Human Rights, Constitutional Reform and Devolution in Sri Lanka
Posted on November 22nd, 2016

By Dr. Asoka Bandarage, Nov. 20, 2016

Significant efforts have been taken towards reconciliation and integration of the Tamil minority in the Sri Lankan political system since the defeat of the LTTE (terrorists) in May 2009. However, the Tamil separatist movement has not been halted. It is pursuing a separate state through political means, demanding an Autonomous Tamil Region merging the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.

Using ample funds and cultivating access to the British, U.S. and other western governments, pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora groups have influenced the United Nations in adopting the 2015 United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution (co-sponsored by the current U.S. backed Sri Lankan government) in Geneva and issuing the 2015 Report of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. Both documents call for accountability and international investigation of human rights violations in the final stage of the Sri Lankan armed conflict and international monitoring of transitional justice and reconciliation. Clause 16 of the U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution calls on the Sri Lankan government to devolve power on the basis of the 13 Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution and uphold its commitment to political settlement, reconciliation and human rights:

“Welcomes the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures, encourages the Government’s efforts to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population; and also encourages the Government to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka”.

However, the legitimacy of the United Nations to continue to intervene and monitor Sri Lanka is questionable given its ‘systematic failure’ to carry out its own duties and uphold humanitarian interests during the final phase of the Sri Lankan armed conflict. This failure has been admitted by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon himself. The Report on Secretary General’s Internal Review Panel on UN Actions in Sri Lanka, concludes:

“…events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN. The elements of what was a systemic failure can be distilled into … a UN system that lacked an adequate and shared sense of responsibility for human rights violations; …an incoherent internal UN crisis-management structure which failed to conceive and execute a coherent strategy in response to early warnings and subsequent international human rights and humanitarian law violations against civilians. …”

U.N. documents refer to human rights violations by ‘both parties’. However, as the LTTE no longer exists as such, calls for accountability are now directed solely at the Sri Lankan government in power during the last stage of the armed conflict. Accountability is not called for from external groups who provided funds for the terrorist LTTE to acquire weapons to kill thousands of civilians, forcibly conscript Tamil children as rebels and suicide bombers, destroy property and Buddhist sacred sites, so on and so forth. An international investigation which focuses merely on one party – the Sri Lankan government- and on just the final phase of the war, absolves all the other parties to the thirty year war -the LTTE, various Tamil militant groups, previous Sri Lankan governments, the JVP, the IPKF, et.al. – of human rights violations.

Constitutional Reforms

Is the ultimate objective of international pressure, humanitarian justice or coercion of the Sri Lankan government to concede Tamil regional autonomy through the 13th Amendment? Would that bring peace with justice to the beleaguered island given the threats it poses to the rights of the Sinhala majority, the Muslim and other minorities? There is no historical validity to the ‘Tamil Homelands’ concept upheld in the 13th Amendment imposed on Sri Lanka through the Indian intervention in 1987. Contemporary demographic realities and the traditions of multiculturalism and mutual co-existence in Sri Lanka also contradict the need for Tamil separatism. The majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka live in the southern regions of the island outside the disputed ‘Tamil Homeland’. The claimed regions, especially the Eastern Province is characterized by ethno-religious pluralism rather than Tamil exclusivity. Muslims and Sinhalese population were driven out by the LTTE during the course of the war. Current developments indicate that ethnic cleansing would worsen under Tamil regional autonomy

“Despite these ground realities, the Sri Lankan government is now forging ahead with proposals for comprehensive constitutional reform in response to the Geneva Resolution and the tight timeline set by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In March 2016, the Sri Lankan Parliament adopted a resolution to establish a Constitutional Assembly (comprising all the Members of Parliament sitting as a separate body) to develop a new constitution and go to referendum in 2017. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has commended the constitutional reform process saying it has “achieved significant momentum” and would provide “an opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to past human rights violations, and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence …”.

