LLRC pushes Govt. on National Land Commission

LLRC Report: Principal Observations, Recommendations



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Continued from yesterday


 


9.142 The Commission appreciates the fact that the two HSZs in Palaly and Trincomalee-Sampoor respectively have been reduced and that an estimated 21,491 persons have been returned to land. However, in the two reduced HSZ areas an estimated 26,755 persons are still displaced. The Commission recommends that the two existing HSZs in Palaly and Trincomalee-Sampoor, as well as small extents of private land currently utilized for security purposes in the districts be subject to review with a view to releasing more land while keeping national security needs in perspective. The Commission also recommends that all families who have lost lands and or houses due to formal HSZs or to other informal or ad hoc security related needs be given alternate lands and or compensation be paid according to applicable laws. The Commission further recommends that provision of alternate lands and or payment of compensation be completed within a specific time – frame.


9.143 The Commission recommends that the Government with the assistance of the development partners extend livelihood assistance to ‘new IDP’ families as needed, on an area by area basis for a longer period of time than planned, to ensure family sustenance. The Commission is pleased to note that in some areas of the Northern Province, the livelihood support initiative has been extended from the original period of 6 months to 9 months. The Commission recommends further extension of livelihood assistance including schemes for providing micro-credit for peasant farmer groups, tractors for farmer cooperatives, as well as extension advise and other support such as for introducing possible pilot projects on application of dry-farming methods for cultivation of upland crops in un-irrigated areas in the North. The Commission notes (according to data submitted by the Government Agents in the Northern districts) that a substantial proportion of irrigation tanks in the Northern Province are now in operation.


The Commission recommends that the current momentum of renovating irrigation tanks in the Province be continued till all the remaining small irrigation tanks are brought back into operation, possibly with UN System assistance.


9.144 The Commission recommends that the land issues of Muslim families who were forcibly ejected by the LTTE from their agricultural land in the Eastern province, and whose living conditions have drastically deteriorated as a result, be effectively and expeditiously resolved, as very little progress has been made in the East, especially in the Batticaloa district, even though about 04 years have elapsed since the end of the conflict in the East.


9.145 The Commission notes that the available official data with regard to the eviction of Sinhalese families from the Jaffna district appears to be inaccurate and recommends that this aspect be reviewed in a dispassionate and low-key but methodical manner without arousing any communal passion or tensions, in order to arrive at more precise data. The Commission also recommends that the Sinhalese families who were evicted from Jaffna and the rest of the Northern Province, and who volunteer to go back, be returned to own land or resettled in alternate land as expeditiously as possible, as the progress in this regard has been unsatisfactory.


9.146 The Commission notes that with respect to Muslim families evicted from Jaffna and the Northern Province, good progress has been made in return and resettlement as per information provided by the Government Agents of Jaffna, Mannar, and Mullaittivu. The Commission recommends that the return and resettlement of the remaining Muslim families who volunteer to return to Jaffna and the Northern Province be expedited.


9.147 The Commission notes with regret that the land issues and livelihood issues of some families living in the former Threatened Villages, especially families whose breadwinners were killed in LTTE attacks or were forced to be ‘night-displaced’ for family security, remains largely forgotten and unaddressed. Up to the time of compiling the Report, the Commission did not receive adequate information on the current situation of these families, a considerable proportion of whom are presumed to be headed by females, grandparents, older siblings, and single fathers. The Commission recommends that a focal agency be designated to study the special nature of problems and displacement of families in former Threatened Villages, with a view to designing a special mechanism to resolve their current problems expeditiously, as they lack the political patronage or power to influence the existing governmental administrative machinery as well as the evolving national post-conflict development agenda.


9.148 The Commission is of view that in order to prevent legitimizing of forced eviction and secondary occupation of private lands in the North and the East, the law pertaining to prescription should be amended in its application to land transfers/occupation effected during the period of conflict.


