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qrcode.26621401Mahinda Samarasinghe was appointed by Cabinet to chair an Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Human Rights Action Plan, and wanted me to serve on it as well as on a smaller Task Force that would push things forward. Nishan told me the Minister had wanted to appoint Mohan to chair the Task Force but I told him, and the Minister too, that I would only serve on the Task Force if I were in charge. I added to the Minister, without mentioning names, that I had had enough of being appointed to committees that never met.

The Minister did not commit himself, but at the first meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee he announced that he had asked me to convene a Task Force to take things forward. He did say that even though I could be difficult – a bloody nuisance, added Mohan, in a loud whisper – he knew I would get things done. It was obvious from this that they had discussed the matter and Mohan had not been pleased. But I was able to go ahead, and we managed to move swiftly with regard to many matters, with excellent cooperation from most Ministries.

I was wary about Mohan by this stage because of my experience with regard to the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had been appointed to chair this when the recommendations came out late in 2010, but there was no sign of any progress at the time the Darusman Committee issued its report in April 2011. I told the President this and, when he claimed that the Committee had made much progress, I said I thought it had never met.

At my suggestion he then told his Secretary to appoint me to that committee as well as to the team negotiating with the TNA. He also authorized me to collect from the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs details of the Committee’s work, which he thought was being reported on a regular basis.

The Secretary sent me the file which contained only the first report that had been given to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. This said a committee that had been appointed to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC, and government had used that to argue that the Darusman report was unnecessary. But there were no minutes of meetings, and the Foreign Secretary said he had been told that minutes were not kept.

Meanwhile, the President’s Secretary had rung me shortly after the President instructed him about the appointments, to say the letter with regard to the negotiating team would be sent, and that Mohan had made no objection to my being put on the other committee. It was only after I put the phone down that I wondered about Mohan having been consulted. While obviously it was a courtesy to keep him informed, I wondered about his views being sought after the President had given an order.

Sure enough, I was told by Lalith Weeratunge a few days later that it was thought I should not be on the committee since I was a Member of Parliament, and that it consisted only of officials. I asked the President about this, and he confirmed that he had been told it would not be proper. I then suggested that monitoring the work of the committee and reporting to him about it should be one of my duties as his Advisor on Reconciliation, to which he agreed.

Armed with that clause in my letter of appointment, I saw Mohan who was as charming as always. He confessed – this was in May 2011, nine months after it had been appointed – that the committee had never met. I suggested that perhaps I should attend its first meeting and he agreed and said he was waiting to get a date from the Secretary of Defence. This was a story he repeated over the next few months, until he finally confessed that the Secretary did not want the committee to meet. Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.26231205Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

Prepared for the debate on the Votes on the Ministries of Justice and of

Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms

During the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate, November 21st 2014

(Not delivered because of the common candidate press conference)

 

I rise to speak on the votes today of two important Ministries. My main concern will be rehabilitation, where I think the Ministry can be proud of its work in having rehabilitated around 12,000 former combatants after the conclusion of the conflict with the LTTE in 2009.

This is of special concern to me, Mr Speaker, because as Head of the Peace Secretariat I was deeply worried about plans for rehabilitation. Nothing was being done about this, in part because the subject was then the preserve of the Ministry of Justice, which was more concerned then with what might be termed judicial issues. This was understandable, since there was much concern then about child soldiers, given the brutality of the LTTE in its system of forced recruitment.

forced conscriptions

.. the silence of the other internationals working in the area, who were complaisant in the wicked practices of the LTTE.

In this regard, Mr Speaker, I must pay tribute to the Norwegian ambassador in place when I was first asked to work in this field, Mr Hans Brattskar. He was categorical in his response to the LTTE when it tried to remove the subject of child soldiers from the agenda of its discussions with government in June 2006. He made it clear that the Sri Lankan side had every reason to raise the issue, and perhaps it was that which led to the LTTE dodging those talks.

