Major endorsement of govt’s reconciliation efforts
By Ravi Ladduwahetty
Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Reconciliation Mechanism Mano Tittawella, in an interview with Ceylon Today Sunday Edition, believes that UNHCR Resolution 30/1 was a major endorsement of the government's reconciliation efforts.
So far there is no question of a hybrid court, since the government has made it abundantly clear that the accountability mechanism will be purely Sri Lankan in composition, he said.
A significant amount of work has been done on the Reconciliation and Non-recurrence side by three ministries and ONUR. These include grassroot level infrastructure development, livelihood support, psycho-social support, education support, language policy implementation and land distribution, he said.
The Office of the Missing Persons Act which has been passed in Parliament will go through some amendments which have already been passed by the Cabinet. The amendments will be listed in the Parliament Order Paper in the near future.
?: You have been appointed as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Reconciliation Mechanism. What type of work has been done up to now and what is the process to be followed from now on?
A: The reconciliation work is many faceted. Firstly, there are at least three ministries that are directly handling reconciliation. They are the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation with the Minister as President Maithripala Sirisena and State Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, the Ministry of National Coexistence Dialogue and Official Languages with Minister Mano Ganesan, the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Affairs with Minister D.M. Swaminathan.
In addition to that, there is ONUR (Office of National Unity and Reconciliation) headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, which is handling all reconciliation and non-recurrence programmes. The office comes under President Maithripala Sirisena.
Similarly, there is SCRM (Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms) which is coordinating the setting up of Transitional Justice Mechanisms. We also assist the relevant ministries and ONUR with their work.
SCRM comes under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and we report through him to the President. A significant amount of work has been done on the Reconciliation and Non-recurrence side by the ministries and ONUR. They include grassroot level infrastructure development, livelihood support, psycho-social support, education support, language policy implementation and land distribution.
With regard to Transitional Justice Mechanisms, we are committed to set up Office for Missing Persons (OMP), Truth Commission, Reparation and Accountability Mechanisms, out of which the OMP Act has been passed by Parliament and is awaiting operationalization. This will be done in the next few months after certain amendments to the OMP bill is presented and passed in Parliament.
?: There have been various mechanisms and designations for the solving of the ethnic crisis. We remember possibly the first of its initiatives was when President Chandrika Kumaratunga in her 1994 Cabinet set up a new Cabinet ranked Ministry for Ethnic Affairs and National Integration which she merged with Justice and Constitutional Affairs and made Prof. G.L. Peiris the minister. So, how do you see efforts made by that government (of which you were a key public sector official) and successive and ensuing governments in attempting to see this simmering crisis and cauldron to a lasting finish?
A: All governments have made an effort to resolve the ethnic and national issue in different ways. This government is committed to ensure that benefits gained by ending the war, are not lost, and a lasting peace, where all Sri Lankans can live in peace and prosperity, irrespective of race, religion, caste, creed and language is assured through the Reconciliation and Non-recurrence programmes.
?: Now it is learnt that at the recent meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Commission just concluded in Geneva, the government has asked for a one year extension to implement Resolution 30/1. Which also includes the formation of a hybrid court? What is being proposed to be done in that one year?
A: Firstly, the co-sponsors of the Resolution 30/1, which was adopted at the UNHRC in September 2015 have requested for a two-year extension to allow time for the government to implement its contents. This is a major endorsement of the government's effort. So far there is no question of a hybrid court, since the government has made it abundantly clear that the Accountability Mechanism will be purely Sri Lankan in composition.
?: How do you see the implementation of Resolution 30/1 when President Maithripala Sirisena announcing that the government will not be bringing in foreign judges to probe alleged war crimes of the members of the armed forces and within a span of a few days, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also echoing pretty much the same sentiments saying that it is impractical and unconstitutional. But, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has told the UNHRC Chief that he will do it. How? Who are we to believe?
A: Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has never told the UNHRC that he will implement an Accountability Mechanism with foreign Judges. The government's policy remains very clear "no foreign Judges". However, the government may call on the international community for technical assistance.
?: Minister Samaraweera has also said the process of appointing foreign Judges could be made if the appropriate legislation is passed. So, do you think that the majority of the Sinhala Buddhist members in Parliament will help to pass such a law which is seen to be chauvinistic and unprecedented?
A: I do not think that Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera ever said it. However, this does not arise since there will be no foreign judges.
?: How do you see the Sessions in 2017 at which you were present in Geneva?
A: These Sessions were very well received. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera made a progressive statement to the Human Rights Council and we had a very comprehensive side event which was very well attended.
Discussion was comprehensive and everybody at the side event was given an opportunity to air their views. We provided them with frank and clear answers.
We also had bilateral discussions with our international friends, including the co-sponsors of Resolution 30/1 and these discussions were very encouraging and I can say that international support for the government is stronger than ever before.
?: US President Donald J. Trump has said he and his government are not going to get involved in the Human Rights affairs of other countries. In that light, how do you see the Resolution against Sri Lanka which has been sponsored by the US Government itself?
