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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 726

If 13A modified, Lanka’s future in danger - Sampanthan

Colombo, 17 November, (Asiantribune.com):

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan warned that the future of Sri Lanka R_Sampanthan_8_0.jpgwould be gravely harmed and irreparable damage if there was any effort on anyone’s part to do away with the 13th Amendment or to modify it so as to make it ineffective and worthless.

“We have always felt that the Thirteenth Amendment must be built upon so as to bring about meaningful devolution. That is the commitment that this Government has made to several countries; that is the commitment that this Government has made to the United Nations; that is the commitment that this Government has made to the international community”, he said at the at the fifth day of the second reading of the budget.

He said the effort that had been made by every single President after the enactment of the 13th Amendment, whether it be President Ranasinghe Premadasa, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga or President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, to improve upon it so as to bring about a meaningful devolution.

“ President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself has enunciated this position in the course of his address to the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts' Committee. It is contained in the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. So, Sir, this cannot be gone back on. The Thirteenth Amendment must be built upon towards achieving meaningful devolution. But, if you try to nullify it, if you try to amend it in such a way that it will become worthless, then, I am afraid, you are doing very much harm to this country and that is a step which, I do hope and pray, you will not take”, he said.

Following is the full text of the speech:

Mr. Speaker, a budget is both economic and political in content and, if I might say so, this Budget has been no exception. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also happens to be the Minister of Finance and Planning, in introducing the Budget, talked about peace, stability and development in the country, about the fact that the LTTE had endeavoured to distort the image of Sri Lanka abroad, of the Provincial Council Elections and of democracy. He placed particular confidence in the recently-announced results of the Eastern Provincial Council Election and expressed happiness that the people of the Eastern Province had placed their confidence in the Government. That is a matter in regard to which I would like to say a few words almost immediately.

There were 35 Members elected to the Eastern Provincial Council, of whom only 13 can be claimed by the Government as belonging to their party. There were 12 from the UPFA and one from the National Freedom Front, while 22 Members were elected from the parties which opposed the Government at the Provincial Council Election. They were the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi - the Tamil National Alliance - the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the UNP, which won 11 seats, seven seats and four seats respectively. In fact, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won seven seats at the election by attacking the Government. A Member of Parliament, who was a Minister in the Government, resigned from his position saying that it was incompatible for him to be a Minister and also be critical of the Government and oppose it at the election and therefore he was resigning. So, the reality is that the people of the Eastern Province did not repose their confidence in this Government. They elected only 13 Members on behalf of the Government; there were 22 Members elected on behalf of the Opposition. That is an indisputable fact, whatever may have happened after the elections and whatever may have been done by a political party for reasons best known to itself.

‘We are a country reeking with debt?’

Talking about the Northern Province, the President said that people had returned to normal living and that in a short time, resettlement, rehabilitation and other benefits had been achieved. He also said, Sir, in the course of his speech that communal and religious harmony had been restored in this country.

The Budget speaks of various development programmes which are to be welcomed. Only implementation will ensure that the people are able to receive the expected benefits. But, the Budget, I am sorry to state, is somewhat silent on the steps being taken to provide immediate relief to alleviate the hardships of the people who are suffering in several ways and to relieve them of the many burdens that they are presently undergoing.

It is widely known that the country is in extreme debt, both domestic and foreign debt, and that the country incurs substantial expenditure in debt servicing. In fact, it is believed that further debt is being incurred to service the existing debt and one wonders where all this will lead the country to. It will be pertinent for me to pose the question as to whether we are a country reeking with debt, which has to be repaid by future generations, maybe, by yet unborn generations. The question also needs to be asked whether this should be allowed to continue unchecked.