Later it was Mr Brattskar who first formally told the Sri Lankan government that the LTTE was engaging in forced recruitment of two persons in each family, by the time of his last visit to Kilinochchi. This was in marked contrast with the silence of the other internationals working in the area, who were complaisant in the wicked practices of the LTTE. Indeed when I upbraided the then Head of Save the Children, about his only worrying when the families of his staff were affected, he asked whether I objected to his trying to save them. Not at all, I said, what made me furious was his failure to have spoken out when other children were being abused.

joanna-van-gerpen1

Joanna van Gerpen (UNICEF) meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan, the political leader of the LTTE, in Kilinochchi.

All this was of a piece with what seemed unprincipled connivance, though I believe one should not attribute to viciousness what springs often from moral laziness and incompetence. Thus the head of UNICEF did nothing to check on the abuse of the 1 million dollars given to the LTTE for rehabilitation, and even seemed to acquiesce in recruitment of 17 year olds on the grounds that the LTTE had not amended its legislation in that regard – a shocking tolerance of the pretensions of terrorists.

It is incidents such as that, Mr Speaker, that have contributed to the deep distrust displayed by government towards the international community, and this must be understood even as we urge a more positive attitude, which will take advantage of the many with decent and positive values. We must set in place systems that will limit abuses, but there is no justification for blanket prohibitions. And of course we must also do more to make it clear that we can work effectively with aid agencies, guiding them to fulfil our national priorities whilst working in accordance with their fundamental principles and policies. Read the rest of this entry »

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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Join us in calling on His Excellency The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to limit the size of the Cabinet to 20, with no more than 20 Cabinet Ministers and no more than 20 other Ministers of Junior Ministerial rank.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/his-excellency-mahinda-rajapaksa-the-president-of-sri-lanka-introduce-constitutional-amendment-limiting-cabinet-to-20-cabinet-ministers

Short link – http://chn.ge/YbSBgY

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I received recently a letter from the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, pointing out that her Ministry had been allocated responsibility for several elements in the National Human Rights Action Plan which were not within their purview. She was quite right, and there are other elements too with regard to which the Inter-Ministerial Task Force will have to request Cabinet to make the appropriate adjustments.

One or two of the points raised arose from the fact that sometimes many Ministries have to share responsibility for action. Thus recently I attended a discussion chaired by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs regarding the replacement for the Child and Young Person’s Ordinance. This had been prepared by the Ministry of Justice, but the draft was to go to Cabinet through a joint Cabinet Paper, given the seminal role required of the Children’s Ministry in implementing the new law.

Unfortunately, while the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice is happy to develop active coordination mechanisms with other ministries, this does not always happen. I remember for instance the difficulties we had with establishing a framework for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of former Combatants, when the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights was responsible for coordination of humanitarian assistance. Because, even with the end of the war in sight, there was no sense of urgency about this, we took the lead with the support of the International Labour Organization in developing a framework, and produced what should have been the basis for action.

But unfortunately the mandate for rehabilitation lay then with the Ministry of Justice, and cooperation was not forthcoming. Even when a dedicated Commissioner General of Rehabilitation was appointed in the form of an army officer – previously the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, who had far too much to do anyway, had occupied that position too – he still reported to the Minister of Justice, and so could not formally adopt the document we had produced, even though he did a great deal that was recommended there.

But because the Policy Document was not formally adopted, there remained a lacuna with regard to reintegration, and we still suffer from a lack of clear responsibility in that regard. It is widely assumed that the Rehabilitation Bureau is responsible for that element too, but that is not the case officially. Though interventions to support reintegration can be promoted in terms of the rehabilitation mandate, these cannot be systematic, and this leads to problems.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

A couple of weeks back the Task Force to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan for the first time invited persons not in government service to participate in a formal meeting. I had long wanted to do this, but government had, I suppose understandably, been wary of external involvements, which can often be interference. I had therefore continued with the system of informal consultations that had been set up earlier through the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, but it was I think a great boon that the Minister had met the ICRC head and realized how much they do and can contribute.