A: I do not want to comment on US policies, but I see no effect of this on the progress for Reconciliation and Non-recurrence work in Sri Lanka.
?: Do you foresee any lenience?
A: Since Resolution 30/1 is co-sponsored by Sri Lanka as well and since Reconciliation and Non-recurrence is a major policy initiative that the government had taken long before the UNHRC Resolution was even discussed.
The question of leniency does not arise since our Reconciliation and Non-recurrence work is part of the government's policy and is not mandated by anybody else.
?: Don't you think that the US Government and its successive Presidents are utter sanctimonious humbugs trying to pin down the sovereign government of Sri Lanka which was fighting the most ruthless guerilla group in the world and where the LTTE and its proxies virtually got away scot free. Is it due to the Diaspora votes?
A: As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the international committee including the US, UK and other friendly countries have been very supportive of our reconciliation programmes and economic development. I see them as our friends and we should continue to work with them to develop our country in a sustainable way.
?: Despite the disinterest of President Trump in the European elections both France and Netherlands have emerging- frontrunner candidates who are far right. So, in that light, will the power balance at the UNHRC change with Sri Lanka, with the passage of time?
A: Again, I do not want to make any comments other than to say that Sri Lanka is working with the UNHRC and other UN entities in a progressive and effective manner.
?: Don't you think that the attitude of the US is wrong where all the war crimes in Iraq have gone unnoticed? Isn't this blatant hypocrisy? What are they preaching and practising?
A: This is not relevant to Sri Lanka. We are concentrating on getting the support of the US in developing our country in a sustainable manner. There are many initiatives that the US is supporting us on the reconciliation front, on the military co-operation front and the economic development front. We welcome this and we will work towards further enhancing these initiatives with the support of the US.
?: There are four mechanisms in the Secretariat that you are Secretary General of. One is the Office of the Missing Persons. What are the amendments which are to be brought in to the OMP Act?
A: The OMP Act which has been passed in Parliament will go through some amendments which have already been passed by the Cabinet. The amendments will be listed in the Parliament Order Paper in the near future.
?: There is also a Consultation Task Force which has been appointed which also has as its Chairperson, Attorney Manouri Muththettuwegama (daughter of the late Constitutional Affairs Minister Colvin. R. De Silva and former Lake House Legal Director) and Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. What is happening there?
A: The Consultation Task Force (CTF) was appointed last year and its composition included independent professionals. They have given their report a few months ago and some of the recommendations are being considered by the government. There is a misconception that all its recommendations have to be adopted by the government. The government has been democratically elected and it will take into consideration relevant recommendations and make its decisions accordingly. There is no preconceived notion that all recommendations of the CTF will be adopted. The government is in no way obliged to accept all the CTF's recommendations, though it will give the report due consideration.
?: Has that also been relegated to the dustbin of history, a famous cliché of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera during the Chandrika Kumaratunga Presidency?
A: As mentioned earlier, the CTF report is being taken into consideration and the government will adopt any recommendation that it may think and deem fit.
?: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said something to the effect that there will be a Truth and Justice Commission pretty much the same as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Will this be in line with the South African model?
A: The government is studying all the Truth and Justice Commissions the world over, including the one that was prevalent in South Africa. The government will decide on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is uniquely relevant to Sri Lanka.
?: There is also the Office of Reparation to pay compensation to victims of the war. What is happening there?
A: The Reparation Commission is also being designed at the moment and it will be discussed at the highest level of the government before being put up for the Cabinet and Parliamentary approval.
?: There should be a judicial mechanism for the implementation of the hybrid court if it comes or not. How do you see this?
A: The situation with regard to the Accountability Mechanism will be taken up later by the government after extensive consultation with all the parties concerned. This will be a Sri Lankan mechanism as reiterated many times by the President and the Prime Minister.
?: How do you see settlement of the financial and economic issues of the people of the North and East and especially you being a former banker and stockbroker at one stage and also having restructured the People's Bank as its former chairman?
A: The programme is already underway with the leadership being taken by President Maithripala Sirisena and ONUR ably supported by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. President Maithripala Sirisena will inaugurate many small and medium enterprises in the near future in the North and East. This includes access to credit, access to markets and the use of land.
The President is also very keen on supporting and implementing similar programmes in the South and other parts of the country as well.
?: It is also said there are surveillance mechanism for the people of the North. Granted that the government has all the right to create a defence mechanism for the security for the residents of the North, isn't it seen to be an infringement of their privacy?
A: The government is very conscious of national security. To this extent, the defence establishment has a duty to protect Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. This is being carried out at the moment. The government has put in place several pieces of legislation which will reduce, to a great extent, any infringement of privacy for all its citizens.
?: What is the National Unity office which is headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga telling Tamil officials that Tamil women were subjected to sexual abuse. What is the veracity of the allegations?
A: As I said earlier, ONUR, headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, is mandated with overseeing and implementing many efforts and programmes that have been already initiated and planned with regard to Reconciliation and Non-recurrence. The programmes will eventually reduce the space for any Human Rights abuses to take place in the future.
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