Asking Tamil victims and witnesses to give evidence without the provision of protection

Hopeful Lanka Will Get A Fair Chance – Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena

Asking victims and witnesses to give evidence without the provision of protection may indeed be irresponsible in cases where they face the possibility of being re-victimised or becoming victims in their own right for living up to their duty to give evidence. For this reason, the Bill for the Assistance and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses (the “Draft Bill”) 2 by the Law Commission of Sri Lanka is a welcome development in the sphere of rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena addressed the issues raised by some parties pertaining to this bill.

Excerpts of the interview:

By Camelia Nathaniel

Q. How effective will the witness protection bill be and will it serve the purpose?

A. If a person comes forward to give evidence and he or she is threatened then the democratic process is badly hindered. So the purpose of the witness protection bill is to protect these persons. The laws we have currently is not sufficient to protect witnesses and that is why this bill was drafted to ensure the democratic process in the judiciary. 

Q. How do you feel about the suspicions and fears expressed by some of the Tamil parties?

A. They are looking at everything in a suspicious manner and the problem is they still believe that they are not part of this country. We believe however that all these parties are part of our nation and whatever laws that are enacted will apply to every citizen of this country. Therefore I don’t see any reasons for them to worry unless there are some political reasons behind their objections. 

Q. Does this mean that people can now even give evidence before UN led investigations and still be eligible for protection under this bill?

A. Well international investigations are not covered by this bill and it will only cover those giving evidence within our territorial boundaries. We certainly cannot afford them the same protection outside. 

Q. Sri Lanka was hopeful that the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein will take a more unbiased stand on Sri Lanka, but he has stated that he too backs Navi Pillay’s stand on Sri Lanka. In this context can Sri Lanka expect anything different?

A. Well no successor will admit that his or her predecessor has made mistakes. But we believe that we still can submit our case to the newly appointed UN High Commissioner and we are convinced that he is not biased like the former High Commissioner.  Therefore we are hopeful that Sri Lanka will get a fair chance at the hearings. 

1188Q. The main allegations by the Diaspora are that the government is not committed to reconciliation. How fair do you feel this allegation is?

A. How can they say that the government is not committed when it is these parties who have always declined the government’s hand of friendship. The government has invited them to participate in numerous efforts to find solutions to their concerns but in all these instances it is these parties who run to the international arena and complain that they are not treated fairly.

None of these parties have ever given the government a chance. They are just blaming the government but the fact of the matter is that it is they who are using this situation for petty gains. These parties are prejudiced and they decide even without consulting the government that we are not committed. But it is not fair to blame the government. So far they have never come out with their problems or solutions. 

Q. One of the other allegations by the Diaspora is that the government is trying to change the demography of the North and East by settling people from outside the area. How would you respond to this allegation?

A. It is not the government but the LTTE who tried to change the demography of the North and East by chasing away the Muslims and the Sinhalese. All the Muslims were chased out from the East and many of them were killed. The government is only trying to resettle those who lost their homes during the conflict. These people were forced out of their residences in the east within 24 hours.

These people too have the right to live in their original villages just like the Tamils. However the atrocities committed by the LTTE has not been raised or discussed at any international forum.

This is ironic because these very people are trying to safeguard the LTTE who committed a lot of crimes and blame the government for liberating the country.