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Report of the Secretary General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka -Positions and opinions of the political parties and civil society in Sri Lanka

by Sunanda Deshapriya 
Since the publication of report political parties in Sri Lanka (and India) has been  expressing  their opinions on the report findings and desired responses to the report.  A clear polarization on ethnic lines was immediately  visible with regard to the panel report.  No political party based on majority Sinhalese community   approved the appointment of the panel or its report while Tamil political parties welcomed the report and its recommendation.  Responses to the report draw new lines between political parties
The report of the panel of experts commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki- noon on Sri Lanka was officially released on  25th April 2011. Almost two weeks before the office of the UNSG handed over a copy of the report to the representative of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to the United Nations  on 12th April 2011. In Sri Lanka the report was leaked to a pro- government English daily The Island within 24hours. Soon The Island started publishing selected parts of the report.
Yet Sri Lankan Foreign minister G.L. Peries warned UN not to make the report public  saying that it could harm efforts at post-war ethnic reconciliation: “We are very conscious of the fact that the need of the hour is reconciliation. Does [the report] further that objective, or does it make the accomplishment of that objective more difficult than it needs to be?”                                                                                                                                    
As pointed out by Rajasingham Jayadevan “the leak facilitated the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse to give a detailed interview to the ‘Sunday Times’ and Secretary to the External Affairs Ministry also damned the report. The President has initiated his campaign following the publication, by calling for a mass demonstration on the May Day to give him the support following the damning report.”


Since the publication of report political parties in Sri Lanka (and India) has been  expressing  their opinions on the report findings and desired responses to the report.  A clear polarization on ethnic lines was immediately  visible with regard to the panel report.  No political party based on majority Sinhalese community   approved the appointment of the panel or its report while Tamil political parties welcomed the report and its recommendation.  Responses to the report draw new lines between political parties. 
All partners of ruling coalition except  few minority parties was united in condemning the report. Two left parties of the governing coalition renewed their call for a political solution based on devolution of power in order to  counter  the report while some partners of ruling coalition  unleashed a vituperative attacks on UN, UNSG and the panel report.  
Sinhalese opposition political parties tried to combine the condemnation of the report  with a critique of anti democratic actions of the Rajapaksha regime.  Those criticisms  included  failed diplomacy, incarnation of  opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, suppression of democratic and human  rights, discriminatory policies against Tamil minority etc. Still it was clear form the responses that no Sinhalese mainstream party could take the risk of antagonizing  the militant Sinhalese nationalist populism  at this time. 
Sections of the Sinhalese liberal opinion too seems to be favoring  diluting the report recommendations  as expressed by a regular Groundviews contributor publius,  a liberal intellectual: “It seems therefore that sound strategy would oblige the democratic opposition, Tamil political parties and civil society in Sri Lanka to regain lost legitimacy among the populace by drawing the line at international intervention as well as immediate criminal accountability. This entails neither an abdication of Sri Lanka’s international obligations nor a renunciation of the possibility that accountability might be revisited when it is politically feasible.” 
From the ruling regime to liberals of left and right the underline theme  for the protest or non approval of the panel report has been ” international intervention on internal affairs”. 
It is the assumption  that GOSL will never heed the call for a independent investigation on alleged crimes against humanity, pro separation diaspora Tamil opinion  reiterated the call for a separate country. 
In India, where support for  panel recommendations are growing,  no political party has opposed the panel report or its recommendations. Government of India has expressed its readiness to engage GOSL on the panel report and the ruling Congress party has not stated any opinion openly. 
The GOSL and ruling coalition 
The GOSL rejected the report in its totality saying it is fundamentally flawed.  Minister Peries told diplomats that “the Government of Sri Lanka finds that the processes adopted by the Darusman Report and the conclusions arrived at are biased and fundamentally flawed from every conceivable point of view. The Report is divisive and unhelpful at a time when Sri Lanka is engaged in the delicate task of dealing with post-conflict issues, reconciliation and progress.” And added that “the Government of Sri Lanka is clearly resolved to continue its cooperation with the United Nations. As correctly pointed out by the UN Secretary-General, primacy should be accorded to the domestic process underway.”  
President Rajapaksha firing the opening salvo against the panel report called for mass protests against the panel  report : “The time has come to show our strength .. to demonstrate against injustice done to the country before the world,”  and add that  he “is  prepared to face any punishment on behalf of the motherland with great honour”.  Answering his call ruling coalition launched a one million signature campaign to protest the report. On his may day address president Rajapaksha charged that ‘external forces were trying to destabilize Sri Lanka by throwing allegations of Human Rights violations and war crimes’. 
