The Minister of External Affairs, Professor G.L Peiris rejected the notion that the recent resolution against Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council was in fact a debacle. He defended the conduct of the Sri Lankan missions overseas and asserted that the resolution was not driven by reason and logic. Instead the Minister said that other political considerations played a pivotal role in the passing of the resolution.
What is your view on the most recent debacle in Geneva, if it may be termed so?
No, I would hesitate to use the term debacle because the fact of the matter is that the US were able to get less than half of the total number of votes in the Human Rights Council, although many quarters want to term it so. The total number is 47 and they ended up with only 23, here it is not a question of winning or losing, that is the wrong approach to look at this. Winning or losing is appropriate for an election between two candidates, but for this about the degree of support for the US resolution. Now what they were able to garner were less than half of the members of the Human Rights Council. And those who abstained also did not support the American point of view.
24 countries did not vote for the retention of operative paragraph ten and that is a fact, 24 countries did not want operative paragraph 10 and only 23 countries wanted it. Then on the resolution as a whole 23 countries voted for the resolution with 12 voting against and 12 abstaining, so that is 24 countries did not express support for the resolution and that is more than the countries which supported it. This is despite the fact that the UK and the US exerted insurmountable pressure on all other countries to vote for the resolution. Therefore I don’t think it could be described as a debacle. And also you have to understand the support for the resolution was not worldwide, that is why the US is wrong in saying that they had a ‘wide geographical spread’ which is certainly not true. Out of 13 countries in Asia only one supported the resolution, the African continent has 13 only 4 supported.
"The sponsors of this resolution are portraying that the resolution is a result of moral outrage. Now one of the most horrendous tragedies in recent history is the tragedy unfolding in the Chagos islands. Inhabitants of the Island are being uprooted and taken away by the British who want to sell the land to America."
Then if you look at the countries co- sponsoring, there were 36 countries which co- sponsored and of them 31 were in Europe and two were Canada and US. So 33 out of the 36 countries were from Europe and North America. The Human Rights Council is supposed to be a world body and that was not evident in this instance and therefore it detracts the moral legitimacy of this resolution.
But isn’t your logic flawed, as has been pointed out by certain parties regarding your analysis of the votes?
The Analogy used to attack that argument is an election. An election is a totally different matter. If X,Y and Z are contesting an election you can’t add the votes of Y and Z against X because that is an election to pick one out of 4 people. This is a total different situation, this is a proposal and it is not an election of an individual, rather, it is an agreement or disagreement with a proposal put forward. This analogy is totally flawed. The criticism is that in the case of an election in the country you account for those who abstained and who voted against in block against the person who won. In actual fact at an election you vote to elect a candidate but that is not the case when it comes to a voting for or against a proposal . Here is a proposal and the question is ‘have the majority agreed with the proposal or are they against the proposal’, it is a fact that the majority did not endorse the proposal. So can it then be convincingly argued that the majority supported the proposal? It cannot. Many people told me while I was in Geneva that this was the most polarised situation that they have seen in the Human Rights Council in recent times. The sharpness of the division was so great.
What about the African countries, your policy of expanding diplomatic relations to these nations seems to have failed isn’t it?
No, that is wrong, it is only 4 countries that voted for the resolution and that did not happen out of thin air and accidentally. Had we not developed those relationships with Africa the results would have been very different because many of the countries have close links with the US and Britain. They are the beneficiaries of huge aid programmes and the natural tendency would have been to go along with the US. There had to be compelling reasons for them to take a different view and there were three African countries which actually supported Sri Lanka- Algeria, Congo and Kenya and there were six African countries that abstained. So these six countries would not have adopted an abstention position had there not been significantly enhanced relations between Sri Lanka and the African continent. We have no doubt that the focus on Africa had yielded tangible dividend.
Is Sri Lanka not willing to concede in certain areas of the resolution and not aggressively denouncing it?
If we agree to what they want, none of this would have happened. But is that the right thing to do? Consider the structure in which this investigation has taken place. They are not satisfied because it has not given the particular result that they want. What else can you infer from the fact that Navi Pillay is heading this investigation? Can anybody believe that it will be a fair, impartial investigation? Navi Pillay said that Sri Lanka fought the war under the guise of terrorism. That means that there was no terrorism. When our permanent representative in Geneva brought this up with her, she was unaware of what she has said. Then one week after the war has ended, she called for an international investigation. Can such a person conduct an impartial inquiry? If the inquiry should be of any value, it should be conducted with an open mind. It is not fair if the person conducting the inquiry has already made up her mind. So, before the inquiry even started, we know what the conclusions are going to be. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is not to be blamed for this outcome. We must understand the true nature of this problem. They won’t do this to bigger, more powerful countries because they are afraid of the retaliation. With Sri Lanka, there are no consequences. Does the situation in Sri Lanka warrant the attention which is being paid to it? There is a very obvious lack of balance and proportion to this ‘spotlight’.
Apart from the call for accountability during the last stages of the war, don’t you think the other aspects of the resolution are justified given the fact that there in fact have been attacks on minorities, corruption, and the call for press freedom?
That was tactical on the part of the countries sponsoring the resolution. There was a constant shifting of ground in the early stages the focus was on the concluding stages of the war, but when we were able to refute that then they threw in these other issues what could be referred to as the ‘ contemporary narrative’. It consisted of a narrative that was filled with a fog of prejudice and that happened quite late in their campaign in Geneva. In fact in the last week or so. Take for example the focus on sexual violence. That is not only not supported by evidence but is in direct contravention of the OCHA survey that was conducted in the North. One of the questions in the questionnaire was ‘ do the female members of the household feel safe in the absence of a man’ and in some districts close to 85% of the females said yes , it is clear that whenever some evidence is favourable to Sri Lanka that is ignored. Then the Northern Provincial Council elections which were held resulting in a resounding victory for the TNA which were not held by four successive governments were not recognized.
