The Real A.P.R.C. Report Must Be Presented To Public By February 4th

by Rohini Hensman

What a fiasco! We were promised the long-awaited APRC proposals would be released on January 23rd, and what did we get? The 13th Amendment was taken out of the corner where it had been mouldering for twenty years, the cobwebs were dusted off, and it was presented to us as the solution to our problems: despite the fact that it failed in the North-East because it did not ensure meaningful devolution (apart from the fact that the LTTE scuttled it), and was unpopular even among the Sinhalese in the South! It has been reported that the APRC was forced into this ignoble position by the President: does he think we are all idiots? Why appoint the APRC and waste tax-payers’ money on 63 meetings over eighteen months if the only purpose was to revive the failed 13th Amendment? Once again, the government of Sri Lanka seems determined to prove the LTTE right when it wrote off the APRC process as eyewash.

We should reject this report, even as an interim measure, for the same reason that we rejected the LTTE’s Interim Self-Governing Authority: because it constitutes a massive obstacle to a democratic solution of the current crisis. Before you take interim steps to reach a certain goal, you need to know what that goal is; otherwise you are in danger of moving in the opposite direction, and that is precisely what this proposal does. Credible interim proposals cannot be made until the final goal is clear, even if it is a long way off.

We must therefore demand that the real APRC proposals–not the APRC acting as the mouthpiece of the president, who is free to make his own proposals but surely has a mouth of his own–should be presented by February 4th at the very latest. If the president does not permit this, the Left and minority parties who are still part of the government should resign and the proposals should be presented independently. I am fully aware of the risk this entails for minority party leaders who are already being targeted by the LTTE: given Rajapakse’s vindictive policy of withdrawing security from politicians who defy his orders, not to mention the existence of government-linked death squads, their lives will be in danger. But the only alternative is that they betray their own constituencies in order to be part of a government that is determined not to give justice to minorities. Tissa Vitharana has been denounced by fascist bullyboy Ranawaka, and no doubt the Left parties would face more vilification or even violence from the JHU and JVP, but they too cannot remain in an anti-democratic government without betraying their socialist principles. What is important is not that the APRC should reach consensus, but that the results of their deliberations should be presented to the public for democratic debate.

Three Positions on the State(s) in Sri Lanka

There are essentially three positions on the state(s) in the territory of what is now Sri Lanka. The first is that of the LTTE, which strives to constitute the Northeast as a separate state of Tamil Eelam, an exclusively Tamil state in which minorities can be subjected to discrimination, persecution and ethnic cleansing. The second is that of the JHU, JVP, MEP and their fellow-travellers, who strive to establish the whole of Sri Lanka as a unitary Sinhala-Buddhist state in which minorities can be subjected to discrimination, persecution and ethnic cleansing. The third position essentially seeks to establish Sri Lanka as a united, democratic state in which citizens of all communities will enjoy equal rights–including religious, cultural and language rights–in all parts of the country. Some variants of this position want Sri Lanka to be a federal state, but most parties are willing to forego full federalism provided there is adequate and meaningful devolution of power, especially to areas where there is a preponderance of minority communities.

The first position, represented in parliament by the TNA, has been excluded from the APRC so far, since Mahinda Rajapakse did not invite it to participate. This detracted somewhat from the legitimacy of the exercise, since it did not include a large bloc of Tamil MPs. But it could also be argued that the TNA MPs owed their position in parliament to election-rigging by the LTTE, and would not have the freedom to represent their constituents freely if their position deviated from that of the LTTE. In mid-2007, APRC Chairman Tissa Vitharana invited the TNA too to participate.

The second position is represented by the JVP (which has withdrawn from the APRC), JHU and MEP, some elements of the SLFP and possibly also of the UNP. They insist on the definition of the state as ‘unitary’, retention of the special place given to Buddhism, and tight limits placed on devolution; indeed, the proposal of the SLFP, subsequently withdrawn, that the unit of devolution should be the district, would effectively have made it impossible for any substantial devolution of power to take place.

The third position is taken by the Left parties and most of the minority parties. While there may be differences of emphasis among them, they concur in ruling out both a division of the country and a unitary state, and in wanting substantial devolution at the provincial level combined with decentralisation at a lower level and power-sharing at the centre. The EPDP is ambivalent about this position. Without dismissing it, the party wanted the APRC to recommend implementation of the 13th Amendment, with the establishment of interim councils in the North and East.

