Strategic communication at best: Sri Lanka’s Amza does it again

Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Foreign News Desk

Washington, D.C. 21 February (Asiantribune.com):

Sri Lanka’s Head of Mission to the European Union, Ambassador Amza has a remarkable gift of cogently presenting facts, while separating fiction, listing in a methodical manner Sri Lanka’s case largely misunderstood by the international community (meaning the West) because of this South Asian nation’s utter inability to use the basics of public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication.
Sri Lanka’s Head of Mission to the European Union Ambassador Amza Using his gifted skills in both English and Tamil languages, Ambassador Amza, as reported by the Asian Tribune last May, scrutinized the Channel 4 documentary highlighting the discrepancies to the European diplomatic audience.

His intervention at the end of a panel discussion that followed the screening of the film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, held at the premises of the European Parliament on 14 May last year, which was jointly organized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group at this May gathering Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union P.M. Amza displayed a very rare quality most of his nation’s foreign diplomatic corps members and the officials who handle ‘external affairs’ have failed to display awarding, since the Eelam War ended in May 2009, great advantage to pro-separatists within the Tamil Diaspora to define the character of this South Asian nation before the International Community.

He very eloquently described using his Tamil language skills the serious mistakes the producers of the documentary made by misinterpreting what the witnesses have said in Tamil, to suit the Channel 4 agenda.
Ambassador Amza did it again on 19 February addressing the meeting of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Countries in the South Asia.

Addressing the distinguish gathering Ambassador Amza reminded the international community (Mainly the West) “Although it was stated that these Resolutions (meaning the ones before the UNHRC) on Sri Lanka are to help and encourage Sri Lanka to achieve reconciliation and durable peace, it serves the exact opposite. The conflict affected every aspect of Sri Lankan life. Unfortunately, we in Sri Lanka, during the conflict, did not see relentless efforts by certain countries to “Bring the global spotlight on Sri Lanka” , through resolutions, or INGO publishing reports, or TV Channels with the sinister motives, airing documentaries episode after episode, coinciding with important events related to Sri Lanka, to help the country and encourage her. All those who are on a crusade against us were in a deep slumber then. Today, part of the international community seems to be in a rush to pronounce judgments on Sri Lanka which are preposterous. Their patience is said to be wearing out and are of the view that only intrusive measures and ultimatums would yield results”.

Ambassador criticized a section of the International Community for being prejudice stating “They have already prejudged that our own efforts are insufficient and substandard to resolve the unprecedented issues and challenges that we had to face at the end of the conflict. We have proven them wrong by resettling almost all 297,000 IDPs, clearing over 98% of areas identified for demining, rehabilitating 11,758 ex-combatants including all 594 child soldiers, providing livelihood support to the returnees and rehabilitees/beneficiaries, rebuilding the North with over US$ 3 billion worth investments, phasing out security presence and withdrawal of HSZs, holding elections even in the former theatres of conflict, establishing civilian administration and institutions, maintaining a healthy economic growth, and also, embarking on a domestic process of reconciliation just an year after ending the conflict”.

He further said “All our proponents seem to have one element in common. They are all heavily relying on “unsubstantiated” and “unproven” allegations coming from so called “reliable and independent sources”, whose integrity are often severely compromised. Based on these misinformation, they have arrived at the sweeping conclusion that “Sri Lanka is not doing enough”. Some, despite being invited, decided not to help the domestic process, as they were prejudicial of the eminence of our Commissioners, the adequacy and independence of the mechanisms and procedures adopted within Sri Lanka”.

While commenting on the selective approach targeting Sri Lanka, the Ambassador said “we have not seen these entities and self-professed experts criticizing other similar Commissions of inquiries elsewhere, and casting doubt why those Commissions still struggle, even to come out with a report, leave aside ‘road maps’ or ‘plan of actions’. Why not tell them also “It is Time for Action”. “The stoic silence of our critiques on such matters will speak in volumes of their hypocrisy and unprofessional approaches to bully selected countries while allowing free reign to others”, the Ambassador told EU Parliament”.
Here are the highlights of Ambassador Amza’s presentation:

GSL Initiative

We categorically reject unfounded assertions. The Government on its own initiative appointed the LLRC in May 2010, one year after ending the conflict. After 13 months of deliberation, the Commission submitted its report in November 2011, and the Government made it public in December 2011 by presenting it to the Parliament. The Chapter 9 of this Report carries 285 paragraphs comprising both observations and recommendations. The Cabinet appointed a Task Force headed by the Secretary to the President, in May 2012 to monitor the implementation of LLRC recommendations. Having meticulously studied the Report, a National Action Plan (NPoA) for implementing the LLRC recommendations were presented to the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012.

Budgetary allocations for the implementation were approved by the Parliament, for the 26 implementing agencies, in the national budget adopted in December 2012. In July 2013, an additional 53 recommendations were added to the initial 91 recommendations in the NPoA, hence taking in a total of 144 recommendations which are being actively pursued since 2013. The implementation of the recommendation is an evolving process. It is true that not all the recommendations move at the same speed due to the complexity of some of the issues. It is necessary to look at them very carefully in order to ensure that whatever solutions that are being provided are sustainable and acceptable to all communities in the country, and the right balance is arrived at.

