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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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