" The principle of 'Equality before the Law' must be respected and applied for national unity and reconciliation "

 Bishop Kingsley Swampillai tells at the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation

The Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, the Bishop of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, addressing the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation on 03rd November 2010 at theLakshman Kadiragama Hall, made the following submissions to the Commission.

by Kingsley Swampillai

Culture of Human Rights:

(November 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am here to make submissions on the Culture of Human Rights. In the background of erosion of values of all kinds and especially with the consequences of war, human rights have suffered worst causalities.

Therefore, a culture of Human Rights where every citizen respects the rights of the other must be cultivated and where the principle of 'Equality before the Law' is respected and applied should be followed. Equal protection guarantees protection from both legislative and executive acts by way of discrimination. It must replace the present scenario where rights are violated with impunity and with utter disregard to accepted norms. A nationwide Human Rights education program must, therefore be incorporated into the National Agenda. Respect for and protection of individual and group rights leads to social justice which in turn would lead to sustainable peace. This is one clear method to promote national unity and reconciliation among all communities. The concept of equality lies at the core of our democratic aspirations and traditions.

May I also point out at this moment, due to the past 3 decades of war, and consequent to the P.T.A., Emergency Regulations and other activities, lawlessness has set particularly in the areas of North and East. Not very much spoken about human rights, rather it is dangerous to speak about human rights. Therefore, it must be enforced at this moment if we are looking for a period of peace, so that every citizen may respect the rights of one another. Human rights have been violated with impunity by the Security Forces and unidentifiable groups and persons, especially in the North and East. This state was worsened by the State sponsorship of Para-Military Groups during the height of the war to out former militants. Therefore it is very much needed that National Educational programmes enforced throughout the island with concerted effort. It must become a national priority and requisite for Reconciliation.

Unemployment of youth after completing the University education, ex-combatants and ex-paramilitary groups need to be rehabilitated with immediate effect to prevent another uprising and to ensure meaningful reconciliation where law and order are implemented.

Missing and Disappeared Persons

There are a large number of reported cases of missing, I am sure you must have given to hearing to the people where you have visited, and disappeared persons whose fate is unknown for many years. This is true in the North and East. This has caused much agony to their families for whom the uncertainty of what had happened to them has added to the anguish. Some of these cases are documented while a majority remains undocumented. I wish include here in this list some religious personalities, among whom are the cases of Rev. Fr. Nihal Jim Brown who disappeared in Allaipiddy in Jaffna in August 2006 and Rev. Fr. Joseph Francis who was last seen in Vettuvikkal, Mullathivu in May 2009, at the tail end of the war. Actually he had been sighted little before the exit and while he was leaving the Omanthei camp and when he has been going out with others, he had been taken into custody by the Special Security Forces, and never heard of him since then.

A serious effort should be taken to investigate these cases in order to reveal the truth and ensure justice.

Release of Detainees

A large number of detainees arrested much earlier under the Prevention of Terrorism Act ( PTA ) continue to be kept in custody. Their future is uncertain. It is the best that those not directly involved in terror activities be released without delay. Also, many youth in the Plantation Sector too had been arrested on mere suspicion of having a connection with the LTTE. These youth should be given the chance of proving their innocence and when they are not accused of any acts crime, then it is proper that they may be released.

Problem of Families Who Visit Detainees

The sufferings of the family members of detainees cannot be explained by words. When the mother, father or relative comes to know that their loved ones are in detention, they want to see them and at least console them. The families should have the right and the facilities to see their loved ones and many cases come into our won ears, that there is a long list of cases who are still missing. I present this matter also for your serious consideration. Rehabilitation Centres and Detentions centres are all scattered. These families want to know where these people are detained or whether they are detained, and their families and relatives could visit them sometimes or other.

Issuance of Death Certificates

The families of many who perished in the war have not received death certificates. This is an impediment for them in reordering their broken lives. The lack of documents show that their beloved ones are lost and issuance of death certificates need to be done, since they have to appeal for compensation or for any other facility that they are entitled to.

Compensation on Lost Life, Limb and Properties

During the past conflict period there were many bomb blasts and attacks in the North and the South which killed and maimed hundreds of civilians. Now we appeal that compensation should be paid to them as soon a; possible. Provision to be made for speedy implementation.

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