Preconditions for Consensus

Arriving at a consensus between parties holding radically different positions is conditional on their being willing to shift their positions in the interests of agreement. Without that willingness, any consensus is pie in the sky, and the search for it is a futile exercise. So what are the chances of the APRC reaching consensus? In principle, Prof. Vitharana is quite right to invite the TNA to participate, since it is supposed to be an All-Party committee. But Prabakaran has made it very clear he is not willing to budge from his goal of a separate Tamil state ruled by the LTTE. It is therefore impossible to envisage a consensus between the TNA and the other parties in parliament.

What about the rest of the parties? The JVP, JHU, MEP and sections of the SLFP insist on a unitary state with limited devolution of power to the provinces, while the Left and most minority parties do not want a unitary state and want substantial devolution of power to the provinces. This is not just a quibble over a word; if Sri Lanka is defined as a ‘unitary’ state, this will automatically give the Centre powers to overrule and even dismiss provincial governments which act contrary to its wishes. Any devolution would then be purely illusory, since it could be clawed back at will by the Centre. Thus in reality, there is as little chance of consensus between these two blocs of parties as there is between either of them and the LTTE/TNA. Any ‘consensus’ that emerges would be at the cost of the Left and minority parties selling out their constituencies by agreeing to a unitary state which is opposed by them.

Does ‘Unitary’ Mean ‘United’?

The first excuse for wanting to preserve the unitary character of the state is that abandoning the unitary state–and even, according to the JVP, allowing devolution of any degree–would lead to the division of Sri Lanka. This argument reveals its proponents to be historical ignoramuses. The most striking counter to it is the example of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which, under Tito, granted a high degree of autonomy to its constituent republics and to the Serbian provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo, and remained united. After Tito’s death in 1980, the Serbian nationalists attempted to curtail regional autonomy, leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Most significantly for Sri Lanka, Kosovo now stands poised on the brink of independence from Serbia after an armed struggle conducted by the Kosovo Liberation Army, a force with a strong resemblance to the LTTE. Here there is a clear link between more autonomy and unity, while less autonomy leads to separatism.

Indeed, we see the same pattern in Sri Lanka too. Sri Lanka’s first Constitution did not define it as a unitary state, nor was there any special place for Buddhism, and there was no separatist movement while it prevailed. The Republican Constitution of 1972 proclaimed Sri Lanka to be a unitary state, which, along with Sinhala as the sole official language, the special place given to Buddhism, and withdrawal of protection for minorities, amounted to establishing it as a Sinhala-Buddhist state. Within a few years there was a separatist movement for Tamil Eelam and an armed struggle to realise it, which continues to this day. Once again, the correlation is clear: no unitary state, no separatism; unitary state, armed separatist struggle.

So the argument against removing the word ‘unitary’ is NOT an argument for preserving the unity of our country, but the very opposite: it is an argument for dividing Sri Lanka by defining it as a Sinhala-Buddhist state, thereby sustaining the separatist struggle of the LTTE. Those who truly wish to defeat the LTTE would want to remove the unitary label from our constitution as soon as possible.

Reluctance to Change the Constitution

The other reason given for opposing the deletion of ‘unitary’ from the constitution is that it would require a two-thirds majority in parliament as well as a referendum. It is true this would take time, but if we therefore give up the struggle to change the constitution, we are, in effect, giving up on democracy in Sri Lanka. To take just one example: the virtually absolute power held by the Executive President means that the entire population is at the mercy of this one individual. This is not merely a denial of the democratic rights of the people, but also a negation of good governance. The Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) deserves our gratitude for its magnificent efforts to reactivate the Constitutional Council (CC), which was seen as counterbalancing the absolute power of the President, but that is not enough. Will the presidential appointees to posts that should have been filled by CC appointees be replaced? It seems unlikely. Nor will good governance in other areas be ensured.

Take, for example, the bizarre episode in London when the president wanted to return to Sri Lanka after a personal trip to see his son graduate. The Sri Lankan Airlines flight was over-booked, and chief executive Peter Hill, while offering to accommodate Rajapakse’s immediate family, refused to offload 35 confirmed passengers in order to accommodate his entourage. And he was quite right to do so. Imagine trecking all the way to the airport and queuing up to check in, only to find that your seat and those of 34 other passengers had been hijacked by the president’s hangers-on! Wouldn’t you think twice about flying Sri Lankan Airlines in future? It would be the end of the airline as a commercial enterprise! But Mr Hill’s reward was to have his work permit and visa withdrawn, as a result of which Emirates, which appointed him, is withdrawing from the partnership with Sri Lankan Airlines. This could well convert Sri Lankan Airlines from a revenue-earning venture into a disastrous loss-making enterprise like Mihin Air, paid for by the hapless people of Sri Lanka.

