01. During this post war scenario Sri Lanka’s critical success factor is rebuilding the Countries image as a democratic nation. According to your personal opinion so far how we reach that target?

I don’t think there were ever any doubts about Sri Lanka being democratic (except in the period between 1980 and 1989, when Mrs Bandaranaike was prevented from standing in the Presidential election, when we had the now universally condemned referendum, and when you had murder and mayhem and extremely low turnouts in Provincial Council and Presidential and Parliamentary elections). Our problem was rather to establish ourselves again as a pluralistic nation with the full participation in the economic, social and political life of the country of all segments of the population. It is clear that we have succeeded well in this regard, with much infrastructural development in the North and East as well as elsewhere, and much more active participation in elections, from the low into which the LTTE plunged it. We can do more in Human Resources Development, but the base there was pretty good, and with the new initiatives of the Ministries of Higher Education and Youth Affairs, we will be able to move quickly.

02. The recent US state department report has strongly condemned the Rajapaksa family dominance and related large-scale human rights violations. What is your overall assessment about that report?

They have one sentence about the family in the introduction, which is not taken up elsewhere in the Report, which suggests that that is a political comment, not related to Human Rights. Similarly, though the introduction has lots of generalizations, some of which are repeated in the Report, actual citing of incidents and indeed some of the descriptions they use suggest things have improved. Of course we still have work to do, which is why Government hopes soon to ratify and implement the Human Rights Action Plan which we began preparing when I was Secretary of the Ministry. We need to adopt a holistic view of Rights, and ensure improvement of the situation of all our citizens, and not be sidetracked only by political agendas.

03. The Report also mentions that the main opposition presidential candidate General Fonseka is a most prominent political prisoner. But the government opinion is very much different? And you trying to say that the he is responsible for the assassination of the editor of Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickramathunga? What are the evidence do you have on this regard?

If you read carefully, you will see that they call him the ‘most prominent’ of a small number of political prisoners. Since they don’t define what they mean by ‘political prisoner’, and I think do not use the term properly, it is difficult to see what they mean. Even on their reckoning, which I do not accept, to be the most prominent of obscure persons does not mean much. Of course, while the comparisons are silly, he is certainly well known, and was obviously a capable soldier, but as a politicians I think he is no longer taken seriously even by the strange coalition that put him forward.

I was not attributing responsibility to him at all, my interview with the BBC was about the special agendas of some foreign countries, and I used what the British had brought to my attention as an example of the change in approach that has occurred, and how now the government would be decried if they pursued suspicions of him being involved.

To quote from the clarification I sent to the ‘Island’ this morning, ‘I did not hear the BBC version of what I said, though as always they seem to have highlighted what they wanted, which has led to a misconception. I have asked them to send me recordings of interviews, but this does not seem possible for the Sinhala service of the BBC, though other journalists oblige.

My emphasis was on the political angle of much criticism of the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka, and I pointed out that there would be howls of execration if investigations were pursued into any connection Sarath Fonseka might be suspected to have had with the killing. This is part of the current great concern for Mr Fonseka, whereas previously I had been shown, at the British High Commission, a note suggesting Fonseka had squads engaged in illicit activities reporting to him. This was not connected with the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga, and my informant did not claim the note amounted to evidence, but at that stage it seemed clear to me that he thought it might be true.

I cannot comment, and the note itself is obviously not evidence…, but I am sure the British High Commission have studied the matter more carefully than I have. Individuals therein may have reached different conclusions, though we must accept as trustingly as they do our official statements, that the UK Government, with Mr Miliband still Foreign Secretary, ‘did not favour any candidate in the Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka in 2009’.

04. If he is responsible for Lasantha’s killing, Instead of following the legal procedures, why you disclosed it to the media right now?

I have no idea if he was responsible, so the question does not arise. As I mentioned, the note the British gave me is not evidence, and my point was the varying attitudes they seem to evince with regard to violation of Human Rights at different stages, depending on political considerations.

05. Your media statements against the UK government on this regard is very much controversy. UK authorities have denied having favoured Gen Fonseka at January 2010 presidential elections

The BBC does tend to be controversial as we know, and it is interesting that they have highlighted what I said as though it was condemnation of Mr Fonseka rather than a comment on changing attitudes. As I have said, with regard to the High Commission, ‘Individuals therein may have reached different conclusions, though we must accept as trustingly as they do our official statements, that the UK Government, with Mr Miliband still Foreign Secretary, ‘did not favour any candidate in the Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka in 2009’.

