Sunday, 10 July 2016 17:44

NPC Submits Proposals To Consultation Task Force

Through its work at the grass roots level, NPC was able to gather opinions from religious and community leaders, civil society and the public on what sort of transitional justice mechanisms they felt would be best for Sri Lanka to adopt in its quest for reconciliation and a lasting peace.

These views, along with NPC’s own analysis, were compiled and presented to the Consultation Task Force on Truth Seeking and Institutional Reform.

Truth Seeking: An option for the government would be to consider the establishment of a Truth Seeking Commission with a mandate to look into the entire phase of armed conflict. Unlike the South African version, the government has stated that its variant will not be for the purpose of amnesty, but rather to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims. If the commission has no amnesty provision, the perpetrator has very little incentive to confess the truth.

We believe that the Sri Lankan ethos is not conducive to a process such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which victims and perpetrators confronted each other. Our preference is for a truth seeking approach by providing an environment whereby a formal inquiry can take place within a safe space, in which victims in particular can express themselves freely and with a sense of security rather than to utilise an inquisitorial and confrontational approach.

Accountability, Reparations and Missing Persons: Most people said that the government had yet to take this message clearly to the masses of people.They agreed that the truth about the past needed to be ascertained. Most agreed that those who committed crimes outside of their duties should be punished, and once it was explained to them, close to half of them had no objection to a special court with international participation.

What was encouraging was the willingness of the participants to appreciate the need for a lasting political solution to the problem of the Sri Lankan state with the ethnic and religious minorities.

During discussions with civil society groups, two key messages get highlighted. The first is the limited information available to the general population regarding these issues. There is an absence of strong and systematic messaging by the government. Second, the message from the Tamil-speaking participants from the North and East is their scepticism about the ultimate outcome of the on going transitional justice process. This highlights the need for greater inclusion of such groups into the process and for trust building with them. The role of civil society in these circumstances in taking the message to the people and in ensuring a sense of participation is extremely important.

Institutional Reform:During consultations with civil society to ascertain what people think are necessary Constitutional reforms,various amendments were suggested including:

  • The necessity to fully implement the 13th amendment so that the rights of the minorities would be ensured. Provincial Councils should be given police powers in keeping with the aspirations of the Tamil people, who wanted to manage their own affairs.
  • Since some of the Sinhala people did not fully understand the concept of devolution, it was suggested that religious leaders get involved in the explaining it to the public. If Sinhala people in the South accepted the concept of devolution for their own provinces, as they have, it was felt that the rest of the majority community could be brought around to devolving power to the provinces.
  • The Constitution should have provisions to safeguard the independence of institutions that were now very politicized. With constitutional changes, first thing must be a change in the structure and composition of the judiciary to allow Tamil people to get their rights. Sinhala people must know that Tamil people’s rights must be addressed. Judiciary must be independent.
  • A new Constitution must establish minority rights. The Constitution should have a provision to address demographic imbalances that are created artificially to affect the number of a certain ethnic minority in a certain area through resettlement, and which affects their representation in Parliament.
  • Article 126 of the Constitution needs to be amended to make it easier for people to access the courts to vindicate their fundamental rights. The right to invoke courts where there is interference by the Executive with the independence of the Judiciary and a clause included in the Constitution that all orders must be given writing which must be kept of record by the writer and the recipient. Orders not given in writing should not be carried out if they are unethical or unfair in any way to any person
  • As far as the process of people’s participation in the constitutional reform process goes, it was pointed out that ordinary people were excluded because they did not have access to email, text or fax and were unable or unwilling to attend public hearings.