The thrust of the UPFA Government was just the opposite last week. External Affairs Minister (EAM) G.L. Peiris met Colombo-based diplomats. He handed them a 22-page document titled “Progress by thematic areas” on the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The document was prepared by a Task Force headed by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. Listed first among them is an issue which drew considerable attention during last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) — probing allegations of war crimes.
This was an issue that generated domestic and international attention after British Prime Minister Cameron raised the issue. Of course he first declared that Britain would back moves for an “international probe” if no domestic inquiry was held before the UNHRC sessions in March next year. Thereafter, he shifted his position to say that an “international probe” would be called for if a domestic probe was not carried out by March next year. The first item on the document refers to the LLRC recommendation which says “Ascertain more fully the circumstances under which specific instances of death or injury to civilians could have occurred, and if such investigations disclose wrongful conduct, prosecute and punish the wrongdoers.”
Marked against this LLRC recommendation in a cage in the document are three different Government responses. They are: “(1) the second part of the Army Court of Inquiry (Allegation of summary executions of captured persons) is in progress. (2) The second part commenced in March 2013. At present, COI (Court of Inquiry) interviewing various Field Commanders to identify the relevant formations and potential witnesses. This is a tedious task. Once the potential witnesses are identified they will be formally called as witness. (3) First part (allegation with regard to civilian casualties) concluded in February 2013. COI observed that instances of shelling referred to in the LLRC Report were not caused by the Sri Lanka Army and civilian casualties might have occurred due to unlawful acts by LTTE. These acts include targeting civilians fleeing to the safety of Army held areas and likely routes of escape, dropping of artillery rounds fired by ill-trained LTTE gunners on to civilian concentrations etc.”
This response is consonant with the Government position that there were zero civilian casualties on the part of the security forces during the final battles leading to the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May 2009. Unlike the period ahead of the two previous US-backed resolutions in 2012 and 2013, this time the Government is making intense preparations for the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. The Task Force’ document lists 129 recommendations of the LLRC and provides the Government response for some 104 leaving 25 of them without comments. It states that these recommendations have been approved by the Cabinet of ministers in July this year. These recommendations and the status quo of the action taken are designed to demonstrate that issues raised in the two consecutive US-backed resolutions have been or are being addressed by the UPFA Government. Here are some of the edited highlights with the response in italics:
Recommendation: Consider expeditious grant of appropriate redress to those affected by shells falling on hospitals after due inquiry as a humanitarian gesture.
Action: REPIA has responded to all such claims made by affected persons. Payment of compensation can be based on medical report issued by a Government Doctor, to whoever injured or disabled due to war. Hence, this category of person has the opportunity to apply for compensation under this scheme.
Recommendation: Direct law enforcement authorities to take immediate steps to ensure that allegations (of abductions, enforced or voluntary disappearances, and arbitrary detention) are investigated into, and perpetrators brought to justice.
Action: A total of 155 Police Officers have been trained and awarded IVA (International Vocational Award) in Community Policing. Projects in respective Police areas to which they are attached are being conducted by ASPs. This is an ongoing project which was initiated by the Scottish Police College under financial assistance by the British Government. 3,675 Police Officers have been trained since the project was launched in 2010.
2,246 investigations have been completed so far of 2,729 complaints received regarding disappearance of persons which have been reported to Terrorist Investigation Division. A Legal Aid Centre will soon function at Puttalam on completion of renovations to the building. More new locations are being identified. In the meantime, more than 70 Legal Aid Centres function island wide implementing access to justice programmes.
Recommendation: Appoint a Special Commissioner of Investigation to investigate alleged disappearances and provide material to the Attorney General to initiate criminal proceedings as appropriate. Provide the Office of the Commissioner with experienced investigators to collect and process information.Devise a centralised system of data collection at the national level, integrating all information with regard to missing persons.
Action: To date, the (Disappearances) Commission has received 10,018 complaints from all parts of the country, mainly from the North and East. Of these, 5711 are from civilians and 4307 are from security personnel. Every complaint is acknowledged by letter and the data on complaints are computerised with a reference number provided to the complainant if they wish to inquire into the status of the complaint subsequently.
