Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

The recent visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has once again brought out several issues that need to be addressed if Sri Lanka was to solve its issues permanently.

In his statement at the conclusion of his visit last week, Hussein, while conveying his satisfaction over the prevalent political environment, has reiterated the importance of taking action on certain key aspects that need to be dealt with immediately.
During his stay, he had met with several members of the Government and the Opposition.

Meeting with TNA
During his meeting with TNA Parliamentary Group Leader, R. Sampanthan, Hussein had raised concerns over delays in resettling Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the North.
Sampanthan, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, briefed Hussein on the humanitarian issues to be resolved in the North and East.

The talks were reportedly focused on the resettlement of IDPs,  the release of Tamil detainees, and on the disappeared persons.

Issues such as the Tamil detainees have been a critical factor as far as addressing the issues of Tamils are concerned.

Hussein pointed out that the government needed to work on finding formula to either charge or release detainees who were imprisoned for years without charge sheets filed against them.
Prisoners, is not the only issue that needs to be addressed if we are to solve the issue for good. But, it is an important factor. Many of these prisoners have been languishing in cells for years without being charged, and their families have been running here and there to somehow get them out.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) discussed the issue with President Maithripala Sirisena in October last year and the latter agreed to take steps so that a solution would be reached by November first week.

In addition, the issue of missing persons has been a burning issue for years. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently made a statement that most of those who were missing were not alive anymore.

Hussein in his final remarks pointed out that the Government had the responsibility to look at this issue seriously. “This statement must be followed by rapid action to identify precisely who is still alive and who has died or been killed, properly account for their deaths — including whether or not they were unlawful — identify the location of their remains, and provide redress,” Hussein said.
For example, a lot still needs to be done for the people in the North in terms of livelihood, education, and infrastructure.

Addressing, or even acknowledging their needs would play a significant part in building the confidence of the people.

Even though the war ended several years ago, several attempts that were made to solve the national issue failed. The TNA and the then government took part in several rounds of talks that focused on the long-term and the short-term needs of the Tamil speaking people in the North and East. However, the talks stopped halfway with both both parties blaming each other for the failure.

Such instances had not only hampered the process towards reconciliation, but have also had an impact on the confidence of the people on their own representatives.

One of the key reasons was the lack of confidence. The Tamil speaking people could not place their trust on the government owing to its inaction on various aspects of the issue. The prevalent political environment at the time and the government’s attitude towards minority issues played a pivotal role in the people losing their trust on them.

Today, the situation has changed. But, the government needs to get its priorities right if it was serious about solving the issues. The priority here is to regain the trust of the minorities. True, the minorities played a crucial role in bringing the government to power. But, the government has the responsibility to make sure that it works towards building that much-needed confidence.

The Independence Day celebration this year turned out to be an occasion to rejoice for the minorities. The move to end the celebration with the National Anthem being sung in Tamil evoked mixed responses, mostly positive.

The likes of TNA, while welcoming this move, have said that this was only a small step. But it is small steps such as these that help rebuild that much needed confidence of the people.

R. Sampanthan
R. Sampanthan