Completion of the Work of APRC and Progress with the Political Process

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

SLDF Demands Completion of the Work of APRC and Progress with the Political Process The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) demands that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) facilitates the completion of the APRC process and the prompt announcement of its conclusions arrived at through its inclusive, transparent and democratic deliberations. SLDF demands that the GOSL no longer impedes the natural progression of the APRC deliberations set up to explore solutions to the issue of justice for minority communities that has been festering for 60 years, since independence. Recent news reports suggest that the APRC is being subjected to intense pressure by the ruling party and its Sinhala Buddhist nationalist allies, the JVP and the JHU, to abandon the conclusions reached through discussions over 18 months. Instead, the APRC appears to be under pressure to announce proposals that do not go beyond the twenty year old 13th amendment, which disregards the debates over the last two decades and the discussions that have taken place within the APRC.

SLDF regrets that the President has decided to take this arbitrary and undemocratic step to undermine the satisfactory conclusion of the APRC deliberations, much against his original stated aims for the APRC. The imposition of any formula outside of the APRC deliberations is undemocratic, an attack on the inclusive character of the APRC, and exhibits total disrespect to the parties involved, particularly those parties representing the interests of the minority communities. SLDF regrets that the ruling party has descended to such deplorable levels of political expediency and opportunism at a time of serious political and security crisis when courageous leadership and political integrity ought to be shown by the country’s political leaders.

For sixty years, the minority communities have faced discrimination and ill treatment at the hands of the Sri Lankan State and Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. The Sri Lankan State’s failure to resolve the concerns of minorities has dragged us into a thirty year civil war and the accompanying devastation to all communities. Unless the State makes its commitment to arriving at serious proposals for constitutional reform that would guarantee a just and equitable political solution, the country will remain in turmoil, despite the military gains the government has made over the LTTE.

SLDF reiterates that the only way out of the current debacle is for the GOSL to meet the demands of the minorities and the democratic forces in the country and offer substantial devolution to the regions, power-sharing at the centre, and institute far reaching state reform, as proposed by the Chair of the APRC and the broad agreement reached over the last eighteen months of APRC deliberations.

The LTTE and the war

The LTTE, which claims to be the sole representative of the Tamil people having wiped out almost all of its parliamentary leadership, has waged a war for an independent state for nearly thirty years. The armed campaign for secession was begun challenging the parliamentary path as being too moderate and as not yielding any results. A settlement through negotiations has been anathema to the LTTE till now. There are no signs that it will change its view in the near future. Despite its claims the LTTE has not been able to achieve anything for the Tamils, and indeed has set the community back in its quest for equality and justice. It has depleted the numbers of the Tamil community, exacerbated divisions within the Tamil community that will take a long time to heal, and has also set the Tamil community at loggerheads with the Muslim community. Today the LTTE suffers from total political bankruptcy and isolation, and is in no position to lead or represent the Tamils.

War propaganda, ethnic polarisation and the imperative of a political solution The government’s unashamedly jingoistic campaign over the war has unleashed Sinhala Buddhist extremist forces, and has polarised the communities more than ever. The Sinhala Buddhist nationalist leadership, which conflates the Tamil people with the LTTE, is representing every LTTE military set back as a political and ideological blow against the claims of Tamils and Muslims to live in the country as equal citizens. This is no recipe for a sustainable peace.

SLDF demands that the political process, which requires compromises on all sides so that each community can come out a winner, is given primacy. The discourse around the war and excessive militarization portrays the interests of the majority as being diametrically opposed to the interests of the minority communities, suggesting that minority interests somehow will have to be met at the expense of the majority, which is not the case. Only an immediate and sincere commitment to the APRC - the only political process in motion - and its due completion will take the country away from this destructive and polarising logic of war.

Senior government officials and their political supporters within the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist lobby are presenting a two stage formula to resolve the ethnic crisis: the demise of the LTTE first, and addressing the grievances of the minorities later. This relies on the stereotypical Sinhala Buddhist nationalist slogan that all problems of the minorities began with the advent of the LTTE. There is no acknowledgement of the historic injustices meted out to the minorities which continue till today, and that the State has the fundamental responsibility to address minority grievances, war or no war with the LTTE. This is essentially a political problem that has given rise to a crisis of serious proportions that threatens the country. Such developments cannot be neatly compartmentalised and dealt with schematically into military victory first and political process later. The only way the LTTE’s fascist politics can be totally defeated is if the political process is taken forward.

The government claimed that the APRC process would be finalized once the budget was passed in December 2007. The budget has been passed in the government’s favour, but we see no genuine movement. Many fear that the obstacles created by the government and its hard line Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist supporters will make the APRC process fail, and then the government would rely upon this to scuttle the political process altogether in the interest of a purely military approach. If the government is to inspire confidence amongst the minority communities, it has to take immediate action to prove that this is not the case. A credible outcome of the APRC process will make minority communities see that there are possibilities in negotiating with the State, despite the belligerence of Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. The majority community will perceive that it is possible to bring the minority communities on board, and assist them to disavow their ties with extremist forces such as the LTTE.

State reform and devolution

The APRC deliberations have been conducted in the context of an ever-deepening crisis of democracy in constitutional and political terms. It is looking into the question of overall state reform that could set off processes of democratisation, that our deeply divided and militarised country needs. The fundamental reform of the state and changes to the system of governance being proposed by the APRC would serve the whole country well for the 21st century.

