s belief that reconciliation involves addressing the allegations of human rights violations in the final phases of the war and we support your office’s encouragement of improvements to the nation’s governance framework to ensure a higher standard of accountability.
However, we must emphatically dispute your contention that the Sri Lankan Government has not adequately engaged civil society in support of a more consultative and inclusive reconciliation process. While the Sri Lankan Government has made commitments on only select provisions of the LLRC Commission’s recommendations, it is a well-recognised right in international law that a government can determine what internal affairs to prioritise.
The Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to actively rebuild the war-torn areas, provide constructive assistance to rehabilitate, resettle and provide opportunities for the affected communities is the strongest measure of their commitment towards peace, stability and prosperity in Sri Lanka. They have initiated viable measures to attract foreign investment into the region, and made constructive headway in creating the infrastructure for tourism, manufacturing and other vital industries to develop and provide incalculable opportunities.
In terms of reconciliation and resumption of the livelihoods of the affected communities in the north and east, this is the ideal preliminary measure towards establishing a framework for future execution of the LLRC’s recommendations that remain to be implemented.
We further note that in their efforts to develop the nation as a whole, the Government has actively encouraged and incentivised the Sri Lankan public, industrial bodies and businesses to work together in this vital endeavour. The affected communities in the north and east are now in a position they have only dreamed about over the past 30 years; a position of hope, opportunity and future well-being.
The Sri Lankan population as a whole now embraces the concept of unity and our shared role in developing our nation for the benefit of future generations. We believe that our progress will be cemented on the diversification of opportunities in all economic sectors and spread across all lands with equal access for every member of our population.
This mindset and mentality can be directly attributed to the practices and efforts implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka under the direction and leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is perhaps the most constructive step ever taken in directly addressing the societal and economic divisions that prevented a united movement in our country’s best interests.
This semantic shift is the foundation of our continued progress and the possibility that our future generations may develop in an environment mindful of our ability to unite and develop together in the best interests of mankind. It is appropriate to quote one of Sri Lanka’s most valued statesmen at this point of time, who ironically was tragically assassinated due to his service for all Sri Lankans:
“In our situation, it’s not a question of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Peace is not going to be manufactured instantly. Peace is a long road and a hard process.”
The road to peace did not stop with the culmination of armed conflict. It is an ongoing saga and is best realised by national unity, international support and the united participation of all Sri Lankans regardless of age, race or political affiliation. In terms of the overall theme of the LLRC report, the current Government of Sri Lanka has taken great and far-reaching steps in establishing the economic stability and framework for development, equitable opportunities and national progress.
It has cemented the foundation for economic, educational and social advancement, and consolidated the unified enthusiasm of all Sri Lankans in reaching this goal. Undermining the Sri Lankan Government’s progress can only be detrimental to the many persons who are on the cusp of realising the economic and social rights that they richly deserve after many years of conflict and lost opportunities, and further efforts to destabilise such progress go against the interests of all Sri Lankans who retain a vested interest in the future of the next generation.
As we understand, your office’s mandate is to ensure adherence to the International Standard for Human Rights. We hope that you understand the Government’s actions in implementing the LLRC are primarily focused, as a matter of constructive and sustainable implementation, in establishing a foundation for the best possible realisation of the economic and social rights the people of the north and east are entitled to.
Their actions in unifying the country and uniting our people within a common mandate for reconstruction, development and progress is the most sustainable measure to ensure the foundation for a framework to constructively implement the recommendations of the LLRC. When you visit Sri Lanka as scheduled on the 25 August 2013, we would respectfully request that you take the above perspectives to heart.
In consideration of the recent events taking place in Egypt, the Middle East and Iraq, we cannot emphasise the importance of recognising the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts in uniting our countrymen and working towards the development of the north and east. We further respectfully remind you, in the context of the allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, your organisation continues to highlight in the international arena, that these incidents were primarily the result of actions taken by the LTTE in a desperate attempt to leverage the escape of their hierarchy.
By taking thousands of innocent civilians hostage and obstructing their safe passage to the ‘no-fire zone’ designated by the Sri Lankan armed forces in a commendable effort to adhere to international humanitarian principles, the LTTE deliberately put these innocent civilians the cross-fires of a military action as ‘human shields’.
It is perhaps surprising that your office consistently questions the necessity of the Sri Lankan armed forces to invade Sri Lankan territory forcibly held by an organisation classified by almost every democratic nation as a terrorist group. The LTTE was not only a terrorist group, but an organisation sustained financially as a result of an international criminal network committing systematic acts of transnational crime and violations of international criminal law.
