Saturday, 11 September 2021 05:30

Statement on the Promise of a Fresh Approach to Resolving National Issues by the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus 10.09 2021

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 members present handed over a memorandum to the minister which, among other things, stated that our group did not claim to represent the larger civil society and see ourselves as a group of individuals drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia and non-governmental organizations who are committed to a Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice.

In our memorandum, we brought the following issues to the attention of the Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Change on the ground: The changes on the ground that our previous meetings and proposals have called for need to be actualized sooner rather than later in order to strengthen the bonds of trust that we seek to build with the government and with the larger civil society. The promulgation of a state of emergency and the approval by the cabinet of NGO legislation to be drafted by the Legal Draftsman soon after our meetings are contrary to our expectations in this regard.

NGO legislation: The sudden presentation of a concept note on NGO regulation a week after our meeting with HE the President and three weeks after the meeting with the Hon Foreign Minister and Hon Minister of Justice, was approved by the Cabinet for submission to the Legal Draftsman despite being neither transparent nor consultative with civil society. We have been informed unofficially that this process will not be rushed and NGOs will be consulted and ask for an official statement in this regard.

Ill treatment of NGOs: Surveillance and questioning of NGO workers, the unannounced entry into their office premises by government officials to conduct spot checks and the location of the NGO Secretariat within the Ministry of Defence creates a negative psychology amongst state officials and civil society that they are threats to one another. NGOs are a part and parcel of democratic governance and contribute to the people’s wellbeing especially in this time of Covid-19 pandemic in providing community health education, food relief and protective equipment to needy sections of the population.

Prevention of Terrorism Act: Until the promised amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, to cease using this law to detain people and to expedite the release of those taken into custody under its draconian provisions either on bail or totally where there is no legally valid evidence to justify their continued detention especially when they have not even been charged. This applies to both long term LTTE prisoners and more recent Muslim prisoners with only a peripheral relation to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Provincial Councils: Improve the implementation of the 13th Amendment and expedite the holding of provincial council elections so that the ethnic minorities may enjoy a measure of self-governance in the areas where they predominate.

Dispossession of land: The continuing dispossession of land of Tamil and Muslim farmer in the North and East by the members of the ethnic majority despite the fact that cases are pending in the Court of Appeal and High Court of Batticaloa. The continuing use of archaeology, even by teams led by the Governor of the Eastern Province during the Covid pandemic period to find alleged evidence of Anuradhapura period symbols in Thoppigala. Such evaluations during the pandemic itself generates mistrust.

Reduction in Tamil presence: Reduction in Tamil speaking officers in the North and East and non-use of the Tamil language in the administration of areas in which the Tamil speaking people live, especially in the East and Hills.

Hate speech and misuse of ICCPR Act: Sections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been incorporated into national law. But instead of being used to protect those from minority communities who are abused, the law has been used to prosecute them and needs to be amended.

Non-inclusion of minorities in national events: There is a feeling among members of minority communities that they are marginalized or ignored at national events. The national anthem was not sung in Tamil and the president’s speeches are most often in Sinhala only.

Targeting of Minorities: The issue of Muslims being targeted continues to fester in proposed legislation regarding personal law, the continuing refusal to permit burial of Covid victims except in a single designated location and the imprisonment without trial of large number of Muslim persons following the Easter bombings. All communities need to feel that they have been fairly consulted and treated without discrimination for national reconciliation to become a reality.

The Minister pledged to address the issues raised by discussing them within the government. He cautioned against having unrealistic goals and expecting immediate results. He also pointed out that the issue of reconciliation was an emotive one and that the government had its own constituencies to accommodate.

Prior to our meeting with the new Foreign Minister, we had had met separately with Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof Jayanath Colombage, Hon. Namal Rajapaksha Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena Foreign Minister, Hon Ali Sabry Minister of Justice and Hon. Tharaka Balasuriya State Minister of Regional Co-operation, His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Hon. Basil Rajapaksa Minister of Finance. These meetings were also constructive and conducted in a spirit of openness which gives us hope that a new direction is indeed being charted by the government. However, we note that our meetings have not yielded any visible change on the ground as yet and we await the results that are a positive outcome of our discussions, so that we could tell the world that change is here.

Signed

Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana Prof. T. Jayasingam

Rev. Asiri Perera (Retired President/Bishop) Prof. Tudor Silva

Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar Mr. Hilmy Ahamed

Mr. Rohana Hettiarachchi Mr. V. Kamaladhas

Dr. Joe William Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Dr. Dayani Panagoda Ms. Sarah Arumugam

Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa Dr. Jehan Perera

Mr. Javid Yusuf Mr. Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna 

The Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus is a group of individuals drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia, and non-governmental organisations. They are committed to a Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights, and justice.