9.149 The Commission is concerned with the situation faced by so called ‘old IDPs’ – persons displaced prior to April 2008, with a considerable proportion of them being displaced since 1980s. The old IDPs feel that they have suffered discrimination by non-action or slow-action of the State and other stakeholders. This recommendation is linked to recommendations [9.151, 9.153, 9.154, 9.155 and 9.156], being the umbrella recommendation that advocates for the return and resettlement of ‘old IDPs’. The Commission is of view that the Government should ascertain the magnitude of the problems of the ‘old IDPs’ and with the assistance of the United Nations, begin a Programme to return or resettle these displaced persons who wish to return voluntarily.


The proposed project described in [9.138 above could also be utilized to assist the voluntary return or resettlement of old IDPs and restoration of their homestead and agricultural lands. Any sense of injustice and discrimination welling up in their hearts and mind would adversely affect the nurturing of ethnic harmony and national reconciliation. It is also pertinent to note that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Displacement as well as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Restitution of Land of Displaced do not qualify displaced persons by period of displacement or reasons of displacement. All displaced persons enjoy equal rights, notwithstanding convenient administrative definitions coined to restrict benefits due to financial limitations, political concerns or international pressure.


9.150 The Commission is of view that the Government should expedite action on the establishment of a National Land Commission (NLC) in order to propose appropriate future national land policy guidelines. In formulating land policy the proposed NLC should include Guidelines for the equitable distribution of State land. The Commission regrets to note that although this is a requirement under the 13th Amendment, and a draft Bill has been framed, successive Governments have failed to get it passed through the Parliament.


9.151 The Commission is of view that a land use plan for each district in the North and East should be developed with the participation of district and national experts drawn from various relevant disciplines to guide the district administration in land conservation and alienation in order to ensure protection of environment and bio-diversity; sustainable economic development; leisure and recreational standards; religious, cultural, and archeological sites with a view to improving the quality of life of the present and future generations.


9.152 The Commission appeals and recommends to all political parties to arrive at a bipartisan understanding that ‘restitution of land to displaced persons in Wanni and Jaffna and persons who lost agricultural land in the Northern Province, and in the Eastern Province and homes in the Threatened Villages’, (i.e. to both the’ new’ and ‘old) is recognized as a national issue and would not be used as a tool by political parties in the Government and the Opposition to gain narrow political advantage. The Commission is strongly of the view that such a bi-partisan approach is an imperative in promoting national reconciliation.


Chapter Seven: Observations and Recommendations on Restitution / Compensatory Relief


9.153 It is well recognized that while restitution enjoys primacy as a legal principle other forms of relief such as compensation and monetary relief is commonly sought. The Commission has considered, in particular, the role of compensatory relief in facilitating resettlement and reconciliation, the structures in place and the current status of payment. The Commission’s recommendations seek to ensure that those who are eligible for payments have access to it within a reasonable timeframe.


9.154 REPPIA (Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority) is the specialized institution responsible for implementing the Government of Sri Lanka policy on compensatory relief for the person/s who has suffered loss/damage due to terrorist violence and operations of the Government Security Forces. Chairman REPPIA conceptualized compensatory relief provided by REPPIA as ‘consolation and relief.’ Its purpose is to complement the variety of relief and reconstruction programmes in operation.


9.155 Based on representations made before the Commission and in the light of Commission’s consideration of relevant norms and standards of compensatory relief, the Commission recommends that the state should review the role and capacity of REPPIA with a view to streamlining and augmenting its role and resources in undertaking post-conflict requirements.


9.156 The severe lack of funds to meet eligible payments is the single most critical issue in providing relief to affected persons. Providing an urgent solution to this problem is essential for any progress to be made. Other administrative constraints appear to be at a manageable level.


9.157 The Government needs to take responsibility for prioritizing payments in full, and in time. Funding has to be procured to clear the backlog of cases as well as to prevent lack of funds being the reason for delays and non-payment in the future.


9.158 The responsibility of ensuring payments needs to be taken on by REPPIA. It should not be the responsibility of the individual to obtain their entitlements. REPPIA needs to set itself a target time frame to ensure that all entitlements are met.


9.159 A time limit should be set for completion of payments for losses suffered up to the end of the conflict. This needs to be done for two reasons: 1) for those who are entitled to payments to obtain it while the financial need is most acute. 2) for REPPIA to bring its responsibilities towards those affected by the conflict to a close.


