Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Assessing Progress On Key Issues
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O 220900Z JAN 10 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1149
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000050
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/22/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ASSESSING PROGRESS ON KEY ISSUES REF: A. 09 COLOMBO 1176 B. COLOMBO 32 C. COLOMBO 8 COLOMBO 00000050 001.8 OF 004
Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS. REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
1.(S) According to Congressional mandates and Administration policy, U.S. assistance to Sri Lanka, particularly military assistance, is tied to progress by the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) on several key issues, including treatment of IDPs, human rights, political reconciliation, and accountability for alleged crimes perpetrated by GSL troops and officials during the war with the LTTE. The GSL has progressed more or less on each of these issues since the end of the conflict. Continued or increased U.S. assistance, however, hinges on the GSL broadening and deepening this progress.
2.(S) Outlined below are these key issue areas with discussion of what progress has been made so far and what further progress we would like to see. It is important to note that we are not offering this list as a set of "benchmarks," which the GSL must meet to qualify for more robust engagement. Our experience with benchmarks in the Sri Lankan context (and elsewhere as well) is that the government often makes notable progress but in areas not anticipated, or in ways not foreseen, by our benchmarks. Thus, the following list of favored steps is not meant to be exhaustive but rather illustrative. Actual progress will have to be assessed as it happens.
3.(S) It also is important to note that the upcoming presidential election -- particularly if it were to result in an opposition victory -- could radically alter the political context of our assessment of GSL progress on key issues. Opposition candidate General Fonseka has made many significant promises in each of these issue areas, and we could expect that his new government would be interested in moving forward more quickly than the Rajapaksa government. Nevertheless, the key issue areas of concern remain the same notwithstanding the election, and we would expect any Sri Lankan government to continue to make progress. Please note that our lists of "Next Steps" are not in any order of priority or importance.
4.(S) There has been a dramatic improvement in the treatment of IDPs and their living conditions over the past several months. Whether because of international pressure or electoral politics, the result is that 106,007 displaced persons remain in GSL camps, according to UNHCR, down from a high of over 280,000. Large numbers who left the camps remain in transit camps or with host families and have not yet returned to their places of origin. Although humanitarian access to camps has been inconsistent since the end of the war, most organizations reported that access was now granted upon request. Protection monitoring and confidential interviews with IDPs are still prohibited, and the ICRC revised mandate has not been finalized. ICRC headquarters is assessing whether to accept the GSL offer of a general rather than a detailed MOU. Access to returnee areas for INGOs is still limited to those engaged in de-mining and one medical organization in the Vanni, although the government and local authorities were reportedly working to extend this to other groups. INGOs in Jaffna were recently authorized to work by the Governor of the North but await confirmation from the Presidential Task Force.
5.(S) Next steps: COLOMBO 00000050 002.4 OF 004 -- Renew ICRC mandate. -- Provide transparent criteria and regularized processes for INGO access to the north. -- Provide transparent criteria and regularized processes for access to returnee areas for journalists. -- Continue to release or prosecute LTTE and other Tamil detainees according to a judicial process. -- Implement a national system for tracing separated family members. -- Continue GSL reintegration of returnees.
Human Rights ------------
6.(S) Numbers of disappearances have experienced a steady and significant decline across the island since the end of the war, and the Attorney General's Office, the Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Relief, and other institutions have conducted investigations into some of the cases. For example, on December 21, Attorney General Peiris told Ambassador that there was an 11-person team working under Deputy Solicitor General De Livera to look into questions of disappearances and other potential violations under the Emergency Regulations (ref A). Peiris claimed that 100 (presumably innocent) people had been found in detention and released during the previous 45 days, and the team was continuing its investigations. He was going to Anuradhapura himself later that week to look at 33 cases and to decide whether the suspects could be released.
7.(S) Child soldiers affiliated with the TMVP have been significantly reduced over the past year, with just five reportedly remaining at the end of 2009, according to UNICEF; the government appears to be working actively to find the remaining child soldiers. On January 13, imprisoned journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was released on bail, and Post is not aware of any additional physical attacks on journalists since June, although there still have been threats.
