The Advisory Panel Report: In Search of a Response

I hope and trust readers of the column will indulge me. Over the past years I have referred to a coterie of self-defined earnest patriots and defenders of the current regime as apparatchiks and toxic hacks. Over the past few days I find that they hold me responsible for writing what they refer to as the Darusman Report, in whole or part or at the very least of being the principal source of information to the hated troika of Darusman, Sooka and Ratner. On an earlier occasion Prof Wijesinha wrote of me as the wannabe/would be foreign minister in the event that Ranil Wickremesinghe won the presidency and if I remember correctly they subscribed to the opinion that I was chiefly responsible for the loss of the GSP Plus concession.

I must retract my unkind remarks. Without a cent being forked out to them or kind word of them spoken, these devoted opinion makers have taken on the mantle of being my Bell and Pottinger, Paton and Boggs. As to who is who, is best left for them to sort out in their abundance of imagination and love of country. On a more serious note, the Panel Report, not surprisingly is generating more heat than light in terms of its contents and implications. Two points that I have made in respect of this, is that the Report is out there and requires a response that will settle the matter once and for all.  The second point is that the Report is justifiably harsh on the LTTE for the atrocities it committed in the final phase of the war – the period the Panel was charged with looking at. This is lost in the hysterical and shrill denunciations of the Report. It is significant because it directly and cogently challenges the attempt by Tamil nationalists to equate the events of May 2009 with those of July 1983 and in doing so stoke the fires of secession. Coming to terms with the Report and responding to it honestly and courageously is a challenge to Tamil political representation both here and abroad. It is one that the TNA should take up and not shirk. This must not be forgotten or brushed aside or under in the din of pseudo- patriotic fervor.

Connected to this is a third point. This is the issue of the legitimacy of the Panel and its Report. For a start is what it says about the LTTE to be discounted? If not why should the rest be? Is the Report a curate’s egg or pure and simply a rotten one?

Each of the members of the Panel including its head who the regime saw fit to invite onto its Independent International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), has been rubbished for being mala fide and paid up members of an international conspiracy hatched by the remnants of the LTTE and the West against the regime. Perhaps a less immature approach would have led to no Panel at all or a say in who was to be on it? Moreover, a perusal of the Report indicates clearly that the regime was in contact with the Panel and the Secretary General on the subject of the Panel -that is apart from the February 22nd meeting. The Minister of External Affairs in a written communication to the Secretary General of 15 February 2011 states in his characteristically elegant phraseology, “My President believes that there should be a seamless connectivity between your approach and that of the LLRC.”

He goes on to state that the Presidential Secretariat has been “tasked” by the President with the responsibility of responding to the 15 questions directed to the LLRC by the Panel. The Professor notes that this has been done by His Excellency the President, in “recognition of our close relationship with the United Nations and your own goodwill and support for the continued progress of Sri Lanka….” Were there to have been some complex and nuanced strategy towards the Panel of blanket denunciation on the one hand and discreet engagement on the other, this has not come out in the wash.

 May Day was not the anti-Moon fest, promised and anticipated by some and the Report is to be hitherto referred to as the “Darusman Report”, distancing it from the UN and the Secretary – General.

Yet, this is all optics. The serious business of a serious response is yet to unfold. Media reports indicate that there is to be lobbying of key members of the international community to forestall any action in the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. This deals with the short term and if successful should not be taken as a license for inaction, nationally. At the heart of all human rights concerns in this country is the culture of impunity and the need to do something credible and effective about it nationally. Leave aside for a moment the allegations in the Report, what happened to the
cases before the Commission of Inquiry (COI), the Trincomalee Five, the ACF Seventeen and a host of other within the purview of the COI and outside of it? Indeed, what happened to the Report? The same question can be asked about
Witness and Victim Protection legislation, not to mention the Human Rights Action Plan. The regime insists that the Report undermines reconciliation. As others have asked – what is the process of reconciliation currently underway? Forcing Tamil school children to sing the national anthem in Sinhala, building
army headquarters on burial grounds, postponing the release of the list of detainees requested by the TNA on behalf of families in the north and the list of beneficiaries of the houses gifted by India, militarization of the north and east?

The Tamil contingents bussed in for the May Day jamboree notwithstanding, is the regime really convinced that the Tamil community of the north agree with them in substantive measure on the Report? Do they not feel in the slightest way empowered that their sojourn to hell and back has been recorded and acknowledged and do they not hope that it will provide some space for a settlement of their grievances and aspirations?

 We need a credible national mechanism to deal with human rights accountability. We cannot have one if the Rule of Law is flouted, if there are no checks and balances on the exercise of executive power, no independent commissions for human rights, the police and the public service and no political commitment to the importance of human rights protection and accountability in moving this country to a post conflict phase and substantive democratic governance.

All of this seems clearly beyond my Bell and Pottinger, Paton and Boggs. Is it beyond this regime as well?

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