9.160 In setting a time limit for payments to be completed, the following need to be considered: 1) Reasonable time needed for those making applications. The particular circumstances of IDPs and those who had been living in areas dominated by the LTTE should be taken into account when deciding on a time limit. 2) A reasonable minimum and maximum time taken for processing applications and payments given REPPIA’s capacity and other relevant factors. Extensive publicity needs to be given to ensure all entitled persons to apply.


9.161 While the Commission acknowledges that the education and livelihood projects are critical to the needs of people of affected areas, the primary focus of REPPIA should be in providing compensatory relief for persons affected by the conflict. As such, the supplementary projects should be taken over by other relevant state authorities.


9.162 REPPIA should urgently priorities the ‘General Public’ and ‘Public Servant’ payment of death, injury and housing entitlements. The problem of public servants being


disqualified from NGO assistance programmes, particularly housing assistance, needs to be revisited.


9.163 Requests to increase the compensation amount have been made to REPPIA. However, given the financial commitment needed to clear the backlog of cases and pending applications, the Commission does not consider an increase in amount as a viable step.


Further, given the principles of reparation the more reasonable strategy would be for Government to provide for complementary schemes to ensure rebuilding and resettlement.


9.164 A decision has to be taken on compensatory relief for death and injury for those involved with the LTTE. From the broad reconciliatory perspective, the Commission takes the view that in principle, ex-combatants and next of kin should also be considered eligible for compensatory relief. However, the priority of REPPIA should be with the affected civilians who are most in need.


9.165 Housing needs have to be addressed urgently. Housing is a fundamental issue for returning IDPs, that needs special assistance, beyond the scope of compensatory relief and the mandate of REPPIA. Given the number of houses required and the extensive costs, the Government should access all possible sources of assistance from institutions and individuals both national and international.


9.166 In conclusion, the Commission observes that providing compensatory relief cannot be considered in isolation. The specific role of compensatory relief has to be seen against the overall resettlement and development strategy that is being operationalised in the areas that had been the centre of conflict. These include the operation of the basic national welfare services such as health, education, food, water and agriculture, infrastructure, as well as the complementary State programmes such as livelihood development and village development programmes.


Chapter Eight: Reconciliation - Section I: Observations on issues impacting on Post Conflict Reconciliation


9.167 Representations were made before the Commission; during it sittings in Colombo and particularly during its field visits, regarding issues that were of concern to persons who have been either directly or indirectly affected due to the conflict.


9.168 The Commission deemed it necessary to consider these issues in the context of reconciliation and building amity and national harmony. With regard to several of the issues highlighted which are directly relevant to day to day living, the Commission sought updates from civilian administrators (Government Agents) and the Security Forces, and the Commission also took cognizance of the Report of the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province issued in the year 2011, the Reports of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Economic Development as well as the Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update Reports prepared by OCHA, all of which indicate that by and large significant progress has been made and is continuing to be made on the issues raised.


9.169 The Commission notes from the material examined by it, including the responses of the GAs that:


* concerted efforts are being made in all affected districts to address re-settlement, livelihood, education, medical, transportation and permanent shelter needs of the people and much progress has been made (including through the grant of financial and other assistance packages). Agriculture which is the mainstay of most of the affected districts has seen increased production and fisheries production has also shown improvement. Infrastructure development is well underway. However, there continue to be needs which are still unmet in these areas. Certain fishing grounds are still inaccessible and in some districts permits are required from the Navy for fishing. While a significant number of irrigation tanks have been rehabilitated and are being used, an accelerated program with regard to the rehabilitation of the remaining tanks would further assist the Agriculture production. Resettlement assistance is still pending in some cases and there appear to be difficulties in providing the requisite documentation for eligibility. Teacher accommodation appears to be a common problem across districts.


* land related issues continue to be a challenge.


* permanent shelter requirements as against actual commitments and delivery is a matter of serious concern.


* the needs of certain vulnerable groups of persons requires a more focused approach.


* the re-establishment of civilian administration is still lagging in certain districts. Many vacancies exist in GN positions – The Commission is of the view that filling these vacancies should be a priority given the fact that the GN is the focal point of civilian administration at the grass roots level.