8.(S) Next steps: -- Disappearances continue to decline, and investigations continue to rise. The team under A.G. Peiris, in particular, should examine and process more cases. -- All remaining child soldiers accounted for and discharged/rehabilitated. -- Press freedom: threats to individual journalists must end, along with atmosphere of intimidation. -- Press freedom: progress made in investigation of the killing a year ago of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga. -- Remaining ex-LTTE "new" detainees, held since the end of the war, are placed within a legal structure. All "older" LTTE and Tamil detainees, held since before the end of the war, are charged and prosecuted or released. -- Lifting the Emergency Regulations. -- Less harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations.
Political Reconciliation ------------------------
9.(S) Although progress has been slow, the presidential elections -- particularly the fact that the two main candidates are splitting the Sinhalese vote -- has moved reconciliation issues higher on the political agenda. The A-9 road has been opened for nearly all travel by Sri Lankans (NOTE: Foreigners are still not permitted to drive into the North. END NOTE.), the curfew in Jaffna has ended, and fishing restrictions in the North have been largely COLOMBO 00000050 003.6 OF 004 eliminated. Of the 12,000 ex-LTTE combatants held in detainment camps since the end of the war, 712 were released the week after the New Year, and the government has announced it would release an additional 1,000 shortly. General Fonseka has made reconciliation a prominent issue in his campaign, signing a ten-point program for devolving power to the North-East. In addition, in his widely distributed campaign manifesto, Fonseka has promised he would: (a) abolish the Executive Presidency; (b) reactivate the 17th Amendment to the Constitution; (c) end the culture of "white van" disappearances and extra-judicial killings; (d) eliminate the press council and establish an environment of free media; (e) return all remaining IDPs and double the resettlement allowance they receive to 100,000 rupees (about USD 880); (f) amend the Emergency Regulations; and (g) deal with all war-related detainees by either prosecuting them, releasing them, or placing them in rehabilitation programs.
10.(S) Next Steps: -- Some sort of power-sharing or decentralization arrangement to accommodate minority rights. Should be locally developed (i.e. not necessarily the 13th Amendment) and satisfactory to minority populations in Sri Lanka. -- Lifting of High Security Zones. -- Unrestricted access permitted throughout the North for all Sri Lankans, diplomats, journalists, and NGOs. -- Remaining no-threat or low-threat ex-LTTE combatants in "new detainee" camps are released or placed into rehabilitation programs. -- Any low-risk "older" LTTE detainees convicted within the justice system are removed from prison and placed into rehabilitation programs.
11.(S) Accountability for alleged crimes committed by GSL troops and officials during the war is the most difficult issue on our bilateral agenda, and the one we believe has the lowest prospect for forward movement. There are no examples of a sitting regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka. Moreover, the fact that the LTTE leadership has been destroyed and there is virtually no one to hold accountable for LTTE war crimes makes prosecutions of GSL troops or officials that much more difficult.
12.(S) Accountability also has not been a top priority for Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them "vulnerable" (ref. B).
13.(S) Despite these considerations, there have been some tentative steps on accountability. Soon after the appearance of the State Department Report to Congress on Incidents, President Rajapaksa announced the formation of an experts' committee to examine the report and to provide him with recommendations on dealing with the allegations. At the end of the year, the president extended the deadline for the COLOMBO 00000050 004.6 OF 004 committee's recommendations from December 31 until April. For his part, General Fonseka has spoken publicly of the need for a new deal with the Tamils and other minorities. Privately, his campaign manager told the Ambassador that Fonseka had ordered the opposition campaign to begin work planning a "truth and reconciliation" commission (ref. C).
14.(S) Rajapaksa Next Steps: -- Presidential experts' committee makes credible recommendations for dealing with the allegations in the State Department report. -- A commission is formed to hear complaints and resolve individual cases of war disappearances. -- GSL publicly acknowledges human cost of war and losses on both sides. -- President institutes compensation program for families of civilians killed in the war.
15.(S) Fonseka Next Steps: -- Begins national dialogue on the war and its human costs. -- Creation of a serious and credible truth and reconciliation mechanism. -- Considers compensation program. BUTENIS