Notice to the Public to submit complaints or make representations to the Commission has been extended to December 31, 2013. Subsequent to closing date for receipt of complaints from the public, the Commission will visit the North and East to conduct public sittings. The Commission intends to hold its first public sittings in Kilinochchi. Commission of Inquiry appointed on August 12 this year to investigate alleged abductions or disappearances of persons resident in the Northern and Eastern Provinces during the war and submit report to the President within a period of six months.
Recommendation: Conduct proper investigations in respect to allegations against the illegal armed groups. Institute criminal proceedings against offenders.
Action: Completed. In the immediate aftermath of the war, action was taken by the Government to disarm all persons in the North and East. Recommendation: Take all steps to prevent harassment and attacks on media personnel and institutions. Give priority to the investigation, prosecution and disposal of such cases. Properly investigate past incidents of such illegal action.
Action: Online complaint system (www.slpc.lk) has been launched by the Sri Lanka Press Council enabling media personnel to lodge any complaint immediately. Draft Code of Ethics has been circulated for public comments. Here are some of the LLRC recommendations on which the Task Force document is silent:
Examine the issue of medical supplies to civilians in the conflict areas during the final days of the conflict taking into consideration all relevant factors such as the number of civilians injured, the types of injuries, the number of LTTE cadres injured and treated, and the capacity to treat the injured in the makeshift hospitals, against which the actual supplies could be assessed.
Take due account of the violation of core Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Principles in framing charges against LTTE cadres against whom investigations reveal prima facie material for prosecution so that appropriate punishment, commensurate with the grave nature of such crimes could be meted out.
Take steps to prosecute police officers in instances of failure or refusal to record an arrest, detention and transfer, or to record complaints of abductions and failure to investigate same.
Take conclusive action to dispose of cases of detainees incarcerated over a long period of time without charges being preferred, by bringing charges or releasing them where there is no evidence of any criminal offence being committed.
Enact legislation to ensure right to information.
The European Parliament last Wednesday commended the Government’s national action plan for implementation of the LLRC recommendations. However, it adopted a lengthy resolution which was an ultimatum to the Government of Sri Lanka. On the calls for accountability for alleged war time violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the European Parliament urged the Government to initiate an independent and credible investigation into alleged violations by March 2014. Otherwise the UN should initiate an international investigation.
The resolution welcomed the first ever Provincial Council elections in the North but added in a strongly worded paragraph that it “notes with concern that the presence of government military forces in the former conflict areas remains considerable, leading to human rights violations including land grabbing, with more than one thousand court cases pending that involve landowners who have lost their property, and worrying numbers of reported sexual assaults and other abuses of women, bearing in mind the particular vulnerability of tens of thousands of war widows.”
Another paragraph adds that the EU “expresses considerable concern at the continuing reports of intimidation and human rights violations (including by the security forces), extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, along with reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and calls on the Sri Lankan Government to take the necessary measures.”
It is in this backdrop that the main opposition United National Party (UNP) is gearing itself for its annual convention next Saturday (December 21). Unlike the previous conventions, the coming one assumes greater significance for a number of reasons. The party is now conducting behind-the-scene consultations with other opposition parties and civil society groups. Hence, four different resolutions the party will adopt are designed largely to set out a common programme for a broader alliance with other political parties, civil society groups and trade unions. The rationale behind the exercise is the need to be prepared if and when a presidential poll is held next year or thereafter.
Another equally important move is to initiate disciplinary action against one time deputy leader and Hambantota District parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa. This is if he does not respond to the party’s invitation to serve in the Leadership Council before December 21. Leading Buddhist prelates have publicly repeated their call for Premadasa to join. If there is no response, a UNP source said yesterday, the vacancy would be filled by another senior member. In such an event, Premadasa is to be called upon to explain his conduct before disciplinary action is initiated against him.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe scotched rumours that the party’s constitution would be amended to give legal status to the Leadership Council. “Such a move is not necessary. The convention will endorse the decisions taken by the Working Committee on all matters related to the Council,” he told the Sunday Times. He said the Working Committee “established the Council and defined powers and functions. This will be confirmed by the annual sessions.” This is in accordance with the party constitution. He said the Council had to put the party in order and make sure it acted against anyone who went out of line. He added that once the decisions were endorsed, the Working Committee could not take away the powers. It will have to go before an annual convention.