9.170 The Commission however recognizes the fact that considering the protracted nature of the conflict spanning a period of thirty years, resolving all such issues would naturally take time and require significant resources and financing. The Commission also notes that the Government of Sri Lanka has in fact committed considerable funding and resources to the North and East and Sri Lanka’s development partners are contributing to these efforts and working in co-operation with the Government agencies. These actions of the Government of Sri Lanka demonstrate an acknowledgement and commitment on its part to ensure that citizens throughout the country are assisted with their basic needs and can share equally in economic dividends. At the same time the Commission takes the view that the Government of Sri Lanka must adopt a more engaged and constructive policy towards its development partners at home and abroad in order to realize the full potential of the latter towards mobilizing the resources, knowhow and experience. Such a policy will stand in good stead in meeting the remaining challenges of reconstruction, development and in reconciliation.


9.171 The Commission further notes from the responses received from the civilian administrators and others that, while the Security Forces have worked and are continuing to contribute to re-construction and development, there were concerns that they also continue to be engaged in small businesses and farming on private lands in some districts. Moreover it appears that the permission of the Security Forces is required in some districts for various activities, including in some instances, for selecting beneficiaries for housing assistance. The responses also indicate that certain State buildings and private land/buildings in the North and East continue to be used by the Security Forces. The Commission recommends the phasing out of the involvement of the Security Forces in civilian activities and use of private lands by the Security Forces with reasonable time lines being given.


9.172 When analyzing the data, particularly those provided by the civilian administrators, there is a need for a uniform and transparent approach to reporting progress/issues by each district, together with a gap analysis of needs as against progress achieved, through a standard reporting mechanism. Considering the multidisciplinary nature of the issues involved this may be a difficult task but it would go a long way in enabling a broader understanding of the key issues, at a macro as well as micro level, which still need to be addressed.


Chapter Eight: Reconciliation - Section II: Observations and Recommendations on Reconciliation


9.173 The ending of a nearly three decades of protracted and bloody conflict has opened many opportunities for bringing about reconciliation between the different communities, especially among the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. It becomes necessary to articulate a common vision of an interdependent, just, equitable, open and diverse society. The development of a vision of a shared future requires the involvement of the whole of society. Acknowledging the losses and suffering of the past and providing mechanisms for recompense, social justice and for restoration of normalcy and expressions of empathy and solidarity, are steps aimed at redress. Relationship building following violent conflict, addressing issues of lack of trust, prejudice, and intolerance whilst accepting commonalities and differences, is the essence of reconciliation.


9.174 The culture of suspicion, fear, mistrust and violence needs to be removed and opportunities and space opened up in which people can hear each other and be heard.


9.175 Hundreds of persons who appeared before the Commission or otherwise communicated with it have conveyed a near unanimous and unmistakable message. That message is twofold.


9.176 Firstly, having emerged from a painful and debilitating conflict that lasted for nearly three decades, people of all communities now yearn for lasting peace, security, amity and harmony. They have been equally emphatic that we must do all we can to ensure, that never again should there be blood-letting on this blessed land in order to find solutions to problems that political leaders of this country were either unable or unwilling to resolve.


9.177 Secondly, there was also a clear message that the ending of LTTE terrorism and the advent of a strong and broad based Government led by an executive President has provided a great window of opportunity – an opportunity to forge a consensual way forward to address a range of governance issues in a manner that will promote reconciliation, amity and cooperation among all communities, provide political solutions to the grievances of minorities and ensure the realization of the legitimate rights of all citizens.


9.178 What needs to be done for reconciliation and nation-building is that the State has to reach out to the minorities and the minorities, in turn must, re-position themselves in their role vis a vis the State and the country.


9.179 There must be willingness on the part of all political parties to give up adversarial politics and have consensual decision-making on national issues. In order to meet the challenges of this opportunity there has to be courage and political will on the part of all political parties.