The Western world and many of the countries in which we reside in have had their sovereignty violated by the LTTE’s international procurement of arms, international drug smuggling and money laundering activity. In the north and east of Sri Lanka, the LTTE recruited child soldiers by the thousands, denying these children their fundamental rights and freedoms and deliberately forsaking them for a cause that endorsed separatism and division within our society.
Collateral damage is a regrettable by product of war but the blame must necessarily rest on the perpetrators who maliciously subjected these persons to systematic violations of their fundamental freedoms and necessitated the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to free these lands from such activity.
We also understand that such international networks are very much operational, continually engaged in covertly collecting funds for their cause even within our own communities, despite international attempts to freeze their finances. It is also a question that whether they continue to spend enormous sums of money on members of the international community to influence activity aimed at destabilising the efforts of the Sri Lankan Government.
New era is symbolic of hope
We also urge you to examine the efforts and contribution by these forces towards development and prosperity of people in north and east of Sri Lanka in comparison with the contribution of the Government of Sri Lanka for these specific communities.
For the people of the north and east, this new era is symbolic of hope, recovery and opportunity. The Government of Sri Lanka has taken commendable steps to resettle those displaced by the war and have adopted constructive measures for opportunities, including foreign investment, to provide a foundation for the restoration of their economic and social rights. These people deserve to have their opportunities protected, and this is the penultimate reason as to why we have branded together to attach our signatures to this document.
The future of our country rests on the unity of our countrymen and women, and the efforts of your organisation have (albeit unwillingly) impeded the process through which we can put aside the petty differences that promulgated the devastating war of yesteryear.
By failing to take account of the LTTE’s principal role in the perpetration of human rights violations, you have done nothing but foster seeds of discord and resentment that we as a ‘united people’ are trying our very best to put past us and move on towards better times. We reiterate that our nation is on the right track towards reconciliation and development, and that this development is in the best interests of the persons your organisation admirably believe are the principal beneficiary of your office’s stance against Sri Lanka.
The discord your office has spread in the international arena has obstructed the Government’s attempts to channel foreign investment and international opportunities towards these lands that need opportunities to consolidate their new-found freedom and opportunity for progress. This progress will necessarily be accompanied by an environment where the allegations of human rights abuse by the Sri Lankan Government can be constructively addressed, and assessed on the fundamental norms of law and evidence, not beliefs and allegations.
In conclusion, we must emphasise that this is by no means an attack on your office, which has contributed towards many considerable advancements for the benefit of mankind. However, we respectfully ask you to consider over the course of your visit the fundamental needs of mankind, and the integral benefit of promoting peace, unity and collective action for the best interests of future generations as the precursor to more technical necessities of judicial and governance reform.
We note that the many allegations against the Sri Lankan Government your office has endorsed, are not based on universally accepted principles of evidence, and that their authenticity have by no means been verified or accredited.
We have penned this letter as independent representatives of our country concerned with respect to the international efforts to destabilise Sri Lanka’s economic progress and undermine our nation’s opportunities in terms of international investment and enhanced bilateral relations with nation states that have recognised the economic and social progress achieved subsequent to the war’s conclusion.
As Sri Lankans interested in the continual development of our nation in all aspects, we necessarily possess a vested interest in investigating the alleged offences committed in the final phase of the war, and in the implementation of constructive improvements that will further guarantee increased transparency in decision making and governance.
However, in our nation interest, and the humanitarian interests of those most affected by the war in terms of their economic and social development, we endorse the priority in addressing their needs above all else until a suitable framework has been established for this purpose.
In terms of Sri Lanka’s adherence to international human rights, we note that the Government’s activity in the north and east constitute the most enthusiastic effort yet to restore equality across the nation. Their activities in the north and east are essential towards developing a foundation for the communities in these areas to realise the economic and social rights that they richly deserve after many years of war and strife.
These entitlements are considered to be fundamental human rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and it is well recognised in international law that it is within the internal affairs of a nation state to determine the priority in which outstanding human rights are addressed.
The Government of Sri Lanka’s prioritisation of restoring an adequate standard of economic and social rights is the most appropriate mechanism in the best interests of the nation’s economy and our national unity, and we emphatically endorse the direction that they have taken in this regard.
We sincerely hope that your office and the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka may work together in realising a sustainable and appropriate framework to address the LLRC recommendations, and provide a feasible framework to guarantee the respect for the rights, liberties and opportunities of the people of Sri Lanka.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Expatriates for Sri Lanka