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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.

The first part appeared on yesterday

For those remaining in the relief villages and welfare centres, health has been identified as a priority sector. At present, 81 doctors are working in camps in Vavuniya and 18 are in the Cheddikulam hospital close to the Menik Farm relief village. The Health Ministry reports that by today, permanent appointments will be made to nearly 100 doctors to serve in camps and 28 doctors to serve at the Cheddikulam hospital.

Health camp

A health camp with psychosocial services was facilitated by the Air Force in Zone 2 and 3. A new psychosocial centre is opened in Zone 4. Mobile clinic facilities are operational in the newly opened Zone 6. Seven health facilities in Kilinochchi, three in Mannar and two in Vavuniya are to be completed by mid-October 2009.

In recognition of the importance placed on education by Sri Lankans, the Examinations Department established 10 special examination centres in Vavuniya for 1,236 displaced candidates to enable them to sit the G.C.E Advanced Level examination. It is significant that 166 ex-child combatants also sat the examination held last month. Temporary learning spaces have been demarcated in the IDP sites and educational services are being provided.

The Government's program could be summarized under the five heads of relief, reconstruction, resettlement, reintegration and reconciliation. Relief encompasses all the humanitarian assistance and services provided to IDPs during the present 'care and maintenance' phase. Reconstruction includes all the initiatives aimed at rebuilding the damaged and destroyed physical infrastructure on which US dollars 150 million has been spent up to now. It is noteworthy that the bulk of the funding of these operations to date have been contributed by Government. The Government is determined that the facilities available to the people in the rest of the country will be available to the people in conflict-affected areas.

The resettlement program can only be completed when demining is completed and we expect to be able to report on major advances in this area during the coming weeks. The acquisition of 10 new flailing machines using government funds will enable us to clear ground and obtain necessary certification from the United Nations agencies.

De-mining

According to the initial survey carried out by the Information Management System on Mine Action, it is estimated that nearly 1.5 million landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contaminate an area of 402 sq km. Since the beginning of January 2009, de-mining of 25 small administrative divisions has been completed. According to the National Steering Committee on Mine Action, de-mining in 15 divisions in Musali, Manthai West and the Rice Bowl area of Mannar covering 80 sqkm have commenced and clearance is ongoing. De-mining of the Rice Bowl area is expected to be completed by mid-October to enable further resettlement. In Vavuniya, 35 divisions have already been cleared and are ready to resettle the IDPs. De-mining activities in another 10 divisions is going on.

Clearance

In Jaffna, de-mining in 14 divisions has been completed with de-mining carring out in 19 more divisions. While de-mining in three GN Divisions in Batticaloa and one GN Division in Trincomalee has been completed, clearance activities are going on in another two divisions each in Anuradhapura, Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts.

As at the end of August, 445,370,401 square metres have been cleared of mines and UXOs. US$ 64 million has been expended for the Sri Lankan Mine Action Program through respective de-mining agencies. Of the area cleared, 335,927,614 square metres have been cleared by the Army at the cost of only US$10 million.

The rest of the area has been cleared by another eight de-mining agencies. Apart from de-mining, resettlement can only be sustainable if livelihoods and other early recovery measures are put in place. The smooth transition from early recovery to medium and long-term economic development is also being planned for.

This long-term development strategy is being developed and implemented under the Northern Spring program which will usher in a period of renewal for the people of the North.

Perhaps the most vital part of winning peace, are the efforts of the Government undertaken for the reintegration of ex-combatants. Reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life and the attempts at normalization and reconciliation launched by President Rajapaksa are the two final components of the integrated strategy that our Government has put in place. In support of these initiatives, after wide consultation we have recently completed a national framework proposal on the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life.

We laid the conceptual underpinnings of this exercise in 2006 within the ambit of the disaster recovery mandate of the Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry and began work in October 2008, long before the armed operation was successfully concluded. The framework takes a holistic view of reintegration which includes not only disarmament and demobilization followed by rehabilitation but also transitional justice, reinsertion and socio-economic integration.

Action plan

The integration process will enable those took part in the conflict to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society. We are in the process of formulating an action plan in keeping with the national framework in close consultation and coordination with the various Government focal points. We expect the action plan to be finalized before the end of September with the active cooperation of all key Government actors, civil society and our international partners.

Technical support for this is provided by the UNDP and ILO working along-side local experts. Our main focus is to ensure inter-agency coordination and a harmonized approach. This, we believe, will prove effective, prevent duplication and ensure that all agencies are working towards a common goal and are moving in one direction. It will also help build synergies among the various operational agencies who are working on individual components of an integrated strategy.

Peace

Political accommodation through an inclusive reconciliation process will be the final component in the Government's efforts to finally end nearly three-decade conflict. President Rajapaksa has already reached out to political parties to obtain support in cementing peace that is now possible after the defeat of terrorism. Successful elections have just been concluded to local bodies in Jaffna and Vavuniya.

It is significant that opposition groups were able to campaign and contest and even gain a working majority in one local authority. As we were committed to restoring democratic institutions in the East after the conclusion of operations in that region in 2007, democratic institutions must and will be resuscitated in the North for the benefit of the people.

Internecine conflict experienced by Sri Lanka for nearly three decades, has an inevitable corrosive effect on the institutions and mechanisms that ensure peace, order and good governance. We have to rebuild our institutional foundations to foster and preserve the new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Sri Lanka that we wish to create.

Our vision is the creation of a new Sri Lankan identity which acknowledges and cherishes the wonderful diversity that characterizes our society.

To enable this, the promotion and protection of human rights - economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights and the right to development - is of prime importance.

This is why, in keeping with our pledge made at the Universal Periodic Review process in May last year, we have taken steps to develop a National Plan of Action to promote and protect human rights. Work on the first draft of the Plan is nearing completion and we expect that it will provide a framework that will enable us to guarantee the rights of all of our people in the years to come.

Much has been said about the arrest, detention, trial and conviction of Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam.

What to my mind is most important in regard to this matter is that due process was observed and he was detained and tried in accordance with the law within 18 months. While the merits of the case and the interpretation of substantive aspects of the law are purely a matter for the courts to decide upon, as a member of the executive and Human Rights Minister my first concern is to see that the law is observed.

Measures

I already understand that measures are under way by his legal team to file an appeal before the appellate courts of Sri Lanka and am confident that the judicial process will mete out justice to this individual. Indeed, in comparison to journalists who have been detained for over two years in some cases and released without ever being charged in other conflict situations, Tissainayagam's trial and conviction by the regular courts of the country is less odious and offensive to human rights norms and standards. Concluded

 

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