9.180 Many who appeared before the Commission emphasized that what had been achieved by the security forces should be invested in a political process that will usher in an era of sustainable peace and security for the Nation and lasting amity, friendship and harmony within and between communities. The Commission again found significant common ground among a broad spectrum of persons who made representations that this task can and should be achieved whilst upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation and safeguarding the long-cherished Sri Lankan values of democracy, tolerance and power-sharing.


9.181 The Commission was also reminded that despite the lapse of two years since the ending of the conflict, the violence, suspicion and sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life. Delay in the implementation of a clearly focused post-conflict peace building agenda may have contributed to this situation.


9.182 The observations/recommendations appended below therefore represent the considered views of the Commission derived from these clear and present dangers as well as the opportunities outlined by a number of people who appeared before it. And they seek to foster a collective effort to be undertaken by all Sri Lankans at three levels:


i.e. at the level of the political leadership; at the level of civil society and at the level of the individual citizens.


9.183 The Commission however wishes to emphasize that the responsibility for being the prime mover of this process lies squarely with the Government. Since reconciliation is a process and not a one-time event, the efforts towards that objective should be continuous and broad-based whilst being fully supported by the elected Government.


9.184 The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people.


9.185 A political solution is imperative to address the causes of the conflict. Everybody speaks about it, though there is no agreement about the diagnosis and the prescription. Grievances of the Tamil Community


9.186 The grievances of the Tamil community have figured prominently in the discourse on the ethnic conflict and its causes.


9.187 The articulation of grievances by the Tamil people continues to remain at the centre of the Sinhala – Tamil relationship and need to be recognized and addressed directly and fairly as the first step in the post-conflict process of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. No doubt these grievances have changed over time and some of them have been dealt with, at least partially. However, many new grievances have been added as the conflict escalated. In that process the majority community and other minorities have also had their share of grievances. The Historical Background relating to Majority-Minority Relationships in Sri Lanka


9.188 The Soulbury Commission report devoted considerable space to what it called the grievances of minorities.


9.189 The Soulbury Commission concluded that while administrative and constitutional safeguards were necessary to deal with the problems that were caused, none of these are adequate without a fundamental change in the predispositions of both the majority and minority towards each other. These perceptions on both sides had a crucial impact on the relationships between the two communities and as Sri Lanka is in the process of reconciliation these observations, in the Commission’s view, are most pertinent in trying to answer questions such as what caused the just-ended conflict.


9.190 The process of addressing the grievances was not managed smoothly and with goodwill by the political leaders of the day. It was not a process in which the Tamil speaking minorities and other disadvantaged communities were treated with dignity. The strong sense of grievance that prevails in the Tamil community arises from the travails and injustices of that process.


9.191 The decisive rift in the inter-ethnic relationship came first with the riots of 1958, then in 1977, and culminating in what is known as ‘Black July’ of 1983, and the heinous failure of the then Government to provide adequate protection to Tamil citizens. The problems pertaining to the Tamil community and their grievances cannot be fully addressed without a fuller understanding of this culture of violence that marred the relationship between the Sinhala and Tamil communities.


The principal observations and recommendations on the grievances of the Tamil community and other post conflict grievances which are common to all communities are set out from paragraph 9.200 onwards.


Grievances of the Muslim Community


9.192 The problem of Muslims living in the North began with the forcible expulsion of the Muslim community by the LTTE on the 30th of October 1990. The Muslims were the victims of ethnic cleansing in these areas, (North and East) done at gun point by the LTTE.


9.193 The treatment leveled at the Muslim community of the Northern Province has led them to believe that they are at the bottom of the list of priorities of the Government, INGOs, NGOs and the international community.


9.194 The Government should facilitate the early return of the displaced Muslims to return to their places of origin in the Northern Province.


9.195 The Government should take immediate steps to assist in re-building of the mosques, houses and schools destroyed or damaged by the LTTE.


9.196 The national and international agencies implementing IDP welfare programs should bear in mind the perception of discrimination that exists between the so called ‘old IDPs’ and other IDPs. The international and national attention brought upon the new IDPs and the resultant advocacy and programmatic initiatives implemented on their behalf which are undoubtedly needed, would perhaps have sharpened the sense of discrimination felt by the ‘old IDPs’. The Commission is inclined to agree that the perceptions of the ‘old IDPs’ regarding inequity have some merit. Equity and non discrimination are key principles of all UN human rights instruments to which Sri Lanka has subscribed. Thus it is incumbent upon the Government of Sri Lanka with the cooperation of its development partners, to take into account the equity and non-discriminatory principles in dealing with the situation of the ‘old IDPs’.


