By Shamindra Ferdinando
Dismissing much touted accusations regarding the massacre of over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front during 2009, Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe accused the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council of relentlessly pursuing a political agenda.
Minister Samarasinghe called the Geneva body a political outfit.
The Minister accused the 47-member body of being selective in its approach towards the accountability issues. The National List MP was on MTV news-line on Thursday morning.
Samarasinghe held the human rights portfolio in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and represented the previous administration at regular Geneva sessions.
Asked whether unprecedented consensus on US resolution which dealt with Sri Lanka meant the government had accepted the claims regarding over 40,000 civilian killings, Minister Samarasinghe insisted that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations. Minister Samarasinghe said that wartime UN spokesperson here Gordon Weiss had propagated the lie regarding 40,000 civilian deaths. The minister alleged that Weiss’ unsubstantiated allegation had been repeated by UNSG Ban ki-moon’s panel of experts tasked with inquiring into accountability issues.
Responding to another query, Minister Samarasinghe pointed out that Tamil speaking public officials on behalf of the Department of Census and Statistics had conducted a comprehensive survey at the conclusion of the war to ascertain the number of dead and other related data.
Asked whether he would have recommended a halt to Vanni offensive in the wake of the then President Rajapaksa earning the wrath of Western powers for pursuing the military option, Minister Samarasinghe said that the US provided critically important intelligence. India, too, supported the campaign, the minister said, acknowledging that the international community strongly pushed for tangible measures to protect civilians. The minister said that there had been a special joint committee comprising senior representatives of the then government, including himself and top diplomats tasked with looking after the interests of those living under LTTE control.
The minister said that there had been heated moments due to some proposals made by the expatriates not being accepted. Differences over such issues had caused ill feeling towards the then government, the minister said, emphasizing that their primary responsibility at that time was nothing but annihilation of the LTTE.
While reiterating to inquire into allegations during the war as well as the post- conflict period and punish those responsible regardless of their status, Minister Samarasinghe insisted that there had never been a deliberate policy to harm Tamil speaking people. The minister strongly denied accusations that civilians had been intentionally targeted in accordance with state policy.
Commenting on the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s foreign policy, Minister Samarasinghe said that Sri Lanka’s relationship with the top UN leadership as well as Western powers underwent a drastic change since the January presidential polls. While reiterating the need to sustain diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka’s traditional friends, such as China, Russia and Pakistan, Minister Samarasinghe underscored the need for close cooperation with Western powers in spite of them moving three successive Geneva resolutions targeting Sri Lanka in addition to various other adverse reports.
Minister Samarasinghe claimed that due to change of foreign policy Sri Lanka had been accommodated in a powerful club.
Responding to a query whether the former President couldn’t have had any other option than China for assistance, Minister Samarasinghe claimed that the former leader didn’t excise other avenues. Minister Samarasinghe quoted former President Rajapaksa as having said that obtaining Chinese financial or other assistance was easy due to absence of various institutional restrictions and obstacles. The former leader felt that the Chinese system had its advantages, therefore moved decisively in that direction.
Minister Samarasinghe said the Chinese role in the Hambantota port as well as Chinese submarine visits to Colombo caused ripples. Sri Lanka’s special relationship with China had resulted in troubles and undermined the administration.
The SLFPer said that the government, especially Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera worked hard to do away with the hybrid court and international investigation from the adopted Geneva resolution.
Minister Samarasinghe said that India reiterated its call for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution at the recently concluded Geneva session.
The minister said that the Indian move was anticipated as it was New Delhi’s baby.