Devolution

The Constitutional Reform Sub-Committee on Centre-Periphery Relations is made up of 11 Members of Parliament drawn from different political parties. It is chaired by a member of the ITAK (Illankai Tamil Arasa Katchu), the Tamil State Party begun by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who envisioned federalism as a stepping stone to eventual secession. In the Preface to the recently released draft Report, the Sub- Committee Chairman states: ‘We have rushed through this report due to time constraints’, thereby raising concerns over the wisdom of the sub-Committee’s recommendations on the fundamental issue facing the country.

The draft Report refers to the present unitary character of the constitution as an ‘impediment’ to devolution. Its recommends going beyond the 13th Amendment to transform the governance structures by dismantling the powers of the central government and equipping and empowering each Province to pursue full independence from the Center and from each other. Among the recommendations of the draft Report are exclusive power over land to the Provinces with the Center having to request lands for national projects from the Provinces; fiscal powers to the Provinces including the power to receive foreign direct investment; police powers exercised under independent Provincial police commissions; abolition of the present Concurrent List (on subjects shared between the Center and the Provinces); reduction of the Governor, the representative of the Center to a nominal status..

There is no provision in the draft proposals for retaining the Center’s power to override Provincial statutes with a two third majority vote in Parliament. Without such a provision, each Province would be constitutionally independent and have the freedom to secede from the federal union. This would pose a threat to the sovereignty, unitary character and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It would undermine the Central government’s ability to respond to common threats to the environment and the security of the island as a whole, resulting in conflicts between Provinces over boundaries, waterways, coastline, cultural heritage sites, etc.

Although it is only the Northern region that has been clamoring for separation, the proposed decentralized structure is likely to encourage political elites in other regions also to secede to augment their own powers. It is bound to revive the call for a separate Muslim political entity in the Eastern Province which emerged during the 2002 Norwegian facilitated peace process to establish LTTE control over the north and the east. Similar to developments elsewhere in the world, efforts to enforce regional autonomy along ethnic lines in Sri Lanka could lead to ethnic cleansing and new forms of conflict and violence.

Political fragmentation and destabilization could facilitate greater foreign intervention in Sri Lanka which is strategically located in the heart of the Indian Ocean in a major international trade route. The sea bridge and tunnel planned by India to physically connect northern Sri Lanka with Tamil Nadu, the homeland of 60 million Tamils in India, could provide the basis for realizing the long held Tamil separatist dream of ‘Greater Eelam’. However, it could simultaneously threaten the stability and unity of India itself.

The blood of thousands of ordinary Sinhala and Tamil youth has been spilled over the 13th Amendment, devolution and separatism in recent Sri Lankan history. The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim elites in Sri Lanka and the Indian and western elites must not let that happen once again. The difficult political situation in Sri Lanka, as in the world, requires honest and balanced perspectives that transcend narrow ethnic and separatist interests. Just policies that protect all communities and the natural environment are urgently needed.

4 Responses to “Human Rights, Constitutional Reform and Devolution in Sri Lanka”

  1. S.Gonsal Says:

    “The blood of thousands of ordinary Sinhala and Tamil youth has been spilled over the 13th Amendment..”

    Not TRUE. Blood spilled has nothign to do with the 13th amendment. There was blood spiilled before the 13th amendment came, and there was blodd spilled after the 13th amendment became effective. Merger of the Noth and East was declared illegal by spreme court and we should thank JVP for that as they were the only political party who took legal action. Wijedasa Rajapakse’s help as a lwayer to run the case too shall be appreciated.

    So, we have an illegal 13A, which did not prevent any blood spilling but has now become a Cancer to kill the nation eventually.
    It created Provincial Councils creating another layer of corruption and another factory producing thugs, hooligons and thieves. After graduation they go to parliament.