This is just one example of the mind-boggling corruption and nepotism that is sending Sri Lanka’s economy down the drain. It is not just working-class and middle-income groups who are paying for it; even businesses cannot be run under such conditions. Nor is it just a problem for the present: even the future of Sri Lanka is being mortgaged by the high-interest loans taken by this rapacious administration that is sucking the life-blood out of our country. This is the result of the progressive undermining of democracy that has occurred from Independence onward. First the minority communities were disempowered by depriving Hill-country Tamils of their citizenship and franchise, passing the Sinhala Only Bill, and so on. These were not just attacks on minority rights but on equality, which is the bedrock of democracy. The 1972 constitution not only deprived minority communities of more rights but also centralised enormous power in the hands of the ruling party, thus disempowering Sinhalese too. Finally the 1978 constitution put absolute power in the hands of the executive president. Again, it is not just minorities who pay; on the contrary, in financial terms, the Sinhalese pay more, since there are more of them. Furthermore, there is the ever-present danger of tens of thousands of Sinhalese being slaughtered, as they were in the late 1980s.

Restoring Democracy in Sri Lanka

If all this is to be reversed, the executive presidency has to be abolished and democracy restored, which means that we need a new constitution along the lines proposed by the Tissa Vitharana report. The chances of achieving this are not so hopeless as the Sinhala chauvinists would have us believe. Except for the TNA, all the minority parties would support such a change, as would the Left parties. While sections of the SLFP would oppose it, others would surely support it, since their own proposal for constitutional change in 1995 was very similar. At that time, the UNP sabotaged the whole effort in an utterly shameful way; if they do the same again, they would face well-deserved oblivion, so perhaps the leadership will think better of it; even if they don’t, there will be some party members who support a democratic constitution. So a two-thirds parliamentary majority supporting the change is not impossible, if not immediately, then after the next elections. As for getting it approved by a referendum, I feel confident that if the issues are explained and the people of Sri Lanka are allowed to make an informed choice, they will surely vote in favour of democracy.

However, before this can happen, the real APRC report has to be presented to the public. Where there is no consensus in the APRC, the different positions of the different parties should be presented honestly. The Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration should publish the proposals in all three languages, and all those who have any commitment to peace should ensure that they are debated thoroughly by the public. This may take time, but if the process starts immediately, it should be complete before the next parliamentary and presidential elections. In the meantime, it should be made very clear that the president will be held responsible for any violence whatsoever against signatories of the report.

If the real APRC proposals are unveiled by the end of this month, we will have something to celebrate on Independence Day. Otherwise it will be a day of national mourning for the murder of democracy over a period of sixty years.

15 Comments »

  1. Sen said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 8:24 am

    A well written and an ambitious way forward article with good rationale and facts. However, in reality, with the present government (corruption, nepotism etc) which buys or buries all members of parliament, the way forward is hard to see the light.

  2. Unitary or United its all the same said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 9:37 am

    As long as the constitution stays the same where a GOSL with 2/3 majority can re-write the constitution, unitary/united or whatever doesn’t make sense.
    Even if a southern consensus was reached along united lines, IMPLEMENTATION is a different kettle of fish for southern political elite as they wouldn’t kill the golden duck that lays golden eggs via public fund swindles.
    Just like the 13th amendment has taken a revision to IMPLEMENT after 21 years of war and blood-letting, any APRC Proposal wouldn’t see the light of day anytime soon.
    If an all powerful executive president can dump his own will on an APRC against its pre-amble which it was created,then, what else can you expect from southern polity to redress minority greivances?
    The hawks in the SL Forces as well as in parliament are of the view that once LTTE is vanquished, all will subside. Well, Time will tell!

  3. Sinhalese said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

    I don’t think Buddha ever wanted Buddhist State for himself. He left kingdom he has as a prince to search for truth and gain enlightenment. Pandits who made that constitution probably not proper buddhists but cardboard type that can see in every corener of SriLanka. I am sometimes ashamed to say I am a Buddhist from sri Lanka. (never mentioned all that killings goes on) – I wonder that When we removed the last Precepts – Panathipatha Veramani Sickapadang samadiami – I will restarian from killing/ harming l any living beieng.

  4. mahendra said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

    It was a constructive analysis of the paper, not a report submitted by Tiss V committe. We need to drop the word federal and go for a local name with a feasible solution without draging on so long. We have well educated & proffesionals here & abroad who would have given a better solution keeping out all politicians once the politicians gives the guide lines. Mahendra

  5. Devinda Fernando said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

    *** in reality, with the present government (corruption, nepotism etc) which buys or buries all members of parliament, the way forward is hard to see the light. ***

    Sen,

    I think we’ll take our chances over anything the LTTE has had to offer… those people are the WORST of the WORST! Anything other than the LTTE is a Step up!

