This viewpoint has been shared with us by a Sinhalese Sri Lankan who has been active in human rights work in the country.
Sri Lankans have always felt quite strongly about international scrutiny. Many people see it as “foreign interference” and the politicians have upheld this view by emphasising the importance of national sovereignty. This is not a recent notion; it has been with Sri Lankans since even before the Portuguese invaded in 1505!
The Sri Lankan Kings of ancient periods instilled this notion of “interference” or “invasion”. These values have continued through time and similarly the present government of Sri Lanka has been successful in trying to instil, under the guise of nationalism, the notion that sovereignty means rejecting scrutiny, in its people. They believe that international scrutiny is unhealthy and is a barrier to achieving “lasting peace”. People in the country have been refused access to unbiased opinions and so have not been given the space for critical thinking. The State media carries on a pro-government campaign which keeps highlighting the war victory, and have stressed the “damaging effects” and “untruths” of the diaspora and the Non Governmental Organisations.
But there still remains a small minority of persons who do challenge this view and call on the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions of the past and try to campaign towards peace, justice and reconciliation. But they are barely heard above the governmental clamour. Therefore a change of perceptions is required to start the process of reconciliation. Media freedom, an important element to achieve this change in perception, continues to be undermined – and the state still continues to attack and challenge the media and other civil society actors.
The Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council is of great hope for many Sri Lankan human rights defenders. The commitments made by the government in 2008 and the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Concluding Observations of four UN treaty body mechanisms: the Child Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee against Torture will be reviewed in November 2012. This seems to have brought about much pressure on the government, but again any lobbying or campaigning on this issue would be frowned upon by the Sri Lankan majority.
Since the release of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the government has continued to consider it with high regard, (abroad at least) even amongst much criticism brought by the civil society and the international community. This report has been already tabled in Parliament and it was alleged that the government’s plan for a political solution will be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee (critics have frowned upon this as a postponing tactic). It remains to be seen if this will still take place in the new, much hotter, political climate around accountability issues.
This just shows that the government does not seem to have the political will to bring about reconciliation in the true sense of the word. The government’s attitude and process towards reconciliation seems to consist entirely of a smokescreen to overcome international pressure, rather than actually addressing the problem. They seem to want to use this report as a tool to wipe out the scepticism which has been created. Many countries, including India, Australia and the UK, have welcomed this report and have stated their hope towards the implementation of the recommendations and this has also been noted with high regard by the government. Thus the government continue to wax lyrical about the LLRC abroad, but rarely bring it up at home.
In a critic’s view it is true that some of the interim LLRC recommendations have the potential to strengthen human rights in the country, but it must be noted that there is little hope of this as they have remained without implementation for over 16 months. Sri Lankan civil society also feels strongly on the report’s silence on issues of justice and accountability, for violations of human rights and humanitarian law that took place in the final phase of the war. The report also does not seem to contain any recommendations that would actively contribute to the process of reconciliation.
But the public, who have no access to the truth or a critical view point and seem to trust the words of the extremists within the government, seem to share the government’s viewpoint and consider this as sufficient to achieve peace and deal with the causes that led to the start of this civil war.
There is a very strong need for methods to tackle these strong emotions of hatred. This needs to be a central plank of the process of reconciliation.