Is the Budget oriented towards putting the country on a sound economic footing and developing it based on such an economy or is the Budget oriented towards short-term political popularity of the present Government at the expense of the country’s long-term interests? Sir, it may be relevant for me to pose the question now, at this particular juncture, as to the number of Ministers we have in the present Government. We have, in the country today, 60 Ministers and 36 Deputy Ministers; 96 persons are either Ministers or Deputy Ministers. In fact, even in the course of this Budget Debate, we are not enabled to allocate time within the allotted days for all the Votes of the different Ministries to be discussed and some are being discussed through another mechanism. Is there clear comprehension as to who is answerable for what in regard to implementation? Is such a mega Cabinet required? Does the country need it? Can the country afford it? Is this mega Cabinet really serving the country or are they merely serving their party in power, continuing to support the party in whatever it does because they can never have it so good? And they are having it really good. How much is it costing the country to maintain such a large mega Cabinet of Ministers and Deputy Ministers? Curtailment of expenditure must start at the Centre. The number of Ministers in the Centre must be reduced and the number of ministries in the provinces must be increased with the provinces being given more powers. In fact, instead of having nine provinces, we can have four or five regions. That would be another way to reduce expenditure.

Sir, these are matters that need to be looked at and examined because I do not think particularly with the debt being so high, this country can go on experiencing such great expenditure in maintaining such a large Cabinet for a long time and for a long time in the future. I also wish to point out that very unfortunately no specific allocation has been made for the war-affected North-East. The people who have suffered the most, they have suffered immensely, they have been rendered destitute. They have lost everything and been reduced to a state of penury. Unfortunately, as a matter of fact, no allocation has been made for these people in the years 2010 and 2011 either. Now, Sir, rather than my posing the question as to why such things are happening, it maybe good for persons in Government to ask themselves the question as to whether this is the way to bring about reconciliation; whether this is the way to win the hearts and minds of these people who have suffered so much.

The Government has not remained committed to even statements made by it domestically.

I also want to ask Sir, in this connection, why Non-Governmental Organizations are being prevented from functioning freely in the North and the East, why these Non-Governmental Organizations are brought under the control of the Defence Ministry. Is it to constrain them and constrict them? They cannot act as desired by them; they cannot act as desired by the people. Is this necessary and would such steps on behalf of the Government be conducive to reconciliation, bring about communal harmony in the country, which the President talked about in the course of his speech and in regard to which we are prepared to be fully supportive of the Government if the Government acts in a sensible way.

Having made these remarks, since the President talked about communal and religious harmony and development in this country based upon peace and stability, I want to pose a question as to whether the Government is honestly prepared for a reasonable political solution to bring to an end the long ethnic conflict in this country.

The Government’s actions in regard to this matter are clearly indicative to the contrary. The Government has not remained committed to even statements made by it domestically. As for instance, when the President addressed the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Committee of Experts he appointed, when he talked of maximum possible devolution, he wanted the identity of people to be preserved; he wanted people to be able to determine their destiny in the areas in which they lived; he talked of socioeconomic advancement and he wanted the Committee of Experts in the APRC to study models of power-sharing the world over and come up with proposals that would suit this country. What has happened to all that? The Government has not been able to keep its commitments to the international community, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations when he came here just after the war came to end and when there was a Joint Communique issued by the Government and the Secretary-General of the UN. The Government has not been able to keep its commitments to India made repeatedly and India has been concerned with the resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka over a period of time. India is a country which is very firmly committed to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and wants a political solution within that framework; India has been quite clear in regard to that matter. The Government has made a commitment to India, not once but several times over, that the Thirteenth Amendment will be fully implemented and the Thirteenth Amendment will be built upon so as to bring about meaningful devolution. Has the Government kept to that commitment? Why has not the Government been able to keep to that commitment?

When the Government appointed the APRC and Committee of Experts, the majority of the experts have come up with the Report "A". But, has their Report been implemented? That Report was entirely based upon the speech delivered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Committee of Experts, based upon maximum possible devolution, based upon socioeconomic advancement, based upon identity being preserved. Why has not the Report of that Committee been implemented?

The Government appointed the LLRC - Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission; they have come up with their own Report and they have called for maximum possible devolution, maximum possible power-sharing and said that is the fundamental basis on which there can be a reconciliation and harmony amongst the different peoples who inhabit this country. Is that Report being implemented?

After all, Sir, these are Reports submitted by bodies who have been appointed by the Government. Both the Reports made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Committee of Experts appointed by the Government; they were Reports made by the Government, Reports made by Committees appointed by the Government.

