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sithamuOn the basis of consultations undertaken over the year as Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, I have submitted a report, with several recommendations. One set deals with problems raised at Divisional meetings. I give here the preamble, and the actual recommendations –

Much dissatisfaction is created by the sense that government is distant, and decisions are made without consideration of local wishes and needs. Explaining government decisions, and why delays are inevitable even though planning is based on a commitment to equitable development, often relieves feelings.

A second problem is resentment of perceived corruption. Enhancing accountability, and providing opportunities to discuss expenditure, with concentration on outcomes and value for money, would reduce resentments.

Confusion is also caused by overlapping areas of responsibility. Though the Divisional Secretariat was intended to be the primary unit of administration, functions impacting strongly on people are based on different areas of responsibility. These include the police, education and health. This makes coordination difficult.


  1. Strengthen Local Government Institutions and give them full responsibility for administration of functions closely affecting the daily lives of people. These include education and vocational training, health and sanitation, local roads and bridges and transport, water supply and drainage and waste management, markets and agricultural extension work.
  2. While policies in these areas should remain the preserve of the Central Government, consultation procedures should be entrenched. Draft legislation for local government contains provisions for consultation, but these could go further. Consultation should be of the grass roots, with mechanisms to convey ideas from Grama Niladhari level, and obtain responses. When these are negative, which will often be the case, alternative remedies for problems posed should be offered, with a time frame. Read the rest of this entry »

sithamuI wrote a couple of weeks back about ‘nasty personal attacks on the UN leadership in Sri Lanka during the conflict’ and noted that long ago I had ‘suggested that we should highlight the positive input of senior UN officials and question the UN as to why their reports had been ignored’. This was prompted by a report by a Britisher called Julian Vigo that used allegations by junior personnel in the UN system to claim that senior UN officials were complicit in abuses that they claimed had occurred during the conflict period.

Given the potential danger this represented, I wrote to the Secretary to the President to remind him of how we had failed to strengthen links with senior members of the UN who worked in terms of the UN mandate to assist us with humanitarian needs whilst also upholding basic principles of human rights. I added that ‘Time is running out, and no one has any sense of urgency’ but, given the time usually taken for responses within our governmental system, I suppose I should not be surprised that he has not been able to suggest remedial action.

I hope however that he realizes the need for him to act expeditiously, given that the President, obviously realizing the incapacity of the Ministry of External Affairs to which he had initially entrusted the job, finally entrusted preparation of an Action Plan for the LLRC Recommendations to his Secretary. As usual when he puts his mind to things, Mr Weeratunge turned up trumps. Since however implementation has also been entrusted to him, he must realize that a clear system of monitoring progress and improving on it is vital, and he is clearly the only person able to ensure this at this stage.

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I was privileged last week to attend a Conference at the Osmania University Centre for Indian Ocean Studies on ‘Indo-Sri Lankan Relations: Strengthening SAARC’. The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies had nominated me, along with scholars from Colombo University and the Kotelawala Defence University, as well as an army officer with diplomatic experience, who delivered an excellent paper on Security Concerns, and dealt ably with questions that arose.

I was pleased to attend, for I have always believed that one of the keys to good relations with India is interaction with its lively academics. Last year, the then Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, a Tamil diplomat who had very good connections with the media and the intellectual community there, arranged a series of meetings for me, during which my interlocutors indicated I was the first person to have discussed such issues in depth.

In turn I found them balanced and willing to listen, and the concerns they raised were understandable. It was more our fault than theirs that we had not engaged in disseminating information about the conflict and its aftermath, and indeed I found that responses I had prepared to the Darusman Report, which had been sent to Delhi, had not found their way down to Chennai.

