Q: What efforts were carried out by the Mission to lobby support against the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka?
The Mission to the United Nations, along with other Sri Lanka Missions elsewhere, including in Geneva, worked hard to lobby support against the US sponsored resolution at the Human Rights Council (HRC). As you are aware, ministerial delegations visited capitals in the month leading up to the resolution. In New York, a number of delegations gave us assurances that they will report sympathetically to their capitals on the representations made by us. We are aware that the United States, using its extensive reach, lobbied both in Geneva and New York and in capitals. But of course, the final decisions were made in capitals.
Q: What was different in Geneva this year, as opposed to the special session in May 2009, What factors do you think, in terms of the delegation and the foreign policy direction of the country, have changed since that time?
The composition of the HRC was different this year compared to May 2009. The United States, the one remaining super-power, pulled out all stops in its efforts to have the resolution adopted. A small developing country, like Sri Lanka, simply does not possess the resource base to counter the Untied States. The selective application of global standards clearly disadvantages small developing countries and brings into disrepute organizations such as the HRC.
Sri Lanka and the UN, in the aftermath of the resolution
Q: How will Sri Lanka's engagement with the UN, change in the aftermath of the resolution?
I personally do not think that there is a need for Sri Lanka to change its engagement with the United Nations in the aftermath of the resolution. Sri Lanka has consistently over the years worked to advance the goals of the UN. The UN is a body consisting of 193 countries and the HRC consists of 47 countries. The vast majority are developing countries and many have similar challenges as Sri Lanka, as do many who adopted a holier than thou approach. We should continue to work with friendly countries to improve the UN system, to prevent it becoming a tool in the hands of some countries and to establish genuinely common goals. We must continue to reach out to those who thought that a country specific resolution at the HRC, however innocuous looking, was the best way to deal with the perceived situation in Sri Lanka.
Q: Was there a visible change in the atmosphere in New York after the passing of the resolution? What communication did you receive from other Permanent Missions there?
The reactions in New York to the HRC resolution on Sri Lanka, ranged from disbelief to mild bemusement. Some considered that the resolution was superfluous and redundant as Sri Lanka had already stated in Parliament, in late December 2011, that the recommendations of the LLRC would be implemented and only a mere ten weeks had elapsed since the Report was tabled in the House. To expect a poor, under resourced, country to start deploying its limited resources to implement the Report, to the exclusion of all else, within such a short period, was considered unrealistic. No other country, even in the developed world, had been required to do so. Was this reflective of a petty and vindictive attitude? The precedent that this Resolution set was also considered dangerously unmanageable. It was country specific and designed to name and shame for alleged historical infractions. It breached a hallowed principle permitting domestic processes to be exhausted first and interfered in a domestic process which was just beginning to gather pace; It reawakened painful memories which will in all likelihood rekindle the bitterness and the extremism that the 27 year terrorist conflict engendered and which the government was beginning to succeed in addressing; It was selective and discriminatory (In other instances, the USA has used the veto 32 times in the Security Council); It sent an encouraging message to terrorists around the world (i.e. for defeating terrorism, a government was likely to be hauled over the coals, not the terrorists) and it gave the rump LTTE and its fellow travelers a cost free victory. Most importantly, some asked, given that the HRC thought it appropriate to delve in to alleged historical infractions, where the historical line would be drawn. Would it mean that now members of the HRC would feel at liberty to promote resolutions into the conduct of the coalition forces in Afghanistan (Ed. Note - according to Wikileaks over 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed and not accounted for in the first three years of the war! Wikileaks quote soldiers' reports of night raids designed to take out suspected enemy combatants or the ongoing brutal treatment of prisoners even after the Abu Graib scandal!); the Vietnam War (the dousing of Vietnam with Agent Orange which still causes deformities in children, or the dropping of over 250,000 tons of bombs on neutral Laos), or even the Korean War (No Gun Ri massacre was mentioned) or the Second World War (Churchill, Roosevelt and de Gaulle decided at a meeting in Casablanca in January 1943 to bomb civilian targets in Germany). Some, especially those who voted for the resolution, thought that it was helpful as it only required the implementation of the LLRC report and encouraged the High Commissioner to extend assistance in consultation and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government. In any event, the resolution is not legally binding and previous country specific resolutions have been ignored by the target countries.
Q: In light of the passing of the US sponsored resolution in Geneva, how will Sri Lanka's foreign policy towards the US change?
A country does not, and should not, change its foreign policy on an ad-hoc basis. A wide range of factors, in particular long term interests, must be taken into account in developing a country's foreign policy. However, it is salient to remember that the United States, a long-standing friend, considered it necessary to pursue this resolution with unmitigated ferocity against Sri Lanka despite all the facts presented, and arguments mustered to dissuade it. The facts that we placed on the table were disregarded. While it was said that the resolution was designed to encourage Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the LLRC and to achieve meaningful reconciliation and accountability, was it really necessary to put a friend on the mat to make this point, especially since the consensus among many was that Sri Lanka had done more in two and a half years to address reconciliation and accountability issues than any other country in similar circumstances. Western concepts of reconciliation, based on socio-religious imperatives, may not necessarily apply in a culture like ours. It is a basic principle in equity that those who come to justice must come with clean hands. Is this true if the United States or many of those countries which co-sponsored the resolution? It is also important to remember that certain countries voted on-bloc against Sri Lanka and the same countries ritually vote together in UN fora when developing countries are targeted or to protect certain others. It is also important that many countries, particularly in the Asian regional group, stood bySri Lanka despite the enormous pressure heaped on them. They upheld principle in a proud manner.
Q: What do you think was the purpose of the US bringing this vote against Sri Lanka?
It is difficult to rationalize the thinking behind the United States resolution. The two countries have enjoyed warm relations for a long time. My hope is that the United States will reassess its position and work with Sri Lanka to mend fences.
Foreign policy shift away from Europe
Q: The External Affairs Ministry has decided to shift its focus from Europe to Latin America and Africa. Will this not add greater pressure on the Missions in Europe? As a former Foreign Secretary to you not think that in light of this failure of the foreign policy of Sri Lanka the focus should be to strengthen and consolidate our presence in Europe?
Sri Lanka certainly needs to strengthen its presence in Africa and Latin America. We have common interests and significant historical links with many countries in these two regions due to our association with the Non-aligned Movement and the G-77 and China. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike is still fondly remembered in many places due to her role in the formative years of NAM. Our long standing cultural links must be used to strengthen our impact in Asia. This is an opportunity for us to re-focus attention to the countries of Africa and Latin America. It is certainly not as important, in my view, to be represented in a number of European countries which tend to follow the EU line anyway.
Q: There is a public opinion that the presence of Major General Shavendra Silva due to his involvement in the war, at the Mission in New York puts undue pressure on the Mission during a sensitive period. What are your comments on this?
I do not think that the presence of Maj. General Shavendra Silva adds any undue pressure on the Mission.
Q: As a career diplomat, what is your view on the number of political appointments not just as heads of Missions, but also as lower level officials to Mission abroad?
Almost all foreign services around the world add new blood through lateral recruitment. In our region, Malaysia and Singapore follow this approach. Australia and New Zealand do the same. I am aware that in some of these countries recruitment from external sources, including the private sector, takes place at every level through competitive processes. The objective is to strengthen the Foreign Service by infusing new blood, new vigor, experiences and a broader understanding of issues critical to the national interest.