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One of my more naïve assumptions as I entered Parliament, in April 2010, was that it was an independent institution. I also assumed that it was the role of backbenchers, even on the government side, to bring issues to the attention of the executive. I was therefore the first member on the government side to ask a question, and also the first to propose an adjournment motion.
Some of my colleagues actually questioned this and suggested I was trying to embarrass the government. But at a Parliamentary Group Meeting the President indicated that we should get involved in such parliamentary practices, and not leave it all to the opposition, whereupon others followed suit.
I was less lucky about another initiative I started, which was to propose adjournment motions signed also by opposition members. I had found several who seemed like me to want the dignity of Parliament upheld, but after I had got several signatures – Ramesh Pathirana and Neranjan Wickremesinghe from the UPFA, Rosy Senanayake and Buddhika Pathirana from the UNP, Sunil Handunetti of the JVP and Mr Saravanaparvan of the TNA and Mr Radhakrishnan of the UPF – one member of the government group questioned the concept and, sure enough, at the next Parliamentary group meeting, the President said this was not proper. Unbeknownst to me, his idea of promoting consensus was to bring people over to then vote with government on all issues – which happened soon afterwards, giving the government a 2/3rd majority – not, as I had hoped, to promote initiatives which parliamentarians on all sides would favour. As a matter of interest, I give here the text of the motion which eight of us signed and handed in to the Leader of the House –
We, the undersigned Members of Parliament, representing a cross-section of parties, request that the following adjournment motion be taken up for discussion as soon s possible –
That this House do stand adjourned to regret the numerous occasions on which Parliamentary questions have to be postponed again and again because of a failure to provide answers in time; to request Hon Ministers, while recognizing that such delays are due to circumstances beyond their control, to emphasize to Ministry staff and Heads of Departments the importance of providing answers quickly; to suggest that Ministries should set up systems to maintain records more carefully so as to have essential information readily available; to urge the relevant Ministries to devise and implement swiftly training programmes for public servants that will ensure skills in line with the requirements of a knowledge society; to request a thorough overhaul of the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration to promote the provision of courses that may receive appropriate accreditation , to improve soft skills of communication and analysis as well as administration; and to urge the entrenchment in the public service of a culture of swift responsiveness to the needs of the public, with regard to information as well as action.
- Question 10:
The Government has alleged that the Paranagama Report agrees with the Channel 4 video allegations. Is that true?
Not at all. It is a deliberate misreading of the Paranagama Report. At paragraph 428, the Paranagama Report states explicitly “ the authenticity of the video footage is not an issue that the Commission can resolve…”.
If, of course, the authenticity of the video is proved, that would establish a prima facia case. The Paranagama Commission goes on to advocate that there should be a proper judicial inquiry.
Indeed the very same was suggested by the LLRC report, which called for an independent investigation. Thus to say that the Paranagama Commission has validated the genuineness of the Channel 4 footage is false. Because if it had, what would be the necessity to call for an inquiry to ascertain the authenticity of the footage? Indeed the Paranagama Commission criticizes Channel 4 in paragraph 432 (page 105) for failing to supply the original film footage. Why would the Paranagama Commission do this, if it had accepted the film footage as authentic?
- Question 11
What is the link between the OISL report and the Darusman Report with respect to the gravity of the allegations made against Sri Lanka?
The answer to this question is to be found in paragraph 22 (page 8) of the OISL report which reads as follows: “ Another key source of information was the United Nation’s Secretary General’s panel of experts headed by Mazuki Darusmann with experts Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner.”
Thus, it is quite clear, that the OISL report is firmly grounded in the grave allegations made by the Darusman Report. Therefore it raises the question as to why the Paranagama Commission 2nd Mandate Report which dealt with most of the allegations in the Darusman Report was not tabled in Geneva by the Government.
I have refrained thus far from getting involved in the debate over the Geneva Resolution for a number of reasons. One is a commitment to finalize a few books, and in particular an account of what Sri Lanka did right, in winning the war, and then did wrong in losing the peace.
Secondly, I had long felt that the last government was destroying the country by its ostrich approach to the allegations made against us. As I told Al Jazeera on the day I expressed publicly my support for the Maithripala Sirisena candidacy, when hardly any one else who was part of the previous government took the plunge, I felt that a continuation of the Rajapaksa Presidency would lead to disaster. I was glad someone who had stood foursquare behind the President during the war years was the challenger, because while I hoped he would correct the faults that had arisen after the war, I assumed he would stand by the achievement of the first Rajapaksa Presidency in eradicating terrorism from Sri Lanka.
