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Good Governance 4Perhaps the most controversial subject we have to deal with in trying to restore confidence in government is that of the violence and extra-judicial killings that have taken place.

Unfortunately dealing with this is complicated by the fact that there are in fact three different issues involved. Two of them have to do with the conflict period. The third issue is that of abductions and killings that had nothing to do with the war.

With regard to the conflict, we have to deal with two extreme positions which feed off each other. One is that government was justified in whatever it did, because we were dealing with ruthless terrorists and therefore the ordinary laws could not be respected. The opposite is that government used sledgehammers to crack nuts, and was overwhelmingly guilty of murder which include deliberate targeting of civilians and a range of paramilitary activities.

The truth lies in between, but government complicated matters by looking on the problem as part of a propaganda war, rather than one to be resolved by confidence building measures. So it lost the chance to make it clear that it fought a war that was essential, given the suffering the LTTE had caused to the whole country for so long. It also failed to show that the forces by and large respected International Humanitarian Law.

Far too late it started an inquiry process, and got the services of international experts. Earlier, instead of responding to the excessive attacks of the Darusman Report, it tried to take political advantage, a strategy that came a cropper at the last Presidential election.

The problem has now been transferred to this government, but sadly that too is not relying on truth, which is the best way forward. Thus it seems ambiguous about the work done by Sir Desmond de Silva and his team, even though it has in fact renewed his contract. It should therefore make use of what he has done to launch a robust defence of the way in which the war was conducted. Read the rest of this entry »

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ht-home-logoThere were many firsts in the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka: An incumbent president was defeated; parties specifically representing different races and religious groups —  the Jathika Hela Urumaya for the Sinhalese, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress along with the All Ceylon Muslim Congress — came together on a common political platform; corruption was a major issue in the pre-poll campaign; and now a specific timeframe has been set for reforms.

However, the most important responsibility of the new government will be settling the national question. While the country owes him a debt of gratitude for eliminating terrorism from the country, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa did nothing about the commitments he made in 2009 to ensure inclusive peace.

inclusive governanceAs a member of the Liberal Party, I urged Rajapaksa to implement the 13th Amendment, which created Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka, but met with no success. I understand that there could have been problems about some aspects of the amendment but those could have been resolved through discussions.

When we negotiated with the TNA, MA Sumanthiran and I found a solution to what had previously been considered the vexed question of powers over land. We met stakeholders, asked them about their apprehensions and assuaged those fears.

Unfortunately, two members of the government acted in bad faith, one even refusing to fulfil instructions the president gave us to act on what had been agreed with the TNA.

Reaching consensus on these matters is a priority and the new government should set a time table for this. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed because they allowed talks to drag on without any purpose.

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national reconciliation policyHaving gone through another spate of attacks on Sri Lanka and its government, I thought it would be helpful to set down systematically the charges that are made, and to suggest how we can best deal with them.

In the draft National Reconciliation Policy which was prepared in my office, we referred to three areas where action is needed. The first relates to what might be termed restorative justice, and is I believe the most important.

We have done reasonably well on that in ensuring swift resettlement and much better physical facilities than the areas concerned had previously. But we should do much more about human resource development. There is absolutely no reason not to move on this swiftly, and I fear it is only incompetence and lethargy that are stopping us. Remedying all that should be a priority.

The second area of concern is empowerment. Unfortunately that debate focuses on the balance of power between the Centre and Provinces. Differences there are difficult to resolve, but they should not inhibit movement with regard to empowerment of people rather than politicians. Allowing greater authority to local bodies while entrenching processes of consultation can be pursued swiftly, with no opposition by anyone. Similarly, we can immediately set up a second chamber which will affirm the role of the periphery in decision making at the Centre, since neglect of that has also contributed to problems.

The third area of concern relates to justice, and there too progress has been stymied by excessive concern with war crimes. We should make it clear that, by and large, the allegations are absurd, and the evidence for the general conformity of our forces to rules of engagement should be put forward. But we must also take action against any aberrations, as the LLRC has pointed out.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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