The proposals made by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Monday to address Tamil grievances have evoked appreciation generally.
Mr. Samaraweera, while speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, proposed the adoption of a new Constitution and setting up of a truth commission, among other things, to address the Tamil question.
R. Sampanthan, Leader of Opposition in Parliament and the Tamil National Alliance chief, said present government’s stand on the issue is different from its predecessors. “The government is adopting the correct position,” pointed out Mr. Sampanthan.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, founder of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a civil society organisation engaged in non-violent conflict resolution and democratic governance, also welcomed the proposals. The government has acknowledged mistakes of the past and there appears to be a “commitment” on its part, Dr. Saravanamuttu said.
Vikasa Dharmadasa, chairperson of the Association of War Affected Women, a Kandy-based group, said the Foreign Minister’s proposals are “comprehensive and very progressive”.
Vasudeva Nanayakkara, a critic of the government and leader of the Democratic Left Front, also supported “many of the proposals”. He claimed that some suggestions such as amending the penal code for criminalising enforced disappearances and setting up an institution to attend to families of missing persons were mooted when he was a minister in the Mahinda Rajapksa government. He emphasised on the need of a reconciliatory approach towards the issue of war crimes instead of focusing on retribution.
But, TNA’s Mr. Sampanthan said the commitments made by the government had to be honoured in full. “Given our experiences, Sri Lankans cannot be blamed for not having confidence in the domestic mechanism. International inputs may become inevitable. The [judicial] process must be structured to ensure a comprehensive resolution of the conflict.”
However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the proposals. Ananthy Sasitharan, member of the Northern Provincial Council, said that without tackling the root cause of the problem, there was no point in drafting proposals.
K.S. Ratnavel, a lawyer who has been pursuing cases concerning missing persons, said the proposals did not address the elements of justice and accountability effectively. Arguing that a credible mechanism is not possible domestically, he said the UN Security Council had to push for an international judicial process.
Udaya Gamanpila, leader of the Pivithuru Hela Uramaya, pulled up Mr Samaraweera for “internationalising an internal matter” of Sri Lanka. He said an effort would be made in Parliament to introduce an indemnity bill to protect “war heroes,” as done thrice in the past.