Sri Lanka: Squandering The Peace

By Shrideep Biswas

More than a year after the decisive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the opportunities to deliver a peace dividend to all citizens, and of striking a dramatic new course to secure an equitable future for all communities have largely been lost to a polarized politics and the pursuit of personal political agendas. Nevertheless, the peace has held, and at least some of the more urgent aspects of post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation have been addressed with a modicum of efficiency.

Significantly, on May 15, 2010, President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed an eight member ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’, headed by former Attorney General Chitta Ranjan de Silva, examine the events of the period between February 2002 and May 2009. The specific mandate of the Commission covers the facts and circumstances that led to the failure of the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) operationalized on February 21, 2002, and the sequence of events that followed thereafter, up to the end of the war on May 19, 2009; whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard; the lessons that can be derived from these events and their attendant conditions, in order to ensure that there can be no recurrence; the methodology by which restitution to any person affected by those events, or their dependents or heirs could be affected; and the institutional, administrative and legislative measures that need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence in the future and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities. The Commission would make recommendations on these various aspects.

Meanwhile, residual issues of resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres still haunt the Government. By November 6, 2009, the Government had already re-settled 119,687 IDPs in their own villages, leaving exactly 143,534 IDPs to be resettled. By October 25, 2010, according to the Ministry of Resettlement, the total number of IDPs remaining to be resettled had dropped to 18,799 with the 17,641 people still in the Vavuniya relief villages and another 1,158 IDPs remaining in Jaffna. According to security sources, the remaining IDPs are to be resettled before the end of 2010, once the ongoing mine clearing process is completed. The Government has stressed that it would complete the re-settlement process on or before January 1, 2010. The Army has deployed 1,050 personnel expedite de-mining process, while over 2,000 de-miners from various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also involved in the process. The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) reported, on November 28, 2010, that it has managed to clear over 300,000 mines in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the country. Military Spokesman Major General Ubhaya Medawala told local media that the Army Field Engineers had so far cleared over 306,000 mines in a land area of 1,863 square kilometres in the North and East.

While the resettlement of IDPs is expected to be completed within a reasonable margin of time around the proposed deadline, the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres may prove somewhat more awkward. At the end of the war, over 11,000 LTTE cadres had surrendered, and the Government had promised that they would be rehabilitated ‘soon’. Less than half of these have, however, been rehabilitated at this juncture. On October 22, 2010, D.E.W. Gunasekara, Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister, stated that the Government had rehabilitated and released some 4,460 former LTTE cadres, including 304 females. The Government continued to screen refugees in military-run camps for LTTE militants, as it has remained apprehensive about the potential threat from diehard remnants of the LTTE.

Significantly, despite its decimation on the Sri Lankan soil, several foreign cells of the LTTE remain active and are striving desperately to form a ‘transnational Government’ for the Sri Lanka Tamils. Three broad groups are now assumed to be controlling the remaining pro-LTTE international factions: a US group said to be headed by V. Rudrakumaran; a UK group, controlled by Aruththanthai Emmanuel of the World Tamil Forum (WTF); and a Norway group under Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan.

In the meanwhile, the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected as the sixth Executive President of the country by a massive majority of over 1.8 million votes in the January 26 elections. Rajapakse polled a total of 6,015,934 votes, as against his closest rival Sarath Fonseka of the New Democratic Front (NDF), who polled 4,173,185 votes. Subsequently, on April 9, 2010, the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won a huge majority of nearly two-thirds in the 14th General Elections.

The presidential elections, however, gave rise to a vicious rivalry between Rajapakse and Fonseka, with the latter, instead of basking in the deserved glory of his victory over the LTTE, finding himself in jail after the Sri Lankan Military Police arrested him from his office on February 8, 2010, on charges of committing ‘military offences’. Fonseka was accused of plotting to assassinate the President and overthrow the Government in a coup. On August 13, a Court Martial, probing charges that the General dabbled in politics while in uniform, found him guilty and recommended a ‘dishonourable discharge from rank.’ On September 17, another Court Martial held Fonseka, guilty on all four counts in a case related to procurement of arms in violation of the tender procedures and recommended that he be jailed for three years. President Rajapaksa approved the prison sentence given by the second court martial against Fonseka. Fonseka also lost his seat in Parliament in accordance with an ordinance which states that if a member is jailed, he loses his seat immediately. These actions amounted to nothing less than a political witch-hunt, initiated by the President after Fonseka decided to challenge him electorally.

Conspicuously, after the military victory of May 2009, Rajapakse had asserted that he could look for a ‘final solution’ on the Tamil issue only after he had secured a new mandate as the President, and a 2/3rd majority in Parliament, which would enable amendments to the Constitution, which would be vital to implement any significant proposal. While the Presidential election fulfilled his first condition, his party’s share in Parliament, combined with the support of the coalition of Sri Lanka’s Tamil parties, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), provides him the required 2/3rd majority as well. The final report of the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC), constituted by President Rajapakse on July 11, 2006, under the Chairmanship of Professor Tissa Vitharana to formulate a draft proposal for Constitutional reform, also provides the necessary direction for reform. The APRC report, submitted on July 19, 2010, includes the following salient recommendations:

  • A Unitary structure for the Republic with power shared between the centre and the Provinces. Adoption of a Parliamentary form of Government at the Centre.
  • Granting of foremost place to the Buddhist religion.
  • To accord the status of national language to both Sinhala and Tamil, while reserving the use of English for official purposes.
  • Recognition of supremacy of the Constitution and its protection by a Constitutional Court.
  • Securing in-built mechanisms to check secessionist tendencies.
  • A mixed electoral system, combining features of the first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems.
  • A three-tiered distribution of power (Central, Provincial and Local Governments).
  • Creation of a Senate.
  • Creation of two community councils (One for Indian Tamils and the other for Sri Lankan Muslims)
  • Creation of a Higher Appointment Council for State Services and the Judiciary.
  • Retaining the substances of articles 82 (5) and 83, which concern amendments to the Constitution. 82 (5) requires any amendment of the Constitution to be passed by two-thirds of all members (including those not present); while Article 83 provides for approval of certain bills by a Referendum.

The TNA has repeatedly expressed its desire to hold discussions on power sharing with the re-elected President Rajapakse, declaring that it is not opposed to supporting an ‘acceptable proposal’ for a ‘lasting solution’ to the ethnic issue. Apart from the TNA, the Tamil Parties Forum (TPPF) consisting of 10 anti-LTTE Tamil parties (all of them of moderate political persuasion and most of them members or supporters of the Rajapakse administration) have been forwarding a set of moderate demands, such as improved resettlement and compensation for war victims, inter alia.

Regrettably, the Rajapakse Government has so far refrained from displaying any enthusiasm for these overtures, much to the dismay of the TNA and TPPF. On November 26, 2010, however, a 16-member delegation of the TPPF was able to secure an appointment with the President to discuss aspects of post-conflict reconciliation.

Rajapakse’s principal preoccupation in the post-conflict phase, regrettably, has been the consolidation of his own power, and the silencing of any voices of opposition in the country. Unsurprisingly, on September 8, 2010, Parliament approved the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, giving more powers to the President. According to the Amendment, a President, if elected, can serve any number of terms; previously a President could serve a maximum of two six-year terms. The Amendment, further, gives absolute control and power to the President over appointments to some of the most important posts in the country, including several key Commissions and posts such as the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police, among others. Meanwhile, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which empowered the Election Commission to prevent the use of state resources by candidates or parties during elections, has been repealed. These Amendments are being interpreted by political analysts as a move leading to further consolidation of dynastic rule, and the undermining of democracy in the Island nation. Shortly thereafter, on November 13, the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government appointed a four-member Committee headed by former Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickremenayake to formulate the policy decisions for the next (19th) Amendment to the Constitution. According to reports, the 19th Amendment, like the 18th, is expected to consist of two principal components: the first would do away with the present proportional representation (PR) system and replace it with a hybrid of PR and first-past-the-post systems; the second part would introduce changes to the 13th Amendment, and thus to the provincial council system

There is also evidence of a continued trend to militarization, despite the decimation of the threat from the LTTE. Beginning the first stage of Budget 2011, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne thus presented the Appropriation Bill in Parliament on October 19, 2010, with highest allocation to the Defence Ministry, at SLR 215,220 million. In comparison, SLR 75,250 million has been allocated to the Economic Development Ministry.

Sri Lanka continues, moreover, to be haunted by the specter of war crimes allegations during the final stages of the conflict with the LTTE, and a sustained international campaign has been directed against President Rajapakse and the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SLSFs). On January 7, 2010, a United Nations Human Rights expert claimed that an execution video depicting alleged execution of Tamil prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers was authentic, and called for an inquiry into possible war crimes during the final stages of the conflict. On December 13, 2009, former Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, had accused the Defense Secretary Gothabhya Rajapakse of giving orders to Major General Shavendra Silva, then-commander of the 58th Division of the Army operating in the Northern Province, to kill all the LTTE cadres wanting to surrender with ‘white flags’. However, on November 15, 2010, testifying on the controversial ‘white flag’ case, General Silva told a court that military Forces did not shoot at anybody who wanted to surrender. However, the Doha (Qatar) based international news channel Al Jazeera, on November 10, 2010, telecast a report on alleged war crimes committed on Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan SFs, renewing international concerns and pressure. The Rajapakse Government has, however, out rightly rejected the report, accusing the news channel of attempting to tarnish the image of country’s Army, but has also rejected all calls for a probe by any international agency into war crimes allegations and has refused to allow a United Nations panel of experts entry into Sri Lanka,

Sri Lanka continues to operate under a State of Emergency [Parliament approved the extension of the Emergency by another month on November 9, 2010] nearly a year and a half after the end of the conflict, and with no significant incidents of terrorism or manifest threat to security on its soil. While the Government’s achievements in rehabilitation of IDPs, and even of surrendered LTTE cadre, have been significant, political grievances continue to rankle, and are, indeed, being compounded by a partisan approach that seeks, overwhelmingly, nothing more than the consolidation of the President’s power and support base. Despite a clear mandate, the President has not brought the country any closer to the fulfillment of his earlier promise, and a lasting resolution of the ethnic issue. The President can, of course, afford to ride roughshod over the political opposition on the weight of his victories against the LTTE and in the elections, without fear of violent reaction in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, his manifest reluctance to engage directly with all parties, and to evolve a political of accommodation and conciliation, augurs poorly for Sri Lanka’s political future. {jcomments on}

Shrideep Biswas, Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


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SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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