Sri Lankans sometimes tend to feel that foreign forces are trying to destabilize the country, and they may not be altogether wrong, given the concerted efforts of a few individuals, who exercise disproportionate influence in some countries, to upset things. But instead of only reacting angrily to perceived interference, we should also work more coherently to get rid of the reasons for such interference. Even if they are sometimes only pretexts, there is no reason for us to lay ourselves open to attack – especially since getting rid of the causes of complaint is not difficult.

Thus, given that the Action Plan on implementation of the LLRC Recommendations has been accepted by Cabinet, we could easily set up a formal mechanism to ensure action. Such a mechanism should also involve systematic reporting, so that what we are doing is apparent to all, including ourselves – for knowing what has been done is the best way of identifying for ourselves what more needs to be done.

We also need to give teeth to any mechanism that is established, since there is no point simply engaging in platitudes. The Action Plan on Human Rights for instance suffers because there is no clear mechanism to ensure progress. There is an Inter-Ministerial Committee which is supposed to coordinate work, and that Committee set up a Task Force which I convene to expedite action – but even though I have received excellent cooperation from most agencies involved, actually getting action is not easy. Given the range of responsibilities that a few ministries have, and the range of responsible ministries for some areas, coordination is not easy, and swift action impossible.

We need therefore a Ministry that can act, and I can only regret again that we have no Ministry for Human Rights. Initially, when I was told that the work was to be entrusted to the Foreign Ministry, I thought that would work, given the legal background of the Minister and the administrative capacity of the Secretary in office at the time. But both proved disappointing, the latter I should note through no fault of his own, given that he was terminally ill.

So our staff who had been transferred there were not used, and communications relating to Rights issues were ignored, as is clear from the reports of UN special procedures, unlike when the Ministry existed and it was noted that we had engaged actively with the UN. The Ministry also failed to make clear where it wanted assistance with Rights promotion, unlike earlier when we had set up a police training programme – which should have been replicated, had elections not intervened so that the work we were doing was put on hold. Fortunately the present IGP has shown himself committed to action in this field, and several initiatives started then, including the Handbook we had begun preparing, have now been taken forward.

But there is still need of coordination with conceptual commitment. There is also need of better information systems, it being totally unacceptable that the Human Rights Action Plan is not available on any website except my old one, for which I was able last month to renew registration. That also includes the draft of a Bill of Rights, prepared in accordance with the original Mahinda Chintanaya, though again elections prevented it being discussed and finalized.

All this must be taken forward with transparency if reconciliation is not to remain just a word. Our commitment must be made explicit and assess able  and the expression of good intentions alone will serve no purpose.