COMMENTS OF THE SRI LANKA MUSLIM CONGRESS ON THE DISCUSSION PAPER SUBMITTED TO THE APRC

 

 

I have been informed by my party to present the policy paper of the SLMC on the Peace Process and Constitution Reforms under the title of “Self and Shared Rule: Participation, Justice and Security” in response to the discussion paper submitted by you. The same is attached herewith as an annexure.

It may be noteworthy to quote some of the main features of policy paper dealing with the on going ethnic problem of the country.

“We propose that both the peace negotiations and the settlement they ultimately reach must be within a framework of principles of pluralistic and participatory democracy, devolution, human rights, social justice, equitable envelopment and transparency and public accountability. Rather than see the country make precipitate decisions that might later prove ineffective but also irreversible, we propose that we move towards interim arrangements that also require structured progress towards a longer-term constitutional settlement.

Our proposals are forward looking and grounded in the vision of Sri Lanka that is sovereign, united, and democratic and that respects human rights, pluralism and the rule of law. We are a multi ethnic, multi religious and multi lingual country and the challenges to all of us is to balance identities that flow from this diversity within an overarching Sri Lankan identity. These important principles must be observed at all time, including the transitional period.”

In the concluding part of the policy paper, the SLMC has highlighted the following points;

  1. Right of all stakeholders besides the GOSL and LTTE to participate in the peace process. Accordingly the right of Muslim community to participate at any peace talks to resolve the ethnic problem of the country, as a separate and independent delegation has to be recognized.

The SLMC in this context notes, that in your discussion paper at pages 7 and 8 under the heading of Unit of Devolution, this right of the Muslims has been recognized.

The SLMC also notes the political parties participating in the APRC had accepted this position.

  1. The right of the Muslims of the North and Eastern Provinces to have an autonomous area where they are a majority.

The SLMC notes this aspiration of Muslims has been to greater extent, spelled out at 6.10 (B)    of the Report of ‘Group A’, dated 06/12/2006 submitted to APRC by the Expert Panel.

The SLMC further notes that in your discussion paper you have proposed a directly elected Prime Minister to replace the presently existing directly elected President.

We are unable to make any comments on this issue, as it has not been spelled out the details regarding the powers of the said directly elected Prime Minister. Therefore, the party reserves the rights to make comments on the said proposal after the details are made known.

The SLMC also notes that on the question of power to be devolved it is in favour of proposals made in the report of ‘Group A” of the Expert Panel.

M.Nizam Kariapper, Deputy Secretary General, SLMC 
Representative of the party at the APRC
12/02/2007

Annexure
Policy Paper: Peace Process and Constitutional Reform

“Self and Shared Rule: Participation, Justice and Security”

Context

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has noted with concern and alarm the stalemate in the peace process. The ceasefire exists only in name. It is violated daily, with impunity. Many precious lives have been, and continue to be, lost due to violence. The lives of numerous others, whether displaced from their homes or not, have been disrupted. Members of all communities have suffered in numerous ways; in the growing threat to economy and thus their welfare, the lack of physical and emotional security, and anxieties about increasing bitterness between communities. Neither the Government nor the LTTE has provided any plans or direction to arrest the escalation of intimidation and violence, despite all the talk of renewed negotiations and constitutional reform.

Historically Muslims have lived at peace with the rest of the country, and have felt part of it. Most Muslims speak Tamil, and some others speak Sinhala in addition. But over the last two decades they, particularly in the North and East of the country, have endured some bitter experience, including the effect of state aided colonisation, frequent displacement and ethnic cleansing.

These experiences have naturally led the Muslims to deep and sometimes bitter, reflection about their place in the country. We have concluded that the interests of the Muslim community itself, and those of the wider community of Sri Lanka, as well as the principles of our faith, are best served by a fresh approach. We are aware that in too many countries violence and the denigration of others, responded to by reciprocal distrust and the closing of minds and doors, have led to more violence, and even to the break-up of countries, and certainly to environments totally hostile to development.

Our approach follows the concept of a co-operative society, where all communities feel secure, while retaining their distinct identities and professing their cultural, religious and economic ways of life and be springboard for the improvement of relations. We all depend on each other. It is not possible for there to be peace for one community and region without peace and justice for all.