Commenting on the four resolutions the party will adopt, Wickremesinghe said that would “enable us to work with all the major groups.” Already the opposition parties and religious groups have expressed opposition to the opening of casinos. “I will discuss with them all the national issues. People are facing insurmountable hardships. The cost of living is throttling them. Corruption is on the rise. From the time of the late D.S. Senanayake to then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, our international debt was Rs. 1.8 trillion. Since the end of 2005 until now, it has skyrocketed to Rs. 6.6 trillion,” he said. The UNP parliamentarians, he said, had performed well this time during the budget debate by raising issue over a number of matters.
Other than the speeches during the convention and adoption of resolutions, the only other item on the agenda is the felicitation of Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, former Chairman of the UNP and a stalwart from the Kurunegala district. He is to retire from politics. Here is the full text of the four resolutions the UNP will adopt:
“Resolution 1 – Creating a new mechanism to lead to the United National Party to victory
“This convention resolves to approve the following proposal regarding the powers, duties and responsibilities approved in accordance with Clause 5 (2) of the party constitution by the Working Committee on November 4, 2013 to create a Leadership Council with the aim of leading the United National Party (UNP) to victory.
“The powers, duties and responsibilities handed over to the Leadership Council by the Working Committee are as follows;
1. Preparing national strategy and policies required by all sections of the party.
2. Preparing promotional programmess and recruitment programmess required for a membership drive.
3. Appointing Divisional organisers in consultation with the party leader.
4. Issuing directives and orders required for the party membership.
5. Initiating disciplinary action or administrative action in the event of the failure to follow directives.
6. Preparing criteria for nominations and appointing Nomination Boards in consultation with the party leader.
7. Resolving disputes regarding nominations.
8. Supervision of the progress of party office bearers and organisers.
9. Providing targets and time frames for office bearers and organisers.
10. Powers to summon office-bearers, seek independent evaluation reports or seek ideas depending on the requirement of the Leadership Council.
11. Powers to take alternative steps to overcome weak areas or to improve efficiency of party officer bearers and organisers.
12. Powers to recommend steps to improve party trade unions and affiliated organisations.
13. Proposing and supervising party communication and propaganda programmes.
14. Supervising and providing targets, timetables and plans in order to improve and direct grassroots level organisations.
15. Appointing a member of the Council or several of them to direct any election.
16. Appointing sub committees to contest elections, appointing emergency committees or sub committees to achieve party objectives or any other appointments to improve efficiency of party administration.
17. Issuing directives to speakers addressing election meetings.
18. Issuing orders and supervising the implementation of decisions taken by the Working Committee.
19. Keeping the Working Committee informed periodically about the decisions and proposals of the Leadership Council.
“Resolution 2: Abolition of the Executive Presidency
“Based on the draft Constitution of the UNP, to introduce a Resolution for a new Constitution to restore Peoples’ Rule through a Cabinet which is responsible to Parliament through a representative government and abolish the Executive Presidency under which full powers have been concentrated to one person and in order to provide opportunity to enable devolution of powers, reintroduce the Independent Commissions, establish Law and Order, to ensure equality, strengthen democratic organisations, improve national reconciliation while maintaining Sri Lanka’s identity.
“To compulsorily spend more than six per cent of the GDP for education, ensuring the right for education legally and providing equal rights for education after identifying ‘maximum opportunity for education’ as a fundamental right.
“To give uninterrupted medical facilities and full health services to all persons in society and introducing a social health insurance scheme after identifying that free health service is a basic requirement for the public.”To introduce a new system, where the public have rights to property which is currently concentrated among one per cent of the society who are privileged under a highly competitive social market economy.
