by Waruni Karunarathne
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Is the SLFP fully content with the UNHRC resolution, or do you have any areas of concern?
A: When compared to the situation that the country underwent earlier, we are very satisfied. After the war, India, America, and European countries were against us. They put a lot of pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate matters related to alleged human rights abuses and various other concerns related to the war.
Soon after the war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rushed to Sri Lanka. After his visit to Kilinochchi, he came back to Colombo to issue a joint statement with the Sri Lankan government. We agreed to have a proper inquiry into the issues raised and do the needful, but we failed to deliver that agreement. As a result, they appointed the Darusman Commission.
When its report was out, we completely rejected it. We appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to do away with that report. When the LLRC report was out, we ignored its recommendations as well. Then the UN passed their first resolution against Sri Lanka. We made many promises at that point, but we once again failed to deliver those promises. Then they passed the US sponsored resolution against us in Geneva. Then we appointed the Udalagama Commission and thereafter, another Commission under Maxwell Paranagama.
The reports of those commissions have not yet been presented. We are expecting those reports in parliament anytime soon. Due to these failures, Sri Lanka underwent lot of harassments – the EU withdrew GSP Plus and imposed a ban on Sri Lanka’s fisheries products. After the January 8 Election the situation changed.
President Sirisena developed good diplomatic relationships with India, America, and Europe. Now all these countries and the UN trust our leader and the government. They are ready to work with our country and negotiate with us. The President managed to postpone the UN report due in March till September this year.
If that report was released, it would have been bad for the reputation of our country and our leaders. Even this time, the report was fairly tough. America came forward and discussed with Sri Lanka and other countries – and they came out with a joint resolution which respects the Sri Lankan Constitution, the unitary status of the country and the sovereignty. It allows us to develop our own mechanism to investigate these issues. It is a great victory to the country.
Q: Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva has said the implementation of the UNHRC resolution will be problematic. What is your opinion about that claim?
A: True. It is complicated. But Sri Lanka is free to develop the mechanism best suit the country. President Sirisena has made a statement calling for an all party conference, religious leaders, intellectuals, and educated people in this country to support developing this new mechanism. He said he will develop it in consultation with all these segments of our country. He also said he is ready to discuss with the UNHRC if we have any problem with the resolution. He strongly believes that he can solve the UN issues amicably with the support of America and other countries.
Q: Former President Rajapaksa has also issued a statement criticising the proposed mechanism saying that it is supported by foreign powers and funds. There seems to be a multitude of opinions within the SLFP on the resolution. Does it mean that SLFP members stand on different grounds?
A: Some of our SLFP members do not even agree with the idea of this joint government we have formed with the UNP. Some members are still support the views of the former President. Probably, many of those in his camp may not agree with the UN resolution as well. What we have observed at present is that many countries including India, America, and Europe are now having a better relationship with us, and those countries, the UN and UN officials are ready to collaborate with us and support us. We believe that we can establish our own mechanism to give justice to our people as well as to address these internationally raised concerns.
Q: Many including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) reject taking any assistance from foreign countries and experts for the domestic mechanism. Do you think Sri Lanka should allow the intervention of foreign countries in the domestic matter?
A: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also used foreign experts in the commissions established internally during the previous regime. We have taken assistance of the foreign experts for the Udalagama Commission – we sought support of experts from America, India, Australia, Ireland, and Indonesia. Paranagama Commission also sought assistance of high profile international judges, lawyers, and experts to look into the international laws and inquiries. At that point, nobody raised their voice against bringing foreign experts. Why is it wrong for the government to get the support of the foreign experts now? What we truly want is to free our war heroes from the allegations levelled against them and punish those who have committed wrong.
What the UN resolution suggests us is also more or less a similar nature of foreign support. They clearly tell us to implement the LLRC recommendations that we are content with. They ask us to implement a domestic mechanism with the support of the international experts and look into several main areas that include truth seeking, justice, reparation, and non-recurrence; they allow us to do all that on our terms with the consent of our parliament. We cannot expect more than that from them.
Q: You referred to the commissions established during the previous regime to look into the alleged human right abuses and war crime as failures. Don’t you also share the blame as you were part of the previous government?
A: That is true. I recall that India brought forth a few small proposals when America was planning to table the second resolution in the UN against us. They requested us to advance the dates of the Northern election, appoint two civilians as governors in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces and to appoint a commission to address land and police issues. But the former President did not want to agree on those terms. We tried to get him to agree but we couldn’t.
Q: Is it entirely the fault of the former President and his unwillingness to listen to the advices of his party members?
A: Mainly, that is the reason. He is the one who appointed the LLRC, but he did not implement any of its recommendations. He is the one who agreed to have the Darusman Commission, but he is the very person who rejected it later. His unwillingness to come to agreement antagonised the other countries. The new President is taking a complete opposite direction.
Q: What makes you confident about the new mechanism yet to be established?
Through such actions, we challenged the UN and world powers. We are a very small country, and they gradually pressed us by withdrawing GSP Plus, imposing bans on our fisheries products and launching an investigation on Sri Lanka and so on. The report of that UN investigation is one sided as it was produced as per the evidence given by LTTE members, LTTE sympathizers and Tamil Diaspora groups etc. Our military did not bomb schools, hospitals and refugee camps, or killed civilians. The LTTE did all that destructions. Even those innocent Tamils who were used as Prabhakaran’s human shield were saved by our military to a great extent.There may have been instances of mistake – that happens in any war situation. We even saved Prabhakaran’s mother and father. We do not have to be concerned about this investigation.
This is an opportunity for us to prove that our war heroes are free of various allegations levelled against them. Among them, there may be two or three who may have committed some crimes like rape – they have to be punished. In general, no harm will come to those war heroes and those military commanders. The President has vouched for that and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also given his assurance in this regard.