3.5 SIHRN: Trapped in uncertainty
To understand the fate of the remaining Sub-committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN), we need to extensively examine the most crucial phase of the Sri Lankan peace process. That was the run up period to the “Washington conference.”
The immediate task of the SIHRN was to work as the prime decision making body on humanitarian needs in the north-east. A North-East Reconstruction Fund (NERF) was formed as an instrument for channelling the funds into rehabilitation priorities in the conflict-affected zone under the supervision of SIHRN. GoSL, LTTE and the World Bank agreed to function as the custodians of the fund.
Explaining the significance of LTTE agreeing to participate in SIHRN and the other Sub Committees, LTTE’s legal advisor later wrote: “Prior to the commencement of talks, LTTE repeatedly stated that the immediate goal of the talks is the establishment of an interim administration, with the objective of addressing the urgent humanitarian existential problems of the people of the Northeast, the area affected by the prolonged war.... However, during the initial stages of the talks when the Sinhala political party that represented the government of Sri Lanka indicated the lack of consensus in the South, on the issue of the establishment of an interim administration and its fear of being removed from power by the then president, if it entered into talks on the proposal to establish and interim administration. In response the LTTE showed flexibility and dropped its call for an interim administration for the sole reason of ensuring that the negotiating process did not breakdown... As an alternative solution, Subcommittees, comprising equal membership from the LTTE and the GOSL were established in lieu of the interim administration. It should be noted even though the purview of the subcommittees was the Northeast, the traditional Tamil homeland, the LTTE magnanimously accommodated equal membership of the GOSL and thus thereby gave them a veto over the affairs of the Northeast. However, the GOSL, invoking various excuses, including constitutional obstacles, failed to complete the formation of all the subcommittees and also failed to implement the decisions taken by the subcommittees that were formed.” (http://www.tamilnation.org/conflictresolution/tamileelam/seminar_06_Zurich/05rudrakumaran.html)
SIHRN became the first ever joint body formed after 30 years that represented the country in unified manner at the international level. Two days before the Oslo Donor Conference, it made a collective appeal to the donor countries on behalf of the both parties asking financial assistance to rebuild the war torn North-East Region. During the earlier part of 2003, SIHRN fought to survive while resisting the negative pressures falling upon it due to the fate of SDN. Represented by high-level delegations from both sides, it conducted regular meetings with the participation of high-powered foreign delegates, such as Japanese special peace envoy Yashushi Akashi, representatives from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank etc. It opened up regional offices and prioritized the projects that needed to be attended without any delay. Rehabilitation and resettlement plans were drafted and implementation strategies were discussed. But there were clear evidence to believe that SIHRN is unable to move beyond the planning levels, due to certain factors that kept blocking its way.
But that devastating blow that laid the basis for the gradual disruption of the functioning of the remaining sub-committees by de-stabilizing the peace process, in fact, came from outside. Government’s strategy to excessively internationalize the peace process in order regain their lost bargaining power with the backing of their foreign alleys, undermined the primacy of internal factors and subsequently eroded the mutual confidence two parties had on each other. The event that was known as “Washington episode”, which was forced upon by an external power, became the culminating point of this increasing trend of distrust that breached the good faith.
And that external power was United States. Therefore to understand the dynamics of the failure of the SL peace process, one should need to look at the big picture created by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and its impact on the political configuration inside the country. The infamous “Washington episode” which eventually destroyed the existed constructive dialogue in Sri Lanka cannot be understood, if we do not place it within the wider geo-political context.