06. The US report also said “The police, under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, reportedly maintained a special unit to  monitor and control all references in the media to members of the Rajapaksa family.” Do you agree with this statement? If no is the answer then what are the progress of recent media attacks (such as Siyatha television, MTV/MBC studios, Lanka e news web site) disappearance of Journalist Prageeth Eknaliyagoda and the killing of Lasantha?

The statement sounds of a piece with the underlying hostility in whoever wrote the Report towards the present elected Government of Sri Lanka, though I do hope this is not the attitude of the current or the last Ambassador. I do not know about the progress of investigations (I assume you mean that, not progress of attacks), though I have throughout pointed out the need to proceed with them expeditiously, as you will note if you have studied my statements throughout the last year. However I have no executive position, so cannot contribute towards this myself, as I used to do when I was Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and indeed before that, when as Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat I headed a Committee to develop more positive approaches in the Police with regard to possible violations of Human Rights. I should note that we had good cooperation from the Police officials who attended, and we had one excellent Trainer Training programme but, as those officials pointed out, they needed more courses in professional activities too, in addition to Rights awareness.

07. What is the reason for delaying the final report of Mahanama Tillekeratne commission which was investigated abductions, disappearances, killings, and unidentified bodies?

Again, I have no idea about this.

08. There are also some controversies about the Arbitrary Arrest or Detention. What is the government position regarding these criticisms?

I have not looked in detail at this section of the Report yet, though I have written detailed responses to two other sections. I will look at this section over the next day or so, but a quick glance suggests they have used the same formula, harsh generalizations designed to suggest that we still have ethnic problems, but then just a few concrete instances which suggest that their approach is wrong-headed. I think part of the problem is that they describe the taking in of people for questioning as arrests. I was also amused at the very loose use of the term ‘arrest’ to cover students detained for unruly behaviour. It will be terribly funny if the State Department helps students to stymie University Reforms, though I know that certainly the more enlightened people in the American Embassy in Colombo would not want this to happen. I suppose it’s a bit like the situation in the UNP, where the more sensible people support Reforms, but Ranil Wickremesinghe rejects the idea and may well try to make political capital out of any opposition to progress.

09. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) also another major issue. How is the progress up to now?

That section of the Report is actually less negative, and records the excellent progress we have made. They do note problems that persist with regard to what were termed ‘old IDPs’, some of whom were displaced so long that they prefer to settle down in the places they sought refuge in. What I miss is some credit for the superb work done by Government, so that there are very few still displaced, though we had hundreds of thousands suffering for so long. As I say in one of my responses, ‘Sadly no credit is given for the positive way in which we have dealt with ex-combatants, none for the speed with which we have resettled the Displaced. I remember a couple of years ago, when the British were spearheading the attempt to condemn us at a Special Session of the Human Rights Council, the claim (consummately hypocritical, which the British, certainly New Labour, never had qualms about) that they were concerned about the Displaced and the former Combatants in Custody. I told them then that, if they were sincere, they should behave as India did, drawing attention politely to problems that needed to be addressed, without promoting self-regarding interference through naming and shaming. I did point out that, when we dealt with such problems positively, as I had no doubt we would do, I was sure there would be no congratulations, but simply shouting about something else.’

Incidentally, in my clarification with regard to Sarath Fonseka, I noted my belief that ‘government policy, as laid down and directed by the President, is inclusive and pluralistic, but obviously there will be differences of opinion, as we had to grant when for instance the then Army Commander made what seemed inappropriate remarks about the status of minorities and about politicians in Tamilnadu. He was entitled to his views, but they should not have been confused with the views of the government.

I should note that my beliefs were vindicated absolutely by Sarath Fonseka’s letter of resignation, in which he berated the President for not having increased the size of the army, and for having released the Displaced too early. The policy of government on both these counts was admirable, and those who flocked to the Fonseka banner during the 2010 election completely ignored all this.

10. The International community also expecting the UN special commission report against the Sri Lanka’s Human rights violations. The International community also having a limited trust about the government LLRC .What is your opinion regarding these commissions and their reports?

I think the LLRC seems to doing a good job though, as I noted in my submissions, I would have liked more attention to future work and suggestions for Reconciliation. Unfortunately the insistence by a few members of what is termed the International Community led to lots of controversy about alleged War Crimes. This has also hijacked the discourse about the Secretary General’s Panel, which is supposed simply to advise him, and is not supposed to produce a report ‘against the Sri Lanka’s Human Rights violations’ as you put it. I would assume the Secretary General knows the parameters under which he operates, even though a few interested parties wish to pressurize him to attack Sri Lanka.

Asian Tribune 13 April 2011

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