The ICRC after all works only with governments (or parties to conflict) and though, as we saw from Wikileaks, some of its officials succumb to the charm of powerful countries, in Sri Lanka, except for a brief period in early 2009, they have been the souls of discretion. Indeed, a study of communications between them and government during that year (as I saw from the few documents the army gave me when I was looking into claims about hospitals and civilian deaths) would make it crystal clear that we are innocent of the allegations made in the Darusman Report about the conduct of our armed forces during the conflict. Sadly study is something neither we nor our critics engage in.

I was instructed then by the Minister to set up a meeting, which proved most informative, with active contributions also from Ministry of Rehabiliation and Prison Reforms, the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation and the Prisons Department. Unfortunately the representatives designated to attend by the Attorney General’s Department and the Ministry of Justice failed to turn up, though the Secretary to the latter was most apologetic and promised to take up the matter formally with the officer concerned.

I was particularly sorry that the AG’s representative did not come, because he had nominated Suhada Gamlath, who had been Commissioner General of Rehabilitation during the conflict. Though he had not done much for the older combatants, understandably so given his other manifold duties, he had been deeply concerned about the children, which is perhaps why they were looked after positively from early on.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

One of the few people who actually reads this column seriously drew my attention to what seemed inaccuracies when I last wrote about the detained. One point was my mentioning being asked to monitor implementation of the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC. He had thought the Committee looking into the LLRC Recommendations was composed only of bureaucrats, and thought I must have been referring to my task of convening the Task Force on the Human Rights Action Plan.

 He was certainly right in pointing out that I had no role with regard to the LLRC Recommendations. I suppose this seems peculiar, given my position as Adviser on Reconciliation, but I do see that bureaucrats like Mrs Wijeyatilaka and Mrs de Silva and Mr Dissanayake might seem more objective in their approach. My own worry is that such a monitoring committee should have a clear structure with transparent reporting requirements, and that I believe has yet to be set in place.

For my own part I am finding it difficult to provide publicly accessible reports on the Human Rights Action Plan, which I believe is a necessity. Sadly the website that should be devoted to this has still not been started, and I fear that it is not seen as urgent by anyone other than myself. This is a pity, because the sterling work that has been put in by many government agencies needs to be put on public record, while doing this systematically will also help us to see where there are shortcomings. Meanwhile the two young ladies who help me (reduced from three, because the one I worked most closely with initially has been translated to higher things) need constant guidance. Even the basic mechanism of fitting what has been reported to us as having been done, directly under the requirement as to action, had to be explained, and may take time to implement – through no fault of theirs I hasten to add, more a matter of scarcity of resources and of time for effective supervision.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Another area which does not figure to any great extent in the National Human Rights Action Plan, but which is also of great concern currently, is that of former LTTE combatants. This is understandable for the intial draft of the Plan was prepared in 2009, and concurrently our Ministry was working, with ILO assistance, on a Rehabilitation and Reintegration programme for those combatants. So a field of action which seemed a temporary problem rather than something to be entrenched in a National Plan was omitted, since it should have been dealt with through special provisions.

Unfortunately that necessity too fell prey to the division of responsibilities between various Ministries. There had previously been a civilian Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, and in view of the mandate we had with regard to Human Rights, which seemed to me obviously to apply to those who had been conscripted, I had tried hard to evoke more concerted action. But it soon became clear that, with all his other responsibilities, as well as the difficulties of liasing with the Ministry of Defence when it had other major priorities, he simply could not handle the job.

Understandably too, when moved to action, he concentrated on the child soldiers, whose plight was obvious, but this meant neglect of the adults, who languished without much concerted support in a couple of centres that had been established. I should note that, when I visited the centre at Weli Oya, I found tremendous dedication on the part of the military personnel in charge, but without a clear plan, this did not seem likely to lead anywhere.

