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bisResponses to the Norwegian paper Bistandsaktuelt re the report on Sri Lanka of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Overall, do you think the report gives a fair assessment of the human rights and reconciliation situation on the ground? 

The report is helpful in drawing attention to several matters that could be dealt with more efficiently, but it seems unfair in that it does not also record positive achievements during this period.  Unfortunately it has to be seen in context and the problem is that the Office of the High Commissioner has been relentlessly critical of Sri Lanka in the past, including soon after the conclusion of the conflict when she tried to subvert a decision of the Council. This makes it difficult to take her complaints seriously, though I believe we should try, since she can also be helpful when her mind is off the political agenda set by some of her staff.

Unfortunately our Foreign Ministry has been so inept that it may now be difficult to distinguish between these Jekyll and Hyde elements in her character. Still, I think we should try, and register that some of the points she has made are valid. We have been slow in several matters, which I regret, though to be fair we are no slower than other countries in similar positions.

We were unfortunate in that she prepared her report before the LLRC Action Plan Task Force came under new management, which has been much more efficient than what was there before. Much has been achieved in the last month, especially with regard to the Lands question. But certainly we could do more, and I am sorry that government tends to react adversely to such reports without moving pro-actively on Reconciliation, as I have recommended through several reports to the President. Unfortunately his advisers who seem to have the impression that Reconciliation and Human Rights are only about explanations to the others have not encouraged him to move on these more practical recommendations too.

According to the report, the Sri Lankan government has not done enough to investigate allegations of human rights violations that occurred at the end of the war.  It is also criticized for not doing more in the areas of reconciliation and the resumption of livelihood. What is your response to this?

We have done much more with regard to livelihood than other countries in similar situations, and that is why those who visit Sri Lanka are much more appreciative of our position. With regard to reconciliation, I think it is a pity that we rely so much on the trickle-down effect, and it is time Reconciliation also came under a Ministry that could devote due attention to this important matter.

With regard to human rights violations, I believe the LLRC did a good job, and it is a pity that those who have political agendas were critical of the LLRC report, since that has distracted us from concentrating on the few areas where the LLRC did find cases that required further investigation. The High Commissioner has made the matter worse by referring to the Darusman report, which has no official status here, and is a shoddy piece of work, as she must realize if she has any understanding of evidence as opposed to gossip.

However we should certainly investigate what the LLRC drawns attention to, and I believe this is being done by the army. I have not seen that report, but I would agree that it should be public, as should be the report of the Udalagama Commission to which she also refers, and government should make clear what action it proposes to take. We are told that some matters are now with the Attorney General, but information should be precise. Unfortunately, as we saw with the horrors of what the Americans did in Iraq, such matters are not dealt with transparently. Though two wrongs do not make a right, I would wish the High Commissioner were tougher with more flagrant abuse elsewhere, and also that the media and organizations that focus on us did more about those ongoing abuses. But when someone like Elie Wiezel justifies the death of a child when Osama bin Laden was killed, then one realizes that morality matters to very few people, so long as they can criticize those they want to criticize for other reasons.

Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2013
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