Grievances of Sinhalese in Villages Adjacent to Former Conflict Areas


9.197 The perception of people in these areas was that the Government tended to overlook the civilians who lived in these villages, and who had survived the terror perpetrated by the LTTE. The people in these villages had continued to live under tremendous threats to their lives without migrating to safe areas in the South. Apart from facing severe security risks, the people living in these villages have faced severe hardships in education, disrupted and fractured livelihoods, paucity of health care and transport facilities. These villagers articulated the need to be treated equally to enjoy the dividends of peace.


9.198 The Government should undertake an in-depth study to identify the needs of the people in these areas to address the question of improving their livelihood.


9.199 The Commission is of the view that the Government must ensure even-handed resource allocation and development of villages. If not, it could lead to frustration and communal tension in clusters of villages dominated by different ethnic communities, particularly in the Eastern Province.


Grievances of Tamils of Indian Origin


9.200 There were representations made to the Commission by Tamils of Indian origin who expressed concern about the lack of educational and health facilities in areas where they live and they also brought to the notice of the Commission the difficult living conditions that prevailed on the estates. The Commission appreciates these concerns and recommends to the Government that necessary steps should be taken to improve the health and educational facilities and also provide better living conditions in the estate areas.


9.201 The Commission also recommends that a larger post conflict development agenda and the programmes for reconciliation should take account of the essential needs of the Tamils of Indian origin.


Issues relevant to addressing Grievances and Promoting Reconciliation


FAILURE TO GIVE EFFECT TO THE RULE OF LAW


9.202 Many persons who made representations before the Commission stated that a large number of persons having political patronage had committed offences, but the long arm of the law had not reached them because of the political pressure exerted on law enforcement authorities. Along with an independent Judiciary and a transparent legal process a strict adherence to the Rule of Law is a sine qua non for peace and stability which is of the essence, if there is to be any meaningful reconciliation. It was stated that lack of good governance, and non-observance of the Rule of Law coupled with a lack of meaningful devolution were causes for creating tension between communities.


9.203 Among the issues that emerged during the Commission’s deliberations were the following:


a. Failure on the part of the law enforcement officers to investigate offences and bring offenders to book, where the offences are committed by persons with political connections.


b. Despite the end of the conflict significant issues of law and order still remain. There is apprehension in the minds of the people living in the North and the East, due to continuing acts of extortion, and other criminal acts such as abductions, disappearances, robberies etc. by armed groups. It was alleged that a number of politicians operate on the fringes of the law. Due to their interaction with criminal elements in society they subvert the course of justice by the undue influence exerted on the police resulting in the politicization of the police.


c. The political violence accompanied by the use of firearms has caused much concern among the law abiding citizens of this country. The Commission views with concern the escalation of political violence and unlawful possession and use of firearms by politicians and their supporters.


9.204 The Commission strongly recommends that the Government should take immediate action to disarm persons in possession of unauthorized weapons and also prosecute such offenders.


9.205 At the time of writing this report the Commission became privy to a serious shooting incident where two politicians of the same political party were involved, following the recently concluded local government elections, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. Such a deplorable lack of mutual accommodation by the politicians and resorting to such blatant violence to resolve issues, is hardly the example the peoples’ representatives are called upon to set at this juncture of the national reconciliation process.


9.206 The Commission wishes to specifically highlight the following instances brought to its attention by a number of representers.


9.207 There were allegations made that one Bhareti is alleged to have committed several offences of abduction, extortion, robbery etc. in the Eastern province. This matter was brought to the notice of the relevant authorities by the Commission. The Commission regrets to note that no meaningful action has been taken against the alleged wrongdoer. Two senior retired police officers and two representers who had been victims of an abduction along with around six hundred police officers, referred to the alleged involvement of Karuna the then LTTE leader of the Eastern Province and several other members of the LTTE, regarding the murder of the police officers, who had been ordered to lay down arms and surrender to the LTTE.


