Sri Lanka’s Defiance & Delaying Tactics in Implementing UNHRC Resolution 40/1
by Kumarathasan Rasingam, Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.
Tamils in Sri Lanka have undergone grave injustice: Pogroms, Torture, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, Forced Disappearances and Genocide. Tamil mothers in Sri Lanka fight daily to learn what happened to their missing loved ones, even a decade after the conflict and at the risk of rape. Tamil students, journalists and activists continue to speak truth to power despite the great risks they face.
It would only a wishful thinking to expect any Sri Lankan Government to honor its pledges and commitments made to anyone including the United Nations, United Nations Human Rights Council or other political leaders particularly to the Tamil leaders when Sri Lanka has in the past contemptuously dumped the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, also its own Consultation Task Force Report and even the 13th Amendment dealing with Police and Land powers to the North and Eastern Provinces.
United Nations, UNHRC, Co-sponsors of the UNHRC Resolution 40/1, Members of the UNHRC Session on March 2020 and the International Community should consider the delaying tactics and defiance of the Sri Lankan Government and request the UN High Commissioner to initiate an Ad-hoc investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Not only the UNHRC Resolution 40/1, the core issues that the GOSL promised to implement through the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission are yet to be implemented.
[a] Investigation in to the killings of the five students allegedly by the Sri Lankan security forces in Trincomalee on 2 January 2006.
[b] Investigation in to the killings of 17 Action Against Hunger Aid workers on August 4, 2006, a group of gunmen entered a humanitarian compound in Muttur, Sri Lanka and murdered 17 Action Against Hunger aid workers, all of whom were unarmed and wearing t-shirts that clearly identified them as humanitarian staff.
In addition to this defiance and delaying tactics the Sri Lankan Government and the Buddhist Maha Sanga with the strong support of the extremist chauvinistic Buddhists is building Buddhist Temples and erecting Buddha Statues in places where very few/no Buddhists live in the North and East of Sri Lanka [the traditional and historical homeland of the Tamil for more than 5000 years].
The immediate and important matters to be considered to safeguard the lives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka — the United Nations, UNHRC, UNHRC Member Countries for Session March 2020, the co-sponsors of the UNHRC Resolution 40/1 and the International Community should force Sri Lanka to solve the immediate and burning problems faced by the Tamils in the North and East.
Entrenched impunity has led many Diaspora Tamils to lose trust in the state’s ability to provide justice, leading them to seek accountability in the international sphere.
The following immediate and urgent matters should be solved to begin a meaningful and honest reconciliation process, with top priority for a genuine lasting political solution to the Tamils with their right of self-determination. [Tamils have this right because they are differ in language, religion, tradition and culture than the Sinhalese Majority]
- Immediate solution to the mothers, relatives who are on the streets in hot sun, dust and rain for more than 900 days staging sit-in protests demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones who were forcefully arrested by the Security Forces and Police.
- The release of all Tamil Political Prisoners. Most of them are arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA]
- Release of all civilian lands and farmlands to the legal owners with full compensation for the period forcefully occupied by the Security Forces and Police.
- Reduce the strength of the Security Forces stationed in the North to the ratio of civilians stationed in the South. In the North the ratio of civilians to Military is 3 : 1 [for every three civilians one soldier]
- Stop Buddhisization and Sinhalization of the North. The recent incident in Tamils homeland [Buddhist Monks with Buddhist mobs invaded a Hindu Temple and desecrated it, despite a Court Ban] this very clearly exposes the mindset of the Buddhist Monks who openly declared that Buddha Sasana is superior to court orders.
Sinhalese majoritarianism made the Sinhalese confuse Sri Lankan nationalism with Sinhalese nationalism and also influenced them to categorize the legitimate voices of Tamils as ‘anti-national’. Consequently, the Tamils were not considered as a part of their ‘national identity’ and this exclusion catalysed the progress of ‘Tamil Nationalism’. Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism was/is one of the main reasons for ethnic conflict.
The state-building process in Sri Lanka has always been a struggle between establishing a majoritarian-ethno-nationalist hegemonic state system and preserving the right of minority ethnic groups to political power-sharing.
(a) Insufficient emphasis given towards understanding power-sharing and federalism as a means to accommodate diverse interests and rights, including the political autonomy rights of minorities,
(b) The opportunistic politics of opposition parties, and
(c) The ethno-nationalist agenda of the majority Sinhalese were the major factors that have induced to undermine the minorities’ claims for political autonomy. The ultimate result of this is the continuous struggles by minorities to situate their political autonomy demands within Sri Lanka’s state-building and power-sharing discourse..
Discrimination based on religion or belief in law and in practice
Preliminary findings of Country Visit to Sri Lanka by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief – From August 15th – 26th 2019
“While the Constitution of Sri Lanka protects freedom of religion or belief and its manifestation under Article 10 and 14 (1) e, Article 9 of the Constitution declares, “Buddhism shall be given the foremost place by the State”. The Government argues that this does not reduce the protection provided to other religions as guaranteed under Article 10 and 14 (1) e as well as Article 12 that stresses equality of all. Controversially, a 2003 Supreme Court ruling determined that the State was constitutionally required to protect only Buddhism, as other religions were not accorded the same fundamental right of state-provided protection. I heard frequently from my interlocutors that they feel that the State was structurally unable to treat other religions on an equal basis owing to this provision and ruling.
Many of these religious communities pointed to the fact that the State has allowed Buddhist monks to erect shrines or Buddhist statutes even in areas where there is little Buddhist presence whereas other communities were told that they should not hold prayer services even in private homes in areas where there are few Christians or with a Buddhist majority. There are also competing claims to historic religious sites and a perception that State agents are not sufficiently impartial in these cases. Often, many described problems of double standards in law enforcement depending on which community offends or finds itself offended by the actions of other. For instance, I heard of cases of violence against minorities perpetrated by the majority community where perpetrators are clearly identified in video recordings but remain unaccountable for years after the incident. Reversely, many complained, that when a complaint is brought forward by members of the Buddhist community, action is swift and, at times, disproportionate. I heard examples of some arrested under the ICCPR Act for seemingly trivial reasons (a fictional story, a symbol in a dress) that were deemed to provoke “religious disturbance”, while I heard of impunity for serious incidents of incitement to violence such as those that led to the Aluthgama riots in 2014. ‘
To Sum up: Unless otherwise the following steps are taken to promote unity and prosperity Sri Lanka will continue as a failed state, depending on foreign aid and foreign loans to pay the interests for the loan, etc.
1. The de-politicization of religion, this inevitably involves politicians’ commitments on emotional issues to win election
2. The Government should demonstrate strong willingness to withdraw state patronage to Buddhism.
3. Measures should be taken to promote negotiated religious and ethnic reconciliation and compromise. This requires genuine efforts to build power-sharing measures with the minorities.