An important element in post-conflict nation building is to understand what happened in the past that aided in the conflict, acknowledge the sufferings of all those who were affected in some form or another, and to take precautions to ensure that there is no room for further conflicts in future, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga said. “The coming months and years are of crucial importance to Sri Lanka as we actively implement the recommendations. We have already gone before the media when we unveiled the National Plan of Action and we hope to brief the local and international media from time to time as and when it is appropriate to do so,” the Secretary said addressing Defence Seminar 2012 in Colombo yesterday.
It is important for the Sri Lankan Government to address some of the grave allegations raised with regard to international humanitarian law and it has often stated that these allegations will be examined and any wrong-doers will be dealt in the normal course of the law of the country. Investigations are already underway and this process is being duly followed, Mr. Weeratunga added.
Any government, whether it had undergone a conflict period or not, has to continue learning on how and what it should do in the best interest of its people. We know that countries without any established conflict can still experience bouts of social unrest that will prevail even for several weeks. As long as there are people or groups harbouring narrow vested interests which they are prepared to achieve at any cost, such a country is always at the risk of inflaming into a conflict or war. Ours is over now.
This is our opportunity to learn from what happened, and to make every effort that it will not happen again. I believe that Sri Lanka is travelling on that right track, the Secretary concluded.
Full text of the Secretary’s speech:
It is certainly a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to address this august gathering and share some thoughts and information on a topic that is of crucial importance to Sri Lanka, in the post-conflict period. I also feel honoured that I have been asked to make the closing remarks. Having listened to the address by Mr.GotabhayaRajapaksa, I have no doubt that you are fully apprised of what has been done in the relatively short post conflict period, 3 years of rebuilding the nation as against 30 years of mayhem, destruction and uncertainty.
Persistent and long term conflicts deal harsh blows on any country’s social and cultural fabric and the economic infrastructure. Sri Lanka too suffered its share of adversity during the three decades of terrorism during which time too many opportunities were lost for economic advancement and social harmony.
Soon after a conflict, the priority of a country, as is that of the Sri Lankan government, hinges on the post-war 5Rs that have been discussed thoroughly during this seminar. (i.e Rehabilitation, Re-integration, Re-construction, Resettlement and Reconciliation.)
In his address, the Defence Secretary MrGotabhayaRajapaksa explained in great detail the immediate steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government at the end of the conflict to provide relief to affected parties. Large scale relief assistance programmes were carried out by the armed forces. Government agencies got into the act fast to plan programmes for implementation over the mid-term and long-term. Majority of these activities are in fact now in progress.
An important element in post-conflict nation building is to understand what happened in the past that aided in the conflict, acknowledge the sufferings of all those who were affected in some form or another, and to take precautions to ensure that there is no room for further conflicts in future.
In this regard, one of the measures undertaken by the Government was the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation (LLRC).
The Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation was sanctioned under a Presidential Warrant by His Excellency the President in May of 2010.
I would like to quote from the first few lines of this Proclamation where His Excellency had noted, among other things, the following needs that I intend to share with you to give you an idea on why we undertook this mission.
The Proclamation states:
“Whereas I am of the opinion that an opportune moment has arrived to reflect on the conflict phase and the sufferings the country has gone through as a whole, and having regard to the common aspirations of all, we have collectively resolved that our people are assured an era of peace, harmony and prosperity;
“Whereas it has become necessary that while we as an independent and proud nation of multi ethnic polity undertake a journey of common goals in a spirit of cooperation, partnership and friendship, we also learn from the recent history, lessons that would ensure that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflicts in future.”
The Eight eminently qualified Commissioners who were appointed to the Commission proceeded from thereon, acknowledging a clear need to heal the wounds of conflict and to make recommendations with the intention of recognising victims of conflict, redressing them and thereby promoting unity and peace building in the country.
Having extended the time period to facilitate greater stakeholder participation, the LLRC report was handed to His Excellency the President on the 15th November 2011. It was presented in Parliament a month later and made a public document.
The LLRC report which was originally in English, has now been translated into Sinhala and Tamil and will be published very soon, to facilitate those involved in the implementation process as well as communicate to various stakeholders.
Chapter 9 of the LLRC report provides the reader with a summary of the principal observations and recommendations. In Chapter 6, it comprehensively deals with issues pertaining to Land, its return and settlement, in Chapter 7, it discusses issues and recommendations on Restitution and Compensatory Relief & in Chapter 8, it comprehensively deals with Reconciliation and focuses on issues impacting on post-conflict reconciliation. The LLRC had made 285 recommendations, which included several sub recommendations under them. These fell under four broad categories:
– Recommendations relating to National policy
– Recommendations relating to final phase of conflict
– Recommendations relating to human rights and national security
-Recommendations relating to resettlement and development
Broadly speaking, there are 135 main recommendations within the 285 recommendations contained in the LLRC report. The majority of these, 66 in number, fall under the last category, which is, recommendations relating to resettlement and development thereby emphasizing on the rebuilding effort that is before us.