I have long known, having made several presentations in the course of the last few years at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, of the keen and generally positive approach of Indian academics to Sri Lanka, but I was astonished in Hyderabad last week at the range of scholars who participated. I was fortunate to chair a session in which some young students presented very clear and scholarly papers, including two bright young ladies from JNU who spoke about the Diaspora and, with slightly different emphases, noted the disjunct between Diaspora aims and the much less aggressive objectives of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

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sithamuA few weeks back I was approached by a body called the Oxford Research Group, asking about a workshop on the recording of casualties during the conflict in Sri Lanka. This seemed a good idea because, as we have expressed in the draft National Policy on Reconcilation, we must address the anguish of those who do not know what happened to their loved ones. I believe we took too long over preparing census returns and, even if that was understandable given concentration on physical returns and restoration for those who remained, we must remember that concern for the dead is a continuing problem for the living.

Now that we have received some sort of a record from the Census Department, which fits in with figures I cited a couple of years back on the basis of extrapolations (and which led to my being attacked by both sides as it were), we should build on this to issue documentation to all who have suffered bereavement. I believe it is true that, in some cases, those who are missing have gone abroad, but this is where we need to work coherently with foreign governments to try to match identities.

I am told that many governments will not share information with us, but we should, while recognizing any concerns they might have, press for statistics, as to the numbers at least of those who have sought asylum in the period beginning January 2009. Given that some individuals may have gone from India, we should also seek statistics from the Indian government, which has informed us of substantially large numbers entering India during the first part of that year. But precision is lacking, and we should pursue this. And I believe a coherent programme together with the ICRC and IOM will help us to match some of those who are seeking asylum abroad with those recorded as missing here.

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sithamuMy attention was drawn to a most extraordinary report written by someone called Julian Vigo. It called itself an ‘Independent Report on Sri Lanka and United Nations Human Rights violations’ and contained nasty personal attacks on the UN leadership in Sri Lanka during the conflict, in particular on the Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, and Amin Awad and Philippe Duamelle, the heads of UNHCR and UNICEF.

The argument is that these people either did not know their jobs or were frightened to speak out because they were having a cushy time. This is intermixed with what seems rank racism, the idea that people from a different background were more likely to conform: ‘The UN wants staff who will tow the line. For instance, it is harder for a Nigerian who is supporting seven families to denounce wrongdoings of the UN. I recognise that. If you are a father of five kids and supporting eight other families, it is hard to denounce. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, had to be approved by the Sri Lankan government. Why the Sri Lankan government would agree to have him there, but he didn’t have the skills required for the job and had never worked in a conflict zone before.’

This was said from someone called Natalie Grove, and a measure of the shoddy nature of the report is that she is said to have worked for UNICEF, but also to have resigned from IOM – which comes in for flak for having ‘broken from the position of the UN as it was more supportive of the government’s position and of the integration of IDPs.’ This bears out what I have been told, that Cynthia Veliko, the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been vindictive about IOM for having supported the Government’s Rehabilitation programme, since clearly in terms of her mandate it was better for people to suffer and continue with a separatist agenda rather than to be rehabilitated and integrated.

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sithamuI was immensely impressed by the publication, initially on this website, and then in a Sunday newspaper, of the report of some young parliamentarians, from government and opposition, which aimed at promoting post-war Reconciliation and better relations with members of the Diaspora. I had come across them before, since I was asked to address them before an initial visit to Britain, and later I was most impressed with two of them who attended a meeting with the former British Secretary of Defence when he was here for the recent Defence Seminar.

I told the Secretary to the President about their input, and he turned out to be aware of their academic qualifications, and recognized their worth. Unfortunately he is not in a position to make use of their undoubted talents, given our national obsession with seniority, regardless of merit.

I will not discuss their recommendations, which are In accordance with those of the LLRC but adding on more interesting initiatives too. Rather my purpose here is to suggest that such synergy should be used by government also, to promote reform, as well as wider understanding of how reconciliation can be pursued.

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sithamuI received last week the quarterly report of Diaspora Lanka, an organization that works in Mannar through personnel and funding from Australia to implement projects in collaboration with local institutions and people. This is a model that should be encouraged, for it has a limited focus which allows for deeper relationships and greater accountability.

