1. Why was Sri Lanka unable to defeat the resolution brought against it at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last Thursday? Was it because India turned against Sri Lanka due to domestic compulsions or were there other factors at play?

The Indian decision to vote against us, and also to indicate early that this might happen, was crucial, but I think we were facing an uphill battle anyway, given the pressures the UN and the EU together were bringing on other countries. We could have done more earlier on to work with those countries on other issues, to strengthen relations.

  1. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) views the resolution as the first step in the pursuit of justice and accountability; and Amnesty International (AI) says that it represents a positive step forward for Sri Lanka and an opportunity to end “long-standing immunity for human rights violations.” Your reaction?

I think it could be used as an opportunity if we realize that we have to do better both on making clear what we are already doing with regard to the reconciliation process, which is not simply about accountability in terms of retribution as some elements are suggesting; and also on moving more quickly on all elements of the Reconciliation process, as laid out in the LLRC as well as in our draft Reconciliation Policy, which refers to restoration and empowerment as well as restitution.

  1. There is criticism that the Sri Lankan delegation, despite its strength in numbers, was not adequately prepared for the 19th session. Do you agree?

I think the people who went did their best, but I think they too realized that preparation has to begin much earlier, and be based on a coherent long term policy, that takes into consideration their concerns too, which was how Dayan Jayatilleka did so well in 2009. The policy we must work towards now should include restoring the mutual confidence we had with India a couple of years back, and also strengthening our ties with members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

  1. Now that the resolution has been adopted, what are its practical implications?

Since, unusually for the UN system, a country specific resolution that goes into the past has been passed, we need to make sure first that it is not used for unwarranted and disruptive interference, and secondly that it is not used as an excuse for a harsher resolution in the future, that would excuse more active interference.

  1. How do you justify the government’s decision to reject the resolution? Does it not amount to disdain for the UN and all that it stands for?

On the contrary, our opposition sprang precisely from our respect for the UN in terms of its founding principles and the practices the Human Rights Council was meant to uphold. The fact that a senior Indian Minister indicated that India would not vote for a country specific resolution suggests that India too wanted initially to uphold these principles, though unfortunately other considerations prevailed in the end.

  1. There are fears that although the UN HRC resolution is not legally-binding, Sri Lanka may be isolated on the world stage and that even economic sanctions may be imposed if it refuses to abide by it. What, in your view, are the real consequences of non-compliance?

Given the strange ways in which UN resolutions can be interpreted, I think we need to be vigilant about abuse of this resolution.

  1. Does the government fear that the real and ultimate purpose of this resolution is to set the stage to prosecute the current leadership for war crimes?

I don’t think that was the intention of most of those who voted for it, but we have to remember that initially, when Britain was the moving spirit behind a Special Session on Sri Lanka in 2009, the then Foreign Secretary said in the Commons that dealing with war crimes was the purpose. Even though I think the present British government is less prejudiced, we have to remember that bad money drives out good, and single-minded motivation – which we also see in some elements in the US administration, even though I would like to think those who know us better are not so wicked – can lead to persecution.

  1. Government MPs have referred to an ‘international plot’ against the administration and a ‘western conspiracy’ to bring about regime change as the real motivating factors behind the US-led move. Do you subscribe to these views?

There are certainly those in the West who would like a change of government. Sometimes they put it very tactfully, as with the EU official who suggested both to me and to others that perhaps Sri Lanka needed a different leader for peace, now that the war was over. Sometimes they make no bones about their bitterness with the President, as with those who were pushing Sarath Fonseka on the grounds that he was the best bet to protect Human Rights and the interests of the Tamils, which obviously borders on lunacy. I do not think these strange hankerings amount yet to a conspiracy, but in dealing with countries about which there is little knowledge, strange ideas can come to the fore – and we have to remember that there are very few people who know about Sri Lanka in the States except for those whose information comes from elite sources in Colombo.

  1. There are many who feel that Sri Lanka has failed to maintain good bilateral ties with the US and India, and that our relations with the two powers have hit an all-time low. How do you view these sentiments? Do you think that Sri Lanka’s foreign relations have been skilfully managed?

