The ninth anniversary of the defeat of the scourge of a bloody separatist terrorist campaign that enveloped this country for three decades passed without much ado yesterday (May 19). Yet battling with the continuing demand by some foreign governments to hold the security forces that ended that scourge to account, the Government has now presented [...]


Reparations Bill: Why the secrecy?


The ninth anniversary of the defeat of the scourge of a bloody separatist terrorist campaign that enveloped this country for three decades passed without much ado yesterday (May 19). Yet battling with the continuing demand by some foreign governments to hold the security forces that ended that scourge to account, the Government has now presented a comprehensive draft outlining what has been proposed as reparations for the victims of that virtual ‘civil war’.

Our front page story refers to the Government’s plan which was kept somewhat secret and handed over to the RTI Commission by the Department of the Attorney General representing the Office of the Prime Minister only a few days ago (Tuesday, May 15) during the hearing of an RTI appeal.

Promised by the Government as part of its transitional justice package to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Resolution 30/1 (UN HRC 30/1), the Reparations Bill was announced as ready many moons ago. Though shared with those in the know in Colombo, the general public, its intended targets, remained in the dark. It took an RTI request by a persistent information seeker who went all the way to the RTI Commission for it to be publicly released. This shows how difficult it is to get information that must naturally be in the public domain.

The Bill itself indicates confusion in respect of RTI disclosure. On the one hand, it provides for an Information Officer and a designated officer to be appointed in terms of the RTI Act, No 12 of 2016. On the other hand, it also imposes a duty on the Office, its members and others to preserve confidentiality on matters communicated to them in confidence, ‘notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any other law’. The bar on confidential information will not apply where a person giving the information has consented. This is better than the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Act where families of victims have complained that, even if consent is given to making information public, the OMP is not bound to do so.

But why does the Government feel that its transitional justice mechanisms, (next will most likely be a Truth, Reconciliation and Justice Commission) must be shielded from RTI? The RTI Act itself protects confidential information given by third parties or when privacy is invaded. So why provide for separate exceptions? The public interest may apply to release information under RTI cases certainly. But if that is a concern, is the Government saying that the public interest should not apply in these cases?

Meanwhile, the Reparations Bill proposes monetary and non-monetary relief for victims including those affected by conflict in the North and East or in connection with political unrest or civil disturbances. Presenting it to the Cabinet on March 5, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had explained that this is meant to help victims of war, families of police and security forces and civilians in what were then known as ‘border villages’. That inclusiveness is welcome as the scourge of terrorism and the State’s efforts to defeat it, has resulted in grief and pain for thousands across all communities, not one community alone.

But who will give the money for all of this? How will a cash-strapped Government take on the major spending required for the purpose? Hampered by over-ambitious promises made in Geneva sans adequate local foresight and with a deteriorating economy, will victims actually be helped or is this merely to appease the international community? We will see the answers to these questions soon enough.

World peace in pieces

There is a local saying about poking the eye of a child who is waiting to cry. The US President’s utterly insensitive, devil-may-care decision to open his country’s embassy in the controversial and contested city of Jerusalem came on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel and the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs who refer to their displacement as ‘Al Nakba’ (the catastrophe).
At least 60 protesting Palestinians, including some children were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces this week alone in the Gaza region where they have been holed up for years.

The US simultaneously jettisoning a nuclear deal with Iran and imposing sanctions on that country has raised the ire of European nations that were firming up lucrative business deals with Iran. They have called current US foreign policy “capricious assertiveness”.
On Friday, Turkey hosted an Islamic summit condemning Israel for its actions in the Gaza and accused the state of running an apartheid regime. The problem in the Arab world is the disunity between the Sunni kingpins, Saudi Arabia and the Shiite proponents, Iran, differences deftly cultivated and exploited by the US over the years to divide the Islamic world.

The US President’s autocratic decision over Jerusalem was patently mala fide compounded by its pretentious role as the ‘honest-broker’ in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. How and why the Palestinians continue to rely on US peace initiatives is beyond comprehension.

That the US Establishment is so heavily reliant on the cash-rich Jewish lobby in its domestic politics is bad enough. The bluff has to be called on President Trump’s unashamed, unabashed bias towards Israel. Britain also put forward its ex-PM Tony Blair notwithstanding his own bias to undo the British Balfour Declaration that created Israel in 1948. At a meeting in Colombo, he said that he had visited the region one hundred times to no avail, which should surprise no one given his rather poor standing in the Arab world.

The two-state solution as the only via-media to this seven decade-long conflict, which is at the root of most of the violence and enmity in international relations, is now in tatters. The one-state solution with Palestinians having equal rights as the Israelis seems a pipe-dream. The United Nations has abandoned its role as the world’s peace maker allowing the US to hijack the peace process, which now is nothing but a cruel joke.

On the other hand, the Iranian-backed Hamas group calling for the total extermination of the state of Israel is only giving the hardline Israeli Government reasons to justify its fears, and complain. Earlier this month, Israel bombarded whom it called “Iranians in Syria”. This spike in the violence brings into focus the situation in that part of the world, alas, only to be forgotten once the smoke recedes and then to flare up again in a never-ending cycle of violence, hate and fear.

How much longer this will go on is anyone’s guess. With the US action stoking the fires rather than putting them out, what is certain is that there will be no immediate end to the pain, agony, the fears, and to the detriment of world peace.

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