Approach of the SLMC

We propose that both the peace negotiations and the settlement they ultimately reach must be within a framework of principles of pluralistic and participatory democracy, devolution, human rights, social justice, equitable development and transparency and public accountability. Rather than see the country make precipitate decisions that might later prove ineffective but also irreversible, we propose that we move towards interim arrangements that also require structured progress towards a longer-term constitutional settlement.

Our proposals are forward looking and grounded in the vision of Sri Lanka that is sovereign, united, and democratic and that respects human rights, pluralism and the rule of law. We are a multi ethnic, multi religious and multi lingual country and the challenges to all of us is to balance identities that flow from this diversity within an overarching Sri Lankan identity. These important principles must be observed at all time, including the transitional period.

The transitional period could last for some considerable time, and a number of institutions and procedures would be set up during this period. As it may be difficult later to move to a different set of more permanent institutions, the SLMC considers that any transitional arrangements that are negotiated must be linked to the Constitutional Principles on which the final settlement would be based.

We also consider that all parties should begin now to establish firm commitment to, and habits of cooperation and accommodation, and respect for rule of law that must underlie the principles of the final settlement.

Another advantage in this approach is in defining the parameters of and procedures for the negotiations, which must be guided by the fundamentals explicit or implied in these Constitutional Principles.

Constitutional Principles

We believe that the Constitutional Principles to which the SLMC is committed enjoy very considerable support throughout the country.

These principles include:

  1. Sri Lanka as a free, sovereign, democratic, independent and united country.

  2. Recognition of the pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society including ensuring that the composition of the institutions of the State reflects such character, and arrangements to promote cooperation and mutual trust, confidence and understanding among all the peoples of Sri Lanka.

  3. Equitable representation of the people in the national and regional legislatures.
  1. A structure of government at the centre that provides for the full representation and participation of all communities and parts of the country.
  1. Empowerment of all communities through federalism or a meaningful devolution of powers established under and protected by the Constitution. This should include an autonomous area comprising parts of the North and East specifically for the Muslim community.
  1. Flexible systems of devolution where structures and powers correspond to the actual needs and capacities of the areas and communities.
  1. Empowerment of individuals through active participation in decision making that affects them, and at all levels of government, not simply at election time.
  1. Multi-party, democratic systems at the level of devolved units, including power-sharing arrangements to ensure the full participation and representation of all.
  1. Suitable mechanisms for interaction and coordination between various units both horizontally and vertically.
  1. Clear and comprehensive articulation and strong and effective protection of human rights. The constitution shall protect the application of the personal laws of communities.
  1. A commitment to the rights of all including women, children and persons differently abled.
  1. Social justice for all including legally enforceable economic, social and cultural rights and obligations on the state to advance the disadvantaged, underprivileged or under represented communities and groups in all spheres of society, and to ensure equality of opportunity and balanced economic development.

  2. Recognition of Sinhala and Tamil languages as official languages throughout the country including the regions and acceptance and use of Sinhala, Tamil and English as national languages.
  1. Effective mechanisms for accountability of government and for transparency in the conduct of government business, especially in any matters involving public funds.
  1. Guarantees for security of the people in the form of civilian control of armed forces and accountability structures for the police and armed forces.
  1. A competent, independent and courageous judiciary, including independent mechanisms for appointment and strong protection for security of tenure, and an appropriate system of appeal with ultimate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court respected and trusted by all.
  1. A professional and competent public service based on the principle of merit, reflecting the ethnic composition of the regions and the country and free from political interference.
  1. Supremacy of the Constitution to be ensured by providing that national and regional legislation and policies, including all existing laws are subject to review in the courts, ensuring that no state agency is above the law.

Transitional Arrangements: The Path Forward

The SLMC considers that the country must address the question of the future political and constitutional framework of Sri Lanka. Both Sri Lankans and the international community assisting our search for peace had expected that more than four years after the formal acceptance of the ceasefire, we would now be concluding a new constitution. Yet here we are, mired in fundamental differences between the GOSL and the LTTE, the ceasefire honoured mostly in the breach, and little progress in confidence building or the participation of other stakeholders in the peace and constitution building processes.

The Ceasefire

The state, the LTTE and other armed groups are killing innocent people and committing other forms of violence with total impunity. Impunity is now a major threat to the peace process and the security of the people. It is essential to reaffirm the commitment of all to the ceasefire and to strengthen the Ceasefire Agreement (‘CFA’), by the inclusion of other stakeholders.