I was deeply disappointed that the new government did not embark on the reforms it had promised, and also disappointed that it did not move swiftly towards transparency on the question of accountability. I proposed at my first Parliamentary Group meeting that we should publish the Udalagama Commission Report, because I believed its findings would make clear that our judiciary was perfectly capable of conducting a credible inquiry. I had also long argued that justice needed to be done for the boys killed in Trincomalee, and had repeated urged the President to ensure that indictments were made.
The Prime Minister said he would look into the matter, but it was not even minuted – as opposed to mechanisms to find vehicles and provide jobs for supporters – and after I left the group it was forgotten. The same seems to have happened to the Paranagama Report, to which, belatedly, the Rajapaksa government had added value through the advice of international lawyers who were aware, unlike the Foreign Ministry, of the danger of the charges made against us.
Just as, alone of Parliamentarians, I had two years ago signed a petition about the killings at Weliveriya, I signed this year a petition asking the President to ensure that justice was done to our forces by publicizing the Report. While I had no doubt that, like the LLRC, it would demand accountability with regard to events as to which there was prima facie evidence of abuse, it would make it clear that the worst charges against us were incorrect.
Sadly my detailed defence of the errors in the Darusman Report was completely ignored by decision makers in the last government, except for the one person who understood the importance of our image. When nothing was done and we subscribed to a resolution that detracts from the very principles on which the UN had been established, I feared that the same lack of intelligence was now affecting our decision makers and those advising them. The consequences to the country will be equally disastrous. But to go on telling decision makers they are being silly did not help in the last few years, and I did not think one should continue beating one’s head against yet another brick wall.
However what seems to be subterfuge in Parliament makes me wonder whether I am wrong to assume just incompetence, and whether I should worry about an agenda that will strip this country of all self respect. After all, eight years ago, I recall those now in authority trying to stop our defeat of terrorism by invoking foreign assistance.
I have therefore engaged in some study of the issues through experts on the subject, and would like to bring the following facts into the public domain, through a simple question and answer exercise –
- Question 1:
Do you accept the statements made by the Government in relation to the 1st and 2nd mandate reports issued by the Presidential Commission to Investigate Missing Persons, otherwise known as the Paranagama Commission?
- Answer :
No, because the statements made are misleading, and in large measure lacking in truth. They strike at the very heart of good governance, especially when Parliament and the country as a whole are seeking to discover the truth.
It is essential that the Government briefs Parliament correctly about the various allegations made against the Government of Sri Lanka and our Armed Forces by two key UN reports known as the “Darusman Report” and the “ OISL Report”. The Government also has the duty to inform the nation about what it has committed to implement in terms of a judicial mechanism in the co-sponsored UN resolution. The fact that these important reports were not translated into our National languages Sinhala and Tamil, and also there was no effort made to make them available widely, through both the release of an electronic soft copy version of it and printed versions, appears to be a deliberate strategy to keep the public in the dark.
The Government failed during the Parliamentary debate to truthfully point out the positive aspects of the recommendations contained in the 2nd mandate report of the Paranagama Commission and how the conclusions of the international experts consulted by the Paranagama Commission have exonerated the armed forces of Sri Lanka from the suggestion of “genocide” that maligned our country after the release of the Darusman Report. The Paranagama Report also refutes the crimes against humanity charges against Sri Lanka.
- Question 2:
Is it true or false that the Paranagama Commission recommended a hybrid court similar to the Gambian Model to be implemented in Sri Lanka as suggested by the Government?
It is false. The Paranagama Commission’s Second Mandate report that was tabled in Parliament proposed ONLY a pure domestic mechanism and not a hybrid court. Under Chapter 8 of the Report, paragraph number 625 and 626, it explicitly explains this mechanism.
In order to deal with an accountability mechanism suitable to Sri Lanka, it was incumbent upon the Commission to embark upon a review of measures taken in other countries before proposing a specific mechanism for Sri Lanka.
In paragraph 624, the Paranagama Commission lists out several different options available to the Government to consider, providing a review of all the mechanisms. In paragraph 625, the Paranagama Commission sets out the proposed mechanism under the sub-heading “Proposed Mechanism”. The Mechanism that the Paranagama Commission had recommended here is wholly domestic and coupled with a TRC that makes it a unique mechanism for Sri Lanka.
Thus the reference to the Gambian example being advocated by the Paranagama Commission is misleading, especially when a clear mechanism, purely of a domestic kind, without foreign judicial intervention of any kind had been proposed by the Paranagama Commission.
In Paragraph 616 of the Report, The Commission says “In the event Sri Lanka was to set up a purely domestic tribunal without the participation of any foreign judges, it is the view of the Commission, that there should be international technical assistance and observers”. International technical assistance does not equal foreign judges sitting in judgement over Sri Lankan citizens.