|#305, 6 November 2009
Current Situation in Sri Lanka
Chair: Major General Dipankar Banerjee (Retd), Director and Head, IPCS
Speaker: Mr. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
With the sudden and dramatic demise of LTTE, Sri Lanka has returned to an era of peace and prosperity. It is still absolutely important and relevant to keep in mind the past that the country has gone through. The success of the government in handling the terrorist movement had a great impact on the nation and also its neighbours. Clearly, the current situation demands an overall reconstruction of Sri Lanka.
On the issue of diaspora, the Tamils of Sri Lanka feel neglected as compared to the legitimate position of the ethnic Sinhalese population. Many of them left the country in 1983 due to anti Tamil violence things were exacerbated further in the post 1987 situation. The government needs to implement a multifaceted approach covering political, economic and social effort with regard to the displaced.
As far as security is concerned post May 2009 the dangers are much less and the government has been able to initiate resettlement. Infrastructural developments which are amongst the most neglected areas of the country are being taken care of on a priority basis by the government. There is an effort to restore and revive the parts which have been completely destroyed by the LTTE. The speed of the resettlement has been commendable with the East being almost resettled already where almost 200,000 were displaced. Even in the west the work is going very fast.
On the political front, the failure in the implementation of the 13th Amendment has been the outcome of many negative developments in the country. Factors like the situation of the Tamil militants during 2002-03 was miserable but they possessed no right to complain, the LTTE killed the Tamils and not the Sinhalese and some people in the TNA were forced to work with the LTTE. Thus, the 13th Amendment reinforced the need to move towards political settlement but it is further delayed due an extremely unsupportive and harsh opposition.
- Is the Sri Lankan government looking forward to implementing the devolution of powers and also the successful implementation of the 13th Amendment?
- The current political stands of JHU and JVP are not really along the lines of the 13th Amendment. How do you explain that?
- The Sri Lankan president recently stated ‘we believe in home spun evolution or devolution and not something imposed on us’. How does that equate with the 13th Amendment?
- There was also a comment that the process of devolution will take place only after the settlement is over. Will it take place before the elections?
- In the eastern province there is election and democracy but no devolution. Which one is more paradoxical?
- Is there a need for the political process to incorporate a mandate and need to remove the electoral constraints?
- Even after having won the much desired victory, the credibility of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world is very low. Still questions of accountability are raised towards the government as it has not been able to fulfil expectations. Is it because of the belief that a lot more could have been achieved in the given time frame by the government and there is a need to clean up their past images for the nation’s reputation?
- Overall the resettlement process has been quite slow and prolonged. Will resettlement become an issue in the coming general elections?
- The 13th Amendment can be a beginning but nor really an end. The concurrent list itself is so enlarged. Issues of police, law and order and land are important but the most significant is that of money or financial stability. Do you feel that a political process should be created where the taxation powers are shared with the provincial government?
- How about a possibility of creating a broader strategy which includes political, economic, military, ethnic and geographical considerations?
- How is the government dealing with suspected LTTE cadres arrested in the refugee camps? What steps has been taken to rehabilitate LTTE cadres? How many Muslims remain in refugee camps even though they don’t pose a security threat?
- On the security front, the war is over, thousands have surrendered then why is emergency being renewed and high security zones set up, for instance in Jaffna?
- What are the steps taken to break the network of LTTE both externally and internally?
- To whom exactly is the government pointing to when they refer to the minority opinion. And also what extra is the country’s expectation from India apart from those 500 crores?
- What is the current condition of the refugees and by when can they start going to their respective homes? How does the government expedite the situation?
- What is the government doing in order to deal with the present leadership crisis and the vacuum in the political scenario?
- Why has the government been so harsh in its attitude towards the media?
- There is an acceptance by every member in the coalition to implement the 13th Amendment. Police is one of the only worries in terms of the 13th Amendment and its provisions. There is a lot to do with the police culture in Sri Lanka in particular and they are mostly associated with the notion of the breakers of the human rights. Along with the police, land is also one of the major issues of contention. The 13th Amendment is also controversial because of the actions of LTTE in the past. A comparison with India reveals that Sri Lanka lacks a strong centre and capacity to prevent separatism and also needs to be careful of the constitutional position. There is a requirement of appointing capable and efficient people in the Sri Lankan government.
- The 13th Amendment talks about a lot of constitutional provisions that can be accepted or not accepted. There are many problems like for instance the issue of land alienation in the eastern province. One should understand the limitations of the government as any one party is not involved but many. There is progress on many fronts such as education and movements are happening elsewhere as well. There have been talks about adjustments in the devolution process and according to the agreement both the province and the central government shall make a statute. As many of the people in politics are inexperienced the present situation has arrived and questions regarding adjustments and illogical sequencing of demilitarization, democracy, development and devolution have been raised. As any constitutional adjustments will be accompanied by election, resettlement can become an issue only if the elections happen now and not in March next year.
- In a democracy like Sri Lanka where people support and practice a parliamentary system of government, change cannot be imposed from outside. There cannot be a situation where the government would listen to the orders of any external powers about what needs to be done. Previously there were political leaders from the western province and now probably for the first time there is a leader who does not belong to the western province and understands the importance of regional development. Even language has posed a lot of problems among the Tamils and the Sinhalese and therefore, there is a new regulation where everyone needs to know both the languages in order to join government services. Despite these negativities, there have been leaders like Mrs. Kumaratunga who have started English medium schools and brought about a change in the attitude of the Sri Lankan people. The nation should always look up to the positive aspect of development and progress in future.
- As far as the incidents of torture, rape and other atrocities are concerned there has been no evidence of any event or news of sexual abuse with regard to women in particular. The Sri Lankan army has not been involved in such cases and have been used as escape goats on behalf of the government. There has been no instance of children being held as captives or tortured.
- With regards to the questions of delays in the resettlement process, it should be made clear that the progress has been commendable and very fast. In a span of just four months since the demise of LTTE, 40 per cent of the work has been completed and this is truly a sign of the good intentions of the government. This is not an easy task with the presence of such an unscrupulous opposition alongside the government. Once the resettlement is complete, Sri Lanka would welcome all the refugees back as happened in the East.
- The work in the refugee camps has been tremendous since six months as a much more efficient commissioner has taken over the charge. Apart from rehabilitation camps funded and set up by the UNICEF, there is a Hindu organization also that is funding many of these centres. With regards to the Muslims the exact data or the statistics is not known.
- Although LTTE has been destroyed and their leadership is finished, there persists a chance of their revival at any point. There are traits of suicide bombers still present and after suffering from such an enormous calamity Sri Lanka needs to be extremely careful in future. The high security zones will be reduced in coming months but not completely removed.
- India should help Sri Lanka in spreading the message to the world that Tamils are most welcome in the country but not LTTE. The war in Sri Lanka is over and an era of continued peace and prosperity has begun. There are many issues still waiting to be taken care of. At this moment India should facilitate the process and provide assistance to the southern neighbours and wait to see the success story of its southern neighbour in the years to come.
Research Officer, IPCS