Getting to the main goal of the peace process

by Jehan Perera

With uncertainty continuing to hang over the future of the peace process, there is a great deal of frustration with it. What was seen in 2002 as a textbook model of conflict resolution is now seen as drifting, at best, and as heading towards renewed war, at worst. At the root of the sense of drift is the inability of the government and LTTE to consensually agree about the end goal of the peace process. In 2002 the goal was to stop the war through the ceasefire agreement. But four years later, there is the need for a greater goal. If the government and LTTE are unable to establish that goal through their negotiations, then it becomes necessary for other sections of society, including the opposition and civil society, to engage in goal setting discussions.

In 2002, analysts were generally agreed that the task of bridging the gap between the government and LTTE was too big to achieve at that time. Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s approach was to take one step at a time. The signing of the Ceasefire Agreement was itself a major achievement that turned the country around from war to no-war. Indeed, in the context of the absence of any great progress thereafter, the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement was the boldest political act in recent history. There is no question that if President Mahinda Rajapakse is to take the peace process forward, he will also have to take bold steps in the near future.

Today, the contour of what the goal of the peace process should be has become clearer. The details will have to be worked out, but the goal is clear. It is to have a united country, a democratic society, a power sharing arrangement for the north east, and the disarmament of all non-official armies. For the peace process to once again capture the imagination of the people, and of the international community, a roadmap to this goal needs to be set. As the first step, human rights in the peace process need to find institutionalized methods of being protected, as they are the foundation of a people-centered solution.

There is a human rights perspective from which the present peace process has been strongly critiqued as being inadequate. There have been continuing acts of violence and human rights abuses taking place in the north east. Human rights abuses have abounded in the list of acknowledged ceasefire violations which number over 5000 in the four years of ceasefire. The violations include hundreds of political killings, thousands of forcible child recruitment, and the continuing displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The ceasefire in Sri Lanka has brought about a situation of no-war. But it has not brought about a situation of peace with democracy and justice. It has not led to the transformation of the government and LTTE.

Human rights violations
The continuing resort to killings in particular is tragic evidence of a continuing militarized mind-set that believes in violence as having the ability to accomplish political objectives. There is only one answer, and that is a paradigm shift of thinking and behaviour that gives first place to dialogue and rejects violence in total. The call for the disarmament of armed or paramilitary groups is not enough. Both the government and LTTE need to stop those who are under their direct or indirect control from killing people. This was the main issue in the Geneva talks in February 2006. Both sides promised to put an end to violence. But violent acts continue, although presently on a reduced scale. The Ceasefire Agreement has yet to be implemented in its proper spirit.

The need to respect human rights is implied in the Ceasefire Agreement but only indirectly as an injunction prohibiting hostile acts against the civilian population. It is puzzling why the framers of the Ceasefire Agreement chose to leave out a direct reference to the need to protect human rights. This is a void in the Ceasefire Agreement that needs to be filled outside of it. The problem is made worse in that there is no satisfactory mechanism to ensure the implementation of this intention. There is no remedy except to protest to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) who say that it is beyond their mandate to investigate and take remedial action. From this it can be seen that the institutional framework and environment conducive to nurture and protect human rights in Sri Lanka is currently lacking. Therefore, if human rights are to be protected, there needs to be new institutions set in place and an environment that is conducive to the protection of human rights.

One of the major deficiencies of the present peace process is the lack of power of the SLMM which was led by Norwegians for four years until February 2006 when a Swede was made its head. Critics pointed out that the international monitors were compromised by the dual role that Norway had to play, as both facilitator and monitor. As facilitator the Norwegian priority would be to engage with the two parties and not cause undue offence to them. However, as monitor, the priority would be to investigate, name and shame. In practice, the Scandinavian monitors have proven unable to put a stop to the two sides from engaging in ceasefire violations. The change in the leadership of the SLMM to a Swedish national may lead to a more pro-active role by the international monitors.

Building up new institutions, such as those that will protect human rights, will require political talks and progress in political reforms that are mutually agreed upon. A solution would be to strengthen the role of the international monitors. But this can only happen if both the government and LTTE agree to such a strengthened role. In the absence of a resumption of peace talks such an agreement is unlikely to materialise. For the peace process to bring peace of mind and democracy to the people the repressive machinery on both sides that target violence against their opponents need to be dismantled. This process of dismantling also needs to be monitored either by an empowered and more effective SLMM or by those who have a specific mandate to overlook and issue public reports on the human rights situation.

International pressure
One of the major weaknesses of the present peace process has been its inability to restore freedom of expression and politics in the north east, particularly in the LTTE-controlled parts which remain inaccessible to democratic political parties. There is also the question of non-LTTE Tamil parties and the Muslims, who are a majority in the east. They are not being represented in the ongoing peace process. This has led to the growing anger of the Muslim community in the east, who feel that they are being sacrificed in the peace process to the LTTE whose rule they virtually unanimously reject, and yet feel is going to be imposed upon them. The increased mobility afforded to LTTE cadres by the ceasefire agreement saw them reaching into government-controlled areas to intimidate, recruit and extort.

It is important that the peace process should be one that seeks the transformation of the government and LTTE, and not be one that seeks their entrenchment in the country as they are. The past four years have revealed that neither the government nor theLTTE give their foremost priority to human rights. Instead both of these actors seek to maximise their power relative to one another and in relation to the people. Accordingly, there is a need for supplemental mechanisms to be instituted.

There are precedents from other peace processes with regard to human rights agreements that ensure that the interests of the people are taken into consideration, not only the interests of the conflicting parties. A human rights agreement that is monitored by independent monitors can be a mechanism that transforms the Sri Lankan peace process into one that takes the best interests of the people into adequate consideration. Civil society and peace groups, both locally and internationally, need to assert themselves to make human rights an agenda item for the second round of Geneva talks. This would be the first destination in the roadmap that would get Sri Lanka to the main goal of the peace process, which is a democratic society in which there is political power sharing without the fear of armed entities. [Source: Daily Mirror] – [TamilWeek Apr 16, 2006]

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