Sir, I want to place before this House some further information regarding this matter. I will read from the Manifesto of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, a much respected leader in this country who was the Leader of the SLFP and who fought the Presidential Election of 1988 as the Candidate of the Democratic People’s Alliance which comprised of the SLFP and several other parties. What did she say in Part II of that Manifesto dealing with the Resolution of the Ethnic Problem?

She stated, I quote:

“1. UNIT OF DEVOLUTION

“ (a) The concept of devolution is accepted for Sri Lanka.

(b) There shall be a predominantly Tamil unit comprising of what is the combined Northern and Eastern Provinces but excluding the area covered by the predominantly Muslim unit.

(c) There shall be a predominantly Muslim unit comprising the predominantly Muslim areas in the Ampara District as the base and identified predominantly Muslim areas in the Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts.

(d) The rights of Sinhalese and all other persons in each unit shall be on the basis of absolute equality.

2. DEVOLUTION OF POWER

(a) All state powers, legislative, executive and judicial, except those reserved to the centre, shall be devolved to democratically elected bodies called Regions. Parliament shall, however, be able to override legislation of the Regions by a 2/3 majority of its whole membership.”

That is what she said and there were 15 subjects that she had identified as being subjects that must be reserved for the centre and she wanted all the other subjects to be given to the provinces.

I am tabling*, Sir, the Manifesto of the Hon. (Mrs.) Sirimavo Bandaranaike at the Presidential Election of 1988 and I would request that you direct that this be included in Hansard at the end of my speech.

Sir, the Hon. Gamini Dissanayake was the Candidate of the United National Party at the Presidential Election held in 1994. There was a Manifesto issued by him. What did the Hon. Gamini Dissanayake say in his Manifesto?

He said, I quote:

“ 8. The adoption of the widest possible degree of devolution to Provincial Councils on the basis of territorial units to be agreed with representative political forces of the North and East”

That is what will bring about peace and harmony in this country.

I am tabling* the Manifesto of Gamini Dissanayake also issued in 1994 and I would request that you direct that this be included in Hansard at the end of my speech.

These leaders, Sir, the Hon. (Mrs.) Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the Hon. Gamini Dissanayake were outstanding Sinhala, Buddhist leaders who commanded the confidence of the people in this country, who could not have betrayed the people in this country particularly the Sinhala, Buddhist people. They had the courage and conviction to state what needed to be done to bring about peace in this country.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Speaker, cut his political teeth as a disciple of the Hon. (Mrs.) Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He came into politics when the Hon. (Mrs.) Sirimavo Bandaranaike was in power. When he was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1970, the Hon. (Mrs.) Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister of this country. So, these were positions, Sir, taken up by respected and reputed leaders for the benefit of this country which we cannot afford to ignore.

Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution

Sir, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted in 1988. It is often stated that the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was an imposition by India. Nothing can be further from the truth. I want to place on record, Sir, a statement made by President J.R.Jayewardene on the 19th of February, 1987, when he delivered a special address to Parliament having convened Parliament for that purpose to explain to Parliament what was being done in regard to the peace process at that point of time. This is what President J.R. Jayewardene said. It is contained in Column 6 of Hansard of 19th February, 1987. I quote:
“The Indian Government thereafter persuaded the TULF to have direct negotiations with the Government, which took place in July and August 1986. The Government agreed to further concessions, which were incorporated in the Proposals sent in September 1986. These Proposals included the draft Constitutional Amendments, the draft Provincial Councils Bill, Schedules setting out the Reserved, Concurrent and Provincial Lists, as well as detailed memoranda dealing with Law and Order, Land and Land Settlement and Education…”

This is what he said. The Thirteenth Amendment came out of discussions had with the TULF in July and August 1986. At the same time, he tabled all those proposals in Parliament when he addressed Parliament. After the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted, there was a feeling in the country that the Amendment was inadequate to bring about a solution to the problems that the country faced.

Mr. Deputy Chairman of Committees, after the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, consequent to the view that prevailed in the country that the Thirteenth Amendment was inadequate to bring about a solution to the ethnic conflict, President R. Premadasa appointed the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee which came up with proposals. They talked about de-merger of the North and the East but recommended setting up an apex Council incorporating the North and the East; They recommended substantial devolution based upon the Indian pattern and they wanted the Concurrent List done away with or reduced to the bare minimum. After that, there were proposals made by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1995, in 1997 and in 2000 which went far beyond the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. These are all matters of record. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was then a member of President Chandrika Bandaranaike’s Cabinet, and he was a party to those proposals. Those proposals were brought to Parliament after the Cabinet had approved those proposals. They contemplated not merely provincial councils, but went beyond provincial boundaries with substantial devolution.

