by Camelia Nathaniel and Dilishia Aberatne
The United States of America has commended Sri Lanka’s commitment over the United Nations Human Rights report. Sri Lankan Government’s decision to join as a co-sponsor paved the way for all to work together to deliver the commitments reflected in the resolution. The resolution marks an important step toward a credible transitional justice process, owned by Sri Lankans and with the support and involvement of the international community. However, there are others who feel that a Resolution of this kind, in which we directly join the United States as a co-sponsor, imperils Sri Lanka’s well-being beyond redemption. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said some are trying to give negative responses regarding the Geneva report; but the fact is that the report has categorically emphasised that all measures with the implementation of the recommendations should be carried out with the participation and in consultation with the Government.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
A. There is no issue now; it’s a good proposal. We together with America and several other countries have gone in for a collective proposal, and by now all countries have accepted it, and we hope it will be passed.
Now we have to commence educating the people about the Geneva proposal, and in this endeavour, we have started a campaign under the theme ‘national gathering for peace’ from October 2 at the New Town Hall under the patronage of the Prime Minister. Subsequently, we will commence our regional programme with the provincial councillors and the ministers.
We also had several meetings with civil society organisations and the media to discuss the future activities and also educate them about the Geneva proposals. Similarly, we also had meetings with the defence sector, and we even included some retired senior personnel. From all these meetings, I must say that the response we got was very positive.
Hence, we are continuing our programme very effectively. But there are some trying to make use of this situation for their political gains and are involved in spreading rumours and negative campaigns. But the people will soon come to know the truth, and those people will not be able to carry on their smear campaign any longer.
Q. The Prime Minister has said that three main offices will be set up, namely, the Missing Persons Office, Special Counsel’s office, and Truth Commission. How does the Government propose to commence this initiative?
A. The first priority is to set up a compassionate council.
This council will comprise all the chief relates of the four main Buddhist chapters and head of other religions in the country. They will give their proposals on the report, and the recommendations in the report will be implemented.
A separate mechanism will be established to implement their recommendations.
The most important factor is that this whole mechanism will be formulated and implemented by the laws of this country and not under any international law. This is the greatest victory we have achieved. The foreign observers will come here only as participants, and their participation will be decided on a collective agreement by Sri Lanka. Hence, we will take all decisions.
Therefore, we will decide on what level of international participation we should entertain. We will decide whether international participation should be on a consultancy basis, as observers or any other level. The main thing is that we decide the level of their participation.
Q. How long do you think it will take to establish all this?
A. I think it will take at least a year and a half to commence this amount of progress.
Q. Will this effort tally with what the HR Commission expects, as they expect a report by next September according to the resolution?
A. Once this is submitted and passed, then what is left is the implementation.
Q. To implement the recommendations, will it be required to bring in new laws or perhaps to revise the existing laws?
A. No, that will not be necessary. There is no need to bring in new laws or even revise the existing laws because all the investigations will be conducted under the existing laws of the country. However, if there are any laws that need to be revised or brought in for setting up certain commissions or institutions, then we will consider that at that point.
Q. During the 100 day government, many promises were made including to bring in the Right to Information Bill. What is the current situation regarding this Bill?
A. We will be submitting the Right to Information Bill in parliament next week Tuesday and will get it passed.
Q. How do you plan to establish trust and reconciliation among the people?
A. The initial step is to establish a proper mechanism within a year or so. Then we have to make sure that the mechanism is set in motion and implemented. Only then can we hope for true reconciliation. The Tamil parties are not after the Sinhalese to take revenge. What they want is to find out the truth about what happened. So, this mechanism is not to punish anyone as some parties are trying to portray. The Tamils only need to know the truth about what happened.
One of the main points in the resolution is that they are committed to safeguarding Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and integrity. All this is done to safeguard the country and as some are trying to claim, to harm the sovereignty of the country.
Similarly, according to the resolution, all Sri Lankans will be given the right to live in peace, united and respectably in the country. All this is done to establish a unified nation. There is no proposal to divide the country. The resolution also calls on the Sri Lankan government to implement the favourable recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Not all the recommendations. They had to bring in these recommendations because there was no proper mechanism to implement even the recommendations made by the LLRC.
All these had to be done because the previous government failed to implement a credible system. They failed to keep to their end of the bargain. In 2009, the UN said they welcomed the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights and encouraged it to combine and continue to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law.
They also welcomed the resolve of the Sri Lankan authorities to begin a broader dialog with all parties in order to enhance the process of political settlement and to bring about lasting peace.
But in the end nothing happened, that is why this resolution was brought in.
Q. The draft resolution calls on the GOSL to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Constitution. How would you interpret it?
A. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who spoke about a 13 plus. What the new resolution calls for is not about a plus. They say that power should be devolved to the provinces for them to carry out their administrative duties effectively. There is no mention of power sharing either.
Then the report also states that the provincial councils should discuss with the central government and come up with strategies that will enable them to function effectively. According to resolution recommendations, everything should be done with the approval and in consultation with the central government.
Q. However there are some parties who still say that granting the powers to the provinces is a greatest betrayal according to the 13thamendment. Is this so?
A. If this is a betrayal, then why did they go there and claim that they were controlling these provinces through remote control? Gammanpila and the JVP also worked in these provinces and got all the benefits and perks. If they are given the opportunity to benefit from these provinces, they will not hesitate to sing the praises of the whole process. This is just hypocritical.
Q. The new government waged a huge campaign against crimes and corruption, but so far there is no tangible outcome. What is your party’s take on this?
A. We are planning on taking drastic action. We changed the government, yet we have not yet changed the corrupt system. We need not to come up with measures to change the whole system that allows for corrupt practices. The ministries and all the institutions need to be free of corruption and malpractices. The whole social system need to be overhauled. This takes time, but we will certainly do it in the future according to the wishes of the people. Just give us some time.