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“Punishing Sri Lanka” Myth or Reality?

May 28/ by Austin Fernando
Prof. Rohan Gunaratne- international terrorism expert- addressing the business community last week convincingly and openly cautioned that “India might ‘punish’ Sri Lanka”, if Sri Lanka leans elsewhere to India’s detriment. This is a very serious statement, especially if Indians do not intend doing so.

To prove his point, he quoted a meeting with the first Research and Analysis Wing Chief who had told Gunaratne their concerns over President JR Jayewardene stepping away from the Non Alignment Movement, Jayewardene’s intentions to economically favor the USA by opening the Trincomalee Port and the intention to handover China Bay oil tanks to the USA, Voice of America eavesdropping on India etc.

Gunaratne would not have had any personal antipathy or bias towards India when he emphatically quoted the past to predict future.

Indo- Lanka Joint Statement (JS)

The attempt here is to observe whether such punishment could be inferred from the latest hinting basing Indian approaches stated in the JS between India and Sri Lanka, datelined May 17th 2011. JS definitely reflects India’s immediate concerns and could be perceived as an accumulated response to Sri Lankan political behavior after May 2009. To me the JS seems an effective diplomatic exercise- i.e. strategically hiding issues, while sending strong messages.

Outputs of the JS

When the JS said “The two sides reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations” one expects the most important current issue for Sri Lanka (i.e. UN Panel Report) would have been the top priority subject discussed. But horrifyingly, the two words “Panel Report” or anything means that do not appear in the JS. The word UN appears under sections 10 and 11 of the JS where reform of the UN Security Council and Sri Lanka’s support for India’s legitimate claim for permanent membership in the Security Council are mentioned respectively.

While focus on relief, rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, children, development etc extensively stated in the UN- Government Statement datelined May 23rd 2009, it is surprising that both countries did not least point out that the Moon or Darussman Report continuously worshipped ‘accountability’ as most sacred, though there is only one sentence reference to ‘accountability.’

These were the previously allured topics of interest to dignitaries like Indian Ministers Mukherjee and Krishna, Advisor Menon and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. Yet, the Parties at least do not question the UN on not appointing an Advisory Panel for such long-term interests! Was this the genuine stance expected of the Indians by Sri Lanka, when Peiris visited India searching a straw- not the last? The ‘last’ may be elsewhere. Or, was it that Sri Lanka failed to convince the Indians on this point? Or, did not Indians wish to hear our plea?

The JS speaks of the parties assessing the developments taken place since President Rajapaksa’s visit to India in June, 2010 and the bilateral Joint Commission meeting at ministerial level in November, 2010. Issues relating to regional and international common concerns too had been discussed. However, we know that ‘accountability’ on the events during the latter period of conflict was not the most pursued by Indians, when Indian dignitaries visited North-East and Colombo. Undeservingly for Sri Lanka this sentiment is not expressed in the JS. It prioritizes other issues wherein paisas are involved.

Referring to the Sri Lankan current situation, JS pointed it as a historic opportunity to address outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation. While this statement is really rhetoric, the preamble itself is not very heartening, as it indirectly reverberates non-usage of such opportunity by Sri Lanka and its failure to be genuine. Have the affirmations made by the Sri Lankan Government considered not genuine or committed? Why is the genuineness of the government suspected when thousands are resettled in the North and especially East, peace restored to a great extent, detainees released in hundreds after rehabilitation, schools reopened, infrastructure developed, positive financing happens etc?

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Devolution

Have the statements made by TNA spokespersons (e.g. Parliamentarians R Sambanthan et al) and withdrawal of Senior Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake from the Government – TNA dialogue etc discolored the government’s “commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government party and representatives of Tamil parties?” Are these irreparable?

Nevertheless, the JS committing for a devolution package vehemently differs from this government’s previous fluttering and wavering stances on devolution. Have these stances in the face of TNA’s consistent demands for power sharing provoked Indians to incorporate in the JS the need for a “devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment” contributing to create the necessary conditions for such reconciliation?”

Why did Peiris subscribe Sri Lanka’s agreement with India when the government emphasis on devolution differed? Was he the loner signatory or backed by delegated collective responsibility? If it is the latter, he does not deserve to be crucified by criticism. Or, was it to deliberately give false hopes to Indians to overcome a problematic situation? The latter could be dangerous and knave.

