The Opposition’s dilemma in handling the UN Panel issue

To challenge or to cooperate, what is the Government going to do with the report published by the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General (UNSG) to advise him on the accountability issues during the last stage of the war against the LTTE? Is it going to challenge any follow up moves by the UNSG or any other UN body or does it have any other means to defend itself?

The rhetoric by the ministers at press conferences and public meetings does not seem to serve the purpose of defending the government, since UN can bulldoze through any move by the Government. Those rhetorical remarks would be useful only for the domestic consumption.

The challenges and the rejections in respect of the Panel report by the leaders of the Government have to be treated as mere rhetoric since those who cried foul and threw challenges in a much bigger way earlier when the Panel was appointed meekly submitted when President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to invite the Panel members to visit the country in September last year.

Also there are reports that a delegation consisted of Attorney General Mohan Peiris, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN Dr. Palitha Kohona and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva who was practically in the battle field during the contentious last days of the war had met the Panel members in New York on February 22.

It is not clear as to why the Government missed two opportunities to present its version on the issues in question by its rejection of the Panel and its report. It could have given its version on the allegations in the Panel against the armed forces by meeting the Panel members, before they compiled the report. That could have prevented the publication of an unchallenged report.

Government could also have presented its side of the story even after the preparation of the report, but before its publication, as suggested by the UNSG. Then the report would have been published along with the Government’s counter version. Some ministers now argue that the “chapter is closed” as the UN had said that “establishment of an international investigation mechanism will require host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum.” However, does it mean that there is an assurance that there wouldn’t be an international probe? Or how can the Government get such an assurance?

The Opposition, on the other hand, is too in a dilemma facing the situation in the light of the allegation of human rights violations and war crimes against the Government. In a sense, they are attempting to “light the cigar while the other’s beard is on fire” as the Sinhala saying goes. UNP Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa had said that Government has to release jailed former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to defeat the Panel report. UNP had said that it would be willing to extend its maximum cooperation to the government to deal with international pressure if the government made a determined effort to restore democracy and repeal the draconian laws used by the state to stifle dissent.

The UNP and the JVP seem to attempt to get the suppressions on their political activities by the ruling party eased, using the difficult situation that the Government is in after the appointment of the Panel. However, the insinuation of violation of human rights in their argument itself runs counter to their protest against the Panel report and their implied position that they want to defend the government from the allegation of war crimes by the panel report.

If a government violates human rights of the democratic political parties when they are engaged in ordinary electoral activities and constitutionally accepted protests, as the Opposition parties claim, how would have the same government acted in a brutal war front, one may argue. However, the Opposition parties do not contend to that effect either. They too openly claim that no human rights violations or war crimes were committed by the armed forces during the war against the LTTE, while lashing out the Government for violating their rights and the rights of the IDPs and the Tamil voters.

Ironically, even the JVP, that had faced two brutal state crackdowns in which tens of thousands of its members including it founder leader Rohana Wijeweera perished, argues in favour of the armed forces that fought the LTTE. However, the same party blames the Government now for running a military rule in Jaffna after the war, which the government had vehemently denied.

It seems that both the ruling party and the Opposition are concerned over party politics, and not the national interest.

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