As Sri Lanka prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) next month, it is unfortunate that critics of Sri Lanka like Amnesty International's New Zealand executive director Grant Bayldon remain blinded to the significant progress in that country.
The decisive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009 put an end to the era of suicide bombings, assassinations and indiscriminate violence that had terrorised the lives of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion, for nearly 30 years. The military succeeded, at great cost to itself, in rescuing nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians who were being forcibly held as human shields by the LTTE during the final stages of the conflict.
Since the conflict ended, nearly all the 300,000 internally displaced civilians have been successfully resettled to their former homes - an impressive feat for a small developing country emerging from 26 years of war.
Of 12,220 former LTTE combatants who surrendered to the Government, 96.2 per cent have been integrated back into their communities and are today engaged in rebuilding their livelihoods. The remainder are facing judicial proceedings. Demining in former combat zones is 95 per cent complete. Since the end of the war, economic development has surged. Annual GDP growth has averaged around 7 to 8 per cent nationally, while the predominantly Tamil-populated Northern Province has recorded an unprecedented 20 per cent growth. These achievements must not be overlooked.
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Most importantly, the period since May 2009 has seen the opening of democracy in areas that were previously run under the totalitarian jackboot of the LTTE. Denied the opportunity to vote for years or to express any form of dissent at all, Tamils living in formerly LTTE-controlled parts of the country are now able to vote in local, provincial and national elections, and are represented at all levels of government.
Just last month, Provincial Council elections were successfully held in the North for the first time in 26 years, culminating in the victory of an ethnically Tamil political party.
The current democratically elected Government enjoys widespread support. President Mahinda Rajapaksa convincingly won the presidential elections in 2010 and his ruling party achieved a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary elections that took place later that same year. Consistent with the pluralistic nature of Sri Lankan society, his Cabinet consists of ministers from all of Sri Lanka's ethnic communities.
Contrary to what is often reported, Sri Lanka has embarked on its own comprehensive domestic reconciliation and accountability process - the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee. It is unfortunate that Amnesty International chose not to participate in this process, despite being invited to do so. Indeed, the LLRC process was welcomed by the UN Human Rights Council. In July, the Government adopted an additional 53 recommendations from the LLRC.
What Sri Lanka needs right now is the support of all members of the Commonwealth.
It is encouraging that New Zealand is taking a pragmatic and constructive approach by engaging constructively with Sri Lanka at the upcoming Commonwealth summit. Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully are to be commended for their stance. Attempting to isolate the country at this critical juncture will only reverse post-war gains and undermine domestic efforts at reconciliation between ordinary Sri Lankans who are looking forwards to a future of security, freedom and prosperity, now that the long dark era of terror is over.
Aruna V. Abeygoonesekera is the Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in New Zealand.