End of Vi­o­lence

There are many ques­tion marks in post-civil war Sri Lanka.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Al­mas Jawaid

In the past, many EU mem­ber states have strug­gled with ar­du­ous hu­man rights chal­lenges and have ex­panded the scope of hu­man rights with re­spect to in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted stan­dards. In Sri Lanka, there have been sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments since the end of the con­flict based on re­set­tle­ment and phys­i­cal re­con­struc­tion.

His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, dur­ing Sinhala na­tion­al­ism anti- Tamil ri­ots left sev­eral hun­dreds of peo­ple killed and thou­sands of Tamils dis­placed. Amidst eth­nic ten­sions, fur­ther an­tag­o­niz­ing the peo­ple in Tamil ma­jor­ity ar­eas, re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the LTTE. The then gov­ern­ment signed ac­cords to cre­ate new coun­cils for ad­dress­ing Tamil griev­ances in the north and east and reached an agree­ment with In­dia on de­ploy­ment of In­dian peace­keep­ing forces. The left- wing and na­tion­al­ist Sin­halese fought tooth and nail to op­pose this in­ter­ven­tion and cam­paigned against the Indo- Sri Lankan agree­ment. As a re­sult, In­dian troops in­flicted a ma­jor de­feat and left the coun­try, only to fur­ther spark vi­o­lence be­tween Sri Lankan army and sep­a­ratists. The sit­u­a­tion fur­ther ag­gra­vated when thou­sands of Mus­lims were ex­pelled from the north­ern ar­eas by the LTTE. Eth­nic cleans­ing of Sin­halese and Mus­lim in­hab­i­tants from ar­eas un­der its con­trol and us­ing vi­o­lence against those who re­fused to leave was a gen­eral prac­tice by the Tamil Tiger

rebels.

Amidst war and diplo­macy, pledg­ing to end the war failed and the LTTE con­ducted sev­eral sui­cide bomb blasts which re­sulted in the deaths of hun­dreds of com­mon and high pro­file po­lit­i­cal fig­ures.

Although, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa earned a feather in his cap for end­ing Sri Lanka's 27 year civil war with a crush­ing victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, his crit­ics saw too many un­ad­dressed is­sues, linked to gov­er­nance and eco­nomic dis­par­ity. His gov­ern­ment be­came un­pop­u­lar in Sri Lankan civil so­ci­ety and was ac­cused of nepo­tism, per­se­cu­tion of po­lit­i­cal ri­vals and mi­nori­ties such as Tamils and Mus­lims. Dur­ing his ten­ure, he ig­nored the pros­e­cu­tion of war crim­i­nals de­spite a UN res­o­lu­tion backed by the U. S. to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of war crimes. Th­ese were the is­sues that Maithri­pala Sirisena cam­paigned around, cou­pled with good gov­er­nance and anti- cor­rup­tion. He strate­gized for con­sti­tu­tional re­forms, in­clud­ing abol­ish­ing the coun­try's ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial sys­tem and rein­tro­duc­ing a par­lia­men­tary sys­tem.

The for­mer Pres­i­dent, in his decade-long regime, had re­moved the two- term limit on the pres­i­dency and had ac­cu­mu­lated more pow­ers over and above the ju­di­ciary that al­lowed him to con­test for a third term. This cre­ation of mo­nop­oly to gain po­lit­i­cal power re­sulted in in­creased po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, for which elec­toral re­form was manda­tory. When Srisena was sworn in as Pres­i­dent, his gov­ern­ment en­sured that the rule of law was up­held. In line with propos­ing amend­ments to ex­ist­ing laws, the 19th amend­ment to the Sri Lankan con­sti­tu­tion seeks restora­tion of pow­ers to the ju­di­ciary and in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sions; and to put a two- term cap on the Pres­i­dency. This may largely be con­sis­tent with the ex­ist­ing con­sti­tu­tion and is not a clause that is cre­at­ing a vi­o­la­tion in al­low­ing the cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter to strip at least some of the pow­ers of the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent. Thus, the very vi­o­la­tion of some of the ba­sic fea­tures of the Con­sti­tu­tion is sub­ject to a ref­er­en­dum. On the other hand, the mi­nor­ity Tamil and Mus­lim par­ties favour the cur­rent pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) sys­tem which al­lows them to elect mem­bers to the par­lia­ment and best serve the in­ter­ests of the mi­nor­ity par­ties.

