The following is the text of an interview given to Lakbima News with regard to the impact on Sri Lanka of recent changes in Libya.

  1. Libyan Leader Mohommad Gadaffi’s regime was ousted a few days ago and although it was the ‘rebels’ who did that, we cannot deny that it was western powers who made it happen. Doesn’t this mean that it is still western powers that still have the ability to make regime changes despite all the talk of emergence of Russia and China?

I don’t think it has ever been doubted that it is the West that thinks of regime change and suchlike and has the power to do it. The old Soviet Union also thought in such terms but, after the Cold War ended, it has not been able to replicate this. China is still very much an emerging power in this regard, and has been content to exercise influence in different ways.

  1. Although Gadaffi isn’t even captured and his loyalists taking rearguard action in Tripoli both Russia and China have accepted rebels as the new rulers of Libya and are trying to make new business deals regarding Libyan resources. What does this tell about Russian and Chinese allies and depending on them against the West?

You must remember that neither Russia nor China vetoed the original UN Security Council resolution, which suggests they were even then in two minds about Libya. While I suspect they did not anticipate the intensity with which the West conducted its military campaign, the support the rebels seemed to have amongst other Arab nations may have influenced that decision.

  1. Like Libya have we become too dependant on Russia and China? We have angered the West a great deal in the recent past and it seems that the US gunning for us?

Pacific Angel 2010 - U.S. Air Force and Sri Lankan Army in Puttalam Township, Sri Lanka

That is a wrong perception, in that Sri Lanka has made it clear throughout (except during the dangerous days of J R Jayewardene’s Cold War adventurism) that our preferred policy is non-alignment. We do not believe in oppositional stances, as developed in occidental philosophy, but rather work in the more oriental system of circles that overlap. We must be concerned about our neighbours, India most obviously, but then other Asian countries too, and then the rest of the world, without hostilities to anyone but also without obsequiousness to anyone that would be seen as hostile to others even if we did not mean it (as happened with regard to India in the eighties, when Jayewardene tried to sell Trincomalee to the Americans, when I think the Americans were not particularly interested, since the British had cleverly sold them Diego Garcia instead).

Some elements in some Western countries have been hostile to us for their own reasons in recent times, but I believe other elements, in particular the defence establishments, helped us in our struggle against terrorism and we should not get irritated by what seems excessive criticism by a few. Whilst the motives of some may be questionable, most are sincere – unlike media outlets etc with particular agendas – and we should try to assuage their concerns while remaining proud of our defeat of terrorism and the swift resettlement process we have succeeded in.

  1. You have great experience in diplomacy and how the UNHRC operates.  Sri Lanka is to be discussed in the coming sessions in September and several of our allies including Libya have seen regime changes and might go against us. Do you think the overthrowing of Gadaffi and the other changes which occurred through the Arab Spring have made the situation in the HRC disadvantageous for us?

I think most countries in the HRC  understand that promoting regime change in a country that has recently held unquestionably free elections in which the existing regime was chosen by a wide margin does not make sense.

  1. Do you agree with people who compare Sri Lanka with those regimes toppled by the Arab Spring?

Obviously not, and not only for the reason given above.

  1. President Rajapaksa stated in parliament that the State of Emergency would be lifted. Do you think this was done because the HRC sessions which begins on September 2 because until last month the regime was adamant of continuing the state of emergency?

Not at all, from two years back, when I was Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, we have been suggesting scaling down the Emergency Regulations, and this has been pledged in many speeches – read mine whenever I have spoken about it, and the indications given last month when the motion was approved. Certainly there have been suggestions that security might be jeopardized by wholesale withdrawal of the Regulations, and such concerns must be addressed, though not through keeping the Emergency in force and unchanged for ever. You must remember that Government has had to set aside security concerns, as when we engaged in swift resettlement, although the then Chief of General Staff had expressed his reservations. It is not always easy to get the balance right, but we have certainly been moving consistently in the direction of greater freedoms, and I think even Sarath Fonseka’s strongest supporters grant now that we were right to ignore the concerns he expressed then about security and resettlement.

  1. H.E. Ambassador Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam

    Earlier we had talented officers like Dayan Jayatillake and you handling the Human Rights issue but many are very critical of those who have replaced the previous team. What is your assessment of those who are looking after our interests in these centres of power?

I think Dayan handled it earlier, and the rest of us who worked with him followed his advice, which is why we did so well. I have not been to Geneva recently but I believe some other members of the old team such as Minister Samarasinghe and the Attorney General, who were also extremely successful, did attend.

Now that I have met our new ambassador there, Tamara Kunanayagam, I believe that – though Dayan of course is irreplaceable – she will do an excellent job. I was privileged to meet ambassadors who had known her when she was in Brazil, and it was clear that she had made a fantastic impact there, which I believe she will replicate in Geneva. She did kindly ask me to attend this time – as Minister Samarasinghe did earlier in the year – and the President approved this, but I had personal reasons for declining which were accepted. I would certainly be honoured to work with her in the future if she asks, though those working with her this time will I am sure do whatever is needed most efficiently.

Lakbima News 28 August 2011

http://www.lakbimanews.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2636:west-thinks-of-regime-change-has-the-power-to-do-it–prof-wijesinha&catid=47:interview&Itemid=48

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