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LLRC

Tag Archives | LLRC

Reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC Progress: Part One

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An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

Last March, The Social Architects (TSA) released its third report, “The Numbers Never Lie.”

An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

The report provided extensive information about the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) progress in implementing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations. Again, TSA’s partners undertook a similar survey this year. Using the data obtained last year as a baseline, TSA will be releasing two companion reports reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC progress. This is the first.

This year’s survey was only conducted in the Northern and Eastern provinces; this was done during January 2014. TSA’s partners surveyed 1,200 people this year, but 157 survey respondents were subsequently disqualified. 376 other people who participated last year did not participate in this year’s survey. This figure includes people who have moved elsewhere or have been resettled. It also includes community members who decided not to participate this year due to fear. Hence, all 1,043 people that were surveyed this year also participated in last year’s survey. In order to accurately measure progress, TSA removed 533 people (those who did not participate in the 2014 survey) from last year’s survey results.

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Militarization a Way of Life in Kilinochchi

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'Welcome to Kilinochchi'.  Photo: Indi Samarajiva

Even though the protracted internal armed conflict has ended, community members have been unable to return to their day-to-day lives.

‘Welcome to Kilinochchi’. Photo: Indi Samarajiva

Under the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s militarization has continued unabated. The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has established numerous checkpoints and camps near peoples’ homes. Military personnel frequently patrol these areas – day and night. Sadly, the military’s intrusion into practically all aspects of civilian affairs remains a way of life in the conflict-affected North and East. At the entrance to Kanthi Kiramam (Kilinochchi), there is a small army camp. Members of the 7th Battalion of the Sri Lanka National Guard (7SLNG) reside there. A checkpoint is located on the other side of the camp, adjacent to a bus stop. At least three members of the military are actually living at that checkpoint. A brief history of this checkpoint may be of interest to both domestic and international observers.

Community members opposed the establishment of this checkpoint. Many community members said that such a checkpoint would frighten people while waiting for the bus. To be clear, this is an important location; community members in Kanthi Kiramam and Konavil East use this bus stop. People sometimes have to wait for the bus for extended periods of time, so a range of topics are consistently discussed at this key area. Moreover, such a space is crucial given the restriction on the right to assemble in both private and public spheres. Students, young girls and community leaders gather there on a regular basis as a form political engagement, to discuss all kinds of topics, ranging from the trivial to the political (such as the upcoming provincial council elections).

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The Upcoming HRC Resolution on Sri Lanka

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Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Soon another US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka will be tabled at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC).

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

It’s very unlikely that the recent high-level US delegation that came to Sri Lanka would have announced that a procedural resolution would be backed if Washington wasn’t absolutely positive that it had the votes to get another resolution through the council. The votes for another resolution on Sri Lanka are there; that’s for sure. India has already come out and announced that it too will support the resolution – taking a bit of drama out of the whole affair. But it’s also quite revealing because it shows how much the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has overplayed its hand. Let us not forget that less than a year ago, Delhi was reminding people that it wouldn’t support any country-specific resolution at the HRC. Now it looks like Delhi will have supported two in a twelve-month span.

Along with the major international organizations like International Crisis Group (ICG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), there are probably a few Western countries – though not necessarily the US – that are pushing for something stronger than the draft resolution in its current form. In spite the circumstances, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is still sticking with its (untrue) story – saying that they are doing all they can to implement the LLRC recommendations and comply with the previous HRC resolution. Unfortunately, the problems with the GoSL’s most recent progress report on the LLRC recommendations start on the first page of the first sentence.

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Brief Thoughts on the Kerry Nomination and U.S.-Lanka Relations

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Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

President Obama is still working on remaking his foreign policy and national security team, but it looks like John Kerry will be the next Secretary of State. Inside Washington, John Kerry has been a leading voice on foreign policy for decades. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty-seven years, John Kerry has built up a vast network of contacts abroad. John Kerry understands the politics of the Middle East. And he has already travelled extensively for the Obama administration – going to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Susan Rice wisely withdrew her name from consideration. That was about more than Benghazi. She has the brains to be Secretary of State, for sure. Rice’s problem is that she’s not diplomatic, at all really. The late Richard Holbrooke will be remembered for his arrogance and vanity. Nonetheless, one doesn’t need to have a PhD from Oxford (like Susan Rice) to understand that pointedly displaying one’s middle finger at Holbrooke during a meeting of senior State officials is probably not a good idea. Besides, the diplomacy business can be far more tedious than State department meetings – just ask Hillary Clinton.

