RESTORING NORMALCY IS A PRIORITY
The importance of restoring normalcy to the North has become evident in the aftermath of the fatal shooting incident involving two university students. The students were shot by police when they failed to stop at a police check point in the early hours of the morning. Students and businesses in Jaffna have been engaging in public protests. There are suspicions voiced in the North that this was a planned incident to deliberately create tensions which would justify a continued strong military presence. In a context in which the North (and East) of the country continue to remain militarized, with large contingents of military personnel in the two provinces, such incidents are also bound to be seen in ethnic terms and therefore contribute to a spiral of negative sentiment.
HEED THE VOICE FROM THE NORTH AND ANSWER ALLEGATIONS
The protest march and mass rally organized by the Tamil People’s Council in Jaffna has been criticized by the government and generated misgivings in the rest of the polity. The TNA, which is the main Tamil party in North has disavowed the protest. It has said that launching a protest march like Eluga Thamil (Rise Up Tamils!) is not beneficial to the Tamil people at this time when discussions are being conducted for a new constitution. On the other hand, the protest has the support of Tamil parties and groups that are outside of the present constitutional talks and other government-led reconciliation processes. The large number of people who attended the rally, estimated to be 10-15,000 indicates a substantial degree of public participation and support for the protest.
OMP IS A PART OF A LARGER PROCESS OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE
The passage of the Office of Missing Persons bill (OMP), albeit in controversial circumstances in Parliament, augers well for the forward movement of the reconciliation process. The National Peace Council welcomes the new law, and the legal foundation of the first of the four transitional justice mechanisms that the government has pledged to establish. We are disappointed that the Joint Opposition members failed to cooperate with the parliamentary process, and refused to debate the new law according to the agreed schedule in parliament. It was unfortunate that those who were human rights champions in the 1980 and 1990s, and widely admired for this, displayed their opposition to OMP by word and deed.
STUDENT CLASHES REQUIRE CONFLICT SENSITIVE APPROACH TO BE CONTAINED
The student clash between Tamil and Sinhalese at the University of Jaffna has received wide attention within the country. There have been concerns expressed about a return to extremism. Social media comments show ethnic polarization. However, the proximate reason for the clash was demand by the Sinhalese students that their cultural markers be included in a student cultural event to welcome an incoming batch of students and the unscheduled inclusion of a Kandyan dance troupe in welcoming the students. We note that Jaffna University academics and the Tamil National Alliance have condemned the incident and pledged their commitment to keeping the universities as multi-cultural spaces and urged the Sinhalese students to return.
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.