The level of impunity in the country has reached very serious proportions. The incident in which the Minister of Prison Management Lohan Ratwatte is alleged to have entered prison compounds and threatened Tamil prisoners with his gun and made them kneel down before him is an indictment of the state of the Rule of Law, the independence of institutions and the system of checks and balances in a democracy. So far the minister concerned has only resigned from his portfolio as Minister of Prison Management but not from his other ministerial portfolios.
Newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris gave a clear indication of the government’s intention to adopt a new approach to reconciliation when he met with several civil society members of the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC). The minister stated to us the government’s intention of dealing with national issues in a collective manner and invited civil society to be a partner in this endeavor. He appreciated the wide outreach of the NGOs present and the expertise they had gathered from long years of community level work which could be utilized in the government’s dialogue with the international community. Director General of the NGO Secretariat Mr Raja Gunaratne was also present on the occasion.
The untimely demise of Mangala Samaraweera is a grievous cause of sorrow to those who knew him and a great loss to those who shared his belief in a country in which there are equal rights to all. The late minister passionately believed in a Sri Lanka that was united and belonged to all in equal measure irrespective of ethnicity, religion, caste or gender.
The Cabinet of Ministers has directed the Legal Draftsman to draft legislation that would replace the existing legislation that covers NGOs. The cabinet note on this issue points to the different laws that civil society organisations may register under and seeks to bring them all under a unified system of oversight. It also gives the background of the Easter terror attack as requiring the new legislation which would ensure financial transparency and accountability. The National Peace Council finds it very concerning as the government has so far had no discussion with NGOs such as ours on these matters, or shared or made public the draft legislation that the Legal Draftsman will work on. The draft legislation has the potential to impact upon civil society independence and role as part of the system of democracy.
A group of civil society members under the umbrella of the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa together with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, President’s Secretary Dr P B Jayasundara and Foreign Secretary, Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage, at the Presidential Secretariat on August 3, 2021. The undersigned civil society members presented a memorandum that set out their hopes and concerns and welcomed the opportunity to engage with members of the government on topics of post-war reconciliation, minority rights, civil society space, and governance.
Several protests by different political parties and civil society groups on grievances facing different sectors of society have been broken up by the police. The latest was the breakup by police of a peaceful public protest by a civil society group including Joseph Stalin, head of the Ceylon Teachers Union. The protestors, including elderly women and religious clergy, were arrested by the police on grounds of violating Covid health guidelines. When the judge refused to send them to a distant COVID quarantine center, the police forcibly carried them off to be transported to an army camp in the North.
There is increased international scrutiny of Sri Lanka that is critical in nature and foretells sanctions to come. A country that was ahead of almost all others in Asia at the time of independence is almost at the bottom today in terms of economic prospects. All those who governed the country to date share the responsibility for this failure. Unless there is a strong will and genuine commitment to have a unified country with law that applies to all in equal measure to all we may not see positive development in the country.
Despite entering into the 3rd week of lockdown the infection and death rates in the country due to the Covid virus continue to remain high which has led to the extension of the lockdown. One of the significant tragedies of this pandemic which has been noted by professional medical associations is the disproportionate number of elderly persons who have died as a result of Covid infection. Over 73 percent of the deaths in Sri Lanka are of persons who are above 60 years of age according to the Sri Lanka Medical Council, while they are only 18 percent of the country’s population. This is on account of the failure to give priority in providing vaccination to the elderly population.
The 12th year of the end of the war will fall on May 18 and 19. May 18 is the day that the Tamil people in the North and East have selected to remember those who died in the course of the war, particularly in its last phase. May 19 is the day that the government celebrates its war victory. These two days have become symbolic of the continuing ethnic polarization within the country. The National Peace Council regrets that 12 years after the fighting ended on the battlefields of the North, the war continues in the minds of the people. Until there is collective remembrance of loss, there will continue to be a reinforcement of the separation through separate memorialisations.
The second year anniversary of the Easter bombings that primarily targeted Christian churches took place last month with the motivations and masterminds of the bombing still shrouded in mystery. Despite many inquiries that have been held during the terms of the previous and present governments, there continues to exist a dark cloud of unknowing which is leading to various speculations gaining ground, which add to the considerable mistrust in society. The government, religious organisations and donors have given considerable material support to the victims that has sustained them in different ways. However, their quest for truth and justice still remains unfulfilled.