Senators on both sides of the aisle like and respect John Kerry. Obama will have to spend almost no political capital on this pick and Kerry will be confirmed easily. But what about John Kerry’s foreign policy in South Asia? What does it mean for US-Lanka relations? Reporters and journalists of all stripes have recently been asking those two questions and, unfortunately, I think many people have been missing a central point.

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Reconciliation’s Long Road in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka's delegation to the Human Rights Council

During the past year, one of the Obama administration’s biggest moves at the UN Human Rights Council received little attention inside Washington.

Sri Lanka’s delegation to the Human Rights Council

In March 2012, the United States led a resolution calling on the government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which examined the breakdown of the truce between the country’s warring factions, and “to take all necessary additional steps” to “ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.” It remains unclear what exactly drove the U.S. resolution, but the Sri Lankan government does not appear to have complied with it. The country continues to receive criticism for its human rights record, as disappearances and extrajudicial killings, among other issues, remain problems. Recent developments like a prison riot in Colombo that left 27 inmates dead and the arrest of several University of Jaffna students are also worrisome.

Politically, developments on the island nation seem to be going in the wrong direction as well. The government’s recent move to impeach its chief Supreme Court justice is a particularly discouraging sign, since the judiciary is widely regarding as Sri Lanka’s only branch of government with some semblance of independence. Critics have called the move an “unconstitutional witchhunt,” a retaliation for the court’s ruling that the central government could not unilaterally seize powers from the country’s provisional councils. Moreover, talks between the government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have gone nowhere, and there is little hope for meaningful progress in the short term.

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Sri Lanka’s Next Steps: A LLRC Shadow Action Plan

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Tamil refugees face an uncertain future and lack of permanent housing. Photo: Mathy

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Final Report contains many positive recommendations which merit immediate attention.

Tamil refugees face an uncertain future and lack of permanent housing. Photo: Mathy

This document is designed to capture the essence of those key positive recommendations and to come out with a meaningful action plan which will open the door to true reconciliation, sustainable peace, institutional reform and improved governance. Regrettably, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has failed to act upon these constructive LLRC recommendations. In addition, the GoSL’s recently released action plan is rife with misleading, excessively general information; it is not an action plan that seeks to promote human rights, reconciliation or a lasting peace.

TSA’s plan has been written after consultation with a variety of stakeholders: including dozens of civil society leaders, thousands of community members in Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill County and some members of the diaspora. It is the result of numerous interviews, seventy-one lengthy meetings, and several months of reflection, discussion and hard work. Importantly, it has embraced community participation at every stage.

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Human rights in Sri Lanka: Between the UN and the US

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Supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa rallying in Colombo

As the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) ends on 28 September 2012, ongoing human rights developments in Sri Lanka will undoubtedly linger in the minds of many.

Supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa rallying in Colombo

Observers will look forward to the country’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review, which will take place this November, and to the National Report the Sri Lankan government has submitted for consideration. Yet it is next year’s HRC session that is particularly intriguing. At the 22nd session of the HRC, scheduled for March 2013, three things are likely to happen. First, by that time the government of Sri Lanka will not have comprehensively implemented many of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) positive recommendations. Second, the report about Sri Lanka delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will be at best lukewarm. And, lastly, the HRC is not likely to pass another resolution against Sri Lanka.

Passing such a resolution would fly in the face of the history of the HRC. The fact that there is a historical precedent for inaction calls for posing new questions about Sri Lanka: what will the international community lobby for in the meantime? Is there a common set of principles or an agenda that could be agreed upon? Do people think economic sanctions are a good idea? Which LLRC recommendations must be implemented in full before March? Targeted economic sanctions might be an option, though probably not an effective one. Importantly, as long as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in power, an independent international mechanism to investigate wartime atrocities is not a viable option.

