In the wake of controversy involving human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias and allegations of extremism, Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe spoke to Daily Mirror responding to allegations against him. Excerpts of the interview :
- Action initiated to disbar lawyer Lakshan Dias
- I associate myself with statement by Asgiriya Chapter
- Not included in SL delegation after that, do not know what happened
- Majority religion, culture feel threatened by NGO and extremists’ activities
- Informed UNHRC that hybrid court unconstitutional in Sri Lanka during initial talks
- Most NGOs act with objectives detrimental to national interests, reconciliation
- Mentally retarded Muslim, Sinhala MPs make allegations against me involving Ven. Gnanasara Thera
- Unity government a good experience
- Every government has its pluses and minuses
- NGO fellows have no public support
Q There is controversy surrounding your statement, disputing the figure representing the attacks on Christian religious places of worship. You even vowed to act to disbar lawyer Lakshan Dias who presented the figure. What is the next step?
Action has to be taken in this regard in terms of the Judicature Act. This particular lawyer told a blatant lie. It is an affront to the dignity of the legal profession. It even sowed discord, affecting reconciliation among different communities in the country. The Supreme Court will examine the matter and decide on his future. I have already taken necessary steps in this respect.
Q There were some NGOs, civil society movements and individuals behind the installation of the ‘Yahapalana government’. They seem to have thrown their weight behind this lawyer. You are also part of this government. How do you face the situation?
We are not ready to allow anyone to act in a manner detrimental to the national interests and the country’s sovereignty, merely because he or she worked or voted for the government.
Q These NGOs and groups appear to be active under the present government. What is your view?
They have been very active under every government. When they sense a change of any incumbent government, they throw their weight behind the emerging force ahead of the elections. Then they try to become heroes soon after the formation of the government, staking a claim for it. This organization called ‘Purawesi Balaya’, boasts of playing a role in the formation of the government. It cannot get even10,000 votes single-handed, in reality. They cannot get even a member elected to a local authority. Wickramabahu Karunaratne has been in politics for such long years. Yet, he cannot get elected even to a local body. Though these NGO fellows crow over, they do not have public support. We are the ones elected by the people. We command their support. These elements always try to project a chaotic image of the country, as a point to raise funds internationally in terms of US dollars. They depend on dollars.
Q The need to regulate NGO activities has been in the debate for a long time. Once, a Parliamentary Select Committee also looked into it. Some NGOs that remained barred during the previous rule are active again. Do you advocate the position that NGO activities should be regulated in this scenario?
That should happen necessarily. We do not pinpoint all the NGOs in our criticism. We find that a few NGOs engage in their activities with genuine interest to serve the people and the country at large. Numerically, they are very small. Most NGOs act with objectives seriously detrimental to the national interests. They have become a hindrance to national reconciliation and religious harmony. They even fiddle funds raised with the promise to serve the people otherwise. The government has paid heed to the need for regulation of their activities.
Q As the Justice Minister, have you initiated any action?
Actually, I cannot take the lead in this case. It is not a subject coming under my purview. It is a matter coming under the purview of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Minister Mano Ganesan. We will discuss it with him soon.
Q You have become a lone voice in the government on certain matters. You come under attack from those in the government. Alongside them, you are attacked by your own party members such as Minister Sarath Fonseka. How comfortable are you in the government?
I am quite comfortable. It is a personal slander against me. But in truth, they harp on reality on the ground. It is not I who is being criticised in the end. I was slandered when I was critical of the Hambantota Port deal. But it amounts to a slander on the whole country. When I talked about ISIS, I was subjected to a scathing attack. I spoke of the reality in the country only. When I mentioned ISIS in Parliament, some Muslim Ministers turned uproariously against me. However, the Prime Minister went to India and affirmed what I said about it. Then, nobody shouted. That is the reality. It is not criticism levelled at the Muslim community as a whole.The people should know the truth. They are entitled to it.
Most NGOs act with objectives seriously detrimental to the national interests. They have become a hindrance to national reconciliation and religious harmony. They even fiddle funds raised with the promise to serve the people otherwise
Q Do you see a real threat from ISIS to Sri Lanka?
