By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris on Sunday alleged that the ongoing high profile Geneva exercise spearheaded by Western powers was clearly meant to divide the country on ethnic lines.
Their real objective was to bring in constitutional changes to achieve what Prof. Peiris called despicable objective.
The former Law Professor was addressing a group of professionals at Nugegoda on Sunday evening. Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was also present. Arranged by Viyathmaga, an organisation seeking to educate the public regarding contentious issues, the forum discussed ways and means countering the Geneva challenge.
Prof. Peiris said a statement made by Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran on behalf of the four party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at a Congressional hearing in Washington on June 14 and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Prince Al-Hussein’s 38-point report on Sri Lanka had exposed their strategy.
The top Joint Opposition spokesperson read the relevant section from MP Sumanthiran’s statement released by the TNA to justify accusations directed at the Geneva process. Prof. Peiris quoted Sumanthiran as having said: If you ask me about international involvement in the accountability process, as far as I know the Government has not said ‘no’ to international involvement. All the multiple voices that you talk about say ‘international involvement – yes, but not judges’. Now I take great exception to that, because as I said at the beginning, the text of the 2015 Resolution is a negotiated text. We asked for (an) international inquiry, and we settled for a hybrid model. So that was negotiated with the Government of Sri Lanka. And having compromised and settled to a model which in the Resolution doesn’t merely say hybrid but explains in detail judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators, it obviously means judge qua judges, prosecutors qua prosecutors, so on and so forth. So it does not mean (for) judges to be advisors or judges to be involved in some other capacity. And that was well understood. I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the Government now to shift its stance and say ‘well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now…’. That is not acceptable to us at all.”
Comparing the ongoing process of constitutional reforms and previous constitutional making efforts, The Rhodes Scholar pointed out that the primary differernce was nothing but an extremely high level foreign intervention.
Prof. Peiris said that statements issued by Sumanthiran and Al-Hussein should be compared carefully. According to the former External Affairs Minister who had been involved in Geneva deliberations during the previous administration, Prince Al-Hussein’s statement dealt with three major issues, namely transitional justice, accountability and post-war national reconciliation here.
The Geneva process targeted the war winning military, sought to weaken their morale, promoted new opinion on devolution and agressively pushed for new cultural values.
The former Visiting Fellow of both Cambridge and London universities alleged that the entire Geneva process had been directed at the previous political leadership and the military. The Geneva project wanted Sri Lanka to introduce new laws to try those who had been accused of atrocities, special courts with foreign judges and administrative measures meant to sideline or remove officers and men who couldn’t be dealt through controversial legal process, Prof. Peiris pointed out.
Emphasizing that foreign judges couldn’t participate in the proposed judicial process under any circumstances, Prof. Peiris said that special process always undermined genuine justice system. Prof. Peiris recollected the way the then JRJ government had deprived Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civic rights.
Having accepted foreign judges and other international experts, on the basis of that there was reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan military committed mass scale atrocities during eelam war IV, both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe however in Colombo rejected foreign judges, Prof. Peiris said. Now, MP Sumanthiran had very clearly condradicted them, the former Colombo Ditrict MP said.
Referring to recent media reports pertaining to a dozen countries demanding that Sri Lanka fully implemented the Geneva resolution, Prof. Peiris said that there was no requirement as the Yahapalana government not only endorsed the resolution, it co-sponsored it.
Recollecting Sri Lanka’s stand in Geneva during the Rajapaksa administration, Prof. Peiris said that the government strongly resisted Western interventions through the Geneva-based body. Prof. Peiris stressed that the Rajapaksa government courageoulsy stood for Sri Lanka’s rights, though the Yahapalana rulers seemed to be hell-bent on appeasing those wanting to undermine post-war stability here.
The internationally recognised law academic said that it wasn’t fair only to blame Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. President Maithripala Sirisena couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility of causing unprecedented crisis by inviting foreign intervention.
Prof. Peiris expressed shock and dismay over some of the recommendations made by Prince Al-Hussein in the guise of implementing his human rights mandate. The section 9 of 38-point propoposal called for the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defence policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement, Prof. Peiris pointed out. The Geneva resolution had even intervened in the duties and responibilities of parliament, the former law professor said. Prof. Peiris expressed serious concern over the Geneva push for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms, including the criminalisation of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel in the proposed new Constitution.
Prof. Peiris said that Al-Hussein had unfairingly accused the military of holding onto land belonging to northern civilians. The section 13 dealt with the issue of the role of the military in the Northern and Eastern Provinces without taking into consideration the overall picture, Prof. Peiris said.
The former External Affairs Minister pointed out the absurdity in Al-Hussein’s objections explained in section 15 in respect of the arrest of former members of the LTTE under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) from 2015 till so far this year. The Geneva concerns should be examined against the backdrop of recent bombings in France and hostage crisis in Dhaka, the former minister said. The Western powers obviously didn’t care to appreciate the efforts made by security authorities to avert possible fresh attacks, Prof. Peiris said.
Prof Peiris asserted that the following sections directly interfered with domestic affairs, namely (section 16) called for further sharp decrease of northern military presence (section 18) rapid prosecution of selected cases (section 19) swift legal action against those in the military allegedly responsible for sexual violence (section 22) speed up judicial reforms with the focus on comprehensive transitional justice agenda, incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures (section 28) establishment of Office of Missing Persons with wide powers (section 32) inclusion of foreign judges (section 33) fresh probe on alleged use of cluster ammunition and (section 34) denial of opportunity to serve under UN command unless officers and men passed stringent vetting process.