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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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The following was sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in July 2011 in an effort to introduce some clarity into the debate on the Darusman Report, and also to coordinate better with the elements in the UN system which had also been attacked in that Report

I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

I raise these because I believe we have not responded effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

I hope very much that you will be able to proceed on these lines or similar ones.

Yours sincerely

 

1. Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Alleged rape
b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance
c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced
d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.

2. Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these
b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area
c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.

3. Were there reports prepared by the UN or the ICRC which were shared with the panel, but which were not provided to government?

4. Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’, as claimed in the report. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared?

5. Did the UN obtain other reports from international UN employees in Sri Lanka, and were these with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator? How did these fit within the UN mandate? If these reports were intended to improve the condition of affected Sri Lankans, why were they not shared at the time with government?

6. Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?

7. Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92), the attribution to government of an inappropriate response (at the end of January) to an ICRC statement issued on February 1st, the assumption that food was only sent to the conflict zone through the ICRC, the attribution (though obscurely) to the terrorist associated Tamil Rehabilitation Organization of the claim that individuals died of starvation, the claim that Manik Farm did not have its own water source, the claim that psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, etc?

8. Will the Panel study the analysis of its claims with regard to attacks on hospitals, in the light of claims made at the time, and in the context of official ICRC documentation of what was conveyed to government?

9. Will the Panel explain its selective characterization of participants in the conflict, including its description of the LTTE as disciplined, while bribery is attributed to the military as a whole, with positive actions being attributed to individuals?

10. Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? Will it also explain the sentence ‘Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure’ and how it relates to the figure of 75,000 given immediately afterwards?

11. Will the Panel explain what it means when it uses the word ‘Government’, and in particular its source for various critical comments such as those in Paras, 131 and 136 and Footnote 77?

12. Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests, as well as the manner in which funding was squandered on international personnel who were unable to ensure adherence to national and international standards with regard to sanitation?

This was copied to the Attorney General at the same time, as he was supposed to be chairing the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, with the following covering letter –

I attach a copy of a letter I have sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. I hope you will appreciate the points raised in the letter, and in particular the need to take remedial action so as to ensure that the reconciliation process continues.

In this context I would like to suggest some positive measures that could be taken immediately to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel report, which I am aware you too share. I believe we have not promoted the provision of information that would alleviate some suffering. Though there seems to be exaggeration with uncertainty, any uncertainty can cause anxiety and then resentment, so we should do our best to minimize this.

I would suggest that we establish in every GN division an agency that will collect statistics with regard to those missing, and collate them with appropriate investigation to ensure fuller information with regard to previous activities. This should lead to the formulation of a data base that can be used to provide precise information as possible.

We know that of course some of those dead will not be identified, and also that some have made their way to other countries, or have taken on a new identity in this country. While making allowance for these, I am sure we will be able to establish that the number of those dead or missing is much smaller than is sometimes bandied around.

I hope very much that we can take action in this regard, and in other areas mentioned in my letter to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, and make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka is more concerned about its own citizenry than external agencies.

I also wrote as follows at the same time to the Chairman of the LLRC

Whilst the process of reconciliation was proceeding apace since the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe some events over the last few months have affected this adversely. Whilst the different communities in Sri Lanka have not responded negatively, relations amongst some Tamils now living abroad and other Sri Lankans have been severely strained.

This may allow elements of the LTTE abroad to continue with their previous practices, including extortion from the majority of Tamil expatriates, and the perpetuation of racial prejudices. This will in turn rouse hostile feelings in the less reasonable amongst other communities. I believe therefore that we need to act firmly to nip such tendencies in the bud.

The events I refer to include in particular the publication of the report of the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on accountability issues. This has in turn exacerbated the impact of a film shown on the British Television Channel 4, and subsequently repeated on channels elsewhere. Both these have given credence to a book by a former UN employee called Gordon Weiss, and I gather that other publications related to this have since emerged, or will do so shortly.

It will be helpful then, for the sake of reconciliation alone, to challenge the impact created by these events. In particular, I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. I have accordingly sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs some queries which I believe should be sent to the Secretary General, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

In addition to this however, I believe we can also address the few real issues that the Panel Report raises. Having studied it, as well as the other publications mentioned above, it seems to me that there are only two allegations in which sufficient information as to time and place and scope has been furnished, so as to warrant further investigation.

These are the allegations with regard to the so-called White Flag incident, as well as mention of execution of prisoners, as to which the Channel 4 film mentioned a specific date. While I do not think we should deal with Channel 4, it may be useful for the Commission to seek further information from the Panel if it possesses any with regard to these two incidents, and in particular further details of the visual records that are alleged to have been made. It is possible that further examination will reveal discrepancies such as have characterized previous visual records brought to our attention, but since those were general claims whereas these involve specifics, it would make sense to try to obtain further information if available.