Second powerful politician and most powerful official   in the country, President’s brother and defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa  lashed out at the  panel report and said that “there was an agenda behind the report and if the United Nations cannot protect one of its member states, Sri Lanka will be forced to look for protection from Russia and China.” 

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main stake holder of the ruling coalition rejected the panel report emphasizing that the “findings of the expert panel report  was biased. The Government safeguarded human rights and even served food and drinks to the enemy at the war front. The Security Forces were fully committed to protect human rights even in the battlefield
Three Sinhala nationalist political parties of the ruling coalition came out strongly against the panel report. The Buddhist monks party,  Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) called  the report as a terror attack: “This panel is launching a diplomatic terrorist attack. Clearly, it is the United States and the United Kingdom which are behind this. Attempts are being made to create an environment required by them, to interfere with the government of Sri Lanka and the country’s sovereignty in the future”  Condemning the report Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) said that “Behind the facade of this so called document there appears a sinister move to fault the Head of State our President in an International Forum”.  The National Freedom Front (NFF) leader minister Wimal Weerawansa charged the members of  the panel for taking bribes form LTTE to write a bias report.
Three left political parties that constitute the ruling coalition condemned the report as a  western inspired coup against Sri Lanka. 
The Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) issued a official statement questioning the legitimacy of the panel and stated that  Panel report is “motivated and dictated by their global strategies and geo-political interests and not by humanitarian considerations and  urged the government to consider legitimate rights of the Tamil speaking people”.  
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) issuing a official statement condemned  the report  as USA backed  but urged to established a credible internal mechanism : “the BKMP report aims to enable UN interventions in Sri Lanka to be initiated… The need for the suggested course of action can be overcome by establishing a credible accountability process within Sri Lanka itself, as this is an internal problem which we should address…The LSSP also calls upon the government to intensify the efforts being made to attend to the grievances of the Tamil people.”
Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, leader of the Left Democratic Alliance (LDA)  blaming Ban Ki-moon for the report stated thatthese Western imperialist powers want the Sri Lankan Government to be submissive so that they could unduly influence a country so strategically situated in the Indian Ocean”
Opposition political parties 
Main opposition political party,  the  United National Party (UNP) appointed  a committee headed by former civil servant Bradman Weerakon  to study the report and recommend appropriate steps to be taken while its leading figures has expressed various opinions. Those opinions ranged  from total opposition to partial acceptance of the panel recommendations. Issuing  an official statement the UNP stated that “it is clear that the report has clearly harmed the reputation of our country. UNP vehemently opposes unwarranted interferences of the United Nations in this regard. However, the UNP maintains that the government is responsible for creating an environment that gave space for the compilation of such a report.”   Calling for a united action against the panel report Sajith Premadasa, deputy leader of the UNP recalled thatthe government allowed the special envoy of the UN Chief to come to Sri Lanka after it earlier said that he would not be allowed to visit the country.” Speaking at May 1st political event deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya said ”the UNP …would protect all security forces personnel including jailed former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka” referring the panel report. 
Sinhala nationalist Marxist the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) issuing an official statement described the report as a imperialist trap: “While rejecting the attempt to make use of the report of the ‘Panel of Experts’ of the Secretary General to intervene in internal affairs of Sri Lanka for various political interests, we emphasize that the imperialist intervention against Sri Lanka should be defeated and also the anti-social and undemocratic role of the present regime that paves the way for such interventions too should be defeated.” It further said: “It is the present regime that has allowed the UN Secretary General to act in this manner using human rights issues in Sri Lanka. During the two years since the end of the war the present regime totally failed not only to establish democracy in the country but also to protect human rights. The regime that carries out a concealed, unofficial suppression in the country against its opponents carries out a complete oppressive administration in the North of the country.”
Leader of the small but vocal Trotskyite New Left Front (NLF) Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathna  labeled  the panel report as a setup by New Delhi  and  wrote in his weekly political column that “this report proves that it is futile for Tamil people to expect any solution from the “liberal democracy” of the global powers. Only way out is a united struggle of oppressed people.”
Tamil political parties 
Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the major Tamil political party welcomed the report and requested that GOSL implement the panel recommendations. In its  official statement it said “We observe that the Report of the Advisory Panel to the UNSG confirms the truth of what happened to the unarmed Tamil civilians in the course of the conduct of the recently concluded war and is an irrefutable confirmation of the accounts of the events as reported by us to Parliament as and when they occurred.”
