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Minds Devastated By Conflict Cannot Be Healed By Infrastructural Development – Austin Fernando

By Ayesha Zuhair –

Austin Fernando

Having made a detailed submission before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in your capacity as the former Defence Secretary, what are your views of the Commission’s final report – in brief?

If you consider the five focal points in the Order given by the President (Gazette Extraordinary 1658/19), the LLRC Report has addressed a substantial amount of issues, though some criticize its inadequacies, and, contrarily some criticize it for overstepping. Good examples respectively are the TNA’s “RESPONSE TO THE LESSONS LEARNT AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION REPORT– January 2012” and Minister Champika Ranawaka’s stance on the LLRC.

Usually, there are special issues to be addressed after longstanding conflicts like ours, because the demands from the affected, politicians, internationals, Diaspora, military etc are complex.  These can be handled differently as seen from South African experiences. But, I must add that there are very valuable LLRC recommendations, which if implemented could achieve stability, reconciliation and reduce unwarranted criticisms of the government.

The government says there is no justification or urgency for a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for the speedy implementation of the LLRC recommendations. Do you think that the amount of international pressure onSri Lankato implement the LLRC recommendations is justifiable?

In Geneva, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe reasoned why there is no need for an urgent resolution. Contrarily, the USAin its draft resolution urges the GOSL to implement some of the salient recommendations in the LLRC report. It may be reasonable, because there are sensible, apolitical, non-partisan recommendations. A recommendation like setting apart a National Day event to express solidarity with victims (Recommendation 9:285) is simple. This could have easily happened even on February 4th 2012, but did not.

The USAdemands the government to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and state commitment to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.  Though we do not find immediate positive responses, it is heartening to note that (irrespective of potentially supplying ammunition to attack the Army, as some believe) even as an after-thought the Army and Police have commenced inquiries. But, it is necessary that such exercises are independent, apolitical and genuine.

The US Ademands the government to present a “road map” for implementation of the LLRC report and places a time bar by demanding “a comprehensive action plan” before the 20th UNHRC sessions. I disagree with time barring, but also disagree with no-end implementation delay by the government. For instance, when there had been lot of preliminary work done on devolution, the LLRC recommendation on devolution should not proceed at snail’s speed. True it cannot rush, but should not be static

LLRC itself regretted the treatment received for its Interim Recommendations (8:190). Internationals ought to be considering this status –rightly or wrongly- as hesitancy or reluctance to implement.  Ministers Nimal Siripala and GL Peiris demand more time for implementation, as the LLRC Report was released in mid December 2011. It is logical; reasonable. But, what can they say about the rusted LLRC interim recommendations? The complainant is the LLRC itself (Paragraph 8:190).

The government hails infrastructure development, which is true to an extent. But the devastated minds due to conflict, trauma, human losses etc cannot be healed by building infrastructure.

The pressures oscillate at these two ends while arguments are submitted to favour each party. In the interest of reconciliation, having a ‘road map’ will be appropriate. Meanwhile, the government harps on work done on Action Plans. The government has tabled in Genevaa 5-year National Action Plan for the promotion of human rights. Such compromising may be advisable, rather than to hang on to rhetoric and hair split on legalities on ‘human rights’, ‘humanitarian laws’ etc, when quoted words do not appear even once in the Presidential Order, which I pointed out at the LLRC.

Is the government simply dragging its feet on the LLRC recommendations, and not genuinely committed to democracy, human rights and reconciliation as alleged by the main opposition United National Party (UNP)? Or is it possibly facing other constraints?

Minister Samarasinghe’s Geneva statement does not prove the government dragging its feet; rather, paints a rosy picture though many questions are raised by the affected, Opposition, Diaspora and internationals etc. on many political, economic and relevant issues like resettlement, high security zones and so on.

Critics complain of the implementation speed of LLRC recommendations. Catholic Bishops insist implementation. When the dynamic Secretary of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) focus on  rehabilitation, re-integration, re-construction, resettlement and reconciliation (5Rs), and organizes an international seminar on those tasks, questioning the dumbness of other regular implementers on their commitments for implementing LLRC recommendations cannot cease. Could not a seminar on LLRC recommendations be held to thrash out issues? By such, the government could have concurrently offered an opportunity to harness Diaspora support (Recommendation 8:265) and make Minister Samarasinghe’s commitment to “engage with the Tamil Diaspora” a genuine step.

