More than a fortnight after the passage of the resolution on Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Sri Lankan government continues to give mixed messages about its implementation. Within the government coalition itself there are polarized views.
The nationalist parties have taken the position that the resolution should be rejected in full, including the LLRC report that forms the centerpiece of the Geneva resolution. The left parties within the government coalition however have taken a contrary position that the LLRC report should be implemented without reference to the wishes of the international community.
In the absence of a definite government stance on the Geneva resolution various government members have made pronouncements within these two positions. One is that the LLRC exceeded its mandate and therefore its recommendations need to be viewed with circumspection. Another position is that only some of the LLRC recommendations can be implemented as some of them are not practical. An example of a so-called impractical recommendation might the one pertaining to investigating the role of former
LTTE eastern commander Colonel Karuna in the killing of 600 policemen when they surrendered to the LTTE on orders of the government during a time of ceasefire.
In these circumstances, with mixed messages emanating from the government the general public is, by and large, not at all conversant with the issues. They would scarcely be aware that much of the LLRC report is devoted to restoring the rule of law and de-politicising state institutions that have become dysfunctional due to political interference. Instead the general message they have received is that the LLRC is about defending the government from the unfair charge of war crimes while the Geneva resolution is an attempt to punish the government leadership for finishing off the LTTE. However, such an interpretation of the LLRC report does not do justice to the efforts made by the Commissioners to present a blueprint for the political transformation of Sri Lankan society.
A basic feature of democracy is that people should participate in issues pertaining to their governance. Although the issue of the Geneva resolution on Sri Lanka has generated much interest within the country, much of the public discussion on it has been ill-informed or based on partial and distorted assessments. The general perception is that the Geneva resolution is against Sri Lanka rather than meant for the Sri Lankan government. As a result there is no pressure from the people that would induce the government to respond positively. Unless this situation is rectified soon, the positive impact that was sought by the proponents of the resolution and quite independently by the LLRC Commissioners is likely to be lost.
The thrust of the Geneva resolution is accountability, good governance, peace building and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It is on this moral basis that the architects of the Geneva resolution have sought to justify their actions. During the debate within the UNHRC, the Western countries that supported the passage of the resolution described it as a moderate and constructive document that was meant to help Sri Lanka to achieve post-war justice and reconciliation. But such good intentions require that the general public in Sri Lanka should also be a part of the process of transformation. The good intentions of the international community cannot be simply pushed down on Sri Lankan society in a top-down manner.
However, the indications so far are that there is hardly any people’s participation being sought in implementing the Geneva resolution. So far the government has failed to even translate the LLRC report, which was written in the English language, into the Sinhala and Tamil languages that are best understood by the vast majority of people. This has made the contents of the report, its analysis and recommendations inaccessible to the general public. Instead of reading it themselves and having public debates about its contents, the masses of people have been effectively kept in the dark regarding the LLRC report.
Due to this interest of the more active sections of civil society to learn about the LLRC, there has been a revival of activism in those civic groups that are engaged in public education and awareness creation. Many of them feel that their own efforts over the years, of taking messages of good governance, human rights and reconciliation have been vindicated by the analysis and recommendations of the LLRC report. However, their capacity to propagate the democratic message of the LLRC needs to be strengthened. This can be done by providing assistance to outreach and public education activities that reach the communities at the grassroots level.
It is unfortunate that the international community that is pressuring the Sri Lankan government to implement the Geneva resolution has still to make its contribution towards civic education on the LLRC report which is at its centre. The international community needs to think through its responsibility on this issue. The prevailing thinking appears to be that Sri Lanka, being a middle income country, should find the resources within itself for civic education. There is fatigue that comes from dealing with intractable problems that do not seem capable of resolution. There is also the sense of disillusionment that despite much support being given to civic organizations, Sri Lanka appears to have regressed in the past several years rather than progressed in terms of good governance and human rights.
A glance at the UN reports on the proceedings of the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council would reveal that the resolution on Sri Lanka was one of many that were passed. The resolution on Sri Lanka would undoubtedly be overshadowed by many other burning international problems. M any Western countries that supported Sri Lanka’s development and democratization efforts for many decades have now withdrawn from the country citing their own economic difficulties and Sri Lanka’s middle income status. In this context a special obligation devolves upon those countries that put forward the LLRC as the way forward for Sri Lanka to assist the country to achieve that purpose.
The international community expended a great deal of effort in pushing through the Geneva resolution on Sri Lanka. There is also a need to support the grassroots level initiatives of civil society groups to create greater awareness amongst the general population. Specifically, the role of civil society is to prepare the ground for the government to implement the LLRC recommendations, along with people’s participation. Both the government and the international community appear to be overlooking the importance of civil society’s role in transforming Sri Lanka’s political culture. A full effort by civil society is needed at this time to ensure that what transpired in Geneva becomes a positive opportunity for the political transformation of the country, as envisaged by the LLRC Commissioners.