  6. Devinda Fernando said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 4:08 pm

    Ms. Rohini Hensman SHAME ON YOU.

    Once again you Harp on the Past failures of Past governments to paint a False picture of the future. I can expect this sort of Sordid Rhetoric from the average Indoctrinated Donkey Diaspora supporter living in Canada and the UK who’s only exposure to this conflict are the scribblings on Tamilnet and Sangam.org. but from YOU TOO?

    Don’t bring up anecdotal incidents or incidents from 30 or more years back and say that Sri Lanka’s economy is going down the drain due to these things.

    First and foremost

    TNA-are proxy Mouthpieces for the LTTE. They have no place in Politics. They should all be arrested and Jailed as Traitors of the Republic. Why we tolerate them on any level is beyond me. For 2 Decades they have Manipulated the voice of Tamils to fit the LTTE’s agenda, so in other words they have completely Silenced the Real Voice of the Tamil People.

    Ms Hensman STOP WHINING PLEASE! For Christ sake! Listen to you Waste of Tax payer money for the 63 sessions? Waste of Tax payer Money?!!! Do you want to know what the BIGGEST WASTE of Taxpayer money was in Sri Lanka? Ready? (Drumroll) Brrrrrrrrrrrrr Peace Talks with the LTTE! Other than funding Thamilchelvan’s Thai Hooker habit, nothing pleasurable ever came out of that colossal waste of time and energy!

    And you are right on one thing, “Unitary” does not Mean “United”, but at least it means “Consistent”,-this whole ‘addressing the issues of the Minorities’ is a Farce Minorities are in no significantly worse a position living in a 3rd World country such as Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese majority. STOP WHINING FOR ONE DAY! PLEASE!? Can we just let the this government first and foremost Finish the War, then start the rebuilding and then we can go back to your MINORITY WHINING!

    There is TOO MUCH Democracy in Sri Lanka, look at all you who sit there in your Pulpits Spectating and Commentating the Situation, Floating your Lofty Ideals of the Perfect Utopian Society! Everybody telling us how things should be this Wonderland of equal rights, yet no one is willing to sacrifice an inch or give a little time to achieve anything. SHAME ON YOU ALL

  7. selva said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

    President J.R.Jayawardana has made the consitution in such a way so that none of the future governments will be able devolve power to the Tamils or Muslims. So even JVP or Hela Urumaya don’t have to waste their energy fighting not to give. To cheat the Tamils President Mahinda can even give the power like that of Kasmir because in that ammendment JR has given enough provisions to take everything back. Real meaning of !3 th Ammendment is give by one hand and take by other hand. Only viable solution is India formaly (not by fighting, only by negotiating like JR and Rajiv did) occupy the whole country and then give independence separetely at separate times.

  8. Sen said,

    January 31, 2008 @ 12:17 am

    6. Devinda Fernando “yet no one is willing to sacrifice an inch or give a little time to achieve anything. SHAME ON YOU ALL…..” – We all are waiting to see your personal sacrifices than writing abusing langue and showing your hatred.

    Although, I am not a supporter of LTTE or Douglas Devanda/ Pilliayan (the slaves of MR) Well, I as I have repeated elsewhere, LTTE is the by product of chauvinistic and past Sinhala governments. In 1958, when your predecessors went on rampage on innocent Tamils, who lived in South, Prabaharan was only a 4 year child. In his child hood, he has seen a mother, who lost her husband and sons massacred in front of her eyes – that gave him the hardline approach to go for a separation, when all Tamil politicians were cheated by the previous governments. WE Need to learn from History, the past record of Srilankan government and Mahinda (who is hell bent on nepotism and hatred) is not going to offer any solution. Even before TNA came into picture, majority of Tamils supported TULF, and in early days there were no LTTE or any armed groups. TULF wanted autonomy to fight the discrimination Tamils were facing, for this what are you going to say?. Your abuse and filthy hatred. You look like a person worshiping Rajapaksa brothers.

    Wake up to a decent world, if you are living in a developed part of the world. it is a shame to the country, which allowed you to stay.

  9. Brahmin said,

    January 31, 2008 @ 5:25 am

    A few days in Pottuvil now liberated from LTTE clutches will ease your mind…

    Don’t come back – we’ll kill ya…

  10. Justin said,

    January 31, 2008 @ 10:49 am

    Devinda, you are extremely racist and emotionalised racially towards the Sinhalese. You are a typical Sinhalese. This is the reason why Tamils of North East should have their own country. Sinhalese will never come right with their attitude and thinking.

