President Maithripala Sirisena’s absolute commitment to solve the major problems faced by the people in the North and the East and bring the hitherto undeveloped districts in the country to be on par with the developed districts is evident from the various steps taken by the government during the last three and a half years.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, he made a firm commitment that the government would continue to implement the UNHRC proposals that could be done within the constitutional framework.
In these circumstances it is unfortunate that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson, M. A. Sumanthiran, who was considered as a moderate by the progressive political forces in the country, come up with undue criticism over the President’s UN speech and describe it as taking a ‘U turn’ from the policy enunciated by the government at the UNHRC.
What the President said was that Sri Lanka is taking action to consolidate peace and forge ahead to develop the economy, and such a nation deserves the support and understanding of the international community. At the same time, he made a clarion call to the international community.
He urged the international community to look at Sri Lanka with a fresh perspective and consider the tremendous progress made by the government towards reconciliation, restoration of democratic freedoms, human rights, the rule of law and extending the fullest support to build a progressive, democratic, free and equal society. “I urge the international community to allow the Sri Lankan people to solve their problems on their own.
As an independent country, we do not want any foreign power to exert influence on us. We want to appeal to the international community to give us the room to resolve the problems that we are facing so that the right of the Sri Lankan people to find solutions to their problems is respected,” the President said.
Although TNA leaders are reluctant to acknowledge that Sri Lanka has made considerable progress in complying with the requirements expected of the country by the UNHRC resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the US and adopted by Sri Lanka in October 2015 in Geneva.
The establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), passing of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Act, tabling of Reparations Bill and the Counter Terrorism Bill are the steps taken in the right direction by Sri Lanka to fulfill her obligations. The co-sponsors, EU, UK and Canada and those who voted for the resolution at the UNHRC have expressed their appreciation on the progress that has been made by Sri Lanka.
As President Sirisena pointed out to the world leaders, the government has restored democracy, rule of law, the independence of judiciary and media. Today, no one has the feeling of insecurity, abduction or disappearance. The government has also constituted the Constitution Council and through it established independent commissions.
“We are dedicated to ensure that the country will accomplish economic prosperity. Specially, my government is committed to creating a fair and just society by strengthening the rule of law.
Through such transformative steps, we have laid the foundation necessary to forge national reconciliation, communal harmony and ensure non-recurrence of conflict in our country,” he said.
President Sirisena said that the commitments we have made and the new programmes we have launched are very important to solve our problems. “As a sovereign state, we need no foreign influence or threats.
As such, I reiterate my request to all, to allow us to sort out our problems as a sovereign nation, that moves forward while protecting our rights.
I respectfully request the support of everybody as we will solve the problems that need to be solved as Sri Lankans. We also need your cooperation in my government’s mission to erase doubt, fear and mistrust among communities living in my beloved motherland, while nurturing lasting peace among all communities.”
Sumanthiran should understand that Maithripala Sirisena has not deviated from his election manifesto promise made at the January 2015 election that if elected, he would “address issues of accountability through national independent judicial mechanisms.”
President Sirisena’s policy that the Sri Lankan judiciary is capable of ensuring justice to all has been endorsed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who said at the Oxford University last week, that there was no need for foreign intervention in Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of war crimes against the security forces and the LTTE.
Responding to a question, he said that the current Sri Lankan government had, since assuming office on January 15, 2009, restored democracy, the independence of public institutions including the judiciary and police, addressed to a large extent reconciliation issues, rehabilitation of the war affected and returned a majority of civilian lands that were in the hands of the military to its rightful owners, while taking into consideration national security.
Premier Wickremesinghe said foreign assistance was welcome, but it was better for the war crimes allegations to be investigated by the Sri Lankan judiciary. “Any one is free to come and observe the proceedings.
In keeping with UN resolutions, we report to Geneva of the progress made on transitional justice, reconciliation, reparations and rehabilitation . Our next report is due in March 2019.”
Another area in which much progress has been made is the issue pertaining to military acquired land in the North and the East.
President Sirisena said last week that the people in the North and East should be given back the land they are entitled to and directed the relevant officials to resolve all existing problems and release such land to the legally entitled owners before December 31 this year.
The President issued this directive when he presided over a meeting of the Presidential Task Force on North East Development held for the third time at the Parliamentary Complex on October 3.
The President directed officials to implement the programme according to a systematic time frame and report its progress at next month’s Presidential Task Force meeting.
Special attention was drawn at this meeting towards the release of land and buildings belonging to schools in the North and East held by the Armed Forces and the on going programme for resolving the drinking water problem in the North and East.
The relief programme drawn up for the benefit of people in the Kilinochchi District affected by the serious drought and the programme launched to combat violence and combat the drug problem in the North and East came under discussion at this meeting. The President who inquired after the progress of development in the sacred Madhu area said all parties should perform their duties and responsibilities of restoring the benefits of development denied to the people in the North and East.
The President also stressed the need to achieve expected development targets with the support of all sections.
Opposition Leader R.Sampanthan, who participated in this meeting, should enlighten his prodigy Sumanthiran about these steps taken by the Presidential Task Force to bring relief to the Tamil people.
Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who accompanied the President to New York told the UNHRC in Geneva later, “We have taken upon ourselves the reforms which are beneficial to our people.
In this regard, the government is well aware of where we should draw the line. We are confident that the International Community will defend us to the hilt at the March 2019 sessions of the UNHRC and therefore no one must unnecessarily worry about it.”
(The writer is Director, Research and International Media at the Presidential Secretariat)