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Broken promises

TNA response to the position of the Government of Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Continued from Saturday

3.8. These modest interim recommendations were made in September 2010 and included the publication of a list of detainees and the disarming of armed paramilitary groups. Notably, the LLRC in its final Report commented on the non-implementation of these recommendations, noting:

"The Commission regrets that full effect has not yet been given to its Interim Recommendations. Delay in taking effective remedial action would only result in a breakdown of law and order and the consequent erosion of the Rule of Law and the confidence of the people in the reconciliation process." [LLRC Report, para.8.190].


3.9. In fact, in Chapter 2 of the TNA’s analytical response to the LLRC Report, we highlighted the fact that many of the constructive recommendations made by the LLRC were near identical to recommendations made by various Commissions in the past, such as the 1994 Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Disappearances Commission, the 1994 Northern and Eastern Disappearances Commission, the 1994 Central, North Western, North Central and Uva Disappearances Commission and the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal and Disappearance of Certain Persons (All Island) (1998). What has been clearly and persistently lacking is the political will to implement these recommendations.

3.10. This lack of political will is demonstrated by the fact that a simple recommendation made .in the LLRC’s Report – the singing the National Anthem at state functions in both Sinhala and Tamil – was ignored at the recent National Day celebrations held on 4 February 2012. The non-implementation of this simple step – which required virtually no effort or time to implement – is again indicative of the negative attitude of the government towards the recommendations of the LLRC.

3.11. Thus, while Minister Samarasinghe assures the UNHRC that Sri Lanka is "best placed to successfully conclude a homegrown process of reconciliation," the reality on the ground is very different. In fact, that reality is better reflected in the comments of Minister Samarasinghe’s cabinet colleague Minister Champika Ranawaka, who is reported in the ‘Daily Mirror’ of 11 August 2008 as having said:

"The government’s path is based on a three dimensional approach towards a solution – demilitarization, democratization and development. It is the old paradigms that believed in political solutions. This vocabulary exists only within the NGO, INGO and embassy officials of western nations ... This will ensure that the dream of Tamil Eelam of the TNA or the dreams of the Muslim parties will not be realized when our approach works ... The Sinhala nationalist movement has finally taken the reigns; the others will simply have to fall in line."

This Minister, other Ministers and other organizations have denounced the LLRC Report and demanded that its recommendations should not be implemented. This is the continuing refrain of such persons within Sri Lanka.

3.12. It is this agenda, and not the platitudes and promises trotted out by Minister Samarasinghe in Geneva, that the Tamil people of the North and East are forced to contend with.

3.13. Despite the LLRC identifying the EPDP as an illegal armed group and recommending that armed paramilitary groups be investigated and disarmed, Minister Douglas Devananda (Leader of the EPDP) – whose attitude was condemned by the LLRC as being inimical to the rule of law - continues to function as the Cabinet Minister for Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development. In fact, in a further show of disdain, he was chosen as a member of Sri Lanka’s delegation to the ongoing 19th UNHRC sessions.

3.14. The National Action Plan on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights that the government has publicized in Geneva has come under heavy criticism from members of the human rights community in Sri Lanka, who in fact contributed their ideas to the formulation of this Plan at the initial stages. However, their suggestions and recommendations have reportedly been omitted from what is now a watered down draft. More troubling, however, is the fact that this Plan has not been tabled in Parliament or publicly presented before the citizens of Sri Lanka. This failure gives rise to the legitimate apprehension that the Plan is a mere device for overcoming questions on human rights at international fora, and not a genuine roadmap for the promotion and protection of human rights.

3.15. The spate of killings and abductions, even in the last few months; the intrusive presence of the military in governance, on the streets, in trade and business as well as in the day-to-day lives of citizens; the negation of effective civilian administration in the North; the expropriation of private lands; the arbitrary utilization of state lands for sectarian purposes; the erection of massive military cantonments in areas where people should have been allowed to resettle; and the abuse of women and children, are all manifestations of how the social and political freedom of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka are being severely jeopardized.

3.16. Just in the last five months, over 32 persons have been abducted or have gone missing. At least ten bodies, most of which bear marks of execution, have been found in public places. Women from the North are increasingly being rendered vulnerable to paramilitary run prostitution rackets and trafficking, while many are coerced into playing the role of comfort women to military personnel stationed in the North.

3.17. The democratic voice of the Tamil people, repeatedly expressed through their electoral verdicts for well nigh sixty years, has continuously resisted these attacks on their dignity and way of life; and now, the government is attempting to silence that voice. The government is engaged in irreversibly altering the demographic composition of the North and East through the establishment of Sinhala settlements, the entrenchment of the military, and the systematic exclusion of Tamil people from the civil service. Thus, while Minister Samarasinghe states that "the civil service in the North and the East is largely representative of the Tamil and Muslim communities," the reality is that 94 percent of the civil service is Sinhalese, when, according to the Government’s submission at the Universal Periodic Review at the UNHRC in 2008, the Sinhalese constitute 74 percent of the country’s population. The Tamil-speaking people thus constitute a mere 6 percent of the civil service. Moreover, the Governors of the Northern and Eastern Provinces — who wield executive power and are directly answerable to the President in terms of the Thirteenth Amendment — are retired military officers from the Sinhala community. The Government Agent/District Secretary of the Trincomalee District is a Sinhalese retired military official, and the Government Agents/District Secretaries of Amparai and Mannar Districts are also from the Sinhala community, though the majority population in each of these three Districts is Tamil speaking. Sinhala speaking officials also hold other key positions, both at the Provincial and District levels in the North and East. Moreover, though the government claims that there has been recruitment of Tamil police officers recently, Tamil police officers constitute less than 2 percent of the total Police Force. These are perhaps the reasons why the Sri Lankan government has defaulted on its obligation to submit a 10th Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since 2003.

3.18. The demographic changes that have taken place in what was known as the Koddyar Pattu Assistant Government Agent’s division in the Trincomalee District, is only one example to illustrate the point. The census of 1881 recorded the ethnic distribution of the Koddyar Pattu division as follows: 3027 Tamils, 1673 Muslims, 11 Sinhalese. Today, this Koddyar Pattu AGA’s division has been divided into three divisional secretary’s divisions — Muttur, Seruvila and Echchilampattai. The total Tamil population is 43,638, the total Muslim population stands at 32,275 and the total Sinhalese population at 8,586. The Seruvila divisional secretary’s division of 13,886 persons who are predominantly Sinhalese is given a total of 377 square kilometers of land, while the Echchilampattai division, where the population of 11,923 is exclusively Tamil, is given a mere 98 square kilometers. The Muttur divisional secretary’s division, which has a total population of 63,690 predominantly Tamil speaking people, has only been given an extent of 179.4 square kilometers of land. The vast majority of Sinhalese in this area are settlers who have been brought into the territory after independence, and the allocation of maximum land to the majority Sinhala Seruvila division is to facilitate further Sinhala settlement. This pattern is replicated in the demarcation of divisional secretaries’ divisions in other areas as well.

3.19. The government and the military are also relentlessly engaged in transforming the cultural, linguistic and religious composition of the North and East and forcibly imposing the dominant culture on those areas. This is evident in the destruction of numerous Hindu places of worship, and the proliferation of new Buddhist shrines.

3.20. Thus, the government’s claim that it has not been given sufficient time and space since the publication of the LLRC Report to implement its recommendations is wholly untenable. As the Report itself bears out, many of the positive recommendations have been in the public domain for many years. The TNA contends that the time and space sought by the government is not to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, but to pursue the agenda of permanently and irreversibly altering the demographic composition of the North and East.

Continued tomorrow

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