By Namini Wijedasa
The government will involve NGO critics in the drafting of its action plan on implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, a key presidential adviser said last week. Mohan Pieris, the former attorney general, revealed details of what he called the ‘preliminaries to the main action plan’ in an interview with LAKBIMAnEWS last week.
“Notwithstanding the grave concerns with regards to accountability, there is broad consensus that the recommendations of the LLRC provide a very fine entry point for a long-term reconciliation process,” he stressed.
Bulk of the work
The final action plan is not ready yet. The bulk of the work in this regard has been handed over to a committee led by Lalith Weeratunga, secretary to the president. At the same time, efforts are being made to speed up the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which is primarily being handled by Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.
Referring to the resolution on Sri Lanka passed at the UN Human Rights Council, he said it created considerable misgivings and misunderstandings. “The result was that it widened the gap between the government and its international partners, between activist groups and political parties,” Pieris observed. “Therefore, the government, having recognized the need to close this gap, has taken the step to talk to a lot of civil society members with a view to promoting engagement, dialogue and to finding some kind of agreement.”
“In that process, some of our senior foreign ambassadors in Sri Lanka recently called on our civil society members for a meeting and explained to them the urgent requirement to give life to that sentiment, that we need to promote dialogue,” he revealed. “They did drive home the point that it was the obligation of members of so-called civil society to facilitate to make the gap smaller.”
Pieris, who maintained that even the fiercest critics of the government were involved, said a proposal emerged from these discussions regarding “how to set about it”. A very small, non-partisan group of Sri Lankan citizens in the fields of business, social services, media, academia, etc, will work discreetly, quietly and voluntarily with a view to promoting dialogue and consensus on “a roadmap for reconciliation”-although the government has its own roadmap.
“In other words, what we are trying to do is to sell the roadmap that the government has strategized to civil society,” Pieirs explained. “We want to reach consensus on what we can commonly work on. The government doesn’t want to pour its roadmap down the throat of civil society. We want civil society to partner the government in formulating a common roadmap acceptable not only to government but civil society.”
It was agreed that the committee will appoint convener to organize meetings and to finalize agendas. A rapporteur would be brought in to maintain records and to ensure the outcomes. “The objective is to establish a very clear, uncomplicated matrix that captures each LLRC recommendation,” Pieris said. Matrix, he explained was a designed, agreed structure that a) summarizes each and every recommendation; b) identifies what action has already been taken; and c) what action needs to be taken. The party who will be responsible for putting the recommendation into action will agree on a time frame for its implementation and invite all stakeholders to comment on the proposals.
“The government has therefore appointed an action committee for implement the LLRC recommendations that will be able to have the benefit of being able to use a complete, agreed plan,” Pieris maintained. “Basically, we already have our roadmap. But we know that when we start it off there will be thousands of fellows who criticize us, who will have better ideas. So we are saying, come along with us. Let’s agree on those things.”
Civil society lobby
Asked whether the powerful civil society lobby that typically gets heard in forums such as the UNHRC was involved in this process, Pieris replied: “Well, it is for them to get involved. There is a standing, open invitation.”
The committee intends to start its work by speaking independently to the separate groups on the various recommendations, to identify areas of agreement and clarify areas of concern. The LLRC recommendations have been broken up into four categories. “Therefore, the initial step will be to establish or create a list of clear, specific recommendation and to make an assessment as to what action has already been taken, what action still remains to be taken, for the purposes of implementing the recommendations.”
“Once that process is completed,” he said, “the committee will move to discussing those recommendations with a view to finding out the feasibility of taking the remaining steps and the time frame required for implementation. Having done that, whatever issues that remain on the table-the remainder of the issues-will be classified into short term activities that can be fast tracked. Why is that? It is simply with a view to demonstrating our political will, that we are serious about implementing these proposals.”
Pieris maintained that a number of recommendations have been given life to already. A section of them will also be classified as long term activities that might require some legal study and technical steps to be taken. In the final analysis, after all the independent views of the multifarious groups are incorporated into the matrix, there will be a roundtable discussion to review and to finalize the document that will described as the official government “roadmap for reconciliation”.
Categories for implementation
The LLRC made roughly 258 recommendations. They are, by and large, broken up into four segments which, in turn, have been divided into two main groups.
One group requires high level decisions which have to be taken at a policy level. These include recommendations pertaining to the final phase of the conflict; the protection of human rights; child protection; reconciliation; devolution and power sharing which will essentially be a task for the Parliamentary Select Committee; language policy; education; diaspora; religion, arts, culture; and so on.
The second group pertains to those recommendations which have relevance to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) for the North and East or some other government agencies. This includes provision of financial assistance to families whose breadwinners are either missing or dead and human rights programmes for school children. It also includes the management of vulnerable groups-women, children, the internally displaced, disabled and the elderly-such as livelihood assistance, formal education, vocational training and security. There are currently 59,000 women headed households.
The second category will comprise education and health facilities, counseling, child friendly environments, special programmes for the elderly and disabled, assistance to resettled families, the continuing needs of those already resettled including the provision of permanent housing, livelihood assistance and infrastructure.
The settling of land issues will be tackled. Pieris said this could be done at PTF or ministry level. The need to implement a well thought out and clear policy for people to resettle will be considered. The illegal transfer of lands, restitution of lands to displaced persons, the establishment of a land policy without unusual changes (in other words, without changing the demographic pattern) will be examined.
Also in this second category which requires lower level intervention is the facilitation of the safe return of refugees from India; issues related to Muslim IDPs; land issues of Muslims which were not satisfactorily settled, predominantly in the East; resettlement of the remaining displaced Muslims; and dealing with Sinhala IDPs in the Northern districts. Matters related to long-term IDPs will be studied to ascertain the magnitude of the problem and to decide on compensation and monetary relief.
The problem of Indian Tamils as identified in the LLRC report will fall into this category. Pieris said the census that is being taken “will settle once and for all who is who and where they were living”.
Pieris encouraged civil society to now participate in the process, accusing them of preferring to keep the issue in abeyance. “Don’t sit back on your haunches, pay lip service to the subject and do nothing,” he said. “You need to get into the arena with us and start implementing it in a serious way. After all, you are also part and parcel of this country, not something the West brought and put here. They seem to disassociate or distance themselves from the issues that commonly impact on the entire community.”