In addition to this, I believe concerted follow up with regard to your previous recommendations would be helpful.

I raise these to help us to respond effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

Finally, a letter sent to the Secretary to the President some months later –

The events of the last week, and the document I shared with you that had been prepared by a Ms Vigo, prompted reflections on the absurd way in which we have been conducting our foreign relations, and in particular our relations with the United Nations. I am aware that the President has been sharply critical of the UN, and seems to think that all efforts to work positively with it would be vain, but this flies in the face of all evidence.

The Vigo report makes it clear how many UN agencies and their heads worked well with us during the difficult days of conflict, despite external pressures and pressures from their younger members of staff – a phenomenon that occurred also with several ambassadors who have confided in me about this.

Meanwhile, as you are aware, Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva did a fantastic job of making sure that we received solid support from the UN system. He understood the need for numbers, and worked with influential ambassadors in each regional group, so that we had a large coalition supporting us.

This was promptly frittered away by his successor. As one distinguished journalist told me, in Dayan’s time we asked for advice, later we simply asked for votes, from people we had hardly taken seriously until their votes were needed.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we ceased to work together actively with the UN. Because of anger, understandable enough, at the appointment of the Darusman Panel, and its report, we assumed that the UN was complicit in the injustice that was being done to us. We failed to read the report carefully and intelligently, and understand that senior UN officials also were being criticized.

I told the Ministry at the time that we should communicate with those officials and develop a common response, but I do not think the Ministry even understood what I meant, nor the potential danger. As I have noted recently, following the visit of Robert Blake, which local politicians and foreign ambassadors have told me was worrying, I was told by the Ministry that all had gone very well, and newspaper reports were simply designed to create trouble.

The outcome of an informal consultation on promoting the Rights of Children held recently, with the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment in the chair, was a discussion document to assist with the formulation of policy in this field. The care of children must be part of a comprehensive programme with the basic goal of empowering all elements in society that need protection and additional support.

Though Sri Lanka achieved great success in providing universal health and education at the period of independence, social services lagged behind. They were provided in terms of the patronage approach that governed Poor Law in Britain in the previous century. The vulnerable were treated as a species apart, with institutionalization and punitive measures being implemented instead of rehabilitation. This last is needed to develop the potential of those who had suffered from lack of equitable opportunities.

To ensure comprehensive and positive coverage of vulnerable sections of society, coordination between the Ministries of Social Services and of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment is essential. This also requires regular consultation with local professionals, as well as the informed involvement of provincial agencies in terms of their responsibilities, to develop a truly national perspective. Women and Children are amongst the most vulnerable sections of society and mechanisms to ensure a level playing field for them are an essential part of the social services government should provide. Interventions for other vulnerable groups will also involve services that are particularly important for women and children, ranging from counseling to employment policies based on equity and furthering the talents and capabilities of all.
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An important item on the legislative agenda over the last few years has been a change to the 1939 Children and Young Persons Ordinance. A few years back, when Milinda Moragoda was Minister of Justice, he had asked for reports in various areas where it seemed justice was not being served. Not all the committees appointed have reported as yet, and there seems to have been little concern to expedite these. However, the indefatigable Shirani Thilakawardhana headed the committee asked to report on children, and she did a typically thorough job.

Unfortunately in the silly way we sometimes function, it seemed to have been decided to do nothing till all the reports were in, and so the proposed amendments have not yet come to Parliament. However the new Secretary to the Ministry of Justice understood the urgency of going ahead, and got comments from various urgencies, and has sent now sent what should be a final draft to the Ministry of Child Development for taking forward.

The new draft is certainly an advance on what we had before, and if we cannot improve on it soon, we should go ahead with it anyway, simply to get rid of provisions for caning, and the generally punitive approach taken 70 years ago to children in need. However it would be best if we had some intense consultation and produced something better, since this would also help with introducing some general principles with legislation.

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Last week saw an extremely productive consultation on promoting the Rights of Children. Organized by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, as decided at the meetings we have been holding over the last several months to better understand the problems and possible interventions, it was presided over by the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs.

In addition to officials from different branches of his Ministry, we also had excellent input from the Ministry of Health, which is especially important given the gaps in the provision of psycho-social support nationwide that we need to fill. While delivery will have to be through various agencies – school counselors that the Ministry of Education appoints, Probation Officers appointed by the Provinces, Social Service Officers appointed by that Ministry – we obviously need better coordination as well as training, and this can best be provided by the Ministry of Health.