    Open your eyes and see what is going around but without tinted glasses on your eyes. Do not insult the Tamils by saying that they are alright. During slavery in America and Apartheid in South Africa, the whites always said that the blacks were alright. you have the same racist outlook.

    Do not fool yourself by saying that minorities have no problem in Sri Lanka. Many Tamils have abandoned Sri Lanka because of rythless oppression. Lives of Tamils are alwaysin Danger in that country. You are a Sinhalese and cannot understand this.

  11. Sam Thambipillai said,

    February 1, 2008 @ 3:26 am

    A rebel constitution of any rebel state should be torn apart and thrown into the waste bin. It is neither for any amendment nor decoration with the 13th amendment or the word “united”. A deadly virus should be destroyed not consumed!

    The term “rebel state” was first used in 1966, when Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia as a republic with a unilateral constitution. Sri lanka became a rebel state in 1972, when the south unilateraly declared it a republic with a unilateral constitution and illegally annexed the North East of the island.

    The rebel state of Rhodesia was rebellious against international norms, laws and standards from its inception. Rhodesian jets bombed and killed civilians in neighbouring Zambia and other countries. The rebellion was finally undone by external intervention. Internal solution was impossible.

    The rebel state of Sri Lanka has also been following step by step, the same footsteps of Rhodesia for the past 36 years. The people and the governments are rebellious against the requests of the International Community. It is continuing to violate all norms, standards and laws with impunity. Bombing and killing of Tamil civilians has become a daily occurence. The rebel state, in existence for 36 years, has produced a culture of impunity in the South.

    About two weeks ago, the chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Louise Arbor warned that those in command in Sri Lanka committing criminal acts would be taken to war crimes court.

    Here we are, within two weeks, we have witnessed unprecedented killing of school children in Mannar by the miltary and found mass graves in Keppitigollawa. Those in mass graves are believed to be Tamils arrested in Mannar by the military. Rebellion is acute.

    A rebel state always will have rebellious leaders and people. The solution for such state rebellion cannot come from within as the International Community expects. Appropriate external intervention is inevitable.

    Sri Lanka is not a failed state but a rebel state. Therefore, the UNHRC should firmly ask the rebel state of Sri Lanka to permit the UN monitoring mission. If Sri Lankan state is rebellious against such a request, the UN should recognise the sovereignty of Tamil Eelam.

  12. Mike said,

    February 1, 2008 @ 3:46 am

    I am unware why JBS tolerates retards like Devinda Fernando – whose only contribution is to fuel the ethnic fire. The man has no respect for opposing views except his own kind, as Justin has correctly assessed a racist of the KKK calibre. Say a prayer for this poor fella!

  13. Devinda Fernando said,

    February 2, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

    *** I am unware why JBS tolerates retards like Devinda Fernando – whose only contribution is to fuel the ethnic fire. The man has no respect for opposing views except his own kind, as Justin has correctly assessed a racist of the KKK calibre. Say a prayer for this poor fella!***

    I AM the ‘opposing’ view here… the rest of you are RACIST TAMIL TERROR SUPPORTERS. Once again let me ask you how you call ME the Racists when I am calling for a UNITARY, INTEGRATED country not based on Race or Religion….

    All of you are Calling for A TAMIL ONLY ETHNICALLY PURE HOMELAND….

    Who are the Racists here?

  14. Thamilan said,

    February 3, 2008 @ 3:55 pm

    Comment # 13,

    When a Sinhalese calls for a unitary solution, he should know that there are many hidden aspects to the word “unitary”. A unitary state has only brought racism and unequal treatment of the minorities and has brought this beautiful island to its knee. Integrated is acceptable, but the word unitary should be kept out if the Sinhalese wants to keep the country as one.

    From the history of the island the word unitary is substituted to Sinhalese domination. Sinhalese domination will not be accepted specially when the authority of the Sinhalese are illegal over the Tamils.

    A person who is unable to grant equality to others is also considered racist. Clearly you are one of them.

  15. Sri said,

    February 4, 2008 @ 7:14 am

    Thanks Rohini,
    But, Constitution is supposed to be the Supreme Law of the land. But what is the reality. There is the 13th Amendment, 16th and 17th Amendments. How to make them implementable?, Again agitation?
    The plight of these Constitutional provisions is pathetic. Constitution is also a piece of paper? Why then worry about APRC ?
    So…So…what is the way out?

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