By Shamindra Ferdinando
Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday stressed that foreign participation in a judicial inquiry into alleged accountability issues during eelam war IV would be contrary to the Constitution.
Therefore, there was absolutely no likelihood of foreign participation in the proposed judicial process scheduled to be launched in accordance with a resolution adopted unanimously in Geneva last October.
Minister Samarasinghe was responding to a query by The Island at a media briefing at the Information Department yesterday.
Former Human Rights Minister Samarasinghe said UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had expressed satisfaction at the progress made by Sri Lanka since the January 2015 presidential polls. Hussein was here in February.
Hussein succeeded Navi Pillay in Sept. 2014. Minister Samarasinghe said that Hussein’s statement in respect of the situation here had been really supportive of Sri Lanka when compared with the statements issued by his predecessors, Louise Arbour and Pillay during the war and after respectively.
When The Island pointed out that Hussein had called for further decrease of military strength in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, immediate release of land currently held as well as foreign participation in the judicial process, Minister Samarasinghe said that deployment of troops and military assets was the prerogative of the government.
Minister Samarasinghe said President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as the Defence Minister and the National Security Council would decide on such matters.
In answer to another question on Hussein’s call for foreign participation in the judicial process for want of a credible local mechanism, Minister Samarasinghe pointed out that President Maithripala Sirisena had ruled that out. There couldn’t be any ambiguity whatsoever in respect of President Maithripala Sirisena’s stand, the Minister said.
Minister Samarasinghe asserted that the international community was far more interested in a credible investigation than foreign participation.
The minister said there couldn’t be any problem with regard to foreign technical assistance. The Maxwell Paranagama Commission has recommended both technical assistance as well as international observers in case the government established purely a domestic war crimes investigation mechanism.
Minister Samarasinghe said that calls for international investigations had been made in respect of war crimes allegations in the wake of the previous government being accused of interfering with judiciary.
Recollecting lies propagated by a section of the Tamil Diaspora during the previous administration, Minister Samarasinghe stressed that the Sri Lankan State hadn’t under any circumstances deliberately targeted civilians. The Vanni offensive could have been brought to a successful conclusion much quicker if the military didn’t take the civilian factor into consideration, the minister said.
However, Sri Lanka couldn’t ignore its responsibility to investigate allegations in respect of individual or atrocities committed by a group of people, Minister Samarasinghe said. In fact, the failure on the part of the State to probe allegations was inimical to the military, the minister said.
Minister Samarasinghe said there hadn’t been any reference to Sri Lanka at the ongoing sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). However, Prince Hussein was expected to refer to Sri Lanka when he addressed the council tomorrow, Minister Samarasinghe said, adding that the situation here would be discussed in June this year and March next year.
Samarasinghe said President Maithripala Sirisena had been able to win back confidence of the Western powers and India through a change of foreign policy.
National List MP Samarasinghe said that the previous government had caused itself serious harm by pursuing the wrong foreign policy. Without referring to China, Minister Samarasinghe asserted that unannounced submarine visit to the Colombo Port had caused unnecessary friction. Such visits had been inimical to Sri Lanka’s interests, Minister Samarasinghe said, underscoring the pivotal importance of having friendly relations with all countries.
Asked by The Island whether Western powers would have taken such a hostile stand if the previous government had succumbed to their pressure to halt the Vanni offensive, Minister Samarasinghe said that many countries had backed Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism.
The previous government wouldn’t have incurred the wrath of Western powers had it addressed post-war issues properly, Minister Samarasinghe said. Unfortunately, the previous administration had neglected its responsibility, Samarasinghe said.