■US Official visits SL at GL’s request ■Reconciliation process at a complete standstill
The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is to respond this week to the request by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) in Geneva to send a representative to Sri Lanka following the Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March.
The Sunday Leader learns that the government is considering a positive response to the request. Government sources said the response was likely to be sent to Geneva early this week. Interestingly, the response is to be sent in the absence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is on a tour to Cuba and Brazil. The President was to spend two days from the 15th in Cuba and four days in Brazil where he is to attend the Rio+20 Summit. He is scheduled to return to the country on Friday (22).
The request from the OCHR was made last month and the government after discussing the matter at length is looking at responding positively to the request. The External Affairs Ministry is to send the government’s response to Geneva. The OCHR request is in line with the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka that was adopted at the 19th session of the UNHRC in Geneva.
The third clause of the Resolution states thus, “Encourages the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps; and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session.”
The Rajapaksa government has been under mounting pressure from the international community to tow the line, especially in implementing recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The adoption of the Resolution at the UNHRC where Sri Lanka is now officially included on the agenda of the international community has made the government quite submissive after taking into consideration its many diplomatic faux pas that have put the country in its current spot.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also called on Sri Lanka to cooperate with the OCHR on implementing the recommendations of the LLRC.
The UN Chief had made this observation in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. On Sri Lanka, Ban Ki-moon had said that he welcomed the recent decision of the UNHRC to call upon Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations contained in the report of the LLRC and to take all additional steps necessary to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.
“I encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate with OCHR and the Human Rights Council’s special procedures in this regard,” Ban had said. Separately in the report he had mentioned the encouragement by the freedom of access given to humanitarian agencies in the north after the war. “I also welcome the fact that in Sri Lanka, security clearances are no longer required for movement by humanitarian actors in the Northern Province,” he had said.
Be that as it may, the government’s dilemma now is how to save face before the people and mostly its coalition members.
Several coalition partners like the JHU and NFF have been constantly manipulated by the President to drum up hostile sentiments towards the international community.
It is a ploy practiced by the Rajapaksa administration to use internal protests and hostilities as excuses and time-buying exercises before the international community.
NFF Leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa launched a hunger strike outside the UN Compound in Colombo when the UN Secretary General appointed a three-member panel of experts to report on Sri Lanka. Weerawansa once again spearheaded a campaign against the US when a Resolution on Sri Lanka was tabled before the UNHRC in Geneva during the 19th sessions.
Even the reconciliation process and implementation of the LLRC recommendations have been delayed due to the so-called pressure from the government’s coalition partners.
The JHU has also played its part in saber-rattling against the Western nations.
Although the NFF and JHU have continuously waged war locally against the international community, they have been tight lipped on the manner in which the government has given into international pressure.
The Rajapaksa government while considering a positive response to the UNHRC’s request to send a representative to Sri Lanka has also been asked by these coalition partners to think of their plight in the event a UNHRC official visits the country.
It is learnt that the President has been asked to lay down some conditions to the UNHRC if the government was to respond positively to the request. However, the Rajapaksa government is looking at pulling yet another fast one. Several senior government members have discussed the plan.
The plan is to dissolve several Provincial Councils next month and set elections for September in order to divert attention of the public from the issue of a visit by an official from the UNHRC. A senior government minister said the decision to dissolve the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces is final and that it will be done this year.
It would therefore be interesting to see how the government will handle its coalition partners and the people, while also accommodating the UNHRC.
It would be yet another occasion to witness the government’s duplicitous nature.
Duplicity seems to come naturally to the Rajapaksa government. The hard-line stances adopted in Sri Lanka seem to veer away when members of the government visit foreign countries.
Last month’s visit to the US by a government delegation led by External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has come under much criticism back at home – especially over Peiris’ communication to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the government’s plan on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
Subsequently, details of another meeting Peiris had with the US Trade Department were revealed last week. During the US visit Peiris had met with the Deputy of the US Trade Department and US Assistant Trade Representative for South Asia Michael J. Delaney who visited Sri Lanka last week.
Delaney during a roundtable meeting with several local media personnel said that Peiris had requested the US to resolve the review of the US GSP facility offered to Sri Lanka, soon.
The US Trade Department is currently reviewing Sri Lanka following a petition filed by a trade union calling for the withdrawal of the facility. When questioned by The Sunday Leader, Delaney said that Peiris had during the meeting in Washington said that there has been significant progress in the matter and had requested for the matter to be resolved soon. “We agreed to the request,” he said. The US official said that his visit last week was following the discussion with Peiris. Delaney however refrained from giving any time frames as to when the US would conclude the review.
