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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2521

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress’s : Policy paper on the Peace Process and Constitutional Reform - Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

By Munza Mushtaq - Reporting from Colombo for Asian Tribune

Colombo, 03 August, (Asiantribune.com): The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) late last month released their policy paper on the Peace Process and Constitutional Reform. The proposal was released to the media on July 23, 2006 at the SLMC's Headquarters 'Dharussalam' in Colombo.

The party proposed for the setting up of a non-contiguous administrative unit merging Muslim dominated areas in the North and East, preferably in a model similar to that of the Indian Union of Territories.

The policy paper emphasizes that the interests of the Muslim community itself, and those of the wider community of Sri Lanka, as well as the principles of the Muslims' faith are best served by a fresh approach.

Other significant features of the policy paper are:

Neither the Government nor the LTTE has provided any plans or direction to arrest the escalation of intimidation and violence, despite all the talk of renewed negotiations and constitutional reform.

The SLMC approach follows the concept of a cooperative society, where all communities feel secure, while retaining their distinct identities and professing their cultural, religious and economic ways of life and be springboard for the improvement of relations. It is not possible for there to be peace for one community and region without peace and justice for all.

The SLMC proposes that both the peace negotiations and the settlement they ultimately reach must be within a framework of principles of pluralistic and participatory democracy, devolution, human rights, social justice, equitable dev elopement and transparency and public accountability. Rather than see the country make precipitate decisions that might later prove ineffective but also irreversible, we propose that we move towards interim arrangements that also require structured progress towards a longer-term constitutional settlement.

The Constitutional Principles of the SLMC include:

Empowerment of all communities through federalism or a meaningful devolution of powers established under and protected by the constitution. This should include autonomous area comprising parts of the North and East specifically for the Muslim community.

Flexible systems of devolution where structures and powers correspond to the actual needs and capacities of the areas and communities.

A structure of government at the centre that provides for the full representation an d participation of all communities and parts of the country

Multi-party, democratic systems at the level of devolved units, including power-sharing arrangements to ensure the full participation and representation of all.

Suitable mechanism for interaction and coordination between various units both horizontally and vertically.

Recognition of Sinhala and Tamil languages as official languages throughout the country including the regions and acceptance and use of Sinhala, Tamil and English as national languages.

Guarantee for security of the people in the form of civilian control of armed forces and accountability structures for the police and armed forces.

Supremacy of the constitution to be ensured by providing that national and regional legislation and policies, including all existing laws are subject to review in the courts, ensuring that no state agency is above the law.

A competent, independent and courageous judiciary, including independent mechanisms for appointment and strong protection for security of tenure, and an appropriate system of appeal with ultimate jurisdiction of Supreme Court respected and trusted by all.

Transitional Arrangements: The Path Forward

The SLMC considers that the country must address the question of the future political and constitutional framework of Sri Lanka. Both Lankans and international community assisting our search for peace had expected that more than four years after the formal acceptance of the ceasefire, we would now be concluding a new constitution. Yet here we are mired in fundamental differences between the GOSLK and the LTTE, the ceasefire honored mostly in the breach, and little progress in confidence building or the participation of other stakeholders in the constitution building process.

The Ceasefire

It is essential to reaffirm the commitment of all to the ceasefire and to strengthen the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), by inclusion of other stakeholders.

Muslims of the North and East have experienced the positive and the negative effects of the CFA over the last four years. While Muslims recognize the need to have a ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE , it is necessary that an addendum is introduced to the CFA, recognizing the Muslim as principal stakeholders and a key party with a direct interest in the outcome of negotiations.

Under the addendum the fundamental issues of human security including the inalienable right to return with dignity of all forcibly evicted or displaced persons and creation of a conducive climate for civilian life should be addressed and implemented.

Conclusion

It is time to recognize the right of all stakeholders, besides the GOSL and the LTTE, to participate in these processes. The Muslim community must be a full participant in the ceasefire and political negotiations. They are the victims of the present conflict and would be the beneficiaries of peace and stability. It has suffered and continues to suffer most, as much of the fighting and disruptions have taken place in areas where they have long lived, their lands have been appropriated, and they have become victims of ethnic cleansing.

The SLMC also emphasizes that the government an d the LTTE recognize the rights of ethnically cleansed Northern Muslims including g the right to return with dignity and honor, post return safety and security, a restitution and restoration of proprietary rights and payment of equitable compensation to enable them to achieve self reliance.

Muslims of the North and East now need autonomy in areas where they are a majority, to give them a sense of security that derives from being able to make or fully participate in decisions that most directly affect them We have developed detailed proposals on autonomy which are now being discussed within the Muslim community. The SLMC wants to make clear that the autonomy will be designed to offer to the Muslim community in the North and East not a fortress, but a home within broader homeland of Sri Lanka, where the rights of all communities living within it will be fully protected. It is intended to be a stepping stone for the greater involvement of the Muslim community within a united Sri Lanka, and not a drawbridge to keep the rest of the nation at bay.

Constitutional reform must address questions such as social justice, equitable distribution of resources, the rule of law, and public participation in state affairs, in addition issues of self-government. If all communities, and all members within those communities, can feel that they belong to a country in which they are valued, their values and traditions respected, their abilities and contributions welcomed, the people of Sri Lanka can hope for a bright future.

- Asian Tribune -

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