Things changed with the appointment of a dedicated Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, a military officer who proved visionary as well as characteristically efficient. He and his successors have done a great job, and my frequent visits to the Rehabilitation Centres, in recent times to check on the Entrepreneurship Workshops I funded through my decentralized budget, have resulted in moving interactions with youngsters who seem appreciative of what has been done for them, and keen to get on with productive lives, making use of what seems an unusually high level of talent. I should note though that the agency that conducted the programmes was highly selective, and would choose just about 30 from a pool of a 100 they were introduced to at the start of the programmes, so perhaps the others would not have been quite so dynamic. But that made it all the more important that we should have encouraged the leaders among them to develop businesses that would also have provided employment for the rest. Read the rest of this entry »

The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Perhaps the most important thing we have achieved through the Task Force to expedite implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan is to ensure better coordination between the various Ministries that share responsibility for particular concerns. Thus last week the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, which had participated actively in our consultations through a very committed Additional Secretary, convened its own meeting under the Secretary. In addition to the various Departments under that Ministry, he brought together the Ministry of Justice as well as representatives of the Judiciary.

The discussion was lively and constructive, and the Secretary seems determined to move, not only on the Action Plan, but also on the positive suggestions put forward by the President in the last Budget Speech. The most important of these is to reduce the numbers now committed to jail. Currently, as we were informed during the informal consultations we had with NGOs and relevant government departments at the Reconciliation Office, there are about 130,000 persons in prison, of whom only about 30,000 have actually been sentenced to jail. The rest have simply been remanded, which seems a shocking business.

Former Attorney General Mohan Peiris made several suggestions, citing recent developments in Britain, as to how to get over this problem. Meanwhile the dynamic new Secretary to the Ministry of Justice had sent another letter to establish a Steering Committee on ‘Access to Justice’, which is also intended to ensure that vulnerable groups do not suffer. We can be pleased then that the adoption by Cabinet of the Plan has led to so much activity, much of which was contemplated before but was laid aside until just such a catalyst emerged.

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Medical services for evacuated civilians - 2009

Our Armed Forces have done a fantastic job in recent years. Not only did they deal conclusively with one of the most accomplished terrorist groups in the world, they also assisted the civilian victims of terrorist with strict discipline and respect of rules of engagement, and at the same time ‘a very respectful and kind attitude to help those in need’, to cite a letter sent by the head of the ICRC. However they now find themselves on the defensive, having to face excessive charges that even normally sensible diplomats seem to be encouraging.

I believe there are two reasons for this, one entirely our own fault, the other much more sinister and requiring to be dealt with firmly, though sadly our continuing incoherence of policy in this regard means we will continue to suffer. The first reason is the presence, despite the decency of the generality, and the excellent training that we have provided and improved on over the years, of a few elements that behave badly. Unfortunately we have not dealt with them at all sensibly.

In the old days I used to recommend taking a leaf out of the Anglo-Saxon model, which

Lynndie England drags a detainee known as Gus by a leash around the neck. Megan Ambuhl looks on - Abu Ghraib, Iraq 2004

would charge some individuals when there was basic evidence of wrongdoing, acquit all of them but one, and then claim that they had fulfilled the claims of accountability – as happened for instance with the torture allegations at Abu Ghraib. This was not, I said, the classic Anglo-Saxon vice of hypocrisy, rather it made sense by pointing out to the rest of the forces that what had happened was wrong, while at the same time not being too harsh on personnel who it had to be assumed generally did their best in difficult circumstances.

But if that seemed too tough for us, the Americans have now gone one better, and acquitted all of those who killed Afghan civilians and cut off their fingers. They will, I suppose, claim that the inquiry they held proved their bona fides, while at the same time allowing Barack Obama in an election year to escape charges that he is letting down our brave boys on the front by punishing them from doing what God evidently wanted them to do.

That provides the best answer to what the then Attorney General would tell me when I would urge him to prosecute those considered responsible for the murder of five boys in Trincomalee. He did not have enough evidence, he claimed, and they would be acquitted. It was useless my telling him that that was not the point, he should not fear shame over a lack of success in the classic Sri Lankan way, he should be happy that the State had made the point that what happened was wrong. I should add that, as I have also been constantly suggesting, we need to investigate the White Flag case more thoroughly, and our failure to pay due attention to what the Americans initially brought to our attention, citing a speech in which Sarath Fonseka seemed to claim credit for what had occurred, was a blunder which has contributed to the complete volte face the Americans have since undergone in that regard.