Trade and investment between the US and Sri Lanka according to Delaney amounted to US$ 2.4 billion last year. Sri Lankan exports to the US have been US$ 2.1 billion while US imports have amounted to US$ 300 million.
Delaney’s comments on Peiris’ request are a clear indication of the government’s dependency on trade with the US. For a government that has constantly spoken of doing well without foreign concessions, Peiris’ request would indicate a change in policy. Yet, it is another indication of the government’s duplicity.
However, the US government last week announced that Sri Lanka has been exempted from following the economic sanctions imposed on Iran. The US stated that the exemption was granted since Sri Lanka had recorded a considerable decline in Iranian imports.
Meanwhile, the government is now looking at resuming discussions with Iran to re-commence development projects that have been put on hold due to the sanctions.
Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation Dr. Sarath Amunugama was quoted in the media saying the government would resume discussions on the development projects that were to be funded by the Iranian government.
Sri Lanka entered into several agreements with the Iranian government where the latter has pledged financial support for several development projects in the country including the Uma Oya project and the upgrading of the Sapugaskanda Oil refinery.
Given the focus shown by the US government on Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and accountability, it would be prudent for the Rajapaksa government to keep in mind that it cannot continue to mislead the international community.
LLRC Task Force
The government in usual form last week made a statement on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga last week, told heads of media institutions that the government was looking at implementing 33 recommendations by the LLRC. He had said that the 33 recommendations had been selected out of the 135 recommendations listed by the LLRC.
Weeratunga is the head of the Task Force appointed by the President to implement the LLRC recommendations. Other members of the Task Force include former Attorney General and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet Mohan Peiris, Justice Ministry Secretary Kamalini de Silva, Technology and Research Ministry Secretary Dhara Wijethilaka and Presidential Coordinating Secretary Anura Dissanayake.
However, Weeratunga had noted that the government is unable to implement all the recommendations, which have been identified by the end of this year. He had said that there was a lack of funding to implement some recommendations and that they would be done after making the necessary allocations in the 2013 budget.
According to him, the important ones will be implemented this year while the rest would be implemented next year. Nevertheless, he had added that some recommendations could not be implemented for practical reasons. He drew an example of a recommendation calling on the authorities to change the mindset of government officials.
Weeratunga’s comments on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations come when the assurances made by the government to the US have come under fire by the opposition political parties.
Both the UNP and JVP called on the government to reveal details of the assurances given by Peiris to Secretary Clinton last month in Washington. The government denied giving any document to Clinton outlining its plan on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
However, even members of the government were displeased that they have been kept in the dark about the assurances given by Peiris to the US on implementing the LLRC recommendations without discussing it with the coalition partners or even the Cabinet of Ministers.
Weeratunga while making his comments on the LLRC recommendations did not refer to the outcome of the reports submitted by the coalition partners of the governing UPFA on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
At the meeting with the media heads, Weeratunga had said that the Cabinet would be briefed by the end of this month on the recommendations that have been selected for implementation.
Following Weeratunga’s statement, the UNP had also discussed the need to know clearly what recommendations have been selected by the Task Force headed by Weeratunga for implementation.
However, the UNP is awaiting the return of its party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe from an official visit to China. He is scheduled to return to the country today (17). UNP sources observed that Wickremesinghe is scheduled to meet with leaders of opposition political parties on the 21st and with TNA Leader R. Sampanthan to discuss the reconciliation process.
The reconciliation process is currently at a standstill with the President spending most of the month overseas reportedly in a bid to minimize the malefic effects of a planetary change that took place earlier in the month. Wickremesinghe has also been overseas for most part of the month. He was in New Zealand and last week travelled to China. Last month he made a proposal to the government on initiating the formation of the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) to finding a political solution. Wickremesinghe called on the government to create confidence among opposition parties to participate in the PSC.
“Such an environment is possible on an agenda based on the implementation of recommendations of the
LLRC Report including a devolution package, implementing the 13th Amendment and further building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution, taking into account the bi-lateral discussions between the 3-Member Committee of the Government Parliamentary Group and the TNA based on the discussion papers and the documents referred to therein. The deliberations will be within this framework and the Report will be submitted as per Resolution P. 145/11,” he said, adding the implementation of the LLRC recommendations would also be advantageous. The UNP Leader also proposed that a time frame of six months be set for the PSC to complete its task.
The government however has not yet responded to Wickremesinghe’s proposal.
“The UNP has made an honest effort to work with the government in the reconciliation process and it is now up to the government to respond,” Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake said. He noted that the UNP and the TNA were waiting for the government’s response.
Attanayake observed that Wickremesinghe would resume the reconciliation effort with the government and try to bring the TNA to the PSC although the government was yet to make an honest effort towards building confidence of its sincerity in moving forward with the reconciliation process