Pursuant to the allegations made by the representers the Commission questioned Mr. Muralidharan alias Karuna about the allegations leveled against him. He denied the allegations in respect of these murders.


However, this Commission regrets to note that up to date no investigation has been conducted in respect of the killing of six hundred policemen. The Commission is of the view that this matter warrants a full investigation because of the nature of the crime and the bearing it has on reconciliation.


9.208 Several representers complained about acts of extortion that were being committed by members of the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party. The Commission is of the view that since there are several complaints against the EPDP there should be a full investigation regarding these allegations. Absence of an investigation would create a sense of impunity.


9.209 Many representers brought to the attention to the Commission illegal activities of a gang led by a person called Major Seelan, in connection with offences of abduction, extortion and robbery using the security forces facilities as a cover. The Commission brought this to the attention of the DIG of the area. Consequently, an accomplice of Major Seelan was apprehended. However the alleged principal offender still remains at large.


9.210 In this regard the Commission reiterates the importance of giving full effect to all of its Interim Recommendations concerning illegal armed groups.


9.211 The Commission regrets that full effect has not yet been given to its Interim Recommendations.


9.212 The Commission notes that Police officers serving in the provinces do not have adequate access to legal expertise regarding investigations and the conduct of prosecutions. In the circumstances the Commission strongly recommends setting up units of the Attorney General’s Department in the Provinces to guide and advise the Police regarding criminal investigations, prosecutions and other matters touching upon the criminal justice system.


9.213 The Commission emphasizes that all allegations should be investigated and wrongdoers prosecuted and punished irrespective of their political links, so as to inspire confidence among the people in the administration of justice.


9.214 The Police Department is a civilian institution which is entrusted with the maintenance of law and order. Therefore, it is desirable that the Police Department be de-linked from the institutions dealing with the armed forces which are responsible for the security of the State.


9.215 The Commission is of the view that an independent permanent Police Commission is a pre-requisite to guarantee the effective functioning of the Police and to generate public confidence. Such a Commission should be empowered to monitor the performance of the Police Service and ensure that all Police officers act independently and maintain a high degree of professional conduct.


ISSUES OF GOVERNANCE


9.216 The Commission heard submissions that some minority grievances stem from deficiencies in the system of administration and lack of good governance that affect all citizens regardless of ethnicity. These deficiencies require concerted action by all


stakeholders. However specific action is needed where the system functions particularly to the disadvantage of the minorities.


9.217 The political culture of the country has made the general public powerless and helpless to a point that they have become dependent on politicians to obtain many services and amenities they are entitled to.


A Special Institution to deal with Citizen Grievances


9.218 The present law that deals with the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is inadequate to effectively deal with the grievances of citizens arising from state action, even though the amendment introduced by Act No 26 of 1994 has sought to improve the public petitions procedure. Therefore, the Commission recommends that the Government should establish an independent institution to address the grievances of all citizens, in particular the minorities, arising from the abuse of power of public officials and other individuals involved in the governance of the country. This mechanism should be invested with a strong investigative arm in order to enable it to effectively discharge its functions.


9.219 Any citizen of this country who has a grievance arising out of any executive or administrative act, particularly those based on ethnicity or religion, should have the right to seek redress before the independent institution.


9.220 There should also be provision to give effect to the decisions of this institution. Further in order to make the proposed institution effective, the law should provide for the imposition of sanctions in respect of persons who have abused power.


9.221 Interfaith Reconciliation and Peace Committees that may be established at District and Provincial levels could function as a feeder mechanism to support the functions of the Special Institution, in particular, by providing grass root level inputs in the implementation of measures aimed at inter - ethnic and inter - religious harmony.


Other Measures


9.222 Systems and procedures in the public service need to be guided by criteria, norms and codes of conduct that are sensitive to the concerns and apprehensions of all citizens in particular, the minorities. Full transparency and information regarding the rationale of government decisions should be available to the people to prevent misperceptions that could give rise to a sense of grievance. Towards this end existing procedures and practices should be reviewed.