Mano Ganeshan, leader of the Colombo based Tamil party Democratic Peoples Front (DPL) issued a statement not taking any position re the report  but said:  “War devastation is one and the post war activity is another. Political solution is the key to new positive post war era. But the efforts amounting to use the war victory to deny political solution is hurting and alienating the Tamil speaking people
Three other Tamil political parties expressed their opinions in favour  of the report. In a letter addressed to the President Rajapaksha, V. Anandasangaree, President Tamil United Liberation Front  said that “No one can deny that there were several thousands of causalities during the war. Very many factors contributed for this situation. How or why did this happen?. All these must come to light.”
Pro Government Tamil political parties like EPDP have supported the GOSL position.
Major Muslim political party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress although  a ruling coalition partner has refused to blame the panel report so far. Other smaller Muslim political parties aligned with the ruling coalition has opposed the panel report.
Religious leaders 
A prominent militant Sinhala nationalist group led by influential Buddhist monks and intellectuals issued a statement calling for excluding all politicians form the government  who have supported political solution for the ethnic conflict at various times  and said: “We strongly urge the GOSL to terminate the discussions it is having with the TNA, as the TNA has exposed its motives and confirmed in no uncertain terms that it is hostile to our Country”.
One of the leading Buddhist monks, the Mahanayaka of the Asgiri Chapter Ven. Udugama  Sri Buddharakkitha Thero  opposed UNSG and panel report and said that “no human rights violations took place during the war.” Leading Christian clergy the   Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith  joined the GOSL campaign  against the report saying  it is “part of a conspiracy against the country”
On the other hand a group of Christian clergy and layman issued a statement corroborating  the report findings: “We fail to understand how retelling the stories of our brothers and sisters, Sri Lankan citizens, who had suffered so much and lost so much, can be a conspiracy against Sri Lanka
Civil Society
Independent civil society groups  in South of Sri Lanka has issued guarded responses while pro government and pro war civil leaders have been very vocal in campaigning against the report.
The Friday Forum, a  collective  of  prominent group of citizens in Sri Lanka  requesting all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violent speech and action said that ” there may be substance of the report we disagree with but also substance that will be worth engaging, and we as citizens of Sri Lanka need to engage in a constructive manner with the report in the best interest of our fellow citizens.”
The National Peace Council (NPC) expressed its concerns that ”  changes sought to be imposed from the outside will make ethnic relations even worse and hamper seriously the reconciliation process.” NPC  strongly recommended a initiating  a multi party – multi ethnic independent  investigation process to look into the issues raised by the panel report.
Dr. P. Saravanamuttu,  executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) opinioned that “the simple point about the report is that it is now a fact….. The challenge to the regime lies in its willingness and ability to respond to the report in a manner that will lay the matter to rest …and thereby create the conditions and environment for the country to move on, take off. That it can and will do so is by no means certain“. 
Centre for Social Democracy (CSD) urged the GOSL to convene a All Party representative Committee to use the  political opportunity the panel’s report has created  emphasizing that finding a political opinion to the ethnic issue as the crux of the matter.
Networking for Rights, an exile group of Sri Lankan media practicing and human rights defenders issued a statement calling for establishing  a free media environment to discuss accountability issues in Sri lanka.  There has been no informed discussion on the panel report in Sri Lankan mainstream media. Television and Radio channels are overflowing with protest statements and campaigns against the panel report.  Although Tamil owned independent Tamil language print media provides a better coverage of  news and views form the Tamil point of view there are no corresponding  TV or radio stations owned by Tamils in Sri Lanka. 
Given the balance of forces in the country and dominance of  victorious Sinhala nationalism among the Sinhala majority no mainstream political party (except Tamil political parties) will approve  the report findings or support its recommendations on alleged crimes against humanity. 
The strategy of the Rajapaksha regime seems to be  mobilizing the people against the panel report and thereby  exert pressure on all others fellow its opposition to  any independent investigation. Political campaign against the panel report, Ban Ki-moon, UN  and  promoting  the Rajapaksha as the savior of the nation will reach new heights.  
Independent Tamil political parties will come under immense pressure to oppose the   panel report or at least to be neutral  re the panel report. Tamil political parties  will be looking for more moral support in Tamil Nadu and  New Delhi (as expressed in TNA May day  speeches) instead of depending on the GOSL or the southern political parties.
Public space, including in the media,  for any informed discussion on the issues of accountability and the panel report will be restricted. In the south Civil society including NGOs too will come under more pressure (as indicated by Presidents May day speech) not to be critical of the government. 
Political and social polarization on ethnic lines will run  deeper.  
For GOSL it is almost impossible  to agree to in any independent internal investigation based on the panel recommendations given its political campaigns against the report.


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