It is that time of the year again when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) meets in Geneva to discuss and analyze human rights issues in several parts of the world and ascertain the improvements made in concerns raised at previous sessions.

Sri Lanka is one country which continues to be closely monitored and scrutinized by the council owing to allegations of war crimes during the final phase of the war. Ever since Sri Lanka’s former regime was embroiled in these allegations, the UN HRC was keenly observed by all Sri Lankans, those who backed the then Government, and those who called for impartial probe into war crime allegations.

Arthur WamananThe run-up to the sessions often sees quite a bit of activities in terms of lobbying by Government, and the likes of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

In addition, there are those within the Diaspora who do their own lobbying to make sure that Sri Lanka is put in a spot with regard to the alleged war crimes, and the steps taken to address the concerns raised by the council during earlier sessions.

While the lobbying of the likes of the TNA in the immediate aftermath of the war was very strong, it had lightened since last year after the new government came into power.
Tamil parties divided

The relatively soft stance taken by the TNA on aspects of the government’s accountability has come under flak by certain sections of the Tamil Diaspora and political parties in the North. In fact, the TNA has been divided over the stance taken by the party high rankers on various issues pertaining to ethnic question.

However, it should be noted that R. Sampanthan’s role has broadened after he was appointed the Leader of the Opposition. Thus, he cannot look at issues from a minority’s point of view. He needs to have a holistic approach towards all issues that are faced by the people if his role as the Opposition Leader is to be effective.

However, it is also important for Sampanthan and the TNA to ensure that the current Government is kept on its toes in order to address key issues faced by Tamils and other minority communities.

Issues addressed
The main focus at the moment should be on the extent to which the Government has been successful in addressing the issues. The TNA has been bringing up the issues of lands forcibly taken and occupied by the military and the detainees. Though the Government had taken steps to release such lands and the detainees, former TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran pointed out that it was inadequate.

The Government has to make sure it addresses these issues, not to satisfy Geneva, but to ensure that its own people get what they deserve.

So far, the current government has taken certain steps pertaining to several matters pertaining to those affected by the conflict.

Certificate of Absence
On June 7, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the draft legislation enabling the issuance of Certificates of Absence. The move will, no doubt, make things easy for the relatives of those missing, who have been facing several practical issues as they did not have a document to state that their loved ones were missing.

According to a statement by the Foreign Ministry, the draft legislation which involves an amendment to the Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 19 of 2010 will now be gazetted and the process of presentation to Parliament will commence.

“This measure will help tens-of-thousands of Sri Lankans whose family-members and loved ones are missing and who are unable to address practical issues relating to their disappearance,” the statement said.

In fact, the Sri Lankan Government admitted that there were over 65,000 complaints registered with successive commissions that were appointed to look into the disappearances.

Sri Lanka has one of the largest case-loads of missing persons in the world,” the statement further added.

Most importantly, the certificate is not just a paper. “This means that the families of missing persons face a range of practical issues including inability or difficulty in facilitation of property transfer and ownership, applying for compensation, qualifying for social welfare payments and pensions and accessing frozen assets. Although a number of ad hoc measures have been attempted in the recent past, they have failed to successfully address issues faced by the families of the missing.”