This may be the umpteenth time greater devolution has been ‘demanded’ by India. Under whatever circumstance, the JS may be a firm written response from the incumbent Sri Lankan Government. Have the Indian dignitaries by committing Peiris for the JS supplied ammunition to Alliance partners, JVP and media to adversely react causing adverse exposures of government’s intents, so that the internationals have another steak to gulp? Is this elementary ‘punishing’ of Sri Lanka? If it was the Indian intention, are not the Alliance partners who hate devolution and criticize India mercilessly, play in to Indian hands?

Since a hard Indian stance will boost Jeyalalitha Jeyaram’s relationships with New Delhi, is India killing two birds with one stone? Having sent Peiris to gain Indian support to battle the UN Report, has Sri Lanka ultimately supported India to settle its domestic political issue? Did Delhi’s South Block beaten Colombo’s Republic Square?

Restitution / Reconciliation and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

Lankan Minister has also reiterated the commitment of the Government to continue to address issues related to resettlement and reconciliation. While giving evidence before the LLRC (August 18th 2010) I quoted the internationally accepted Pinheiro Principles (PPs) of which a summary was handed over to each Commissioner. The PPs address restitution issues, with deep attachment to international rights laws stated in Section 5- JS and Recommendations 2- v and vi of UN Report. In fairness to the government, positive action is reported as highlighted by President Rajapaksa at the Victory Celebrations, though breaches are also highlighted sometimes by critics like the partial Tamilnet.

As Gunaratne said the mandate of the LLRC has to be reviewed. While giving evidence I quoted from the Preamble of South African Act No: 34 of 1995 Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation. I was not for duplication of South Africa, but to learn lessons from the past and international experiences and summarily mentioned how the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Committee on Human Rights Violations, a Committee on Amnesty and Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation were to be established under this Act. May be whatever Sri Lanka establishes indigenously could focus differently and could be term-bound. Such could take the critical venom by being positive in the interim.

If such propositions were at least partially heard, at least appropriately and selectively implemented, Peiris could have gained from the LLRC’s positive actions and constructive nature in a wider perspective. The Inter-Agency Advisory Committee chaired by the Attorney General could have pursued implementing the Interim Recommendations more effectively and showed larger output, and even reinforced Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at the UN Human Rights Council.

Sri Lanka could have exhibited the LLRC as a show-piece of a constructive domestic institutional arrangement, months before the UN Report or JS spoke of rights of the affected and won the kudos and acclaim of internationals. The opportunity to prove the Urdu saying “Elephant has two sets of teeth- one for chewing and the other for show” was thus missed!

Of course, with an extension given recently, it is not too late for correction to get the LLRC to address issues raised by the internationals, to take the heat off to a manageable extent and normalize. It appears the President too wishes so, as heard at the Victory Celebrations.

I remember saying in evidence that the LLRC had no mandate to inquire in to human rights and that the two words do not appear in its mandate, i.e. in the Gazette Notification. It was challenged by one Commissioner. If addendum or revision was granted, a downgrading statement such as “investigations into allegations of human rights violations” in the JS could have been diluted and even the UN Panel Report could have been contested.

It is observed that there had been accelerated positive action implemented by the government, as mentioned earlier. In response, Indian External Affairs Minister urged the expeditious implementation of measures by the Government of Sri Lanka, to ensure resettlement and genuine reconciliation, including early return of Internally Displaced Persons to their respective homes, early withdrawal of emergency regulations, investigations into allegations of human rights violations, restoration of normalcy in affected areas and redress of humanitarian concerns of affected families. I still believe that appropriately implementing the PPs to the best extent possible can answer some criticisms; but not all.

India- the Winner and punisher?

For Indians it would have been heartening to note the JS quoting (Section 6- JS) very constructive Indian projects. Further, in JS-Section 7 both sides have agreed to the early conclusion of Agreements related to Sampur Project, finalization of remaining agreements for Indian investments and to continue ongoing dialogue for early finalization of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).- another feather in the Indian cap. JS-Section 8 said that both sides noted that the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements had led to a decrease in violent incidents, which had been an ongoing battle. This soothes Tamilnadu.

All these show that Indians have benefited more from our tale of woe and succeeded in sending strong messages and not openly heeding, which were considered inimical by Parliamentarian Anurakumara Dissanayake. Has the Kautilyan tact won? Is it, as Gunaratne predicted commencement of ‘punishing’? Will there be unknown developments after Chinese Foreign Ministry reportedly supporting Sri Lanka?

We may keep our fingers crossed and cautioned because these have unseen underhand international manipulations and strategizing, as against the un-preparedness of the President to be arm-twisted, as he exclaimed at the Victory Celebrations.


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