This is the transcript of an interview given by Prof Wijesinha to Channel 4 in September 2009, regarding a video that had been shown by that Channel, details of which were not supplied to the Sri Lankan government.

Interview: Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

By Krishnan Guru-Murthy

Updated on 11 September 2009

The spokesman for Sri Lanka’s ministry of disaster management responds to claims that his country was involved in human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings.

A transcript of Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s interview with Professor Rajiva Wijesinha of the Sri Lankan ministry of disaster management.

KGM: You’ve been urged by the international community to investigate human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. Have you started yet?

RW: Yes. Sri Lanka has had commissions of inquiry when evidence is presented before us. I think the problem with this particular video is, it’s a gross generalisation.

When Philip Alston wrote to us, I wrote back to him immediately. We were slightly worried about the fact that Mr Alston, contrary to his promise to us previously, actually sent us a letter at 2.45 in the afternoon and followed this up with a public press release that contradicted what he…

KGM: But he wants an independent inquiry…

RW: I’m sorry. Can I finish? What he said in the letter to us is, could we have an investigation by Sri Lanka?

Now, when you send a letter at 2.45 and follow it up 45 minutes later on a Friday afternoon with a claim for an independent inquiry,  that makes a mockery of the letter you’ve sent us.

Now, we have the feeling that Professor Alston – he’s done this before, he’s quite a nice man but gets carried away by idealism… You know, the last time we thought he’d attack us he spent a long time against Nato.

I think there’s a certain political element in this. I’ve actually wondered why he hasn’t pointed out there was some extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka which were very bad, but these we have not been asked to inquire into.

KGM: But have you actually held the independent inquiry? Has it begun? And in what form is it independent?

RW: I’m sorry, but we don’t have to have so-called independent inquiries into any Tom, Dick and Harry allegation. We pointed out to him that we had an extra-judicial killing a couple of weeks ago. We are sorry he wasn’t concerned about that. But that’s because it was not grist to the mill of LTTE…

KGM: This isn’t a Tom, Dick or Harry allegation. This is an allegation that the United States ambassador to the UN says gives her grave concern.

RW: What we wrote to Philip Alston was to say…

KGM: Let me finish the question.

RW: I’m sorry. I’m answering your question. Your question was about the video. We wrote to Philip Alston to say, very gently: “Do you have any evidence of such an incident taking place? Or are you telling us that a video was shown by Channel 4? In that case, could you tell us perhaps where this incident took place or when it took place? Or ask Channel 4, if they wish to conceal whoever told them, to at least give some information so we can proceed.”

KGM: So you’re not going to go looking for evidence of extra-judicial killings until somebody comes to you and says: “This is when we believe the incident happened. This is who we believe was involved”? You’re not going to go and interview armed forces personnel to find out?

RW: How can we go into generalisations? We’ve gone into this video itself which, as you say, you haven’t actually given to us, but we’ve gone into what we could see of it.

We have found certain discrepancies. There were some technical ones which I believe your correspondent, if he was there at the press conference…

KGM: We’ve just listed those.

RW: Yeah. But no, you haven’t mentioned the technical difficulties. What you’ve mentioned is certain discrepancies. You didn’t show that wonderfully moving leg. You didn’t show the way in which the man who was shot in the back of the head went down very smoothly, like that.

So these are areas in which we would now like you to at least tell us who these Journalists for Democracy are.

When I spoke to you a bit earlier, I’m glad that I gave you all the points I was going to make – which was a bit more than you did to our high commissioner, because when you invited him to speak, they asked to see the video before and you refused to show it to him.

KGM: Well, that does bring us to another question, really… Let me get another question in for a second, because you say when we approached your high commission on the day of this, just before broadcast, they gave us an extensive denial. And that has been your position throughout. They gave us that denial without having actually seen the video themselves…

RW: They asked to see it and you refused.

KGM: And you stuck to that position all the way through.

RW: I’m sorry. They asked to see it. You refused to show it to them. You said your policy was not to show these things… I’m sorry, this is what you said.

But you’ve showed it to a so-called independent human rights expert – you haven’t told us who he is – who said it was authentic.

At some point you’ve got to realise that you’ve got to be at least consistent.

KGM: Fine. OK. The point is, you’ve got to convince the United States and the United Nations and governments like Norway, who described this as more than solid evidence to accuse the Sri Lankan government.

Now, have any of them, since you came out with your rebuttal this week, come to you and said: “OK. We’re convinced. We drop our concerns”?

RW: Well, we’ve written to Alston and he hasn’t replied to my last letter. The Norway… Mr Solheim is not the Norwegian government. We have had discussions with the Norwegian ambassador in Sri Lanka.

KGM: None of them have accepted your version of events, have they?

RW: Well, they have not actually mentioned a version of events. Solheim said very clearly the video does not seem to be authentic. He didn’t say it was obviously false.

But he, like you, hides behind this wonderful suggestion: “We’re not responsible for this. We don’t know if it’s authentic – but have a look.”

And I think that sort of approach, that I think you’ve been taking up, is really an attempt to put doubt in people’s minds, whereas your responsibility was to check that video carefully, as our experts have done.

We’ve now shown you what we think is wrong. Prove that we weren’t wrong. Show us that that leg did not move. You can change the video again, please don’t.

And also, most importantly, you talk about the Journalists for Democracy and say because they’re Sinhalese, it must be authentic.

Let me tell you that this is not a matter of race. People can be wicked, whatever race they are. Most of the Tamils in Sri Lanka are relieved the LTTE is over.

But this particular group have had a lot of ties with the opposition in Sri Lanka. We know that. I told your people this morning. Investigate, please.

KGM: OK. You’ve had a chance to make that clear. Professor Wijesinha, thank you very much indeed for joining us today.

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