I have already referred, Sir, to the speech delivered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Committee of Experts in July, 2006. The report of the majority of the Committee of Experts, which was submitted, which again talked of substantial devolution to provincial councils and how the question of the unit of devolution could be resolved in a manner acceptable to all the peoples who live in this country.

“…Government that they have more connections with the LTTE than I ever had”

Now, Sir, mainly because there are a few Ministers within the Government making demands that are inconsistent with all these positions - it is believed that these Ministers have the support of certain influential individuals within Government. But, these Ministers who are making these noises - I say with respect and with no disrespect to them - command a miniscule number of Members in this Parliament. What is the SLFP’s position on devolution? The SLFP has always been prepared to go very far on devolution as Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike has demonstrated; as Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has demonstrated and as President Mahinda Rajapaksa has demonstrated in the inaugural address he made at the meeting of the APRC and in the report submitted to him by the Committee of Experts appointed by him, the majority of the Committee of Experts, and the LLRC appointed by him to examine various questions.

I do not think, Sir, this is a matter in regard to which the Government should be confused. I do not think they should try to placate their hard-liners who happen to be in alliance with them. What does the Government do? The only way out for the Government in this difficult situation is to blame the TNA; call the TNA "proxies of the LTTE"; blame the Tamil diaspora and make out that the LTTE will re-emerge. In fact I might tell the Government that they have more connections with the LTTE than I ever had. My only involvement with the LTTE was when we tried in the course of the Ceasefire Agreement and at other points of time to bring about a political solution for this country that will be acceptable to all our people. I will not go into details about your involvements with the LTTE. I do not wish to do that. But, you are harbouring many LTTEers and providing them with a lot of comforts and you are desperately endeavouring to use them to your advantage. You want to thrust upon the Tamil people certain people of your choice. You do not want this conflict to come to an end in a mutually acceptable way, which would be in the best interests of the country and of all its people, in a way which would also have the support of Tamil political leadership in whom the Tamil people have confidence. You do not want that.

It suits you politically to keep the conflict alive for two reasons. You create a fear psychosis which serves you in two different ways; helps you politically to sustain your importance and indispensability, which you claim as "the Government that defeated the LTTE" amongst the Sinhala people and as "the Government, the only Government, that can sustain that position" and on the other hand push more and more Tamil people to leave the country and in due course of time, there will be no Tamil question. Compelling the Tamils who live here, to live on your terms; at your mercy; accepting the favours that you are prepared to dispense as a reward for their subservience, despite the fact that every opportunity is available, not really to deal with the LTTE question - which is no longer a serious question - but to win over the Tamil people by giving them their legitimate rights within a united, undivided Sri Lanka. Is it that you do not want the Tamil people to live in this country as equal citizens? Is that the reason why you are doing this? - [Interruption.] Please do not disturb me. I want to state on the Floor of this House that we are prepared to evolve a reasonable, acceptable, workable and a durable political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka.

“… You want to govern the Tamil people against their will and without their consent.”

Hon. Sampanthan, with all respect to you, you are misleading the House. - [Interruption.] Wait! You listen to me. I am on a point of Order. You are a senior Member. In fact, His Excellency the President has on numerous occasions invited those people who fled the country because of the terrorism of the Tigers, to come and be partners to build a vibrant Sri Lanka in future.

