NEW HOPE THAT GOVERNMENT WILL DELIVER ON HUMAN RIGHTS PROMISES
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has finally been signed into law by President Maithripala Sirisena. The National Peace Council welcomes this action which has the potential to restore civil society faith in the government. We see a sign of a new beginning that will bring relief to victims and be the start of the healing process that Sri Lanka needs to engage in. The gazetting of the OMP law and its allocation to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation comes ten months after the law was first past in Parliament in August 2016. The long delay in moving towards operationalizing the law has been extremely painful to all who have been victims and have lost their loved ones during the war, and even after the war. It has also led to pessimism and cynicism amongst those who wish to see justice being done and the wounds of war being healed.
ALL MUST STAND TOGETHER AGAINST RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
A multiplicity of racist attacks are erupting in different parts of the country and affecting different ethnic and religious communities. The widespread and systematic attacks against members of the Muslim community are insidious and low profile. They are individual attacks on commercial establishments and mosques that are sometimes reported in the media and sometimes not. It appears that this is a testing ground where extremist groups are testing the space for racism. Violent extremists pose a security threat; it is naturally, yet not exclusively, the responsibility of the government to respond to ensure the safety of all its citizens. This involves the mobilization of law enforcement agencies to enable the state to tackle the root causes of violent extremism, to create societal buy-in across diverse stakeholders toward a common goal, and to demonstrate the respect for both the rule of law and equality of all citizens. The danger is that left unchecked by deterrent governmental action they will lead to a buildup and erupt in an unpredictable way.
CONCERTED EFFORT NEEDED TO PROTECT MUSLIMS FROM VIOLENCE
An alarming number of attacks against Muslim religious places of worship and businesses are being reported countrywide causing economic ruin to many people, hurting their religious sentiment and bringing them dismay and leaving the entire community in fear of life and security. The worsening trend has been going on for several years and has a pattern of repeating after a short lull. It has intensified since April this year with over 20 attacks or attempted attacks being reported from different parts of the country in the past two months. So far no one has been arrested by the police for these crimes. Also, the government has so far failed to take steps to arrest this trend which has been acknowledged by the Minister of Law and Order in Parliament. This is an escalation of the longer-term trend that included the torching of a section of a town in the South of Sri Lanka (Aluthgama) in 2014 in which Muslims live in large numbers.
The court injunction against a commemoration in Mullivaikkal in the North of those who lost their loved ones in the last battle of the war on May 18 highlights a problem that needs resolution. In the South the government commemorated the security forces personnel who lost their lives in the war. The police sought the court order to block the commemorative event organized by a civil society group led by Fr Elil Rajendram that sought to memorialize those who lost their lives in the last battle of the war by placing stones with the names of those who lost their lives. At present the Mullivaikkal area, where the last battle of the war was fought, is without any monument to remember those who died there.
One of Sri Lanka’s most prominent advocates on behalf o missing persons, Sandya Ekneligoda, has received international recognition by being awarded the International ‘Women of Courage’ award, presented by the U.S State Department. The International Women of Courage Award is an American award presented annually to women around the world who have shown courage and leadership, while advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment at personal risk.
STRENGTHENING CREDIBILITY REQUIRES TIME LINE FOR IMPLEMENTING COMMITMENTS
The ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is generating strong hopes and emotions especially in the former war zones of the north and east of the country and amongst the Tamil Diaspora. Many of the people living there have been direct victims of the war that lasted nearly three decades. They look to the process unfolding in Geneva to obtain justice for themselves and for their kin. They are hopeful that international intervention will resolve their problems and bring justice to them. There is much dissatisfaction about the present situation where progress in finding missing persons, return of land, compensation to victims and demilitarization have been slow in coming.
RELIGIOUS CLERGY TAKE UP CHALLENGE OF PROMOTING INTER ETHNIC RECONCILIATION
In the backdrop of imminent constitutional reforms possibly leading a referendum, religious clergy and civil society activists from across the country urged the government to take concrete steps to ensure that peace and reconciliation were established in post war Sri Lanka. The leaders handed over a six-point resolution to the Minister of National Co-existence Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Kumaratunge and Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms Mano Tittawella at a national symposium organised by the National Peace Council (NPC). More than 360 persons participated in the symposium.
PROTECTION OF MINORITY RIGHTS MUST INCLUDE SEXUAL MINORITIES
As an organization that believes in equality for all and non-discrimination, the National Peace Council views the recent decision of the government not to proceed with legal reform that decriminalizes homosexuality as both disappointing and a setback to a culture of protecting minority rights in general. The presence of archaic laws does not reflect positively on either the Sri Lankan legislature or on the cultural enlightenment and tolerance of the population at large.
GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO CAMPAIGN HARDER FOR RECONCILIATION
There is growing scepticism both locally and internationally about the government’s commitment to deliver on the promises regarding the reconciliation process that it made during the last elections. These concerns have surfaced with the initial governmental response to the report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms appointed by the Prime Minister. Some government members have publicly criticized the report. The Task Force report is one that is victim-centered and would also go a considerable part of the distance to meet the expectations of the international community and those who believe in international standards when it comes to matters of human rights.
NEED TO REFORM STATE INSTITUTIONS TO ENSURE JUSTICE TO ALL IN THE NEW YEAR
The need for the reform of state institutions to suit post-war conditions has become highlighted by a pattern of recent incidents. During the past year the rise of inter-religious tensions particularly in the North and East was marked, with an increase in hate speech, acts of physical violence and illegal constructions. Those who engaged in such acts did so as if they enjoy impunity which is not in the interest of national reconciliation and ethnic harmony. The responsibility of the government is to ensure that the Rule of Law is applied at all times whether it concerns those who occupy positions of religious or secular leadership. The police need to be trained to be pluralist and secular in their outlook and to take action whoever may break the law. The National Peace Council calls for all state institutions to be reformed to be in consonance with the requirements of a post-war multi ethnic and multi religious society.