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.
IMMEDIATE DETERRENT ACTION NEEDED TO ERADICATE INTER-COMMUNITY VIOLENCE
After a two year lull that followed replacement of the former government through the electoral process, public manifestations of inter community tension have increased in recent months. There are indications of political maneuvering behind these efforts to disturb the peace in the country and to bring ethno-religious nationalism to the fore. Video footages of religious clergy engaging in vitriolic attacks on those of other ethnic and religious groups have gone viral on the social media. Ethno nationalist organizations have been engaging in hate campaigns and intimidating those of other communities at the local level. Most notably in the North and East, there are clashes being reported on inter religious grounds. There are many incidents of religious clergy getting involved in expansionist projects, such as religious conversions, destruction of ancient sites or building places of worship in areas where they are less numerous
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.