Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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What Should a Genuine Peace Secretariat Do?

by Asian Human Rights Commission, May 2, 2008

The issues raised by [the IIGEP] are: A conflict of interest in the proceedings before the Commission, lack of an effective victim and witness protection, lack of transparency and timeliness in the proceedings, lack of full co-operation by State bodies, and the lack of financial independence of the Commission.

And the recommendations made are: That the President should ensure that all State bodies comply with international norms and standards and his directive to provide full disclosure of information and cooperation to the Commission; the Government should respect and implement the internationally agreed doctrine of command responsibility as part of the law of Sri Lanka, whereby superiors of those who have committed criminal acts may also be held responsible; the Government of Sri Lanka should establish, as a priority, a workable, effective and permanent system of victim and witness protection.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-116-2008
May 2, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: What should a genuine peace secretariat do? A reply to the Peace secretariat

The following is a reply to the statement by Rajiva Wijesinha of the Peace Secretariat entitled ‘Crudities from the Asian Human Rights Commission.’

Sri Lanka's Dysfunctional Criminal Justice SystemNot to be diverted from the issue let us reiterate that the discussion in our initial statement was regarding Justice P.N. Bagwati’s letter and the interpretation given to it by the peace chief. By now the matter is already settled, as the group of eminent persons themselves is quoted in the press as reasserting the position stated in their final statement issued on April 15, and also to call upon the government not to divert the attention of the people to the real issues of prime importance.

The issues raised by [the IIGEP] are: A conflict of interest in the proceedings before the Commission, lack of an effective victim and witness protection, lack of transparency and timeliness in the proceedings, lack of full co-operation by State bodies, and the lack of financial independence of the Commission.

And the recommendations made are: That the President should ensure that all State bodies comply with international norms and standards and his directive to provide full disclosure of information and cooperation to the Commission; the Government should respect and implement the internationally agreed doctrine of command responsibility as part of the law of Sri Lanka, whereby superiors of those who have committed criminal acts may also be held responsible; the Government of Sri Lanka should establish, as a priority, a workable, effective and permanent system of victim and witness protection. The Commission should endeavour to train the staff of its victim and witness protection unit in order to provide the optimum level of security and assistance to potential witnesses. The IIGEP also calls for the establishment of a facility whereby essential witnesses, who have left Sri Lanka, and who can continue to give first hand evidence as to some of the events under examination by the Commission, can give their oral evidence to the Commission by video-links under conditions of complete safety. In this respect, international support to the Commission has proven critical; the Commission of Inquiry should include in the course of its inquiries an examination of the reasons for systemic failures and past impunity in relation to the cases under review, and consider the making of recommendations for the eventual appointment of independent special prosecutors in cases in which the security forces have been involved in serious human rights violations; the Government of Sri Lanka should provide the immediate and necessary financial resources to the Commission of Inquiry, and place adequate funds at its disposal, to enable it to fulfil its mandate and that the Government of Sri Lanka should not entrench the role of the Attorney General as counsel assisting the Commission of Inquiry through legislation.

Whoever might be the authors who articulated them, these issues are of public importance. For the resolution of the problems of law enforcement these issues need to be discussed. It is the right of anyone to disagree with these comments but to dismiss them through personal attacks, including racist comments with references to a person’s skin colour, is an attempt to erase these issues from public memory.

The task of a peace secretariat is not to manipulate information for the purpose of preventing public debate but rather to contribute to the public debate on these issues. The insecurity caused by deliberately preventing the development of a witness protection scheme is a matter that affects everybody in the country. The fear psychosis has spread to every corner of the country and the will of the people themselves to complain and to pursue their complaints against state authorities is a common phenomenon that cripples the very criminal justice system in the country. Under these circumstances what matters is not who says it, but what is being said.

The climate of fear in Sri Lanka is not something that has been generated recently but something that has been growing since 1971. At each stage it has been intensified and there literally exists hundreds of thousands of people in the country who have been deprived of the right to justice and it is the matter of ensuring justice that is at the core of any attempt to bring about peace. To talk about peace and then to deny justice is hypocrisy. The crudest thing that can be done by any nation to its people is to deny them justice.

A peace secretariat that is genuinely engaged in the attempt to seek peace in the climate of a conflict that is several decades old would be willing, above all, to make a courageous stand against everyone who stands for violence and demand that each group should politically evaluate their own past and thereby create a climate within which others can also evaluate their own contributions to violence. There had been such people with courage, for example persons like Desmond Tutu. He challenged his own constituency of blacks to come to terms with their own past in the attempt to force the advocates of apartheid to come to terms with their contribution to the violence in South Africa. It was the moral force of the majority and the political parties that represent the majority that brought the powerful and ruthless advocates of apartheid to their knees. A peace secretariat that is merely a mouth piece for an existing regime is a peace secretariat by name only and in fact such a peace secretariat only contributes to the ongoing violence.

Patronizing personal comments

Rajiva Wijesinha’s Peace Secretariat referred to above makes extremely patronizing references to me personally. In an earlier statement on Caste of Mind, the AHRC has exposed the origins of this patronizing approach of the so-called Sri Lankan aristocracy that Mr. Wijesinha considers himself a part of. I have no interest in replying to such patronizing comments as I am all too familiar with this class of persons and how much they believe that other people should be grateful to them. My interest in commenting even this far on this aspect is that this mentality is depriving Sri Lanka of a proper peace secretariat. If the Summoner’s Tale, which is a piece of writing by one of the world’s greatest authors, is found to be crude, there is hardly anything that can be said about it. If Sri Lanka’s creative writers look critically into their own country and produce the kind of satire like the Summoner’s Tale such creative writings would contribute a great deal to the much needed self criticism in the country. However, a strong caste based society which has remained so from at least the 10th Century after the collapse of the Anuradhapura period cannot produce the type of deep self criticism that is needed for societies for their own rejuvenation. The Brahmans who created the dominant mentality that prevails up to now made it a matter of faith that criticising them would result in such illnesses as leprosy and killing them is the worst crime that can be committed by anybody. There was no concept of crimes done to the poor and the so-called low caste. Thus, the denial of justice that prevails now has cultural roots in the past. The peace secretariat, as long as it is lead by persons with this same mindset, will contribute nothing to peace, rule of law or democracy in Sri Lanka. It will only contribute to the decline of the country.

None of the issues raised in this statement are new. For over ten years we have almost daily reiterated these same basic positions.


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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