The APRC is not simply proposing piecemeal reform that would be put together to satisfy the Tamil community’s concerns alone. It is envisaged that addressing minority grievances and devolution from the centre to the regions, particularly to the North and East, ought to be couched within the overall reform of the State. This kind of reform will not benefit one community’s interests at the expense of the other. It is only through an inclusive political process of give and take, where everyone benefits, that a lasting peace could be achieved.

Over the last year and a half, even in the face of manipulation by the President and his Sinhala Buddhist nationalist allies, the APRC was moving towards consensus on important issues. These features, which were also articulated in the Majority Report of the Experts Committee in December 2006 and the Vitarana Report of January 2007, should be addressed in the final APRC proposals if it is to have the necessary legitimacy and acceptance among the minority communities. We summarize below some of these crucial issues:

-The structure of the state to ensure a united Sri Lanka, without emotive labels such as “federal” and “unitary”.
Substantial devolution of power to the provinces without a concurrent list of powers.
-A bicameral legislature with greater representation for the minorities and the provinces.
-The abolition of the executive presidency and a combination of Proportional Representation with the Westminster-type parliamentary system of government.
-Implementation of bilingualism, proportional employment of minorities in the public sector, and adequate education facilities for minorities.

Interim administrations without a final vision SLDF demands that any interim administration should be set up only after the conclusions of the APRC are made public and a clear path is delineated to progress towards state reform. Any interim arrangement should be one phase of an overall process, with a final objective to achieve state reform and devolution. Otherwise it is likely that an interim administration will help entrench structures of power that are deeply undemocratic and unaccountable. SLDF fears that the setting up of interim arrangements that are not democratic, and lack legitimacy and accountability with the people living in the regions, could prove to be disastrous for the future of a just peace in Sri Lanka.
International consensus and support

There is a growing consensus within the international community both in the West and in Asia that progress with the APRC and the announcement of credible proposals for state reform will enable them to assist with reconstruction and development processes. The Government, having abrogated the CFA, has a duty to expedite the internal political process through the APRC. While there was much that was wrong with the failed Norwegian peace process, the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists cannot continue to rely on their portrayal of the international community as the bogey man to renege on their obligations to the minority communities of this country.

On 21 October 2003 the joint statement between India and Sri Lanka asserted:
“India supports the process of seeking a negotiated settlement acceptable to all sections of Sri Lankan society within the framework of a united Sri Lanka... It believes that an enduring solution has to emerge purely through internal political processes. … India will maintain an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka... Any interim arrangement should be an integral part of the final settlement and should be in the framework of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.”
Such concerns four years ago gained further credence in an EU-India Joint Statement on 30 November 2007:
“There is no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. A negotiated, political settlement, acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, is the goal that all international efforts should encourage. A credible devolution package would be a major contribution to this end.”

If Sri Lanka is to gain from such a principled international consensus on a political solution developed through internal processes, the GOSL should show the necessary leadership within the country to move on a political solution and thereby gain the international support necessary for reconstruction and development.

Completing the APRC process
If the APRC process announces its findings without being subject to any manipulation, and the government progresses to the next stage in an effort to genuinely address the minorities’ grievances and aspirations within a united Sri Lanka, then it would be a major step forward in reversing the legacy of majoritarianism that has plagued Sri Lanka since independence. The GOSL should not hide behind the war or the LTTE to scuttle the political process. Reneging on the political process set up to address the legitimate grievances of minority communities as we approach the sixty year mark of troubled independence will only ensure a another legacy of failure for the current President, the government and its political leaders. The UNP also cannot hide behind a token opposition to the GOSL. If it is a responsible opposition, it needs to immediately work towards strengthening the APRC process and achieving a political solution to the crisis. In short, the political developments in the next few weeks will become another important historical test of the legitimacy and legacy of the much discredited political leaders in Sri Lanka. The APRC process should be completed in a credible manner and the conclusions made public without further delay.

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum
SLDF Statements are drafted by its twenty member Steering Committee.

For Media Queries Only Contact: [email protected] SLDF Spokespersons: Rengan Devarajan and Ahilan Kadirgamar Sri Lanka Democracy Forum Mission Statement Sri Lanka Democracy Forum is a community that shares a commitment to a democratic and pluralistic vision of Sri Lanka.

We recognize that in addition to the loss of lives, the costs of war also entailed the erosion of democracy, the demobilization of pluralistic and independent social movements, and the further victimization of marginalized communities. In that context, we believe that movement towards a just and sustainable peace must be accompanied by the reconstruction of a democratic community that protects and promotes social justice, and the individual and collective rights and freedoms of all communities in Sri Lanka.

We are in solidarity with, and have a commitment to support the efforts of marginalized communities to address past injustices, whether such injustice was based on the suppression of dissent, economic disempowerment, and/or on ethnic, gender or caste discrimination at the national or regional level.

Among other efforts, we seek to proactively support grass roots movements that seek to expand and revitalize conditions for a vibrant, pluralistic and independent civil society that nurtures freedom of conscience, diverse political affiliations and an independent media. Thus, we believe that the terrain for engagement is not merely macro-political policy, but also economic decision-making, cultural production, and diverse local struggles furthering democratization in all spheres of life.

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum had its inaugural meeting in Toronto, Canada in 2002.

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