    So called draft of new constitution is not new, it is based on the 13th amendment paving way to further destructions. Idiots who drafted this con-institution recommends something like

    If 10 siblings are in the family and if only one is working, his salary shall be destributed to others who don’t work and one who is earning should not ask any question how that money is spent.

    This analogy proves how the brains of those who graduated from 13th amendment school of absurdity work.

    We need a Donald Trump who promises,

    1. All are equal and shall be treated equally and are free to choose own language and religion
    2. All citizens shall learn to communicate with the official language, Sinhala
    3. All citizens shall respect the official religion Buddhism while they are free to practice any religion
    4. Langauage of instruction in all governement schools will be the official language
    5. Death Penalty to terrorism and pocession of Fire Arms
    6. Death Penalty to selling Kudu
    7. Death Penaly to 3 wheel killing machines and substandard 4 wheeled vehicles
    8. Governement run transport systm ( no private hooligon run busses)
    9. All politicians shall take public transport for day to day travel, official vehicles given ( a cheap but safe vehicle , No Luxuray vehicles) when for official travel only.

  2. plumblossom Says:

    The new constitution is nothing but a federal state or even worse Eelam. The treacherous Ranil, CBK, Mangala and Sirisena and the godfather of the federal or Eelam constitution Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne are going to abolish the concurrent list. Even India and Pakistan which are huge countries and which have federal constitutions have a concurrent list. Even South Africa which is huge country but is a unitary state has a concurrent list. However tiny, little Sri Lanka is going to get rid of its concurrent list as per the wishes of the TNA, other separatists, the US, EU, UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden etc.

    The godfather of the new federal or Eelam constitution the treacherous Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne is going to set up a constitutional court which is above the supreme court to deal with constitutional issues which arise which will be manned by foreign funded NGO lackeys. Not only that, the Governor of a Province who is the executive at the provincial level, his powers will be given over to the Chief Minister of the Province.

    Not only that, land and police powers will be given to the provincial councils which means there will be nine different police forces in the country. Vigneshwaran will then use his police force to ethnically cleanse the North of Sinhala people. Giving land powers to Vigneshwaran means he will ethnically cleanse the entire North of Sinhala people using his Eelam police force. Giving land powers to provincial councils in equivalent to handing over Eelam.

    Not only this, the subject national planning is to be handed over to the provincial councils. This is similar to handing over an Eelam if the provinces can draw up their own national plans. The public service commission will be turned into nine public service commissions with each province having their own public service. There will be nine different police forces in the country with each police force being under the chief minister of each province. Even worse, certain fiscal powers will also be handed over to the provincial councils. Therefore the provincial councils will be able to raise funding via taxes etc. This is highly dangerous since this is yet another move paving the way towards Eelam or a separate state. All fiscal powers should be with the central government not the provincial councils.

    Worst is that at present sovereignty lies with the people with the executive being the presidency, the legislative the parliament and the judiciary being the judiciary that is there at present. This will be converted to sovereignty lies with the people with the executive being the presidency but the legislative being not just the parliament but the provincial councils and the local councils as well. This is extremely dangerous and can be used in a court of law to argue for a separate state in the North.

    This new constitution is highly dangerous and equivalent to handing over an Eelam. It should be rejected in total by the Sinhala people and all patriotic Sri Lankans if they have even an ounce of sense. Let us keep what is there at present which is more than sufficient as per the centre periphery relations

  3. plumblossom Says:

    The Joint Opposition is requested by the Sri Lankan Solidarity Movement to publish the above mentioned report about the Recommendations by the Sub-Committee on the Centre and Periphery Relationship and talk as urgently as possible about its extreme dangers to the Mahanayake Theros.

    Please keep in mind that even India and Pakistan which are huge, massive countries and who are federal states have retained their concurrent lists. South Africa which is a huge country is a unitary state and has a concurrent list. However tiny, little Sri Lanka is proposing to get rid of the concurrent list as the TNA and the US, EU, UK, Norway, Sweden, Canada and India wants.