9.223 The Government should ensure that development activities should be carried out in consultation and with the participation of the local people. Such a transparent approach in administration would make the people feel an ownership to the development activities, as well as give them a sense of participation in nation building.


9.224 The Commission recommends that a specific programme be conceived and implemented to bring about attitudinal changes including, through training programmes to enhance the work ethic of the Public Service.


9.225 An alarming phenomenon that was brought to the notice of the Commission was the high level of interference by politicians of the ruling party with regard to appointments, transfers etc of public officials. This is the very antithesis of good governance.


9.226 The Commission strongly recommends the establishment of an Independent Public Service Commission without delay to ensure that there is no political interference in the public service and that recruitment and promotions in the public service are in conformity with the equality provisions in the Constitution.


9.227 It is important that the Northern Province reverts to civilian administration in matters relating to the day-to-day life of the people, and in particular with regard to matters pertaining to economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries land etc. The military presence must progressively recede to the background to enable the people to return to normal civilian life and enjoy the benefits of peace.


9.228 The Commission notes the representations made regarding the absence of constitutional provisions for judicial review of legislation. There should be adequate legal provisions for the members of public and other organizations to effectively canvass before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of any proposed legislation. The time frame provided in the Constitution for canvassing constitutionality of proposed legislation before the Supreme Court, in particular of urgent bills, is grossly inadequate.


The Supreme Court is called upon to make a determination in respect of urgent bills within a period of 24 hours or on a date not later than three days as specified by His Excellency the President (Article 122(1) of the Constitution). Public intervention regarding proposed legislation is an integral part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, the Commission recommends, that the Government and the Opposition make all endeavours to reach a consensus on an appropriate constitutional amendment, to provide for an adequate timeframe to challenge proposed legislation.


THE NEED FOR DEVOLUTION OF POWER


9.229 Many persons who appeared before the Commission stated in clear terms that reaching a political consensus that will facilitate devolution of power to be of critical importance, to further the process of reconciliation after the ending of LTTE terrorism, which was the main obstacle against achieving such a consensus for a long time.


9.230 It is vital that the Government should provide leadership to a political process which must be pursued for the purpose of establishing a framework for ensuring sustainable peace and security in the post-conflict environment. In this endeavour the rights of all communities, including those who have been members of the LTTE, must be ensured.


To this end a political settlement based on devolution must address the ethnic problem as well as other serious problems that threaten the democratic institutions. This political process should culminate in a constitutional foundation and mechanisms that provide opportunities for development and implementation of necessary socioeconomic policies.


9.231 Devolution should necessarily be people-centric in nature and the following considerations should be borne in mind – Devolution should essentially promote greater harmony and unity and not disharmony and disunity among the people of the country. The promotion of this ‘oneness’ and a common identity should be the principal aim of any form of devolution while protecting and appreciating rich diversity.


The focus should be to ensure that the people belonging to all communities are empowered at every level especially in all tiers of Government. Devolution of power should not privilege or disadvantage any ethnic community, and in this sense, should not be discriminatory or seen to be discriminatory by the people belonging to any ethnic community within the country.


The democratic empowerment of the people should take place within the broader framework of the promotion and protection of human rights which is a fundamental obligation of the elected government deriving from specific provisions of the Constitution and the Treaty obligations the country has voluntarily undertaken.


In addressing the question of devolution two matters require the attention of the government. Firstly, empowering the Local Government institutions to ensure greater peoples’ participation at the grass roots level. Secondly, it is also imperative that the lessons learnt from the shortcomings in the functioning of the Provincial Councils system be taken into account in devising an appropriate system of devolution that addresses the needs of the people. It should at the same time provide for safeguarding the territorial integrity and unity of Sri Lanka whilst fostering its rich diversity.


9.232 An additional mechanism that may be considered is the possibility of establishing a Second Chamber comprising Representatives from the Provinces. Such a mechanism is likely to generate a sense of confidence among the political leadership and among the people in the Provinces, that they too have a vital role to play in the legislative decision making process, inter alia, by examining legislative measures that may have a bearing on issues of particular relevance to the Provinces.



Continued tomorrow


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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