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Minister Peiris Goes to Washington

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G.L. Peiris in Washington meeting with Hillary Clinton

On May 18, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris will meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC.

G.L. Peiris in Washington meeting with Hillary Clinton

The two should have plenty to talk about. The Sri Lankan government’s action plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will be at the top of the list. In late April, there were reports that Mr. Peiris would be bringing a “secret” action plan to Washington. It is not clear why such a document would need to be kept strictly confidential, unless Peiris will be presenting a largely incomplete first draft. There are many reasons to be concerned. The government has made almost no progress on the recommendations of the LLRC since the commission’s final report was released publicly this past December. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has not even touched the LLRC’s interim recommendations, which were released in September 2010.

The government’s National Human Rights Action Plan does not inspire much confidence either. It is a document full of false, misleading and missing information. In that action plan, many of the government’s benchmarks for success are dubious. There are no impartial monitoring mechanisms. In addition, many of the implementing agencies, like the Ministry of Defense for the section on the prevention of torture, does not even make much sense.

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Post-Geneva Delusions: The Next Steps in Sri Lanka

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Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, G.L. Peiris, has recently given one additional reason for the passage of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva: “collective commitments.”

Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Evidently, Mr. Peiris had been informed by one of his European counterparts that certain members of the European Union (EU) were unsupportive of the resolution, but were compelled to vote in favor of it, since a group decision had been taken by the EU. Mr. Peiris went on to say that even some US Congressman did not view the HRC in a positive light, due to the fact that the body is “politicized.” (It is unclear to this writer how a United Nations forum where nation states meet to discuss human rights could be apolitical, but I will not belabor that point).

In addition, Mr. Peiris also announced in Parliament that the government would not tolerate foreign intervention of any kind. If this is post-Geneva government policy, what does all of this mean? The Sri Lankan government mismanaged its time and resources in Geneva. Besides, it was never really clear who was leading the delegation anyway. Was it G.L Peiris or was it Plantation Minister and Special Human Rights Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe?

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The Effects of the U.S. Resolution Against Sri Lanka

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Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, addressing the HRC on March 15, 2010

Europe and most of Latin America supported the US resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 19th session in Geneva.

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, addressing the HRC on March 15, 2010

China, Russia, and several countries in Africa and Asia voted against it. Unsurprisingly, Cuba and Ecuador also opposed the resolution. Having never before voted for a “country-specific resolution,” India’s vote was significant, both symbolically and materially. It is unclear what Delhi’s decision will mean when it comes to US-Indian relations in the coming years or what effect it will have on Indo-Sri Lankan ties.

The Sri Lankan government has already stated said that the “intimate relations” between India and Sri Lanka will not be affected, but that is just simplistic government braggadocio. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that India does “not want to infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” which appears to be incompatible with the vote his country cast on Thursday in Geneva. India was in an extremely difficult position, but it is still hard to believe that they did not abstain.

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Salt on Old Wounds: Post-War Sri Lanka

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Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

‘Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country’ the first study published by The Social Architects (TSA), seeks to set out the systematic, increasing and widespread process of Sinhalization that is taking place in historically Tamil areas in the North, East and Hill Country in post-war Sri Lanka.

Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

While focusing on the process of Sinhalization that is currently being implemented, this monograph seeks to situate it within the broader historical process of Sinhalization that has been carried out by different governments spanning a number of decades. The report argues that even though Sinhalization is not a new phenomenon, the sweeping changes which continue to occur in historically Tamil areas inhibit the country’s ability to heal after nearly three decades of civil war. Although the current government’s rhetoric gives importance to building bridges between communities by ensuring those affected are able to fully and freely exercise their rights, in reality, its actions are evidence of the Sri Lankan State’s lack of respect for the rights of all its citizens, particularly the Tamil people.

This paper will show that the concept of Sinhalization extends well beyond the subjects of strategic state-planned settlements, land, military intrusion, boundary changes and the renaming of villages. Sinhalization has made its way into Tamil cultural events, religious life, economic activity, public sector recruitment and even the Sri Lankan education system. Since the Tamil community is attempting to recover from the devastating impact of the civil war and rebuild social networks and community structures, attempts to control and demolish socio-cultural aspects of their lives, such as the take over and destruction of temples, inhibit their attempts to engage in emotional healing and community regeneration even minimally.