I think we can certainly do much better, most obviously by having a policy making think tank that studies shifting priorities in the countries with which we interact. Chief amongst these is India, and we obviously need to understand why the initial confident claim that India would support us was misplaced. I believe this is a good opportunity to rebuild relations, in that India too has realized that the moral prestige it had in Asia has been adversely affected. We should try now to work together with the other SAARC countries to help India to be seen as a leader, not a follower either of the West or of temporary compulsions within the country. At the same time we must be sensitive to Indian concerns, just as we expect India to be sensitive about our concerns. Our current ambassador has done well, but perhaps when his term is over we should think of sending someone who is personally acquainted with thinkers at high levels, like for instance Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne who has studied there and done good work in Social and Cultural Relations.

The United States is more difficult, because it tends to be schizophrenic, particularly in an election year. Where there are no obvious US interests at stake, countries can become the plaything of individual predilections. US policy is often made by lobby groups and media soundbites, and opinion polls which depend on these but are treated as sacrosanct. While we should of course engage positively, to try to find out what precisely they want, we have to remember that the US ambassador in Geneva had told ours that they would get us this March, whether the LLRC Report was good or not. It would be best therefore if we devoted some study to US concerns at present, and worked out how to deal with these in the long term, than simply responding to carrots or sticks.

On the whole I think there are enough people in decision making positions there who are balanced, and we need to make sure we talk to them seriously, make our own position clear, study what they say, and work out responses which will save us from being victimized. For this purpose we need to engage at high levels also with India as well as those countries that supported us so solidly in Geneva, and who have much more experience of dealing with a world power that oscillates between ruthlessness and sanctimoniousness.

  1. Do you think it is necessary and/or advisable for the government to establish a direct and on-going dialogue with Tamil Nadu?

Most certainly. When I was there last year, at the request of our Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, I was told, by the Tamil intellectuals I spoke to, and often argued with, that I was the first to have engaged with them in that fashion. We must make them understand our difficulties, but also make clear our commitment to the Tamil people, and the need to make up to them both for majoritarian political decisions in the past, and the suffering they underwent. Though this was mainly due to the LTTE in the latter stages, we must explain with statistics that collateral damage was minimal – while also making clear our regrets for the attacks on Tamils in the past, and showing that these have not been repeated in recent times.

In this regard I am astonished that we now do not have a Tamil speaking ambassador in Chennai. However good the new man is, the excellent contacts established by Mr Amza and then Mr Krishnamoorthy need nurturing through active communication now. I should add that I am also bemused by the Ministry decision to transfer the two senior Tamil speaking officers in London. I suspect sometimes that decisions are made without full study of the implications, and this cannot continue.

  1. Can you confirm whether or not India played a role in amending any of the clauses in the resolution, prior to its adoption?

 I was not in Geneva on the last couple of days, so I only know what I saw afterwards in the press, that India claimed credit for inserting a clause about consent and concurrence. While this is a good thing, in toning down the resolution to a limited extent, obviously it does not answer all the concerns that our ambassador laid out in a very clear paper she prepared for sympathetic groups. I am sorry that such a paper was not prepared and circulated earlier, perhaps with the advice of our friends including India – I have never forgotten what an Indian journalist told me a year or two back, that whereas in Dayan Jayatilleka’s time we asked India for advice, after he was dismissed we only asked for a vote. I think we must realize that common interests should be pursued through principles.

  1. Is it democratically acceptable for the international community to push Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the LLRC without it being first approved by Parliament? What is the way forward?

As we know, having allowed majoritarianism to trump democracy ourselves in the past, democracy is not simply about majorities. It should be based on constitutionalism and the rule of law, with rights that cannot be trampled on by a majority vote, in particular rights for the weak. The vote in Geneva went against the principles of the UN, which is why we find it unacceptable.

However, we should certainly go ahead with implementation of the LLRC recommendations, since this is a Commission the Government appointed, with seven highly regarded members who have made unanimous recommendations.

The Leader of the House tabled the Report in Parliament, and made it clear that Government would go ahead with implementation. This does not mean that all recommendations will be implemented at once, and Government may find that some are difficult, but what should be done is to implement as swiftly as possible what can be done now, and to explain what may be delayed or not done. Government must decide, taking all factors into consideration, including some that the LLRC may not have been aware of, but it owes it to the country and the Commissioners to explain what it cannot accept or can only accept in the long term.

Daily Mirror 28 May 2012 http://www.dailymirror.lk/images/DM_20120328_A011.jpg