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Anglican Church Submissions Before Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

Nov 2, 2010 1:13:52 PM- transcurrents.com

(The Church of Ceylon (the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka) forwards a copy of our written submissions to the above for the information of all concerned persons.

A summary of these submissions were orally presented when the Rt.Revd. Duleep de Chickera – Bishop of Colombo, the Rt.Revd. Kumara Illangasinghe – Vicar General of Kurunegala, the Ven. Philip Nesakumar – Archdeacon of Jaffna met the commissioners on the 29th of October 2010)

Our Submissions

We appreciate and welcome the wording in the Warrant issued by the President to the Commission that the end of the war presented an opportune moment for our ‘multi-ethnic polity to undertake a journey of common goals in a spirit of co-operation, partnership and friendship.’ We believe the common goals referred to in the Warrant are contained in Item (v) of the terms of reference given to the Commission, namely the promotion of national unity and reconciliation. We agree that this goal can best be achieved by learning lessons from our history.

In this regard, we must express our disappointment that the mandate of the Commission has been restricted to the period from 21st February 2002 to 19th May 2009. It is well known that the causes of our National conflict extend beyond this period and also teach important lessons. These centre around issues of land, colonisation, ethnic and national identity, national security and sovereignty, citizenship, language, resettlement, and devolution.

Reference must also be made to issues related to governance and egalitarianism in a plural socio-economic stratified society which resulted in insurgencies in our country both in the south and north. The underlying causes of these insurgencies were recognised by the political establishment in our country but far too late. Since however the mandate of the Commission is in respect of the northern ethnic conflict we shall confine our submissions accordingly. We summarise our submissions as follows:

1.The need to treat all persons in custody with dignity and subject them to the due processes of the law. Their personal details must be published and their families/relatives provided access to them. Legal processes for those held in Prisons for long periods and some without any charges must be expedited. Those against whom no charges can be framed must be released without delay. Children conscripted by the militant groups should be offered counselling and returned to their families as quickly as possible.

2.Personnel of the Sri Lankan armed forces who have been deprived of opportunities for further study and qualification due to enlistment, should be given the opportunity to do so through differently structured courses and places in tertiary education.

3.The need to speedily re-settle all persons of all communities, displaced over the years due to the conflict, in their original areas of residence. Consequently the need to retain areas already declared as High Security Zones should be reviewed and rationalised. Declaring further areas of private land as High Security Zones, must be avoided. We are concerned that many people who have lived on or owned lands have been denied access to their lands. While recognizing that the de-mining exercise continues and will take time, a gradual lifting of the restrictions on the freedom of movement is necessary.

4.There must not be any state sponsored colonisation of the North and East with people from outside these Provinces. This has been one of the causes for the ethnic conflict in our country and should not be repeated. Into this category will also fall the reported moves to provide military personnel with land for settlement with families in the North and East. This will spread fear, cause tensions, and undermine other moves towards reconciliation. The right of all Sri Lankans to reside anywhere in the Country is not in conflict with the stance.

5.The planning, reconstruction and development of the North and East must be done in consultation and dialogue with the people and civil society leaders of the area. Facilities and personnel should be provided to address the trauma experienced by the people of these areas during years of LTTE control and war. Priority in the recruitment of labour for any of these projects must be given to the people of the area. Private sector contractors must also be encouraged to do so. This will enhance their self worth as persons.

6.Sri Lankan Tamils in camps in South India and other Sri Lankans who were compelled to leave our shores for other lands and who wish to return should be encouraged to do so. A swift transparent screening process of such persons will be necessary and acceptable. It may be useful to hear a cross section of these groups on their fears and aspirations.

7.There must be a gradual but clearly visible move towards civilian administration in the North and East. Such a move signals normalcy and puts people at ease. For this, the mere holding of local government elections is not enough. It must be ensured that the powers of provincial and civic administrators to deal with matters within their purview are not undermined. In addition, the presence of military personnel in the North and East must be reduced and the maintenance of law and order and the prevention of crime restored to the Police. There should be adequate Tamil-speaking personnel in the police force, beginning with the lower ranks in all Police Stations in the North and East. The people of these areas must have both the facilities and confidence to transact business with the police and all public offices in the Tamil language.

8.The need to fully implement the present constitutional and legal provisions relating to governance, devolution of power, human rights, language rights and a public service independent of party politics needs to be expedited.

9.Some of the post war administrative and structural developments in the North and East seem to obstruct the process of reconciliation and restoration of normalcy. We are unclear as to the legitimacy and role of the Presidential Task Force and are concerned about its impact on shared governance, the involvement of civic minded groups in the work of rehabilitation and the authority of elected representatives of the region.

10.The military happenings during the closing stages of the war in April/May 2009 have received adverse publicity in Sri Lanka and the world. Serious allegations have been made about the violation of humanitarian law. Reported denial of access to a cross section of the media to this area of war has deprived the public of information from a source that is independent of the state and also blurs these allegations. This is a sensitive issue that threatens the integrity of the state and the image of the nation and needs to be addressed in a participatory and transparent manner.

11.There is also a need to set up a mechanism to expedite, rationalise and assist persons to trace; and where necessary obtain new documents such as title deeds to lands, birth, marriage and educational certificates; and where applicable, death certificates.

12.Non-Governmental organizations that can assist in the work of rehabilitation in the North and East should be permitted to do so. The existing laws of the land are adequate to deal with those who violate the sovereignty, security or the laws of the country.

13.There must be a mechanism for the healing of memories and for trust-building within and amongst all communities. Cross cultural education which will bring children of the different ethnic communities together in regions where there are cosmopolitan communities as well as an integrated teaching of history will enhance this process and lay the foundation for trust and reconciliation. Particular attention should be given to the victims of violence and those with extremist views. Those living in border villages need assistance as well. Since the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation may not permit this to be undertaken by this Commission, a Commission with a broader mandate on the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission may profitably be employed in the healing of memories.

14.While taking note of the work of the Udalagama Commission, we feel that there is a need for the immediate appointment of another Commission that would investigate the numerous killings and abductions of civilians which occurred during the conflict . This Commission could also be mandated to trace and publish lists of persons missing or killed during the period of war and conflict.

15.The continuation of the scope of Emergency, Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act needs, review. These have often been used to stifle legitimate democratic activities and intimidate political opposition. As long as such measures are in place they will pose a threat to normalcy and national reconciliation. There can be no better deterrent to a resurgence of grievance and terrorism than the restoration of the democratic rights of the people, law and order and good governance.

16.There must be a return to the culture of media freedom and the right to dissent a free public discourse in such a culture will enlighten the public on national issues and enhance the process of national unity and reconciliation.

17.The root causes of the ethnic conflict are political and therefore must be addressed by political and constitutional reforms. This needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. The APRC proposals and a Bill of Rights could, after public discussion, form the basis for these reforms.

18.The people must have confidence that the government is serious about implementing the recommendations of Commissions it has appointed. In this regard, we are concerned about the lack of transparency in not releasing the report of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry and final report of the APRC.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

The Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe
Vicar-General of Kurunagala

2nd November 2010