Now that the Resolution on Sri Lanka has passed, it is a good time to reflect on the Sri Lankan Government’s stance and the untruths it continues to assert. On the opening day of the session, many member states addressed the Council, including the representative for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Samarasinghe MP. Several members took the opportunity to urge Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations reached by the Government’s own report (the LLRC Report). Samarasinghe took the opportunity to argue that UN member states shouldn’t interfere with its business.
Making sense of Samarasinghe’s speech is not easy, but the language used by the Sri Lankan Government is very important, particularly at a time when it is accusing Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders of being traitors. The Government often takes every opportunity to enforce a nationalistic rhetoric and this was no exception.
The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) Report featured heavily in the Sri Lankan address to the UN Council; in particular the idea that the Government is doing everything possible to act on its recommendations to avoid any international condemnation. The Government has in fact moved particularly slowly to act on Interim recommendations made by the LLRC well over a year ago. This includes the release of a list of names of those in custody since the end of the war – something which could be done very quickly. In fact, in the over four months since this report has been published it has only really been mentioned outside of Sri Lanka. In front of a domestic audience President Mahinda Rajapaska and senior colleagues scarcely even acknowledge its existence; a state of affairs demonstrated by the fact it has still yet to be translated into Sinhala or Tamil.
The most deficient aspect of the ‘comprehensive’ LLRC Report is the absence of investigation into Government instances of war crimes, which we know took place. Samarasinghe attempts to debase the evidence that this took place – the UN Panel of Experts report – as this report relied upon ‘closed door hearings with unnamed witnesses who were guaranteed 20 years’ anonymity’. Thus the well established and recognised UN witness protection procedures were painted as somehow secretive, and as calling into question the reliability of witness’s evidence to the Panel. The contrast with the LLRC’s public hearings where people ‘testified freely and openly’ in front of a camera (and would have suffered to consequences for so doing afterwards) is then taken to show the ‘substantive and credible’ actions of the Government toward accountability.
Samarasinghe thus creates the fantasy that the Report and the Government’s international rhetoric on the subject is enough, in itself, to hold the perpetrators to account.
Samarasinghe’s reporting of what the Government has already implemented of the Report’s recommendations is similarly thin, fantastical and laughable. For example, the idea that the Government has already made headway into the implementation of a ‘language policy’ to encourage the celebration of a diverse multicultural society is far-fetched at best. Boasting the Government has conducted a ‘comprehensive census’ in provinces in the North and East further destabilises Samarasinghe’s argument; the fragile situations of many thousands of internally displaced people in these areas in particular renders the census quite meaningless. Furthermore, forming a Land Task Force to ‘deal with land issues’ when there is still land occupied and reserved for the Army in Sampur and around Vanni has so far helped very little. Indeed, the Indian construction project of 50000 new houses he touts is still not yet underway. It appears the resettlement aspect of Sri Lankan Government’s rehabilitation programme is anything but comprehensive.
Clearly there is a trend: barely factual claims, used as a poorly-disguised attempt to persuade the UN community against voting for a resolution on Sri Lanka. The resolution passed anyway, and Samarasinghe has failed to convince member states. So the Government is renewing efforts to intimidate critics inside Sri Lanka. Unless real efforts are made to press the Government to be accountable for its actions, this intimidation is likely to escalate into further violence.