Meanwhile the Acting Cabinet Spokesperson (Ceylon Today 2-3-2012) has reportedly said that the government will implement the LLRC recommendations upon Parliament deciding, and has indicated the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) as the decision-making route. Army and Police have commenced inquiries adhering to LLRC decisions (equalizing implementation). The declared time frame for the PSC is six months.  Therefore, such statements give ammunition to the internationals to backlash Minister Pieris’s request for extra time to implement LLRC recommendations until 20th UNHRC Sessions. Contradictions compounded to galore!

To what extent do you think the implementation of the LLRC recommendations can resolve ethnic tensions?

LLRC recommendations have a large canvass. It speaks of rehabilitation, reconstruction, rights, violent incidents, reconciliation, power sharing etc.  Such inputs applied in the correct mix in appropriate priority would certainly reduce tensions.

What, if any, are the perils of the government choosing to ignore the LLRC recommendations?

When the LLRC was appointed the President and the government gave the impression that its recommendations will be the response to international and domestic allegations against Sri Lanka. Now they are on the table. Ignoring or throwing them under the carpet will be negation of promises, and rejection of valuable inputs for reconciliation. Mind you, these recommendations emanate from a Commission of the Government, not from the ‘colonial west’!

Therefore, leaving them on hold or ignoring will erase stakeholder confidence/ hopes on the government, and may certainly have domestic and international negative side-effects and push the stakeholders to further hopelessness, which may provoke more hopeless bilateral intrusions, like effect on our international trade status, for example. As it is, UNHRC may fail to resolve against us. Even resolved the Security Council may veto such, if submitted; but, bilateral economic sanctions or restraints cannot be so eradicated. They are individual decisions. Therefore, we should refrain from rhetoric to benefit in the short run and must be diplomatically alert, as wrong steps may create disastrous consequences.

I may mention the internationalization aspect too. Minister Pieris submitting by letter dated February 15th 2011 two reports on the functioning of LLRC and the Inter Agency Advisory Committee (IAAC) (Annexes 2.15.2, 2.15.3 and 2.15.4 of Darusman Report) has committed the President, Presidential Secretariat and the government in the international arena. According to Sunday Times (February 26th 2012) Minister Samarasinghe was quoted: “We have briefed our friends inGeneva and elsewhere of the interim recommendation made by the LLRC and the measures taken by the IAAC to implement them without delay.” Therefore, internationalization of the LLRC has been already completed bySri Lanka- fully by Minister Pieris and partially by Minister Samarasinghe. Now to attack the “wild western colonialists” “INGOs” and “conspirators againstSri Lanka,” even if true, may appear to be only amusing rhetoric. Therefore, it is better to look sharp on the perils, which might consequentially affect the country as a whole.

How do you view the argument that this government will never be able to deliver a political solution to the ethnic issue as it will lead to the breakdown of the ruling coalition?

The incumbent government will be in office for four and a half years, if the normal cycle in the Constitution follows. It is well known that within the UPFA there are opponents for a political solution. If some of these opposing coalition partners leave the government for backing up a sensible political solution, there could be many more to support it for being proactive. Instead of weakening the government, it may perhaps be strengthened!  To hope a political solution to emerge from the incumbent government must be betted, because it possesses the numbers and President Rajapaksa is the only person who can in the foreseeable future market a formidable solution to the South. His successors may not. Thus, it is necessary for the Opposition- especially TNA- to consider this status.

The heavy military presence in theNorthern Provincehas come in for a great deal of criticism. The LLRC itself has called for demilitarisation and emphasised that civilian administration must be fully restored. In your opinion, why is the current administration reluctant to scale down the military presence in the former conflict zones?

You must ask this question from the MOD, as military presence is a matter for them.

If you wish to know my response to the quoted LLRC recommendations, I say that I agree with demilitarization, but within- I repeat within- the parameters of effectively maintaining the security of the affected areas and sea. We do not want recurrence of terror. However, demilitarization cannot be a ‘one shot process’, as I told the LLRC. It should be a step-by-step approach.  However, if any lands are to be withheld, the owners must be adequately compensated immediately. The return of the civilian administration is a must for that, because the affected did not bargain or opt for the Military, in lieu of ruthless Tigers.

In your view, how much of a threat does the LTTE (internationally) pose toSri Lanka? Do you think that there is a possibility for a revival of the movement?

