The ongoing sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, has seen heightened public interest and escalating rhetoric with regard to both the state reforms and reconciliation processes. The Joint Opposition (JO), basically the political grouping supporting defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been ratcheting up its anti-reform and anti-reconciliation rhetoric in to overdrive. The political heat generated though creates more confusion rather than throwing light on the relevant facts, which should be considered with due seriousness and careful consideration.
The foreign (and indeed domestic) policy approach of the National Unity Government formed in 2015, is at considerable variance with that followed by its predecessor. Indeed, it should be so, since the Rajapaksa approach, post the end of the war, failed to maintain our international friends, all of whom had supported Sri Lanka’s battle against the LTTE, isolated Sri Lanka, damaged our relations with trading partners and resulted in a growing self-imposed isolation from the world. Rather than building bridges and engaging the world, which is what is required for a strategically placed, island nation.
Co-sponsoring the resolution in Geneva, was and is the right thing to do, as it clearly states to the world, that Sri Lanka as a sovereign state, takes responsibility for its own actions and is ready to be accountable for compliance with its international obligations, as a free and equal member of the international community of nations.
Our robust engagement with the world, enhances and promote rather than detracts from our national interest. Our national interests, whether security, economic or socio-cultural are not served by becoming a pariah state.
Much ado about foreign judges
The Joint Opposition of the defeated Rajapaksa regime, makes much ado and seeks to create some hysteria about the sections of the resolution which talk of foreign participation in accountability processes including judges, prosecutors etc. However, it must be noted that it was the very act of the Rajapaksa regime in summarily sacking former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and imposing an interloper at the apex of Sri Lanka’s judiciary, which severely eroded international and indeed domestic confidence in Sri Lanka’s judiciary, the Bar Association leading the opposition to the impugned removal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake.
The restoration of the independence of the judiciary, best symbolized by the restoration of Chief Justice Bandaranayake after the 2015 Presidential election, was the first step in restoring confidence in Sri Lanka’s judiciary.
Firstly, it was the Rajapaksa administration which introduced foreign jurists into Sri Lanka’s transitional justice mechanisms, when President Rajapaksa’s Special Presidential Commission on Grave Human Rights Abuses also comprised of the International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP) led by former Indian Chief Justice Bhagwatti and aided by foreign legal experts in prosecutions and forensics. Moreover, the subsequent Rajapaksa administration creation of the Paranagama Commission was also assisted by a foreign judge and lawyers.
Moreover, all Sri Lankans are no doubt proud that eminent Sri Lankan judges serve on both foreign national judiciaries and international legal tribunals, late Justice Weeramantry being the best-known example. But other Sri Lankan judges have also served in Fiji, Botswana and several other countries.
Secondly, the UNHRC Resolution categorically states that the accountability process and the institutions or mechanisms created would be a domestic (Sri Lankan) process. Clearly a Sri Lankan process, would be Sri Lankan led and managed with such expertise, assistance and support as required to ensure, a credible process, whose outcome everybody can trust.
Focus on reconciliation
The real problem with the current tone, tenor and content of the political debate, especially as defined by the Joint Opposition (JO) is that it completely ignores the reality and the national need for what President Sirisena has frequently defined as “Sanhindiyawa” or reconciliation, which is dealing with the effects and the causes of our near three decades of civil conflict. Which Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, so aptly refers to as “addressing the failures of dealing with our diversity”, which has cost our nation dearly. We owe it to our future generations of Sri Lankans that we do not bequeath them a nation, which is ethnically polarized, with simmering communal tensions and a sub optimal economy, where the national past time of the young and not so young, including mothers, is to leave the country.
Sri Lanka like any other country requires reform and the National Unity Administration of President Sirisena and Prime Minster Wickramasinghe was elected on a platform of reform, economic development and reconciliation.
The quick, easy wins in that process was achieved during the one hundred (100) day programme in 2015. Much of the ground work for the harder more substantial measures on reforms, economic development and reconciliation was done last year in 2016 and the current year should be the one which sees some of the fruition of those efforts. To oppose such reforms due to focusing on mid-term Local Government and Provincial elections is extremely short sighted and definitely not in the national interest.
A political opposition in a democratic society does have a crucial role to play as a watch dog and a constructive critic, holding a government accountable. However, the current political rhetoric and the consequent social tensions generated are more polarizing and divisive than constructive. A national reform process, must indeed be inclusive and this includes not only the majority monoethnic JO but also accommodate and include the ethnic minority and other smaller parties, to ensure that the reformed institutions of the Sri Lankan state, accommodates the full diversity of our nation’s multi ethnic and multi religious society.