Interview with Ceylon Today

Q: India abstained from voting at the UN Human Rights resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva,last week. Given that India had voted for the previous resolution in 2013, do you see a major shift in the Indian stance on the matters related to the international scrutiny on the Sri Lankan government over its human rights record?

No, I think India has been absolutely consistent. Like our cabinet, which endorsed the LLRC Action Plan, it believes we need to do much to promote reconciliation, but it believes we must do this ourselves. This time, unlike in previous years, the US and its allies included external intrusion, which goes against the principles of the UN. India, given its leading role in promoting a multi-polar world rather than domination by one ethos, could not support such a dramatic departure from international norms.

Q: In your opinion, what did prompt India to abstain from voting?

Recognition that this sort of intrusion could set unfortunate precedents for all countries that do not play ball with  the West.

Q:  India’s permanent representative at  Geneva cited the ‘intrusive nature’ of the UN resolution as the reason for their decision to abstain. But, were there geopolitical concerns such as countering Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, that could have underpinned the Indian decision?

Had that been the main reason, India might as well have played along with the West, which seems keen on going back to the absolute divisions of Cold War days. Though China has been a solid friend to Sri Lanka, given geographical and economic realities, India throwing its weight behind the West would have left us helpless – and indeed China has pointed this out in urging us always to maintain good relations with India.

Q: India’s decision to abstain would give it a greater leverage on the matters concerning justice and accountability in Sri Lanka as well political aspirations of Tamils.  Do you agree?

It should make us realize that we need to work together with India, just as we did during the conflict. India like us was committed to eradicating terrorism, and like the President it saw this as essential for the benefit of all Sri Lankans including the Tamils. But I fear the dwarfs who dominate policy making will continue to sow distrust. Recently for instance there were attempts to convince the President that the Indian government was behind the Tamil Nadu state’s attempt to pardon Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. I cannot understand how that could be believed, and fortunately Delhi acted immediately so the President would have seen the true picture.  

Q: The incumbent government has repeatedly failed to honor the undertakings given to New Delhi in terms of implementing a political solution in line with the 13  amendment Plus. So you expect that the government of Sri Lanka would now be compelled to work on a political solution, at least as a gesture of goodwill towards New Delhi?

We should be working on a political solution for the sake of our own people. But clear instructions give by the President are ignored so the impression has been created that he  cannot be trusted. This is a tragic situation, given what I believe is his essentially pluralistic vision, but he must now work seriously on implementing the manifesto on which he won  election, instead of seeing his main role as simply to win election after election. If he continues to rely on people who have repeatedly let him down, and are only interested in their careers and their fortunes, and see him simply as an instrument of winning elections that none of them could do without him, then the victories of 2009 will soon be lost.

Q: Would Indian support to Sri Lanka  serve as a a deterrence against multilateral initiatives by the advanced democracies to push for an investigation into the alleged violation of human rights and humanitarian laws in Sri Lanka?

I hope it will, but we need to work closely with India to make it clear that our own initiatives will suffice to promote human rights in general, as well as both restorative justice and a political dispensation in which all our people can have confidence.  We should fast forward implementation of all the LLRC recommendations, and if we have any reservations, we should explain the reasons for this. We should also set up an advisory group, of countries such as India and Japan and South Africa, and perhaps Australia and Brazil too, to help us move forward, and ensure transparency as well as speed.

Q: What should Sri Lanka do to harness the goodwill of India?

First, we need a coherent foreign policy that is based on traditional SLFP values of Non-Alignment. The last of the groupies of the Jayewardene-Hameed era, who ruined our relations with India, is now Foreign Secretary, which is preposterous, whereas the position should have gone to someone like our present High Commissioner in Delhi, who has the confidence of India. Since his term is up, he should be replaced by someone who has good relations with India and Indians. Most important of all, we need a new Foreign Minister, given that his total mishandling of India in 2012 led to them voting against us.

We should also move on the matters that were agreed during the discussions with the TNA. We had suggested nothing ourselves until I was put on the team, and then the TNA responded positively to two suggestions I made – but since two members of our team were determined to sabotage the talks, nothing further came of these. In fact, when Mr Sumanthiran and i had reached a generally acceptable agreement on land, the President was told that I was giving too much away. This was before the saboteurs had even seen our draft, whereas in fact Mr Sumanthiran was accused of the same by some of his team after they saw the draft.

Thirdly, we must stop centralized control of Indian aid, and instead develop systems that will allow for greater flexibility and local consultation. Reconciliation  should be an essential component of all aid programmes, and there should be greater stress on human resources development and entrepreneurship. Given how the monopoly of the prevalent model of economic development failed to win hearts and minds, there should be a cabinet sub-committe, headed by the Senior HRD Minister, with National Languages, Skills Development, Agriculture and Water Resources and Management, to develop a blueprint for interventions.

We also need more Track Two contacts, with more coherent use of institutions like the Indo-Lanka Foundation, and joint projects between think tanks, of which India has several, whereas we have none of any consequence. We must also restore the type of relationship we had with Chennai, when diplomats like Amza and Nakandawala and Krishnamoorthy were there. The stupidity of the last named being suddenly transferred indicates the complete lack of principle or policy on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as run by its current leaders.
Ceylon Today 6 April 2014