In other words, the position is that you want to govern the Tamil people against their will and without their consent. This is in violation of international law and cannot continue. I want to read Sir, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is very clear on this matter and it says, I quote from Article 21:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

In other words Sir, the will of the people must be the basis of the authority of Government. But you want to rule the Tamil people against their will and without their consent. To achieve this Sir, the Government needs the following:

One - democracy on your terms. Why was the Seventeenth Amendment repealed? Why was the Eighteenth Amendment enacted? Why was the Constitutional Council done away with? Why was the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission compelled to lose their independence? The Election Commission had wide powers in regard to controlling the police service, in regard to controlling the public service and in regard to the media, all of which were removed under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Election Commission had powers under the Seventeenth Amendment to issue directions and appoint a competent authority in regard to the SLBC and the Rupavahini when elections were on. The Commission was stripped of all those powers because the President did not want an independent Election Commission. Everything was brought under the discretionary control of the President who has the right to contest beyond his second term as he wanted.
You want democracy in this country on a basis where there can never be an election on equal terms and where you will have the elections conducted in the way you desire to your advantage by removing from the political and administrative structure in this country civilian institutions which can function independently. You want to keep the Sinhala people in a state of animated suspense with all manner of fears engineered and exaggerated that the LTTE will re-emerge and thereby ensure that the Sinhala people will continue to support you in whatever you do. I do not think they will for too long, particularly if they are deprived of their democratic rights.

”We will never harm Sri Lanka, a Sri Lanka which belongs to all, the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher people who live in this country.”

You want to prevent the Tamils seeking the support of the international community by keeping the international community out. The international community cannot be kept out. We have a right to seek their support and we will continue to seek their support. This is our inalienable right and you cannot stop that. They have an obligation under international law to ensure that we are able as a people to live in this country with self-respect and dignity and with justice and equality. This can stop only if and when you do justice to our people in keeping with their democratic wishes. Until you deliver on that, you have no right to ask that the international community’s involvement be stopped and it will not be stopped. You have no right to keep the international community out when you do not deliver on our democratic verdicts.

We will never harm Sri Lanka, a Sri Lanka which belongs to all, the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher people who live in this country. We will never harm the Sinhala people, they are our brothers and sisters, nor will we harm any of the other people who live in this country though we are quite disappointed that the leadership of some people do not show the courage of their convictions which they bravely espouse on political platforms but regrettably do not demonstrate in their actions.

The Government must not forget that they obtained substantial international support when they wanted to defeat the LTTE. You had the LTTE banned in several countries, to cripple the LTTE in foreign countries. Our erstwhile Foreign Minister, the Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, my good Friend must be turning in his grave now when he sees all that is happening in Sri Lanka at the moment and what is being said by some Cabinet Ministers. He played a major role in having the LTTE banned in several countries the world over and in crippling the LTTE.

You received immense intelligence and military help from various countries. You gave those countries certain assurances that you will evolve an acceptable reasonable political solution once the war came to an end. Those countries are now merely asking you to keep your commitments. How can you complain that you want to keep the international community out because you want to get away from those commitments that you made? True, another country cannot interfere in the affairs of our country. There can be no question about that but, at the same time, certain rights are universal; certain obligations are international, you can abandon fulfillment in certain vital areas only at your peril. If our legitimate rights are fulfilled, we will not want any other country to interfere in the internal affairs of our country. But, our legitimate rights must be fulfilled. Are you not day-in and day-out going abroad, not merely to the UN, but to other countries big and small explaining your position, asking for time and space, placing before them your plans, stating your lame excuses? Why are you doing all this? The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was not invented abroad, the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact was not invented abroad, the Thirteenth Amendment was homegrown as I have demonstrated in the course of my speech earlier, President Ranasinghe Premadasa's Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Proposals; President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s proposals of 1995, 1997 and 2000; all those were homegrown. Then, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proposals of 2006; the Committee of Experts, the APRC appointed by him; the LLRC Report that was submitted by a commission appointed by him and President Rajapaksa himself has very clearly stated his position that all these were homegrown and came out of the "Mahinda Chintana", not from any other country, not from any foreign country. How can all that be ignored? Is it merely because some minor parties in alliance with you think that they should be ignored?

