Abuse of trust we deposited in the political leadership in 2015 - Dr Nimalka Fernando

Civil society wants the victims of the war to be given priority when creating mechanisms to address the accountability issue.

Leading human rights activist and Attorney At Law, Dr Nimalka Fernando told The Sunday Leader, that there was complete faith in the new government to establish a judicial process that will give them confidence. She also noted that the government agreed to the participation of foreign judges in the resolution adopted in October 2015.

Q: As part of civil society who backed the current government and who pushed for justice for the victims of human rights abuses, what is your reaction to the government's decision of foreign judges in the post war accountability process?

A: The choice of what we want is the choice of victims. After all it is victims of war,those who lost their family members, women who experienced war violence and rape,tortured and hundreds and thousands who were direct victims of war crimes and conflict. The matter is very much linked to the crimes and violence related to the last stages of the war. I am sad that political leaders who came to power urging Tamil people that justice will be done is now told that `we will define justice having other considerations'. When the leaders wanted the votes of these people no conditions were imposed. Their was full faith in the new government to establish a judicial process that will give them confidence. The government agreed to participation of foreign judges in the resolution adopted in October 2015. Up to date the authorities have failed to revive and expedite cases of the 5 youth killed in Trincomalee and or murder of the ACF humanitarian workers in Muttur. Why? What is stopping them? If the government want to take stands like this then they must prove good faith by showing to victims that they can deal with these cases openly and in a committed manner. Nothing has happened to give confidence even to Sandhya Eknaligoda. It is important to ask the question from ourselves whether we have a conscience in front of the faces of the victims.

Q: Is the government suddenly showing lack of political will on the human rights issue?
A: This is shameful political expediency demonstrated to safeguard to ensure the enjoyment of political power. It is in my view abuse of trust we deposited in the political leadership in 2015.

Q: How do you think members of the UNHRC must deal with Sri Lanka at the ongoing session in Geneva?
A: The international community is appreciative of the steps taken by the GOSL to sustain a democratic environment and committed to a transitional justice process. The international community is also telling the government that they have got a golden opportunity to address many issues related to ailing democracy, unresolved ethnic conflict and build reconciliation.

Q: There seems to be a fear Sinhalese extremists will use the Geneva issue for their benefit and that it is playing on the minds of the government.
A: Half my life I have seen anti-peace and anti-minority political forces campaigning against political settlement to the conflict. This is unfortunate. This country belongs to all those who are citizen's and just because we bring a political resolution which is just and equitable upholding the power sharing process the Sinhalese will lose power. This is a political gimmick to keep your racist constituency nurtured for political gains. This will be proved at a referendum and we have to blast this myth to make Sri Lanka become a powerful country united and lead by political leaders of all communities.

Q: How do you see the recommendations by the Consultation Task force on Reconciliation?
A: I endorse the recommendations and call upon the government to make plans to make this report public and develop a consensus.

Q: Can Sri Lanka ever depend on government appointed commissions if the report of the Consultation Task force on Reconciliation is not implemented?
A: They are complimentary. Not competing processes.

Q: There is a concern the actions of civil society will push the country towards chaos. What is your reaction to that concern?
A: The civil society that I am an activist has never taken the country to chaos. It has upheld the respect of the country before the international community by joining forces to enhance the democracy and human rights of all people living in this country. How can this be chaos?

Q: What do you see Sri Lanka heading by 2020 on the human rights and reconciliation issue?
A: I hope for great improvement and families who have suffered and families of the disappeared hugging this country as their home and refuge.

Q: Is a possible change in US policy towards Sri Lanka a threat to the push for justice in relation to alleged war crimes?
A: I have never been bothered about US positions. We did what we did for the love of the country and liberated it from falling into authoritarianism.

Q: Is there a fear a Mahinda Rajapaksa led government can return?
A: He is a politician and all politician know when they are defeated like MR in 2015 there is no come back.

Q: Some concerns have been raised about the proposed Counter Terrorism law. What are your views?
A: The government pledged to bring the PTA within the international framework. We have received information that the draft which is titled the Counter Terrorism Act has not yet been adopted by the cabinet as the existing Draft has not met the standards related to the pledge given. What we here is that the present CTA draft is more draconian that even the PTA. We are concerned that in this regard the failure of the government to introduce legal sector reforms and also review the role played by the AG's department during the previous regime which sanctified the PTA. It is therefore rather problematic to rely on the same experts to reform the PTA.

Q: What role does civil society have to bridge the gap between the communities in the country?
A: The civil society or groups of citizen's who have campaigned for peace have done what they can do for over 30 years. I remember the first gathering of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice in 1978 which has people like the late Mr SIlan Kadirgamar, Bala Tampoe and Fr Paul Casperz(still living very feeble) guiding us young activists. We worked for over 20 years till 1994 and joined in the Sudu Nelum movement. They were grassroot organization joining for peace and reconciliation. In the villages we spoke of the need for peace and sinhala and Tamil political activists and leaders too joined in our activities. It is very unfortunate that both the LTTE and then Mahinda regime were in this horrible battle which broke the trust amongst all communities. The emergence of the BBS too have eroded the trust of the Muslim community in the majority community in Sri Lanka. Unless there is a political resolution to the ethnic conflict and an environment on non-discrimination and intimidation is created by the political leader now the role of the civil society is very limited today. We are still committed to assist in the efforts of the government for reconciliation. This is now an issue of the making of a new constitution and power sharing framework for Sri Lanka. Few NGO projects can only help but will not be sufficient.

When the Provincial Council Election was held in October 2014 we joined as Mothers and Daughters of Lanka as election observers for the first time as democracy mattered and we wanted to be with our sisters in the north who were voting for the first time. It is with great hope we looked to the formation of the NPC. Immediately we saw the challenge of the 13th amendment descending on the NPC. The presence of a governor who was a military personnel was not healthy for the trust building that was necessary as well as regarding the independent operation of the NPC. I see the conflict that exist between the governor and the Chirf Minister as one of the major problems presently we need to address as a structural defect. Even if we have the best of leaders the power framework will not provide amicable power sharing. Nobody is threatening the reconciliation process from the North. Only Mahinda Rajapakse and the JO is threatening the reconciliation process. Those who voted for the establishment of the NPC the victims of the war (they boycotted elections earlier) wanted a democratic and just solution. We Sinhalese has to honor the trust they kept on us.

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