Some in the Tamil Diaspora (e.g. Rudrakumaran, Nediyawan, and Father Emmanuel etc) are still pursuing the LTTE agenda, but it appears that they have lost venom. My Tamil friends abroad confirm this status. Therefore, the threat cannot be large as previously. Whether the revival of the movement is possible or not will depend on government responses to their demands. More the government delays, the urgency for such revival will accelerate. It will depend not only on LLRC recommendations or internationals’ and multilaterals’ prescriptions, but on the commitment for reconciliation of the people, politicians and bureaucracy.

Could you clarify your stand on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution?

I respect the Constitution, despite it containing the horrendous 18th Amendment, with which I disagree. Even anti-devolutionist Attorney SL Gunasekara has stated (Irida Divaina- January 29th 2012) that what is in the Constitution should be implemented whoever opposes it, while he disagreed with devolving land and police powers in the 13th Amendment. Similarly, the President has agreed with Indian dignitaries to implement the 13th Amendment. On May 23rd 2009 in the Joint Statement with Ban-ki- Moon he declared his “firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment.”

Of course, he retracted his stance as we saw with Mr. Krishna’s statement on January 17th 2012. But, his compulsory constitutional bond remains intact as he cannot violate Schedule IV of the Constitution.

I respect the President’s previous stance, unlike some in his Cabinet!

In a nutshell, what are the essential elements of a durable peace, in your view?

This cannot be answered in a ‘nutshell’! There are many essential elements. I may emphasize some arrived at with international experiences. It may collide with some governmental actions, which should not be construed as anti-governmental criticisms. The elements are:

(a) Competence of mediators, spokespersons etc which is absent so often inSri Lanka; in the Government and Opposition. Partiality affects peacemaking and prolongs peace efforts. The suspicions over the PSC, APRCs, and Peace Talks under many administrations etc are good examples.

(b)  Peacemaking Strategy (e.g.  “Deadline diplomacy”) undermines peace negotiations.  As expert Pierre du Toit argues, “Enough time must be made available to find a quality settlement, that is, one that deals effectively with the basic issues of conflict. When this is not met, and negotiators are forced into rushing a decision, agreements of poor quality may result.” I think UNHRC andUSAmay note this statement made on Sudanese experience.

(c) Consistent strategy of participation; Peace efforts should be inclusive and ignoring the stakeholder groups must be avoided and this is a good lesson for our Government. Roy Licklider’s observation that “a workable settlement usually has to involve all major parties” may be a good guideline for us to establish sustainable peace. The way UPFA, UNP, TNA behave are excellent examples of reflecting non-inclusivity which made the President to lately appeal for inclusivity at the Ravaya 25th Anniversary Celebration.

(d)   Fragmentation of the rebel movements- While focused concentration of the Diaspora is a threat for peace making as Nilsson has argued, also the “multiplication of rebel groups jeopardizes the hope for durable peace”. This may interest thinking twice of the incumbent government as it appears to be using some ex-LTTE cadres to split the Diaspora. Some splinters may create worse chaos than a united Diaspora because such splinter group is less responsible than a universal group.

(e) The government’s ability to address the power and resource-sharing problems and security issues will help achieving comprehensive and sustainable peace. This, when applied to our problems may include High Security Zones, safety of the seas, devolution, resettlement etc which had been concerns of the LLRC too.

It is time these are reconsidered by all political parties and people, if peace is the end in mind.

Courtesy-  Daily Mirror – March 3rd 2012



18 thoughts on “Minds Devastated By Conflict Cannot Be Healed By Infrastructural Development – Austin Fernando

  1. Can’t bother to waste my time on this crap.This fellow Austin has no shame.A real joker.It is this fellow who facilitated the transportation of high frequency transmitters to the Tiger terrorists during the bogus peace accord.This Johnny from nowhere was the chief boot licker of the Tamil tigers.It is during this fellows tenure that hundreds of government intelligence officers were murdered by the terrorists. A shameful traitor.The terrorists were even able to acquire light air crafts when this fellow was the defense secretary.This joker must be behind bars instead of writing stupid articles.Trying to poke his dirty nose in affairs that is best left to the experts.This fellow was the Tiger pimp.Shame!

    Posted by Max Silva | March 11, 2012, 9:10 am
  2. Excellent, Thank you Austin for this.