We also had representation from the Ministry of Social Services. The Secretary had not been able to attend, which was in part our fault because it was only after the meeting had been arranged that we realized the importance of her presence too. But she was enormously cooperative when we met her and, though committed to a visit to Japan – which is a model that we should aim at in the care it provides for the vulnerable – she has agreed to pursue cooperation in this field on her return.

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Amongst the agencies that I have worked with over the last year to encourage movement on the National Human Rights Action Plan, the most important from outside the government sector has been the Institute of Human Rights. They have been the most regular in attendance of the groups that come together in the informal consultative mechanism I set up together with the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, even before I was appointed to convene the Task Force of the Inter-Ministerial Committee responsible for implementation of the Plan. Ironically, given the absence of a Ministry with direct responsibility for Human Rights, sometimes I feel the informal committee we have does more work.

The Institute of Human Rights has done yeoman service in ensuring attention to those victims of human rights violations who fall through the net. The unfortunate obsession with War Crimes spun out by those determined to attack the Sri Lankan State sometimes takes away from the real issues we face. These relate not so much to the victims, direct and indirect of terrorism, which we have now overcome (unless the motives of the less innocent of the War Crimes brigade triumph), but to the naturally vulnerable, who are not of concern to the vast majority of their fellow human beings.

The most appalling example of these are the Women and Children swallowed up through the punitive system we inherited from the British for those considered socially inferior. The British have long moved on from the Victorian systems of incarceration Dickens so graphically condemned, but we still have a Vagrants Ordinance, and government claims that it will be amended have fallen prey to the lethargy of officials with regard to anything they are not compelled or personally motivated to pursue actively. Worse, they seem unashamed of the callousness with which it is implemented.

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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

On the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs

In the Committee Stage of the Budget, December 9th 2013

 

I am honoured to speak on the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, which deals with perhaps the most important subject we need to consider. I say this because, while the development programme government has put in place with regard to infrastructure is vital, it will serve no purpose unless we also concentrate on human development. In this regard we need to ensure that our children are in full enjoyment of all their rights, and that we also empower them so that any violations are minimized.

It is equally important, Mr Speaker, to ensure that women are not only protected, but also empowered. For this purpose we must put in place coherent mechanisms that can identify shortcomings and address them promptly and systematically. Above all we must move from simply reacting to problems, but rather anticipate potential problems and avoid them – a strategy, I should add, that would hold us in good stead with regard also to international relations as well as domestic politics.

With regard to Women and Children, I am happy to say that we have an active Ministry that is able to conceptualize and initiate new measures. Chief amongst these is the establishment of Women and Children’s Units in every Divisional Secretariat. If I might say so, this Ministry has been the first to recognize the importance of the Division, which is the first active interface between government and people. Indeed this Ministry has also recognized the importance of the Grama Niladhari Division, which is the first actual interface, though it is for the raising of issues rather than solving them. I should add that it would make sense to set in place, even in GN Divisions, consultative mechanisms to resolve simple problems. However it the Division that is the first level at which more important decisions can be taken, and where the front line officers of various government institutions can meet to discuss problems and plan responses – and where they can discuss trends that will help them to anticipate problems and avoid them.

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One aspect of politics that draws criticism but little analysis is the phenomenon of large cabinets, with Members of Parliament imagining it their right to be appointed to Executive Office on the grounds of seniority alone.

This is nothing new, though the opposition affects to forget the massive numbers to whom President Jayewardene gave executive positions, which is when the trend really began. Not all his appointments were to the Cabinet or to Deputy positions, since he also had 25 District Ministerships to play around with, in addition to the Project Ministries he had instituted. The result was that at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140.

It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to restrict numbers, at a time when the topic had been raised by the JVP, which had made it a condition of the probation period they gave President Kumaratunga in 2001 that she restrict her Cabinet to 20. Unfortunately they failed to insist on a Cabinet amendment to this effect, and Mrs Kumaratunga in fact made it 22, though this did not help her to stay in power.

Mr Wickremesinghe adopted the expedient of appointing 40 Ministers, but putting only 20 of them in the Cabinet, and managed in the process to leave out the Minister of Human Resources Development. He claimed this was an oversight, though in fact it contributed to his favourites, Kabir Hashim and Suranimala Rajapaksa, as Project Ministers of Higher Education and Education respectively, settling themselves in their respective Ministries and exercising equal powers with Karunasena Kodituwakku who was in theory their superior. It was only three months after he first constituted the Cabinet that Ranil expanded it to include Kodituwakku and some others. Despite his claims to be cutting government expenditure, he evidently had no qualms about establishing Ministries which seemed to have no work, for some of his Ministers had no operational funds, receiving only establishment costs in the budget.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2018
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