One of the first responses by the government was to identify recommendations appropriate for smooth implementation and determine priorities in respect of this process. Views expressed by political parties and civil societies were received by the Presidential Secretariat.
Due to the extensive nature of coordination necessary for effective implementation of the LLRC recommendations, the Cabinet of Ministers decided in May this year to introduce a suitable structure for this purpose. Cabinet decided that the overall responsibility of ensuring effective implementation and monitoring of the LLRC recommendations would reside with the Secretary to the President.
Over several meetings, a Task force headed by me, compiled the National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC, to ensure the Cabinet mandate is given effect to. This plan of action was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in July this year, after two months of the appointment of the Task Force.
We noted that more than 70 recommendations in the LLRC report were closely related to recommendations that were made in the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights prepared previously in 2011. Some of these recommendations have already been given effect to, giving the Task Force a head start in the implementation of LLRC recommendations.
In addition, the had made significant progress under their “UthuruWasanthaya” programme by way of 1) Providing relief to displaced persons; 2) Resettlement of displaced persons and providing them with livelihood opportunities; and 3) Providing economic and social infrastructure for long-term development. I am sure MrDivaratne, the Secretary of the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province would have described to you what this task force had accomplished.
Coming back to the National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC, I would briefly explain the process of preparation. In preparing the National Action Plan, the Task Force met with several key implementing agencies to identify their ambit of responsibility, various issues and challenges that can be expected during implementation and the appropriate time frame for completing the activities.
In compiling the National Action Plan, our Task Force identified one or more activities for each recommendation the LLRC had made, the appropriate implementing agency or agencies and Key Performance Indicators to facilitate monitoring. We have identified 24 key Ministries and agencies with greater responsibility for implementing the recommendations. I am of the view that the whole government is involved in one way or another in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
By the time we finalised the National Action Plan, several of the recommendations have been given effect to with promising progress. For instance, in terms of resettlement of persons affected by war, 98% of the displaced has been resettled. The remaining few will be resettled once all de-mining activities have been completed. As you have been already so well briefed, I am not going to dwell at length on the post conflict development activities.
With regard to social integration, the Trilingual Policy of the Government which is already being implemented will create a major impact in connecting the communities and consolidating ties among them. Several of the LLRC recommendations with regard to Trilingual Policy are already in progress. It is pertinent to note that His Excellency the President in January this year launched the Trilingual policy in the distinguished presence of former President of India, Mr Abdul Kalam. Our efforts are directed towards becoming a trilingual nation by 2021.
It is important for the Government to address some of the grave allegations raised with regard to international humanitarian law and it has often stated that these allegations will be examined and any wrong-doers will be dealt in the normal course of the law of the country. Investigations are already underway and this process is being duly followed.
I would also like to state that while making progress on the National Action Plan, it is not always to be expected that all recommendations can be implemented as smoothly as we would wish. There are matters which require legislative amendments or introductions, which means there is a longer time frame involved. There are also matters which need substantial funding. Just to give you an idea of this process: LLRC recommendations were placed before the Parliament in mid December last year, by which time the government budget for 2012 had already been passed by Parliament. There are many activities in our National Plan of Action that require specific and substantial budgets and these will have budgets in the 2013 budget of the government that will be placed before Parliament in November this year.
Many of the recommendations assigned for implementation by the Ministry of Lands relate to policy matters which require extensive stakeholder consultations before implementation. We are dealing with land in the North and East which once belonged to persons who had left the country decades ago and now settled in various parts of the world. Since then, some of these lands have been occupied for well over 10-15 years by other persons who also claim their legitimate right. There are also many lands that the LTTE forcibly took over from innocent people. As records in the land registries have been destroyed by the LTTE, it is a huge task to determine the true owners of these lands in the North. These are issues which are considered high priority from the standpoint of displaced land owners, particularly those wishing to return to the country. If not resolved with careful consideration, however, they will also be matters of dispute for a long period of time by various aggrieved parties.
I have placed before this august gathering the salient features of the National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC. The coming months and years are of crucial importance to Sri Lanka as we actively implement the recommendations. We have already gone before the media when we unveiled the National Plan of Action and we hope to brief the local and international media from time to time as and when it is appropriate to do so.
As a way of making closing remarks at the Defence Seminar 2012, with the theme “Towards Lasting Peace and Stability”, I wish to state that this forum has provided to a large number of personnel, both from the militaries and the civilian administrations of many countries, the unique opportunity to be informed, to discuss and to arrive at certain conclusions on the story of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict period.
In conclusion, may I be permitted to say that any government, whether it had undergone a conflict period or not, has to continue learning on how and what it should do in the best interest of its people. We know that countries without any established conflict can still experience bouts of social unrest that will prevail even for several weeks. As long as there are people or groups harbouring narrow vested interests which they are prepared to achieve at any cost, such a country is always at the risk of inflaming into a conflict or war. Ours is over now. This is our opportunity to learn from what happened, and to make every effort that it will not happen again. I believe that Sri Lanka is travelling on that right track.