by Salma Yusuf
In Sri Lanka’s post-war context, two national mechanisms have been put in place. First, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report released at the end of 2011 calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka , among others, to work towards a political solution that is favourable and acceptable to all sides and communities concerned.
The home grown mechanism, independent in nature though commissioned by the Government, was developed to reflect upon and recommend action, and drew on solicited and unsolicited submissions from the public in all areas of the country and hence has been hailed for its credibility and transparency.
Second, and pursuant with its pledges at the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, the Government of Sri Lanka embarked on drafting a National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) in 2009. The Action Plan has sought to address the objective of improving human rights protection and promotion in all aspects, with targets to be achieved in five years. The Action Plan has subsequently been adopted by the Cabinet.
However, one of the key challenges to the successful realisation of such national mechanisms has been the lack of subsequent implementation. Such obstacles exist not due to a lack of expertise or experience by nationals and interested parties: rather, what remains is a growing need to garner the required will for implementation of such measures, and strengthen the machinery of implementation, if these national mechanisms are to reach fruition.
To compound the challenge, there presently exists a lack of a uniform voice on the current status of implementation of the national processes, which has resulted in much speculation and confusion in the minds of the citizenry. Thus, internal consensus reflected by uniform official public statements will serve the public well.
The efforts that have been invested in formulating the NHRAP will sadly be lost if subsequent action is not taken in an expedient manner. Furthermore, there is the risk, as is currently being seen, of such measures being labelled as mere rhetoric, if not translated into concrete and concerted follow-up action. The role of human rights protection and promotion in both peace-building and nation-building cannot be overstated. While upholding civil and political rights help to create in the citizenry a sense of security and belonging to the nation, the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights ensures that opportunities are generated through which a connection is felt towards the newly rebuilt state. Such an endeavour is not only beneficial for the citizenry but also for the state as it improves the relationship between the two, strengthening the social contract, and hence contributes to a new culture, structure and system of governance.
Any measures taken to design programmes to implement the LLRC and NHRAP should primarily seek to bring the initiatives of the LLRC and the NHRAP to the people, and to promote ownership of the mechanisms by the people of Sri Lanka – the first step towards achieving such would be to have the LLRC and NHRAP reports officially translated into Sinhala and Tamil languages and widely disseminated to the citizenry islandwide.
The democratic process of involving those affected in decisions that will ultimately affect their own lives serves an immediate purpose in itself – it creates a sense of connection to the country, which will go a long way in deterring the resurgence of conflict. Consequently, generating ownership of such programmes amongst the communities will lead to increased buy-in and thereby increase the chances of successful implementation of the initiatives undertaken. This will, in turn, ensure sustainability of the dividends of the initiatives, lead to empowerment of previously vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities kindle renewed hope in the future, while throughout fostering independence and self-sufficiency in the individuals and communities concerned.
That said, it must be cautioned, that while such consultations and discussions should be held regularly they must also seek to be inclusive and engage all ethnic communities and groups concerned, the reverse of which could be disastrous in that they will only reinforce and entrench previous perceptions of discrimination and marginalisation, descending into a new spiral of conflicts.
Implementation of national processes is critical for the post-war nation-building enterprise: it helps to rebuild confidence in the citizenry; reinforcing the fact that despite it being no easy task, there is every commitment by the state to address the root causes to the conflict and genuinely address the grievances of the communities and indeed the peoples of Sri Lanka.
The important next step
While the efforts in the Northern and Eastern rehabilitation and resettlement processes have been commendable, it is imperative that the important next step is taken, namely, reaching out to the Tamil community to address their concerns and grievances. The Muslim community has oft been caught in the cross-fires and hence need to be taken seriously and made stakeholders in any endeavour to move the country forward to lasting peace and stability. Implementation of the two national mechanisms put in place will thus be a step in the right direction.
In the final analysis, it is the consolidation of peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law domestically that will translate into the ability for us to maintain our sovereignty as a nation.
Above all, through every process and mechanism adopted to move the country forward from a phase of post-war to post-conflict, restoring dignity on the people who have suffered as a result of the conflict must be accorded utmost priority.