There is no such threat to Sri Lanka. What I said was about the involvement of some locals in ISIS activities. It shows the need to take preemptive action in the future. That’s it. I do not brand the entire Muslim community as ISIS. During the JVP insurrection, it was Sinhalese youths who were involved in the armed struggle. We did not brand the entire Sinhala community as terrorists at the time. The LTTE was named a terrorist outfit but not the entire Tamil community. This has to be understood in the proper sense.
Q You are the Minister in charge of Buddha Sasana. We hear remarks from different quarters that the majority religion and culture are threatened by the activities of some extremist elements. Is this true?
That actually exists. The activities of these extremist organizations and some NGOs have created fears that the majority religion of this country is faced with a threat.
Q You slammed the UNHRC report and accused the former UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Monica Pinto of falling prey to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) when compiling a report on Sri Lanka. How do you see the UNHRC resolution adopted on Sri Lanka against this backdrop?
It was adopted some time ago. When the resolution was in the initial stage, I also attended official talks. I pointed out certain aspects. I informed both the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and the delegation from the United States in writing that a hybrid court, with the participation of international judicial personnel, was not realistic under the Constitution of Sri Lanka. I gave my legal opinion in this regard and requested them not to include anything in the resolution that would contravene the constitutional provisions here.
Q Regardless of your legal advice, it has been included. Not only that, Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution even. What is your response?
Afterwards, I was not included in the Sri Lankan delegations. I have no idea of what was done by Sri Lankan delegates since then.
When I mentioned ISIS in Parliament, some Muslim Ministers turned against me. However, the PM went to India and affirmed what I said about it
Q You are accused of giving protection to the Bodu Bala Sena monk Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera. What have you to say about it?
That accusation has been made by a few mentally retarded Muslim and Sinhala Ministers. During the period concerned, I was not even in the country. I was out for three weeks. He surrendered to court a few days ago. If he wanted to be in hiding, he would not have done so. A desperate set of people make such allegations against me. It is not only Ven. Gnanasara Thera but many others who take time to seek legal redress whenever they are confronted with issues. If he actually intended absconding courts, he would not have surrendered at any stage.
Q Recently, the Asgiriya Chapter issued a statement. It said that though the manner in which Ven. Gnanasara Thera conducted himself was unacceptable, there was substance in the questions he raised. What is your position on this statement?
I also associated myself with the stand taken by the Asgiriya Chapter. That is also my opinion. We do not condone the way he conducts himself. However, there is substance in what he says that there is a threat to national security and interests.
Q How long can you be in this government amidst attacks from all quarters?
I believe I can proceed with the government. These ministerial posts are worth nothing to me in terms of monetary gains. Ministerial positions matter as long as one can serve the country and its people at large. I was offered a ministerial post during the time of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. I declined to accept it. During the time of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, I chucked up my post after five months. Whoever is President or Prime Minister, a ministerial post is important for one to act with conscience and to serve in the greater interests of the country. For me the country is foremost.
Q Do you pursue politics even without ministerial perks?
I do not do politics as my profession. By profession, I am a lawyer. I take part in politics as a social service only.
Q But will you engage in politics without perks?
I will do it as long as I can. I will continue to do whatever I can.
Q There is speculation that you are building ties with the political camp headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. How do you respond to this?
There should be reason for such speculation. What is the reason?
Q You are heavily critical of things happening under the government. Then, you are also countered by those in the government. How do you respond?
It is the responsibility of those in the government to get on track when and wherever necessary. If someone interprets it from a different angle, it is his problem. I act according to my conscience. There is no need for me to deviate from it.
Q What is your assessment on the current political situation?
The government is not facing a crisis situation as such, quite contrary to the picture projected by the media. The situation will change for the better. There is a unique situation where several parties have got together for governance. We will resolve the issues at hand and proceed.
What I said was about the involvement of some locals in ISIS activities. It shows the need to take preemptive action in the future. That’s it. I do not brand the entire Muslim community as ISIS. During the JVP insurrection, it was Sinhalese youths who were involved in the armed struggle
Q The unity government has been there for two years. What do you think of this experience?
It is good. No government is perfect. Every government has pluses and minuses. We have acted with optimism for the last couple of years compared with the previous rule. There are some unpleasant aspects also. There are concerns about some having scant regard for collective Cabinet responsibility. If we speak the truth, there is media freedom today. In the past, there was virtually dictatorship.