It works in several areas, including Urban Planning, which is a healthy innovation in a context in which planning is limited and rarely participatory. The Report notes that, amongst the next steps envisaged, is the establishment of a working relationship between the Urban Council Mannar and the Urban Development Authority and the National Physical Planning Department. This seems an excellent idea, and I hope that the UDA gets involved actively, since this would be a healthy corrective to the claim that it functions without close liaison with the people.

It is clear from what we see around us that the UDA is doing a great job of restoring order to at least some cities, but for sustainability it is important to involve the people in projects. Given what seems careful initial planning by the Mannar Council, with due attention to environmental issues, they would be good partners for the UDA.

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The largest number of Action Points in the plan prepared to take forward the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission relate to land issues. This is understandable for confusion about land is the largest single cause of uncertainty and hence anxiety in the North.

As I have noted in other contexts, there are four distinct problems, namely

  • Different claims for the same land based on initial ownership and also on long term occupation
  • Loss of title deeds
  • Title deeds never having been given, because land usage was based on permits that could be renewed – but where the problems at a) and b) above prevented claims based on continuous usage
  • Acquisitions by the state for either security purposes or development

All these problems can be resolved easily, if there is sufficient will and recognition that due process must be followed. With regard to the first problem, the present legal position with regard to prescription needs to be changed, since clearly it would be unfair to deprive people of land they had owned if they had vacated it because they had been forced to, or had left because of threats to their security. At the same time those in long term occupation cannot be simply thrown out because of the earlier claim based on ownership, they should be provided with some form of compensation. This could necessitate acquisition by the State, but all such acquisitions should follow due process with proper compensation.

With regard to the second and third problems, mechanisms to establish ownership, or long term usage, are needed, which was what was planned through the recent circular. That has been challenged in the Courts largely because of the role given in sorting out problems to the military. I believe the Ministry of Lands has realized that that role was inappropriate, and the circular will be changed, but action has been held up because the matter is now sub judice. Understandably enough those who challenged the circular will not withdraw their cases until they have seen the revised circular, but preparation of that has been delayed.

Read the rest of this entry » second issue which my colleagues in the Liberal Party had proposed for discussion last week was that of the independence of the Judiciary. Again, I made it clear that I had no diffidence whatsoever about a statement being issued affirming our commitment to that principle. However I also thought it important that we should stress the need for accountability in the Judiciary as well, and adherence to the law and to norms.

The latter they could set for themselves, but these should be known to the public, and discussion their suitability should not be precluded. With regard to laws, these are made by Parliament. While it should be open to the Judiciary to strike down, in accordance with the constitution, laws that are unconstitutional, and also to recommend changes to laws that they see as counter-productive, they cannot usurp the position of Parliament and go against the clear meaning of laws for their own reasons, however understandable these might be.

This discussion took place on Sunday morning, before news of the attack on the Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission had spread. That clearly demanded a shift in priorities with regard to any statement the party might issue, and I was not surprised to receive a draft that was about condemnation of the attack. That had to be deplored, but what surprised me was the assumption that government was responsible.

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At the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party, it was proposed that the Party needed to comment on two current issues, namely the crisis in education as exemplified by the FUTA strike, and what seems to be conflict between the executive branch of government and the judiciary. It was suggested that issuing statements was made difficult by my being a Member of Parliament on the government side, but I pointed out that I had never stood in the way of comments critical of government action.

The Liberal Party believes it took the right decision in supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidency in 2005, and again in 2010, and it continues to believe that a government under his leadership offers the best hope for the country. Indeed, given the current state of politics, it is the only hope. However this does not mean blind acceptance of the work of all elements in government, and indeed my own writings have made clear where I think things could be better. Indeed one of my principal complaints has been the manner in which many government departments continue, through carelessness or incompetence, to ignore the policy outlines given by the President.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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