Fortunately we seem after the LLRC report to be moving towards proper inquiry, though there again we see what I can only describe as the sheer carelessness of our decision makers, who waited until after American diplomats had come to Sri Lanka to wag their fingers at us to announce this fact. The inquiries had begun in fact soon after the LLRC report came out, as I found out when I asked the army commander a month ago what was happening. I advised him to publicize the fact, but of course no one ever takes my advice seriously, so we have to suffer the ignominy of international and even national reporting that claims we instituted an inquiry in response to American pressure.

I am immeasurably sad about this, because I see us now as going through some of the absurdities the Jayewardene government went through in the mid-eighties, when it always yielded too little, too late, in the face of pressure. The irony is that this government is actually in many respects doing the right thing – which Jayewardene rarely did – but its incapacity to communicate means that we seem to be granting under pressure what we had decided to do anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Mass wedding of ex-LTTE combatants

18.  The Darusman report makes repeated allegations of execution and rape of LTTE cadres. It relates some of this to cadres who were separated in the screening process, but provides no evidence for these allegations.

Refuting such general allegations is difficult. However the manner in which the over 11,000 cadres who were rehabilitated were treated indicates nothing but positive attitudes. The women were almost all of them released before the end of 2010, but many return for training programmes which the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation conducts. The CGR also arranged a mass wedding, which led to the predictable response from organizations determined to be critical that he was forcing couples into marriage.  One otherwise intelligent NGO activist – Sarojini Sivachandran of daily murders, abductions and extortion fame I believe – claimed that boys and girls had held hands for protection while surrendering, and they were now forced to marry.

This was nonsense, and the CGR explained how the parents of all those who sought to be married were consulted, which resulted in the ceremony going ahead for only half the over 100 couples who had applied. In general the extreme care taken by the CGR and his staff, with special Advanced Level classes and English, in addition to the various subjects of vocational training, make clear the commitment to youngsters who were inveigled or forced into battle.

The claim that the rehabilitation process was conducted in secret is also palpably false. IOM, which had had a positive approach to the conclusion of the conflict, unlike many other international organizations, has been heavily involved in supporting rehabilitation and reintegration. But, in addition, the camps were open to visitors from the start, and from 2009 onward steady streams of family and friends were to be seen whenever one visited, in addition to UN and other officials discussing modalities of providing food and other requirements. It should be noted in this regard that, when such supplies were held up, government decided to provide the equivalent of army rations to the cadres being rehabilitated.

19. In fact the relative lack of complaints about this process suggest that even the most critical voices have little to say. However there are many allegations regarding the treatment of cadres who were not taken into rehabilitation. The main claim is that they were executed, for which the strongest evidence seems to be provided by what is termed the Channel 4 video. I will use this term to describe the short extract shown in 2009 and the longer version shown the following year. These were included in what I will term the Channel 4 film, a lengthy account that was aired in 2011.

Channel 4 - Jon Snow

The videos have a shadowy history, beginning with the announcement when they were first shown that they depicted incidents that took place in January 2009. That claim has been forgotten – though never explainedafter it was shown that the metadata had a July 2009 date (though one of the fatuous experts hired by the UN to authenticate the video claimed that perhaps those who made it had falsified the date deliberately to conceal their involvement in the event).

Other examples of idiotic explanations for anomalies have been cited in various critiques, but the claim is still made that the video is genuine – even though it is granted that the second version was edited backward, and included optical zooming, whereas the mobile phones that it is still claimed were the source do not have optical zoom facilities. Of course all this does not necessarily mean that the incidents portrayed did not occur. But they raise questions that those who aired the footage should explain before the material is used as evidence of war crimes. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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