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Political solution through reconciliation

Following is the statement by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at 12th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Minister
Mahinda Samarasinghe

Since June this year, when we last addressed this forum, Sri Lanka has made significant strides towards a lasting and durable solution to our long-standing conflict. I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the keen interest the members of this Council have displayed in the evolving situation in Sri Lanka and wish to reassure them that, with the defeat of terrorism, the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government is doing its utmost to restore, rebuild and renew the foundations of a democratic social order throughout the Lankan territory.

We have taken note of the concerns expressed with regard to the internally displaced civilians by the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier today. She chose, in her statement, to characterize the relief villages and welfare centres housing internally displaced as being no more than internment camps. This is furthest from the truth. The reality in post-conflict Sri Lanka is very different.

Nearly 290,000 hostages were rescued from the clutches of the LTTE who forcibly held them as a bulwark between their dwindling cadres and the advancing Armed Forces. These people were pressed into service by the LTTE and were compelled to place themselves at risk to protect the leadership of an increasingly desperate group.

Once the LTTE were defeated, these persons were moved to temporary accommodation facilities in schools and public buildings and later to the relief villages constructed in anticipation of their arrival.

It is true that the sheer numbers of persons arriving at these centres did stretch the capabilities of the Government and its partners to care for them but, it is a matter for satisfaction that within a matter of weeks, we were able to accommodate and provide an adequate level of care for these persons.

There were considerable challenges surmounted along the way in trying to care for these Sri Lankans. Apart from emergency food, shelter and medical care, water supply and sanitation were critical needs which have to be catered for. The national Disaster Management Centre has also taken special measures to prevent and mitigate the risk of flooding due to the upcoming monsoonal rains. Protection issues were also a concern given that the Government possessed information that some LTTE cadres had infiltrated the ranks of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and posed a significant threat.

Human rights

The Government has a responsibility to guarantee the human rights of the entirety of the population - not only the rights of the conflict-affected IDPs. Allowing LTTE cadres, masquerading as ordinary civilians, freedom of movement would have posed a grave threat to people in the rest of the country. Members of this Council and the rest of the global community knows only too well the atrocities committed by the LTTE against ordinary civilians. Given the vast caches of arms, ammunition and explosives being recovered on a daily basis in the former theatre of conflict and outside, their ability to destabilize the country and cause havoc could not be underestimated.

Resettlement

It is our position that the IDPs can and will be permitted to leave the relief villages and welfare centres once they are screened and their bona fides established. The host family scheme has recently been publicly announced and persons are permitted to reside with relatives.

Nearly many thousands of applications have been received in Jaffna and Vavuniya in just the past few days, requesting the release of IDPs to the custody of host families. It is our responsibility to ensure that these checks are stringent and thorough. This process is initiated consequent to a policy decision that was taken by the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province.

To aid this process, as at September 6, 2009, 167,908 IDPs of 75,009 families have been registered,with 110,000 temporary identity cards being handed over to the authorities for distribution. Apart from enabling their movement, this exercise of registration and issuance of temporary identity cards to IDPs is to ensure their right to eventual resettlement in their original places of residences, family reunification, provision of educational facilities to children, livelihood training programs and for the identification of disabled and handicapped requiring special care.

Since the end of successful armed operations to rescue the civilians in the theatre of conflict in May 2009, over 14,500 persons have been cleared to live with relatives. Over 31,000 persons have been reunified with their families who were separated during the military operations. Resettlement has commenced with limited returns being made possible by demining. From July to August 2009, 5,331 IDPs of 695 families have been resettled from sites in Vavuniya to Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.

Further 9,994 persons are to be returned to their places of origin in the East and Jaffna in two weeks. Of this, the first set of returns took place on September 11 with about 2,800 persons from Vavuniya IDP sites being returned to their places of origin in Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.

This included 60 university students who were sent to Jaffna. Of the older category, displaced between 2006 and September 2008 during the Eastern humanitarian operations, 2,828 persons from 762 families have been resettled in Musali DS division, in the Mannar District. Further “go and see visits” are organized for the rest of the IDPs to ensure that eventual return and resettlement is voluntary based on informed choice.

Negative campaign

Taking care of the IDPs, Government’s prime concern. Picture by Rukmal Gamage

The High Commissioner also spoke of access to humanitarian actors. Along with the several Governmental agencies working for IDP welfare, there are over 50 agencies including United Nations, international and national non-governmental organizations working alongside us to support and supplement our efforts.

Despite such progress, we can see an orchestrated campaign being conducted by vested interests to grossly distort the conduct of the humanitarian operations and the good work that is being done to care for those rescued from the clutches of terrorism.

One such incident was played out just days before the present Council session when a fake video was handed over to several leading international media institutions showing the Sri Lanka Army allegedly executing Tamils in the North.

Devastating impact

Needless to say the initial impact of this fake video was devastating to the extent that even the Secretary-General aired his grave concern to me when I met him 10 days ago in Geneva on the sidelines of the World Climate Conference.

Four separate investigations conducted in respect of this video footage have now scientifically established beyond doubt that the video was a fake.

We have shared these scientific findings with the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, among others, and we will be taking appropriate steps to ensure that this kind of unverified broadcast is prevented from happening again.

This is the kind of disinformation campaign still being conducted against my country even after terrorism has been defeated and I can assure that we will also defeat these forces who cannot be allowed to tarnish and bring disrepute to the image of my country.

To be continued

 

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