Civilian Killings

There are allegations on the numbers that may have been killed, disappeared or missing. These numbers range from 7000 to over 100,000 depending on who is projecting it. It is in such circumstances that the Ministry of Public Administration and the Department of Census concluded an Island-wide enumeration on the damages and loss to property and lives that have occurred from 1982 to date, as a direct or indirect result of the internal conflicts in the country. The results, once known, will help to rest the concomitant opinions by different quarters.

The Army Court of Inquiry report on alleged incidents of shelling civilians and civilian places is being studied by the Ministry of Defense. The Second Inquiry is ongoing on the incidents highlighted by the C4 video, irrespective of its authenticity, as recommended by the LLRC through a comprehensive procedure involving interviewing all relevant Field Commanders and potential witnesses. Once the inquiry board is able to identify the persons, the evidence will be evaluated. Depending on the gravity of the crime committed, some of those found responsible will be subjected to court material. The other cases will be handed over the law enforcement authorities for further action.

Involuntary Disappearances

We have made considered efforts to improve the human rights situation, having guaranteed in the first place, the “right to life”, for all Sri Lankans by putting an end to the fear of death casted by terrorism. We have consistently worked with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). An Inter-Ministerial Task Force since January 2012, has transmitted responses on 842 cases to the Working Group.

Further, a three-member Presidential Commission of Inquiry is undertaking public sittings to inquire into disappearances in the North and the East. The Commission however has received to date 13,700 complaints from all parts of the country and from all ethnic groups. Of these, approximately 9,300 are from civilians and 4,300 are from security personnel. Every complaint is acknowledged by letter and the data on complaints are computerized with a reference number provided to the complainant if he/she wishes to inquire into the status of the complaint subsequently.

An initial report to the Commission reveals that some of those who are reported to be missing are in fact living elsewhere in the world. If EU wishes to be helpful, and constructive, please let us address this issue together, as a shared responsibility. We invite EU to take the advantage of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Readmission Agreement Framework to share information and let us know whether the individuals claimed to be “missing” are in fact living or not, in their respective territories. We know that hundreds of thousands of Tamils and others left Sri Lanka without proper documentation and are living in this part of the world now.

Changing the Demography

There have also been unfounded accusations on changing the demography of the Northern areas by resettling people other than Tamils. Before the ethnic cleansing by LTTE, the North of Sri Lanka in the early 1980 had Muslims (over 50,000) and Sinhalese (over 35,000) living peacefully. When the conflict intensified almost all these civilians either left or were forcefully evicted. The Tamils also began to move to South and live among the rest of the communities. Hence, any effort to demarcate part of the country exclusively to be mono ethnic is not practical or sustainable. Today, 51% of population in the Colombo city being non-Sinhalese is a testimony.

Sexual Abuse

There is enough evidence to prove that GOSL has not hesitated to take action on perpetrators when evidence is provided beyond reasonable doubt and that there is no culture of impunity as speculated. However, having said that, I wish to categorically emphasize that the Government vehemently rejects the alleged co-relation being portrayed with regard to the presence of the military and the vulnerability of women in the North, as well as the accusations on systematic use of sexual abuse. Sri Lanka has a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse, and whenever prima facie evidence is made available it has followed due procedure to bring justice. A comprehensive study carried out in the North on the issue revealed that the majority of the incidents reported were committed by civilians. However, out of 107 reported cases during the period 2007 to 18 May 2009, 7 were committed by security personnel, and another 307 cases reported during the period 2009 May to 2012, 10 were committed by military personnel. More importantly, in order to address and prevent such crimes, and other gender based violence, several initiatives were put in place, such as; establishing Women and child development units in all 25 districts in the country, providing temporary shelters and safe accommodation for victims, awareness campaigns, health, security, legal counselling for victims etc. The civil society organizations, media are bringing these incidents to the attention of the public. Also, there is a very well established programme for counselling for women and children. There are single parent families development programmes, particularly focused in the North and the East, where the widows have been provided with educational opportunities, vocational training for self-employment of women. UNICEF, IOM, and many partners are involved in supporting the government initiatives, and further assistance to empower women-headed households in the country, in line with the Government priorities would be welcomed.

We have proven the critics wrong, said Ambassador Amza:

* by resettling almost all 297,000 IDPs,

* clearing over 98% of areas identified for demining,

* rehabilitating 11,758 ex-combatants including all 594 child soldiers

* providing livelihood support to the returnees and rehabilitees/beneficiaries ,

* rebuilding the North with over US$ 3 billion worth investments,

* Phasing out security presence and withdrawal of HSZs.

* holding elections even in the former theatres of conflict,

* establishing civilian administration and institutions

* maintaining a healthy economic growth, and also

Embarking on a domestic process of reconciliation just an year after ending the conflict, and the painstaking efforts taken since July 2012, to implement the recommendations.

Regrettably, there is greater reluctance to acknowledge what the country has achieved with its limited resources, but with the unlimited desire and will, to do what is right for the country, Ambassador Amza presenting the facts separating fiction in a very cogent manner told the European Union parliamentarians.

– Asian Tribune –

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