EXPANDED PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT ON REFORM PROCESS IS NECESSARY
Sri Lanka is on the agenda for discussion at the ongoing 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be submitting a report on Sri Lanka’s implementation of the resolution of the 30th session in October 2015, which was co-sponsored by the Sri Lankan government. The government is currently in the process of establishing the transitional justice mechanisms it agreed to at the October 2015 session. As a first public step, the draft legislation for an Office of Missing Persons has been released.
CREDIBILITY OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE MECHANISMS IS ESSENTIAL
Among the festering wounds of Sri Lanka’s protracted war that came to its bitter end 7 years ago is the fate of at least 20,000 persons who went missing and whose names have been registered with the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Commission) which was established in August 2013. The Cabinet of Ministers has approved draft legislation to establish an Office of Missing Persons, which is intended to expedite the search for missing persons and bring closure to their loved ones. It also ratified the Convention against Enforced Disappearance as promised at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2015 in Geneva.
CITIZENS PEACE AWARD TO LATE VEN. MADULUWAWE SOBITHA
The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka is awarding its annual Citizens Peace Prize for 2015 posthumously to the Most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayake Thero for his fearless approach to minority rights and inter-religious coexistence, and for providing skillful leadership in promoting humane values and democratic governance. At the time of passing away he had become a truly spiritual leader, seeking nothing for himself, but seeking everything for the people, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE MESSAGE NEEDS TO BE BETTER COMMUNICATED TO PEOPLE
As befits a democratic government that governs with the consent of the people, the government has launched two major public consultation processes. The first of these public consultations organized by the government was with regard to the constitutional reform process and ended on March 15. The second major public consultation process initiated by the government is led by the National Consultation Task Force comprising civil society members. Their endeavour at the present time is to bring in more civil society groups into the consultation process.
THE INDEPENDENCE DAY BOOST TO NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
The singing of the national anthem in Tamil that marked the end of the Independence Day celebration was a strong gesture of reconciliation by the government. It was one of the most significant actions taken to lessen the sense of alienation of the Tamil speaking people and make them feel a sense of equal belonging to the national polity. It will also reignite hope and confidence that the government will stay true to its mission of healing the wounds of many decades of inter-ethnic strife and war. The issue of language has long been an emotive and divisive one. The boycott of the Independence Day events by the opposition and the government’s mixed messages on the implementation of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council were indications of the pressures that exist within the polity.
ALL MANIFESTATIONS OF HATE SPEECH MUST BE BANNED BY LAW
The sudden display of “Sinha le” posters and stickers in public places, private motor vehicles including buses and three wheelers, and on social media, gives the appearance of being part of an organized political campaign that seeks to exploit nationalist emotions. The term “Sinhale” was used during the period of Western colonial invasion that began in the 16th century to represent that part of the country that remained free of colonial rule. However, today it being given the meaning of “Sinhala blood” by being broken into two parts as “Sinha Le” with the second part being depicted in red. While the word “Sinhale” is part of the country’s historical tradition, its current usage through posters, sticker, social media and on properties of ethnic and religious minorities is a form of severe intimidation to them. When these words are spray painted on their properties it constitutes hate speech which is prohibited in international law to which Sri Lanka is signatory.
PRESIDENT’S PARDON SETS TONE FOR SPIRIT OF TRANSITION PROCESS
President Maithripala Sirisena gave concrete expression to his ideals of healing Sri Lanka’s post war wounds when he utilized his presidential powers to pardon a former member of the LTTE Sivarajah Jeneevan who had been convicted and imprisoned for having attempted to assassinate him in 2005 when he was Minister of Mahaweli Development. This symbolic and healing gesture coincided with the first year anniversary of his becoming President.
FACTIONAL INFIGHTING CAN UNDERMINE POLITICAL SOLUTION
The government has declared its intention of prioritizing constitutional reform in the New Year. Parliament is to be converted into a Constituent Assembly (parliamentary committee) that will deliberate on issues pertaining to a new constitution. The government has also appointed a 24 member committee drawn from political and civil society leaders to obtain the views of the people and feed them back to the parliamentary committee. The promise to amend the constitution was made by government leaders at both the last presidential and general elections that took place in January and August of this year. Their main pledge was to abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system from one based on proportional representation to a mixed system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting in which parliamentary seats would be apportioned in proportion to the total number of votes obtained by each of the political parties. There is a general consensus in society about the need to reduce the power of individuals elected to power and to ensure their accountability.