    Posted by Raja Hevawasam | March 11, 2012, 9:19 am
  3. Austin’s view is the view of most moderates. He has the hands on experience in emergencyrelief, rehabilitation reconstruction and later in defence related issues. He has had the benefit of working closely with Provincial councils.His views cannot be dismissed lightly, but I have one issue with him. Is it prudent at this stage to work with the diaspora rather than strenghtening the bilateral talks with the TNA and the talks with the Parliamentary Committee? I am indeed happy that Austin has strong views on the restoration of civil admnistration in the war affected areas.

    Posted by Anu | March 11, 2012, 12:47 pm
  4. No wonder accolades coming from Tiger terrorists!

    Posted by Max Silva | March 11, 2012, 2:07 pm
  5. Chandranada de Silva and Austin Fernando should be held responsible for all the deaths of the civilians during the Chandrika Bandaranaike regime. They were utterly hopeless, usless and clueless pen pushers.

    Posted by Peter Casie Chetty | March 11, 2012, 4:56 pm
    • It was during Chandrananda Silva’s time that Jaffna peninsula was rid of the Tigers. They were chased away and holed up for years in the Vanni. Who is now taking the credit for it now?

      Posted by Anu | March 13, 2012, 10:49 am
  6. Allegations posed by Max Silva are clearly explained in Austin Fernando’s book My Belly Is White. Its worth reading before branding him a traitor. He seems to have some passionate enemies. Good for him. This means he has stood up for something. Its easy to criticize. Some of the shortcomings of the CFA period were symptomatic of its time. He was a govenrment officer doing a job of work. Would some other more polarized and openly racist government servants in similar positions of power of the present regime even be able to walk on the streets when this government is in power no more? I think we must look at these things in historical and technical context.

    Posted by F. De Souza | March 11, 2012, 5:20 pm
  7. I would rather read Tin Tin.Reading his crap will not bring back the lives of civilians who were slaughtered during that treacherous peace accord period.Not to mention the cold blooded murder of foreign minister Kadiragamar.As per Kamalika’s request,i will look in at the Bothal Pathara Kade tomorrow.

    Posted by Max Silva | March 11, 2012, 8:16 pm
    • Ah, so ýou don’t want to know another person’s point of view or a published explanation. Only your version and random racist allegations should be accepted. How’s that for justice? 🙂 When a person say he doesnt want to read a book, no matter how different the opinion may be, he is undoing thousands of years of civilization. Check your facts man- when was Lakshman Kadiragamar killed? What’s the date? Who was the head of state?What was the security he got under RW? Who withdrew that security? When? How? Before or after CBK dissolved parliament in an undemocratic way? You see, you will never know- because you are closed to the facts. Check your facts please!

      Posted by SK | March 12, 2012, 3:34 am
    • When ones thinking is not broad but narrow and blurred by dark by tainted glasses he cannot see the right and will keep talking the wrong.

      Posted by Lanka Muslim, UK | March 12, 2012, 11:22 am
  8. Facts?Hundreds of civilians and SL intelligence officers were killed in cold blood while this joker was the defense secretary. Doesn’t have the time to read his nonsense.A bloody accomplice to murder.I would rather read Jack the Ripper!

    Posted by Max Silva | March 12, 2012, 6:43 am
  9. I do not think Mr.Austin Fernando has seen the situation in the north, particularly the Vanni. If he had, he would realize what is needed is development . infrastructure development is the base om which other economic developments can take place. People have to build a livelihood from scratch, in a devasted land.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    Posted by Dr.Rajasingham Narendran | March 12, 2012, 11:56 am
  10. Should read:
    Infrastructure development is the base on which other economic developments can take place. People have to build a livelihood from scratch, in a devastated land.


    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    Posted by Dr.Rajasingham Narendran | March 12, 2012, 12:06 pm
    • Dear Dr. Narendran, I agree with you. You have a very valid point. The North and East have been devastated physcially by war too. I think both the aspects should be simiutaneously addressed. Providing one is not an excuse for not provididng another. People need material and infrastructural uplifting as much as healing, grieving , dealth certificates and mourning ofr these too, are human beings. I think what Mr. Fernando is trying to say is that one is not a tradeoff for the other. There are extremists on this blog and also in the government who propose that ‘past is past , so get on with it!”to the Tamil people. If past were past why are they still harping on the war victory and politically selling it – after all , that too is in the past ! I’m a Sinhalese my self, but I truly believe that the wounds must heal while roads must build if lasting peace and reconciliation is to be acieved.

      Posted by SK | March 13, 2012, 5:14 am

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