Thirteenth Amendment and the Provincial Council System

Sir, various views have been expressed in recent times in regard to the Thirteenth Amendment and the Provincial Council System and so on. In different parts of his speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking in the House as Finance Minister has expressed certain views. I do not want to comment specifically on any one of these positions; nevertheless I need to clarify certain matters. The Constitution under which the country attained Independence had certain safeguards for the minorities. To some extent, it recognized diversity. This Constitution did not specifically entrench majoritarianism. The 1972 Republican Constitution which replaced the earlier Constitution did away with the safeguards and did not recognize diversity, it also entrenched majoritarianism. It did away with the provisions which to some extent safeguarded diversity. The 1978 Republican Constitution reaffirmed these positions. The Tamil people with a distinct identity were not a party to the making of either the 1972 or 1978 Constitutions.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, by establishing provincial governance either singly or plurally as stipulated therein, -

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, by establishing provincial governance either singly or plurally as stipulated therein, to some extent recognized diversity and also attenuated the effects of majoritarianism, at least to some extent. It certainly laid the foundation for a healthy beginning. This came about through immense sacrifice. It would be myopic to think that this could be nullified as easily as the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Hon. Members who helped to enact the Eighteenth Amendment would have, by now, realized the dangerous precedent they created and one can only pray and hope that they would act with wisdom in the future. Any precipitate action to annul the Thirteenth Amendment or to radically change the provisions contained therein would only confirm that the Constitution of Sri Lanka - a country’s constitution is looked upon as both sacrosanct and pious - can be subverted or even abrogated to meet the demands of chauvinistic nationalism so as to deny diversity and entrench majoritarianism.

Sir, Barack Obama had been re-elected President of the United States. He is a black American. I watched him on TV sometime ago addressing the joint sessions of Parliament of India. In the course of his speech he said, “That incident when your revered leader, an apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of a train from a compartment meant for whites in South Africa was the point of time at which my journey to the White House commenced”. He said, “My journey to become President of the United States commenced when Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of the train that had a separate compartment for whites in which the revered leader was seated." Dr. Manmohan Singh is the Prime Minister of India. He is a Sikh. The Sikhs in India are 2 per cent of the country’s population. That is the recognition of diversity. That is the only way to ensure that majoritarianism does not prevail in a country. So, it is for you do decide what you are going to do.

I can only say that the future of Sri Lanka would be gravely harmed and irreparable damage will be caused to the future of Sri Lanka if there is any effort on anyone’s part to do away with the Thirteenth Amendment or to modify it so as to make it ineffective and worthless. We have always felt that the Thirteenth Amendment must be built upon so as to bring about meaningful devolution. That is the commitment that this Government has made to several countries; that is the commitment that this Government has made to the United Nations; that is the commitment that this Government has made to the international community. That is the effort that has been made by every single President after the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, whether it be President Ranasinghe Premadasa, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga or President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, to improve upon it so as to bring about a meaningful devolution.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself has enunciated this position in the course of his address to the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts' Committee. It is contained in the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. So, Sir, this cannot be gone back on. The Thirteenth Amendment must be built upon towards achieving meaningful devolution. But, if you try to nullify it, if you try to amend it in such a way that it will become worthless, then, I am afraid, you are doing very much harm to this country and that is a step which, I do hope and pray, you will not take.

Accountability

I watched my Friend, the Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe, speak in Parliament yesterday. He talked about accountability. I was not going to talk about it, but since he had said a few things, I think I must respond very briefly, Sir. I would not take time. He said some inquiry has been commenced by some military tribunals on the question of accountability and a certain number of cases are being inquired into at the moment, that once the investigations are completed, if there was evidence against anybody, that evidence would be sent to the Army Commander, who will take a decision in regard to what needed to be done. I do not think that is the way to address accountability. We are not seeking revenge, but the truth needs to be ascertained. The persons who were involved on the question of accountability are service personnel. I do not know who they are. This does not seem the way to address questions of accountability. It needs to be addressed in a more credible way, in a manner in which the confidence of others can be won in regard to the actions you are taking.

We have some information now in regard to an internal inquiry which has been conducted by the United Nations on the conduct of the United Nations personnel at the time the war came to an end in May, 2009. Various grave questions are being raised as to whether the United Nations personnel conducted themselves in a manner in keeping with their mandate to ensure the safety and security of Tamil civilians who were in that area. When the international community is taking such grave interest on this question even in regard to the actions of their own personnel, I do not think it is going to convince anyone that you are really engaged in a credible process, if that is what you are seeking to do. I think you should rethink this whole question and deal with the totality of this issue in such a way that we can bring all this to an end, put the past behind us and strive towards a better future.

Thank you, Sir.

- Asian Tribune -

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