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Who Will Win at the Human Rights Council?

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Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council, addresses the Human Rights Council.  Pierre Albouy/UN

The US recently tabled a draft resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s 19th session in Geneva.

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council, addresses the Human Rights Council. Pierre Albouy/UN

No one should be too surprised by this; everyone knew it was coming. However, the draft resolution is so incredibly weak that President Mahinda Rajapaksa must be breathing a sigh of relief. It is no wonder that the US feels confident that it has the votes in needs. Besides, it is likely that the resolution will be watered down even more in the coming days—making this exercise seem that much more formulaic and pointless.

The resolution requests that the government of Sri Lanka implement the recommendations from the Final Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). In order to achieve this objective, it asks the government to present an outline or roadmap as “expeditiously as possible” so that everyone will know how much progress Sri Lanka is making towards genuine national reconciliation and to addressing purported violations of international law.

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Time is Expiring for Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council

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Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council.  Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

The US has made it very clear; they will table a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 19th session in Geneva.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Unsurprisingly, the government of Sri Lanka is asking for more time. The Sri Lankan government knows that this might be the most pressure they ever face at the HRC. When it comes to national reconciliation, the government’s strategy continues to revolve around delay, prevarication and even outright lies. President Rajapaksa told critics to be patient because he had appointed a national body, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to handle questions related to national reconciliation and accountability.

The LLRC’s final report has been out for months and, almost shockingly, the report actually contains some good recommendations. But the government thought it imprudent to even begin to consider implementing any of those. More recently, the government’s entire strategy seems to involve linking all questions of accountability and human rights to the country’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place this October. President Rajapaksa knows that the passing of time only strengthens his hand. It does seem odd that the Sri Lankan government thinks that the UPR is an appropriate time to deal with its obvious human rights issues. After all, Rajapaksa’s administration has spent most of the past four years ignoring almost all of the recommendations made during the government’s 2008 UPR review.

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Jack Kingston’s Love Letter to Sri Lanka

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Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) far right. Source: Talk Radio News Service

Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) far right. Source: Talk Radio News Service

U.S. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) recently submitted a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama. Cosigned by eleven other members of Congress, it effusively praises the Sri Lankan government for all of its accomplishments since end of the country’s twenty-six-year civil war.

The short note is heavy on rhetoric and light on reality. It talks about the enormous potential for a strengthening of US-Sri Lankan relations, going on to use words like “post-conflict,” while congratulating Rajapaksa’s semi-authoritarian regime for doing such a good job of resettling IDPs, among other misperceptions. Perhaps the most absurd part of the letter is the following:  “In addition, we are encouraged by the ongoing negotiations with minority political parties and the strengthening of the democratic process. We welcome Sri Lanka’s willingness to preemptively report on its civil conflict by establishing a politically diverse and independent Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. As Sri Lanka pursues these positive steps, it should know it has a friend in the United States.”

I seriously doubt Congressman Kingston (or any of his colleagues) is conversant in Sri Lankan politics. If he were, he would know that “ongoing negotiations” with minority parties are not really happening. Are the Congressmen even aware of the composition of the LLRC? Or how deeply flawed both the commission itself and the overall process were?

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Sri Lanka’s Game of Diplomacy

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Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

As promised, the Sri Lankan government made the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) public last month.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

It has also recently released its “National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights: 2011-2016.” The Action Plan was developed in accordance with a commitment the government had made in 2008, the last time Sri Lanka participated in the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. Both documents are part of the Sri Lankan government’s strategy to placate international observers and convince people that there is no need for any kind of international assistance because the country’s domestic institutions are working just fine.

Like the LLRC report, the National Action Plan contains some decent recommendations, but it is replete with missing and false information. For example, the section on the Prevention of Torture is laughable and worrisome. The Sri Lankan government claims that it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy on torture.” This sweeping assertion directly contradicts loads of evidence, including the recent findings of the UN’s Committee Against Torture (CAT). The fact that the Ministry of Defense has been denoted as the “Key Responsible Agency” for ensuring the prevention of torture is perhaps more disconcerting.

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