“This Convention resolves to empower the Working Committee to prepare policies and plans based on the ‘Radical declaration’ passed at the party convention on December 1, 2012. “Resolution No 3 – End corruption and wastage and reduce cost of living
“The independence of the judiciary was ended by removing Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayaka illegally by the Rajapaksa regime, container loads of narcotics have been imported and the offenders have been made state witnesses and thereby the drug menace has been spread, the police force has been brought under political influence thereby spreading terror and political influence and the money allocated for education and health has been taken for the personal benefit. From all nine of the budgets presented benefits have been passed on to one per cent of the privileged class and the prices of food items from mosquito coils to sanitary towels and other items used by 99 per cent of the population have been increased.
“Several trade union campaigns to gain rights of the people have ended with lives being sacrificed while governance has been politicised and state institutions have been ruined due to corruption. “Therefore hereby we resolve to reduce taxes and cost of living and thereby reduce the burden placed on the public and hereby protest against the Rajapaksa regime which has placed the burden on the public.”Resolution No 4 – Electing a Government which provides relief to the Public
“The party resolves to take a united position in one voice to rally all party members towards achieving victory with the support of those who respect democracy and all people’s movements in order to elect a government which provides relief to the public.
“Also all members of the Working Committee should work in a united manner. The Convention resolves to support the Leadership Council which was approved by the majority of the Working Committee members with the aim of taking the UNP to a victory path against the Rajapaksa regime.”
The UNP plans to launch a countrywide campaign next month to “educate the public on a number of issues.” Such a campaign will also extend to the north, a party source said yesterday.
Last week’s references in these columns to developments in the North, after the murder of Daniel Rexian, the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha of the island of Delft, have drawn a response from Douglas Devananda, Secretary General of the Eelam People’s Democratic Front (EPDP) and Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development. EPDP’s Northern Provincial Council Opposition Leader Kandiah Kamalendran is now in remand custody in connection with this murder. Devananda says ” The opinion published under the heading ”Petty warlords shake Govt. as it faces the crucial Geneva sessions”, on page 14 of the Sunday Times of 08th December, 2013 inter-alia refers to the comment in the LLRC report with regard to EPDP, as follows:
”The Commission is constrained to observe the attitude manifested by the leadership of the TMVP and EPDP in their explanations provide little or no consolation to the aggrieved parties, and tends to militate against any meaningful reconciliation process””The article under reference further states that soon after the LLRC report was made public in November 2011, Minister Devananda threatened to sue it. However, he did not follow through……” He says “I have already written to the President,” and adds that he twice spoke in Parliament on April 4, 2012 and again on November 11, 2013. He says he has categorically stated ‘to prove my innocence’ that the LLRC has misquoted the conversation between him and the Commissioners. He adds that although he wanted to sue the LLRC, he was advised that since the Commission is no more, “it may not be possible.”
It is not just the LLRC that has made several adverse and damning references to the role of the EPDP but also several foreign Governments, UN agencies and international organisations. Though Devananda is trying his best to “prove his innocence,” it is no secret that influential sections of the UPFA Government are highly perturbed over the acute embarrassment the EPDP was causing them in the north. A glaring example was the murder of Daniel Rexian and the events that followed. These were revealed exclusively in these columns last week. It made clear that pistol packing groups were still on the rampage.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed the summoning of a cabinet meeting tomorrow, Poya Day notwithstanding, to discuss a number of important issues. They are expected to include the mounting controversy after an official in Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s secretariat issued a letter seeking lower customs charges for an importer of a consignment. The shipment turned out to be a stock of heroin. The other is the defeat of the budget in a number of local authorities controlled by the UPFA.
The President’s call for a meeting of his ministers came from abroad. Usually such meetings are not held on Poya Days. He was in South Africa to attend the funeral service of Nelson Mandela and later proceeded on a four-day visit to Kenya. With just two weeks to go for a New Year, the UPFA Government is mostly preoccupied with what portends in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This is whilst the opposition parties are busy in behind-the-scene dialogue with each other and civil society groups for a common front. The coming months will no doubt be tough sailing for the UPFA which is already saddled with a number of embarrassing issues.