Sri Lanka's Tamil mi­nor­ity im­pa­tiently awaits jus­tice as the post-civil war rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process drags on, with lit­tle or no unity among eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties. The gov­ern­ment’s prom­ises to re­lease de­tainees and give land back to fam­i­lies who were forced to flee have not been car­ried out. Like­wise, the need for repa­ra­tions for vic­tims of con­flict-re­lated sex­ual vi­o­lence in Sri Lanka is long over­due. Pre­ven­tion ef­forts will not suc­ceed un­less they are de­signed in con­sul­ta­tion with the peo­ple they are meant to as­sist.

To­day, a half decade af­ter the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is at a cru­cial stage in its ef­forts to­wards a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. The risks of a failed peace are ap­pear­ing be­cause, since 2009, when the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels ended in an enor­mous spell of vi­o­lence, the gov­ern­ment led by the for­mer Pres­i­dent made only half­hearted of ef­forts for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Tamil cit­i­zens. Whilst pro­tect­ing the coun­try's main reli­gion, Bud­dhism, safe­guard­ing the rights and free­dom of Mus­lims, Hin­dus, and Catholics in prac­tic­ing their reli­gion and cre­at­ing con­sen­sus among them is fore­most in re­con­struct­ing the coun­try. That said, re­con­struc­tion of the war-rav­aged Tamil dis­tricts, as well as other parts of Sri Lanka dam­aged by years of ter­ror­ism, has barely be­gun.

Pres­i­dent Srisena stunned the world by cre­at­ing a win­ning coali­tion of Sri Lankans of all faiths and eth­nic­i­ties, who want to rebuild democ­racy, by not fol­low­ing the path of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. Prior to this, it was a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy by the for­mer Pres­i­dent to veil Sri Lanka on a semi-war foot­ing and alien­ate Tamil cit­i­zens as the most ef­fec­tive way to main­tain his iron-fisted rule. His au­thor­i­tar­ian brand of gov­er­nance worked for a while but it could not hide the re­al­ity of the coun­try’s so­cial di­vi­sions and con­tin­u­ing im­pov­er­ish­ment.

Ev­i­dently, in the months since Sirisena’s tri­umph, Sri Lankan democ­racy has been re­vived and ef­forts for build­ing a durable do­mes­tic peace have be­gun. Keep­ing up with the cur­rent pace, the Par­lia­men­tary elec­tion will take place one year ahead of sched­ule, in or­der to re­place Ra­japaksa’s echo cham­ber with a fully func­tion­ing as­sem­bly - one that holds the gov­ern­ment to ac­count!

The gov­ern­ment con­sen­sus is to avoid a re­lapse to con­flict and to en­sure that Sri Lanka’s lead­ers are held accountable through rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­sti­tu­tions. Too much of the coun­try’s wealth has been dam­aged by war, or been drawn off through cor­rup­tion. With­out as­sis­tance from the out­side world, it is in­evitable to un­der­take the great task of re­build­ing the coun­try and re­set­ting its strate­gic po­si­tion in the world.

Sri Lanka’s strate­gic de­pen­dence on In­dia for its in­ter­ven­tion in solv­ing eth­nic is­sues will not pro­tect the coun­try from Tamil sep­a­ratism and is not favourable for both the coun­tries. Be­cause the Sin­halese ma­jor­ity in Sri Lanka per­ceives In­dia’s in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing Tamil Nadu which is of one of its con­stituent states and not mere me­di­at­ing eth­nic is­sues in Lanka, there will be a back­lash when­ever In­dia takes an ac­tive in­ter­est in the eth­nic is­sue. It be­hooves the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, there­fore, to en­sure that the pledges of Sri Lanka’s new gov­ern­ment are up­held in let­ter and spirit.

The writer is an HR pro­fes­sional and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor. She writes on so­cial and cul­tural is­sues.

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