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Need of the Hour for Peace in Sri Lanka: A Human Rights Accord, Not ISGA

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) is gravely concerned about the increasing number of violent incidents in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka and urges all parties to show restraint and respect the terms of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). Many of these incidents are occurring in government-controlled areas in the North and East where the LTTE has been permitted to carry out their ‘political work’ under the CFA. Whatever the deficiencies of the CFA, one positive aspect of it is that it has provided a period of respite from the horrors of war to not only the people of the war-torn North and East, but also to the people in the rest of the country. However, we believe that many of the recent incidents reflect a deliberate effort on the part of the LTTE to provoke the Sri Lankan security forces into a retaliatory violent response. We call upon the LTTE to stop this practice and call upon the security forces to show maximum restraint. The international community and especially Norway, given its role in facilitating the terms of the CFA and monitoring compliance, has a special responsibility to demand an end to the violence.

For any peace process to be credible, it should be more inclusive of all sections of the population in order to be able to address their concerns, interests and aspirations. Indeed there is popular support for such a peace process. It is right that the Ceasefire should have been between the two warring parties – the government forces and the LTTE. But it should be realized that the causes that led to the war and the consequences of it affected and concerned all the people, and therefore any peace process to have credibility and be capable of producing a lasting political solution must of necessity include and involve the widest possible representation of all sections of the country. SLDF therefore, repudiates and calls upon the LTTE to abandon its reprehensible stand of obstructing the presence and participation of representatives of the Muslim community in the peace talks.

The LTTE is engaged in these recent violent incidents for at least three reasons: firstly to discourage popular support for a more inclusive peace process that addresses the rights of all ethnic groups. Secondly, to silence growing criticism of the LTTE’s demand for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) totally under its control. Thirdly, to bring pressure upon the Government to recommence peace talks only on the basis of the LTTE’s ISGA proposal.

The North and East of Sri Lanka, witness to politically motivated killings and abductions since the cease-fire began, now leading to a daily count, has been further paralyzed by a series of LTTE-instigated hartals. These general shutdowns, which close schools, government offices, and business establishments and which impose an informal curfew on the civilian population, have been organized by LTTE front organizations in Trincomalee, Vavuniya, and Mannar in the run up to the LTTE’s Heroes’ week and thereafter. LTTE supporters have blocked roads, burned tires, threatened travelers and taunted and grievously attacked security personnel with at least one fatality. Billed as spontaneous protests against alleged violence by the security forces, these hartals are in fact engineered attempts to provoke the security forces and hasten the North and East’s degeneration into a state of anarchy and war. Every ceasefire violation is dangerous, as incidents can easily spiral out of control. A rash of recent grenade attacks including on the Batticaloa office of the Tamil newspaper Thinakkural, on an office of PLOTE in Jaffna, and on a privately owned television station, also in Jaffna, speak to the rising lawlessness on all sides. But we note with special concern that historically the LTTE has used attacks on the military, police and Sinhalese civilians to usher in major outbreaks of hostilities. SLDF calls upon the LTTE to desist from engaging in incidents that will plunge the country into another terrible war, the primary victims of which will be the people of the North and East. The Government of Sri Lanka must also ensure that the security forces show restraint in their response to such provocations and not retaliate against the innocent civilian population.

Any commitment to the welfare of Tamil civilians living in the North and East, who have disproportionately suffered from the last two decades of civil war, precludes the option of war. As such, it is imperative that the CFA be rigidly enforced and adhered to and that peace talks resume on an equitable basis.

The possibility of war was given explicit articulation in Pirapaharan’s Heroes Day speech on November 27th. In his worldwide broadcast, the LTTE leader declared that the ISGA would be the only acceptable basis for peace negotiations, threatening that "if the government rejects our urgent appeal, and adopts delaying tactics perpetuating the suffering of our people, we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation.” SLDF finds this an unacceptable basis for the resumption of peace talks: the LTTE’s threats of war do not indicate a genuine commitment to peace and a viable peace process. And the ISGA, which fails to adhere to fundamental principles of democracy and human rights, will not, in any way, serve to advance the rights and aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Rather than base negotiations on the ISGA, the peace talks should re-commence from the point at which they were broken off by the LTTE in April 2003. Particularly in the context of gross and persistent violations of human rights, including political killings, abductions and forced recruitment of child soldiers, SLDF believes the primary concern to be addressed in any resumed peace talks should be that the parties subscribe to a human rights accord, and a mechanism to monitor such an accord that includes independent international human rights monitors. In other conflict situations, such accords were often not only the first step towards a lasting peace process, but also ensured the conditions needed for an inclusive and sustainable peace based on justice and democracy. As the threat of war looms over Sri Lanka there is a pressing need for such a human rights accord.

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Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

www.lankademocracy.org

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum is a community that shares a commitment to ademocratic and pluralistic vision of Sri Lanka. We recognize that inaddition to the loss of lives, the costs of war also entailed the erosion of democracy, the demobilization of pluralistic and independent social movements, and the further victimization of marginalized communities.


In that context, we believe that movement towards a just and sustainablepeace must be accompanied by the reconstruction of a democratic community that protects and promotes social justice, and the individual andcollective rights and freedoms of all communities in Sri Lanka. We are in solidarity with, and have a commitment to support the efforts ofmarginalized communities to address past injustices,

whether suchinjustice was based on the suppression of dissent, economicdisempowerment, and/or on ethnic, gender or caste discrimination at thenational or regional level. Among other efforts, we seek to proactively support grass roots movements that seek to expand and revitalize conditions for a vibrant, pluralistic and independent civil society that nurtures freedom of conscience, diverse political affiliations and an independent media. Thus, we believe that the terrain for engagement is not merely macro-political policy, but also economic decision-making,cultural production, and diverse local struggles furtheringdemocratization in all spheres of life. The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum had its inaugural meeting in Toronto, Canadain 2002. Contact E-mail: contact@lankademocracy.org



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