    The Sri Lankan Solidarity Movement thinks that the treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala are doing what a bunch of stuck up US, EU, UK, Norway, Sweden, Canadian politicians who have a superiority complex, are neo-colonialists and imperialists want (since these countries are resource and strategic location hungry) in order to please these stuck up US, EU, UK, Norway, Sweden, Canadian politicians at great expense to all future generations of Sri Lankans and betraying 2600 years (of Sinhala Buddhist Civilization) and actually 37000 years (as attested by pre-historic finds, stone age and iron age finds) of independence and freedom of the island of Sri Lanka by partitioning this island which has never ever happened in its 2600 and in fact its 37000 year history.

    This is happening degree by degree, surreptitiously and slowly as the treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala have planned and happening slowly but surely. We do not feel it since it happens surreptitiously degree by degree. However suddenly these recommendations by the sub-committee to provide extremely great amounts of powers to provincial councils will be included in the constitution as Ranil wants and at the referendum there will be stuffed ballot boxes and somehow the referendum will be passed. Everything happens as Ranil wants it to happen and in order to please the stuck up US, EU, UK, Norway, Sweden, Canada European politicians. This is what the Sri Lankan Solidarity Movement has noticed.

    Ranil is fooling the Sinhala people big time by doing this slowly, surreptitiously and degree by degree. This is how the OMP Act was passed. That is how the federal or Eelam constitution will be passed as well, surreptitiously, degree by degree and by use of stuffed ballot boxes.

    Our grave suspicion is that the treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala have already promised the US, UK, EU, Sweden, Norway and Canadian politicians, the TNA and all other separatists that the recommendations of the sub-committee to provide extremely great amount of powers to provincial councils will happen as planned. Therefore it will happen as planned.

    The only way to stop the treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala is to publicize in the Sri Lankan media that this is what they are planning to do and shout out as loud as possible i.e. tell all to the Sri Lankan media, especially the Sinhala media so that this treacherous plan is exposed and the treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala then will have to answer to the Sri Lankan public, especially the Sinhala people and all other patriotic Sri Lankans about this.

    The best remedy is to do everything possible to ensure that the proposed constitution is as unitary as possible and to campaign very hard for that. As long as the constitution is unitary and no more powers are given to the provincial councils, Sinhala Buddhists and even Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Veddhas, Burghers are safe. If however, any more powers are given to provincial councils, all of the above and in particular the Sinhala people will be very insecure and unsafe and our future very precarious and uncertain.

  4. plumblossom Says:

    The proposed federal or Eelam constitution should be rejected totally by all patriotic Sri Lankans. We should do all we can to reject the proposed federal or Eelam constitution in total.

    However treacherous Ranil and the treacherous UNP government will try to create some kind of rift or conflict between the Sinhala Buddhists and the Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. in order to create problems so that it will then be easy to pass this treacherous federal or Eelam constitution without much problems. This is what the treacherous Ranil, the treacherous UNP, CBK, Mangala etc. did before 8th January 2015 so that the 40-50% moderate Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. vote was reduced and Mahinda Rajapakshe did not win as a result. Please do not fall for this cheap trick again and again is my plea to Sinhala people. My plea to Sinhala people is please use your brains at least once and not fall for such cheap tricks like this. Small problems can be resolved and is a million times less dangerous than a treacherous Ranil/Sirisena SLFP/JVP/Pacha Ranawaka/TNA government which will now bring on a federal or Eelam constitution.

    This is what the US,EU,UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden, India has told treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala to do i.e. create some kind of rift between the Sinhala Buddhists and the Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. so that they can then pass the federal or Eelam constitution with ease. So my plea is do not fall for this cheap trick again and again if Sinhala people have an ounce of sense.

    We should reject the federal or Eelam constitution in total and work with all patriotic Sri Lankans whoever they are and who are to reject the federal or Eelam constitution in total and work for a unitary state with only limited powers to provincial councils.

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