"While we make gains militarily in combating terrorism, we are also reinvigorating democratic institutions...The problems posed by internally displaced persons, their resettlement and return, as well as the care and welfare of ordinary civilians affected by the conflict, remain foremost amongst these," said the Minister of Human Rights & Disaster Management participating in the Second Reading Debate on the Fourth Budget presented by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"We have also established and strengthened capacities in Vavuniya - the humanitarian supplies and services hub - to cater to 200,000 displaced people who may wish to escape the theatre of conflict in uncleared parts of the Vanni. Sadly, these people appear unable to avail themselves of the care provided by the Government due to the denial of their freedom of movement. This, in my opinion, is the biggest human rights violation being perpetrated on the IDPs in those areas," he added.
Here are excerpts from Minister Samarasinghe speech in Parliament:
"I turn now to the vastly significant, if not the most important, subject occupying the agenda of the Government. I refer to the conflict and its consequences. Our current efforts to combat terror and ensure a safer, more secure future for all our people, are bearing fruit after years of protracted conflict. While we make gains militarily in combating terrorism, we are also reinvigorating democratic institutions and progressing speedily with economic development initiatives to lock-in the gains made so far. Concurrently, we are attempting to deal with a host of issues, problems and potential pitfalls arising from or related to the conflict. The problems posed by internally displaced persons, their resettlement and return, as well as the care and welfare of ordinary civilians affected by the conflict, remain foremost amongst these. Dealing with post-conflict social integration and the host of issues connected with ensuring sustainable futures for those involved in, and affected by, conflict is another priority. Investment in rebuilding civilian administration, physical and social infrastructure and, ultimately, creating conditions of normality for all our people remains our long term goal.
"The Eastern Province bears ample testimony to our approach in dealing with the conflict. As His Excellency pointed out, a vast majority of displaced people, numbering approximately 180,000, were resettled within nine months, in line with international standards. Basic facilities were reconstructed. The end of 2007 saw local authority elections conducted in the Batticaloa District. Earlier this year, Provincial Elections were held and a popularly elected administration was established in terms of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. All necessary measures were taken to bring about the re-establishment of democracy throughout the Eastern Province via a pluralistic political process and the restoration of civil administration to ensure access to the full gamut of governmental services available to the rest of the country. Up to now, Rs. 25 billion had been spent for development of the East including massive investment in infrastructure. As promised in the Mahinda Chintana, a reawakening of the East was made a reality. A similar strategy is being adopted vis-à-vis the North. We hope to ensure similar re-democratization of the entirety of the North in the coming months. As His Excellency stated, a 'Northern Spring' awaits us - just over the horizon.
"Our concern for the welfare of our people does not depend on us gaining military ascendancy over our adversary and control of territory. Successive Governments of Sri Lanka have, throughout the duration of the conflict, sent food, medicine, educational supplies and other essential items into areas not under its control. This commitment, over such a sustained period of conflict is, to my knowledge unique. Our Government has continued this practice in spite of the knowledge that some of the humanitarian assistance may have been diverted to other uses and may not have reached the intended recipients. We have also established and strengthened capacities in Vavuniya - the humanitarian supplies and services hub - to cater to 200,000 displaced people who may wish to escape the theatre of conflict in uncleared parts of the Vanni. Sadly, these people appear unable to avail themselves of the care provided by the Government due to the denial of their freedom of movement. This, in my opinion, is the biggest human rights violation being perpetrated on the IDPs in those areas.
We welcome assistance from our international friends and partners in delivering humanitarian assistance and also in furthering development in Sri Lanka. It is through such friendly collaboration and cooperation that many of the wants of the people may be best fulfilled. Our efforts are targeted towards addressing humanitarian concerns as a result of the conflict. It is my privilege to chair the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance which is a high level coordinating mechanism that brings together government and its international partners as well as civil society representatives to discuss and initiate policy formulation and implementation on all matters connected with humanitarian assistance.
Our Government's policy of open and constructive engagement with international interlocutors is already bearing fruit. Let me refer to one such example. Sri Lanka has a caseload of an estimated 300,000 persons displaced as a result of the conflict since before 2006. Some of these persons have been displaced for fifteen to twenty years. In cooperation with the UN System, we invited Professor Walter Kaelin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, to visit Sri Lanka in late 2007. My Ministry, in collaboration with several key Government institutions and agencies, facilitated his visit. He made certain recommendations and observations at the end of his visit - some of which dealt with the protracted caseload of IDPs. We invited him back two months ago to conduct a national consultation on the status of these persons. My Ministry, in coordination with UNHCR, organized the event. He assisted by sharing his knowledge of international best-practice and in identifying the initial steps necessary to formulate a comprehensive strategy of dealing with these persons. The Government is proceeding to develop an action plan to address the several issues relevant to this problem. Professor Kaelin in a recent address to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly commended the approach of Sri Lankan Government in the following terms: "I was greatly encouraged that the Government expressed its firm commitment to finding durable solutions for those who have been displaced for many years, in particular displaced Muslims from the North. I hope for the development of concrete proposals and actions, and look forward to my continued dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka." It is our expectation that we will be able to gain the cooperation and support of our international partners in addressing our many challenges through consistent adherence to this policy of engagement.
"In keeping with His Excellency's sentiments, I am confident that we are able to chart our own course through the troubled waters of the storms and upheavals of our time. Our commitment to a stronger democracy, social justice, equity for all our people and a brighter tomorrow is unshaken. The promotion and protection of human rights is a principal limb of this strategy. My Ministry is proceeding in its efforts towards drafting of a new constitutional charter of rights that will enhance the guarantee of human rights of all Sri Lankan people in fulfilment of a pledge in the Mahinda Chintana manifesto. The charter will incorporate Sri Lanka's commitments on the international plane in the sphere of human rights. It will complement and buttress the efforts of the All-Party Representative Committee to evolve a consensual political formula that will definitively address the wants and aspirations of the Sri Lankan people - whatever their ethnicity, religious, linguistic or cultural background. This is our Government's vision to ensure a sustainable peace concomitant with the defeat of forces of terrorism and violence. Concurrently, we are taking a proactive step to ensure sustained and consistent efforts to ensure that human rights are protected and advanced - building on the very real and tangible gains made in the past. In keeping with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, we have taken initial steps to draft a National Plan of Action for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. This plan will be drafted and adopted after wide consultation with all relevant actors in Sri Lanka.
"Mr Speaker, it is evident, therefore, that His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration is fully apprised of its responsibilities and is capable of delivering on the many expectations arising from its ambitious programme - developmental, security-related, humanitarian and political - which it has placed before the people and which won their democratic endorsement at successive elections. The 2009 Budget is but a means to the achievement of that larger end: a new Sri Lanka - which has, at its core, the acceptance and realization that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual society and that everyone would strive towards protecting and nurturing this diversity in order that every person in this country would want to unite and strive towards achieving the targets of national reconstruction and development and, ultimately, a true Sri Lankan identity.