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7 dwarfs introIn May 2009, Sri Lanka seemed on top of the world. Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan government and forces had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist movement that had dominated Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. It had survived conflict with not just successive Sri Lankan governments, but even the might of India.

Though the Tigers had been banned by several countries, there was some sympathy for them in many Western nations who could not make a clear distinction between them and the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who they felt had been badly treated by successive Sri Lankan governments. Fuelled by a powerful diaspora that sympathized with and even supported the Tigers, several Western nations had tried to stop the war being fought to a conclusion. When this attempt did not succeed, they initiated a special session against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, but the condemnation they anticipated of the Sri Lankan government did not occur.

Instead, Sri Lanka initiated a resolution of its own, which passed with an overwhelming majority. It received the support of most countries outside the Western bloc, including India and Pakistan and China and Russia and South Africa and Brazil and Egypt.

Less than three years later however, the situation had changed, and a resolution critical of Sri Lanka was carried at the Council in Geneva in March 2012, with India voting in its favour. The resolution had been initiated by the United States, and it won support from several African and Latin American countries, including Brazil, that had been supportive previously. The following year an even more critical resolution was passed, with a larger majority. This was followed in 2014 by a Resolution which mandated an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner. India, it should be noted, voted against this Resolution, but it still passed with a large majority.

Meanwhile international criticism of Sri Lanka has increased, and it had a very tough ride in the days leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Colombo in November 2013. Though the British Prime Minister withstood pressures to boycott the event, the Indian Prime Minister did not attend. Though the Indians did not engage in overt criticism, the Canadian Prime Minister was extremely harsh in explaining why he would not attend. And the British Prime Minister made it clear that he would raise a number of issues suggesting that Sri Lanka needed to address several grave charges.

How had this happened? How had a country that dealt successfully with terrorism, and did so with less collateral damage than in other similar situations, found itself so conclusively in the dock within a few years? How had it lost the support of India, which had been strongly supportive of the effort to rid the country of terrorism? Read the rest of this entry »

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By Rasika Jayakody

 

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, who is a national list Parliamentarian of the ruling party, is a strong opinion-maker in the government where reconciliation is concerned. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, he strongly backed the government’s move to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, following the South African model. He termed that such an effort can be construed as part of implementing LLRC recommendations.

Speaking of the relation between the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the Parliamentarian says, “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is suggestive of a broader mechanism of this nature and this is in line with implementing LLRC recommendations. LLRC presented an excellent report and the commission perfectly fulfilled the task it was entrusted with. The TRC focuses more on problems concerning the people on the ground and give them solutions. That is one of the most important aspects of reconciliation. One should understand the fact that the LLRC, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have their own ambits. And they don’t clash with each other”.

He also commends the President’s approach to the matter saying he reflects pluralism and the traditional SLFPers are pluralist to the core. “But the problem is their voice is subdued and as a result, extremists are ruling the roost,” Wijesinha says.

On Sri Lanka’s journey towards reconciliation, the Parliamentarian says, Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. “Given its urgency, I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them.”

 

Following are excerpts of the interview:

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In response to a request from Dianne Silva of the Daily Mirror – Sri Lanka [express your views on the statement by David Cameron, threatening to withhold aid from countries which have anti-gay legislation. The full story can be found here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15511081 ]

David Cameron - CHOGM 2011

I suspect the report is an exaggerated version of what Mr Cameron had said, since I cannot believe he is so silly. Such a claim would be as gross as an Arab country refusing to give assistance to countries that banned polygamy.

I would not want to introduce polygamy in Sri Lanka, and equally I believe that legislation against homosexual activity in private is a woeful legacy from the British period that we should get rid of. However in a multicultural society there must be cultural sensitivity. Though Buddhism and Hinduism have always been enlightened about personal morality, some interpretations of what are termed the received religions (handed down from God) oppose homosexuality. Though Christianity has by and large become more enlightened, some Christians, as well as some Muslims, believe discrimination against homosexuality is a divine injunction. I think it is wrong that such beliefs should be imposed on others, but given that in many countries this was done as a result of British prejudice in the 19th century, making changes is not easy. I believe when this was tried, in the nineties, when Prof Peiris was Minister of Justice, a coalition

Simon Hughes MP

of extremist Christians and Muslims opposed it, and the consequence was that lesbianism, which the British had not criminalized because Queen Victoria could not conceive this was possible, was also criminalized.

Unfortunately, I was told, only Neelan Tiruchelvam spoke in favour, but with luck more, given our cultural and religious traditions before the British got here, we will end such discrimination in the future. But Britain must realize that there are some countries where feelings run high because of what is still seen as god’s command. He should also realize that even in Britain prejudices run deep. For instance one of the leading lights of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, ran a nasty campaign to enter Parliament, targeting his Labour opponent Peter Tachell who was a pioneer in the Gay Rights Movement. Hughes later admitted to being homosexual himself or rather, as his admirers put it, bisexual, another exemplification of underlying prejudice.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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