Muslims of the North and East have experienced the positive and the negative effects of the CFA over the last four years. Whilst Muslims recognize the need to have a ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE, it is necessary that an addendum is introduced to the CFA, recognizing the Muslims as principal stakeholders and a key party with a direct interest in the outcome of negotiations.

In the addendum, the following fundamental issues of human security need to be taken up in the light of the conflict and the experiences of the ceasefire, including-

  1. Ensure the effective implementation of law and order in the North and East with view to guaranteeing the security of all civilians.
  1. Address and implement the inalienable right to return with dignity of all forcibly evicted or displaced persons and creation of a conducive climate for civilian life.
  1. Create the necessary environment conductive to freely engage in livelihood activities of one’s choice.
  1. Set up an effective mechanism for taking up and resolving civilian complaints with adequate powers for enforcement and compliance.
  1. Establish a rapid response mechanism reflecting the ethnic composition of the area to intervene in the event of violent and serious incidents.

Forums and Procedures for Negotiations

At the same time as we strengthen the peace process, we should initiate the process of addressing political and constitutional issues. Both these processes must reflect the values that constitute our vision of Sri Lanka. They must be transparent, involve all stakeholders, and be governed by codes of conduct that respect human rights, the freedom of expression, respect for differences, and the renunciation of any form of violence and intimidation. The process of constitution making requires the participation of all sectors of society for its legitimacy.

There is a pressing need for the resumption of political negotiations and more face to face contact between the key stakeholders. Some political and administrative arrangements (whether or not they involve a transitional constitution) must be established to facilitate the peace and constitution building processes. While noting  the efforts that are being made to arrive at a constitutional resolution to the ethnic conflict including the recent initiative by the Government, we consider that a more inclusive approach is necessary. In an exercise towards constitutional building we must adhere to best practices. The country needs to embark on a pragmatic approach based on ground realities.

Having several parties may enhance the chances of a settlement. By broadening the agenda and the number of parties involved, consensus may be easier rather than difficult to achieve. The time has now come to more forward on a broader front in terms of both the issues and the participants.

We urge the LTTE to join in political negotiations now. Long term and durable solutions depend on inclusive and participatory processes, a willingness to negotiate and to make and seek concessions. All stakeholders must come to the negotiations with open minds, avoiding the use of emotive words, and focus on the substance of the constitutional arrangements that satisfy the legitimate concerns of all communities and the welfare of the country.

Conclusion

It is time to recognize the right of all stakeholders, besides the GOSL and the LTTE, to participate in these processes. The Muslim community must be a full participant in the ceasefire and political negotiations. They are the victims of the present conflict and would be the beneficiaries of peace and stability. It has suffered and continues to suffer most, as much of the fighting and disruptions have taken place in areas where they have long lived, their lands have been appropriated, and they have become victims of ethnic cleansing.

The SLMC also emphasizes that the government and the LTTE recognize the rights of ethnically cleansed Northern Muslims including the right to return with dignity and honour, post return safety and security, restitution and restoration of proprietary rights and payment of equitable compensation to enable them to achieve self reliance.

Muslims of the North and East now need autonomy in areas where they are a majority, to given them a sense of security that derives from being able to make or fully participate in decisions that most directly affect them. We have developed detailed proposals on autonomy which are now being discussed within the Muslim community. The SLMC wants to make clear that the autonomy will be designed to offer to the Muslim community in the North and East not a fortress, but a home within the broader homeland of Sri Lanka, where the rights of all communities living within it will be fully protected. It is intended to be a stepping stone for the greater involvement of the Muslim community within a united Sri Lanka, and not a drawbridge to keep the rest of the nation at bay.

Muslim have always sought to contribute constructively to political and social problems, and as a community linked in various ways to the other two major communities, but with its own distinctive history and identity, Muslims have the incentive and willingness to promote understanding among all communities.

Constitutional reform must address questions such as social justice, equitable distribution of resources, the rule of law, and public participation in state affairs, in addition to issues of self-government. If all communities, and all members within those communities, can feel that they belong to a country in which they are valued, their values and traditions respected, their abilities and contributions welcomed, the people of Sri Lanka can hope for a bright future.

-Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress