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Govt. needs to start implementing its plan for reconciliation



By Jehan Perera

The report on Sri Lanka of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been much stronger than anticipated. It has shattered the belief that Sri Lanka was too important a country, in geopolitical terms, for the international community to use to prove a point. In her report, the High Commissioner has stated that Sri Lanka’s disregard of the commitments that it had made should not become an excuse for other countries to follow suit. The recommendations made in the High Commissioner’s report are dangerous. They include a call for targeted economic and travel sanctions on those suspected of human rights violations. The report has recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence. In addition, there is an invitation to countries to take independent action against those deemed to be human rights violators on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

This latter recommendation, in particular has the possible consequence of opening the floodgates to a whole host of law suits filed by aggrieved individuals and human rights organisations. The High Commissioner’s report is therefore a document that cannot be ignored but needs to be responded to with due attention to detail. If the issues raised in it are not dealt with, it can place members of the government and security forces vulnerable to having legal cases and summons placed before them while they are in transit in foreign countries. The legal field in relation to universal jurisdiction is particularly well developed in Western countries.

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction allows national courts to try cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes even if these crimes are not committed in the national territory and even if they are committed by government leaders of other states. The concept is not new, though states have shown an increasing willingness to enlarge the zone of their jurisdiction and to prosecute or extradite those in high places. (See



One of the main cases of the practice of universal jurisdiction comes from Chile. The present High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet herself comes from Chile where she became President for two terms. Her father Alberto Arturo Miguel Bachelet Martínez was a Brigadier General of the Chilean Air Force. He opposed the 1973 coup of General Augusto Pinochet, and was imprisoned and subject to torture for several months until his death in 1974 while in prison. After ending his eight- year term as president, former President Pinochet got himself appointed as Senator for life in Chile with immunity for any crimes he may have committed. The arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London after being indicted by a Spanish magistrate in 1998 signaled changing international norms in the late 1990s.

As a result of the precedents of the Pinochet case, other leaders who were alleged to have committed well-documented crimes have been pursued; the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. Although an influential and respected person in the US, Henry Kissinger has had to restrict his international travel, because he was wanted in so many jurisdictions either for trial or as a prosecution witness. He served both as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the Vietnam War in which large numbers of war crimes took place.



The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report gives its analysis and recommendations under the topics of “Emerging threats to reconciliation, accountability and human rights; Militarization of civilian government functions; Reversal of Constitutional safeguards; Political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations; Majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric; Surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space; New and exacerbated human rights concerns; Assessment of the implementation of resolution 30/1; Transitional justice and confidence-building measures; Impunity in emblematic cases; Conclusions; Recommendations.” The first indicators of the government’s response to this UN report is that it will respond strongly and show up flaws, biases and weaknesses in the report.

It is likely that the government’s response will be strong as this would be the expectation of the majority of people who voted it to power to put a stop to what they see as excessive international intervention in the internal affairs of the country. However, a strong response to the High Commissioner’s report does not preclude the government from reaching an accommodation with the UN Human Rights Council (which is a separate body and consists of 47 countries which have been elected to sit on it) on the issue of a follow up to its resolutions 30/1 of 2015 and 40/1 of 2017. Reaching accommodation with this body would be a better strategy to follow than one of full scale confrontation as occurred during the period 2011-14 which proved to be costly to the country.

It probably will be easier to reach a compromise agreement with the Human Rights Council which consists of the governments of 47 countries. Already some ambassadors of foreign powers who are expected to be playing a lead role in the deliberations that will take place in Geneva have offered conciliatory messages. US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz has said in an interview that “The support for human rights is absolutely not an effort to bully Sri Lanka or to diminish its sovereignty.” German Ambassador Holger Seubert has tweeted that an “Important UNHRC session coming up in Geneva soon. Hoping that a consensual resolution will be possible.”

Not only are human rights one of the many considerations that governments have, they also consider geopolitics including what is happening in other countries. The latest news is that Myanmar has suffered a military coup and democracy icon Aung San Suu Ki and many of the democratically elected government are under arrest. This is a matter that will necessarily occupy the attention of the Human Rights Council and the secretariat including the High Commissioner. Also, unlike in 2012 and 2013 when it lost in voting at the Human Rights Council in 2021 the balance of global power has shifted and its allies China and Russia much more important on the global stage. However, a confrontational strategy would still pit Sri Lanka against powerful countries, and those who have courts that practice universal jurisdiction, and this is best avoided.



The possibility of a consensual resolution has been a subject of discussion within the government. Foreign Secretary, Prof Jayanath Colombage, a former Admiral of the Sri Lanka Navy, who was part of a team that designed the cooperative naval strategy with foreign powers that overcame the LTTE at sea, including the US and India, has been quoted as saying that a consensual resolution was under consideration. This would provide the government with an opportunity to set out its roadmap for reconciliation and obtain international support for it without going to a divisive vote.

The High Commissioner’s report has noted that the government’s path to reconciliation will be through the two prongs of reparations and development. The governments of the 47 countries represented in the UN Human Rights Council might be more amendable to this government strategy for reconciliation if they see it is in the process of being implemented. Such a strategy cannot remain only a promise but needs to be seen implemented on the ground right away. While development is a long term process whose visible impact may not be seen immediately, there are several act of reparation that can be done with immediate visibility impacts.

These include increasing the quantum of reparations given to families of the missing from the present sum of Rs 6,000 per month, amnesty for LTTE suspects held for over a decade without indictment or trial and resettlement of the war displaced with housing and livelihoods being provided to them. In her recent media interview, US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz has also given some suggestions regarding what the international community is looking at. She said that “it would be good to see more progress in terms of finalizing the last of land returns, in terms of looking at the independent institutions that had been established previously to address the missing, to address the cause of reparation and finally an institution that was not established for looking at the need for some truth telling so that people can kind of examine the past and move ahead.” Another important symbolic reconciliatory action that can be taken at this time would be to sing the national anthem in Tamil also at the Independence Day celebrations on February 4 particularly in the Tamil majority areas.

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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