The government is proposing to establish an office for national unity and reconciliation by an Act of Parliament in order to assure to every citizen is provided with equal opportunities in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres as given by the constitution whilst safeguarding the identity and to build an inclusive and equitable society in which diversity will be respected and all communities will coexist in harmony and unity. The draft law has been sent to the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Reconciliation and National Unity for its observations. The National Peace Council appreciates the initiative of the Sectoral Oversight Committee to inform civil society that they are open to proposals for revision to be incorporated into the draft law.
The ongoing war in Israel-Palestine is in some crucial ways similar to what took place in Sri Lanka a decade and a half ago. The same basic features are to be seen—terrorism, unimaginable atrocities, including the bombing of a hospital in Gaza and a massacred at a music festival in Israel, military confrontations on land, sea and air, and in the last phase, a problem of civilians trapped in the battleground of epic proportions albeit with greater intensity and brutality and on a bigger geopolitical and international canvas.
The government’s failure to obtain the second tranche of IMF support is a wakeup call regarding the precarious condition of the economy. The IMF has said that Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is still not assured. It has also said that the government has not met the economic targets set for it, particularly with regard to reducing the budget deficit due to a potential shortfall in government revenue generation. The IMF’s refusal to grant the second tranche of USD 330 million at this time will erode the confidence of prospective investors in the economy. The IMF has said the second tranche under its lending programme would only be released after it reaches a staff-level agreement, and there was no fixed timeline on when that would take place.
The UK Channel 4 television documentary that details the alleged perpetrators of the Easter 2019 mass bombings in Sri Lanka, and their motivations, has reignited the debate and negative emotions over the issue of investigations done so far. A total of 269 people were killed on April 21, 2019 most of them being ordinary citizens worshipping in churches along 45 foreign nationals from 13 countries in hotels, and over 500 others were wounded in six simultaneous suicide bombings. The savagery of the bombings and uncertainty it generated in the entire population virtually shut down the country for two months and dealt a crippling blow to the national economy, the consequences of which are still being experienced today.
During the past month several events took place to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Malaiyaha Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Of symbolic significance was the march from Talaimannar to Matale that retraced the arduous trek of the original migrants. The National Peace Council and likeminded civil society organizations participated in these events that have sought to give recognition to the Malaiyaha Tamil people and their place in the country as an integral part of a plural society and with equal rights as Sri Lankan citizens.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe is visiting India and meeting its top leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and billionaire Gautam Adani. This visit takes place in the shadow of the 40th anniversary of Black July. During the week of July 23 in 1983 an anti-Tamil pogrom with sections of the government conniving took place in Colombo primarily, but also in several other parts of the country. The destruction of life and property and physical violence that followed constitutes a period of shame and sorrow that has haunted the country ever since.
The arrest of Jaffna parliamentarian and leader of the Tamil National People’s Front Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam is another incident that feeds into the sense of unequal treatment of individuals and communities in the country. The parliamentarian was accused of obstructing police officers from performing their duties. The incident arose when MP Ponnambalam challenged two persons in civvies who came in unannounced at a meeting he was having with his constituents in a public park who declined to divulge their identity. This incident has revived sentiments within the Tamil community that they are treated differently and less favourably than others.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Previous targets have included poets and novelists who have addressed social and political controversies.
The country will be commemorating the 14th anniversary of the end of the war that dragged on for nearly three decades on May 18. The war which ended bloodily on the battlefield continues to exert its baleful influence over the life of the people. Tens of thousands of families will mourn the loss of their loved ones while thousands of others will be hoping that their missing loved ones will reappear soon. Typically, the government has organized events to mark the war victory on May 19, which is reflective of majority sentiment in the country.
The hartal that took place in the North and East earlier in the week was barely noticed in the rest of the country even though it led to the shutdown of public and commercial life in that part of the country. The hartal was called by a collective of political parties and civil society groups to protest against both the proposed Anti-Terrorism legislation (ATA) and religious and cultural discrimination that is taking place in the North and East. The ATA has met with strong criticism and condemnation from a wide cross section of national level political parties and organisations, including trade unions and the Bar Association. The protest in the North and East is evidence of the nationwide rejection of the government’s proposed legislation. It is indicative of the commonality of the underlying concerns of the people irrespective of region, ethnicity or religion.