"Then we were repeatedly asked if the government was going to publish the LLRC report."
But in the cases of violence against minority groups?
The judicial process has been working in all those instances. The suspects have been produced before the Magistrates and have been granted bail for bail to be granted there has to be judicial proceedings. In other instances the offences have been compounded- that is the complainants have said they wanted to compound.
There have also been serious allegations against the workings of our foreign missions itself where incompetent people were said to be at the helm of these missions which resulted in Sri Lanka facing this onslaught year after year?
Sri Lankan missions are doing their utmost in a difficult situation. Don’t forget that this is a David v Goliath situation and if it was a question of reason and logic then Sri Lankan missions can put forward a persuasive argument. But that isn’t the case, it is not reason and logic at all. Now take some of the criticisms, the Khuram Shaikh case is now being heard, there was this criticism that there was a delay and that the accused was not being brought to justice because he has political connections. This complaint was made over and over again but the case is actually being heard in Colombo and not in Tangalle. Now how many people are aware that it took 20 years for justice to be done in the murder of the black man - Stephen Lawrence who was killed in London? It took 20 years for the case to be brought to courts. So what has the Sri Lankan missions got to do because there is no uniform process adopted in the diplomatic attacks? It is not a question of justice at all.
"Here is a proposal and the question is ‘have the majority agreed with the proposal or are they against the proposal’, it is a fact that the majority did not endorse the proposal."
Then we were repeatedly asked if the government was going to publish the LLRC report. We said we will publish it, and then I was asked if we were going to publish it in full, and I said yes because we had nothing to hide and we did because there was no desire to conceal anything. Now has the Chilcott report been published? It is now known that the reason given for the invasion of Iraq was false, it is known that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Now there is agitation in the UK but the publication of the report is being resisted by the government. So again is there fairness? Another aspect they are calling for is the issue of accountability. You must be aware that the government of Kenya has written to the British government asking for compensation for the atrocities that have been committed in their country, that is known as the Mao Mao massacre. What is the Kenyan government invoking? It is accountability and saying there should be no impunity and are asking for compensation. There is a very distinguished American Academic, Daniel Golhagen who describes the campaign against the Mao Mao as an example of elimination; that is the word he used. Because possibly more than 20,000 people were killed. So far no compensation have been given by the British Government. Now here is something very interesting, the Attorney General of the then British Administration in Kenya, Eric Griffth- Jones wrote to the then Governor of the empire suggesting to him that “ If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly”. Now where is the spotlight then? Cameron during his visit here said that he was going to flash the spotlight on Sri Lanka, but where is it in this instance? They want to ‘sin quietly’ and that is a very telling illustration.
"Then on the resolution as a whole 23 countries voted for the resolution with 12 voting against and 12 abstaining, so that is 24 countries did not express support for the resolution and that is more than the countries which supported it"
The sponsors of this resolution are portraying that the resolution is a result of moral outrage. Now one of the most horrendous tragedies in recent history is the tragedy unfolding in the Chagos islands. Inhabitants of the Island are being uprooted and taken away by the British who want to sell the land to America. Now there was a communication to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Britain that there was a similar island in the vicinity of Chagos with no inhabitants and they could sell this instead of Chagos. But the FCO rejected the proposal completely saying that the sea beds of the other island is replete with a rare specie of turtle and it is a breeding ground for them. The concern for the FCO was that in the event they propose the sale of the other island, large groups of Environmental Lobbyists would be up in arms against the move thereby throwing the spotlight on their move. The same principle of ‘sinning quietly’ is what is being espoused even in this instance. The inhabitants of Chagos islands have repeatedly gone to the House of Lords and won but they have not had any relief. Now there is no spotlight there, but only on Sri Lanka. Is it because of anything to do with justice or is it in fact other considerations that are being applied? My contention is the Human Rights today was a political tool. Countries are chosen and targeted selectively and the motivations are entirely political.
"One of the questions in the questionnaire was ‘ do the female members of the household feel safe in the absence of a man’ and in some districts close to 85% of the females said yes"
It is interesting to read the comments of some of the countries during the last session. India said specifically that aggressive confrontation which tried to impose would shrink the space that was needed to move forward towards reconciliation. They wanted the space to be expanded and not shrunk and that was one of the crucial considerations that resulted in India’s abstention. India was of the opinion that operative paragraph 10 would result in the shrinking of this space.
Even Japan said that what must be done should be done with the consent and the cooperation of the country concerned. They said that a problem solving approach must be taken with due respect given to the dignity of a country and they shunned the coercive approach which quite rightly they thought would be counterproductive.
"India said specifically that aggressive confrontation which tried to impose would shrink the space that was needed to move forward towards reconciliation. They wanted the space to be expanded and not shrunk and that was one of the crucial considerations that resulted in India’s abstention."
Even the statements of Australia and New Zealand prove invaluable analyses. The crux of all of this is that the policies and the framework should ideally be to help take the reconciliation process forward but this approach is not helpful. It leads to further division and polarization. Even those who disagree with the policies of the government of Sri Lanka, including some of your colleagues, are of the opinion that this is not the approach that the international community should take. They have told me that they did not agree with some of the things the government was doing, but they were unanimous in saying that this is not the approach that should be taken.
Also there is no need to add insult to injury by being patronizing. What is being said that all of this is “being done for the love of you “ Now that is adding insult to injury. They have said that ‘we have your interest at heart and we are doing this because of the love of Sri Lanka’ that is not true at all. All this has to do with interests of powerful people and significant political interests in other countries.
My basic point is that they are targeting developing countries which don’t possess the clout to retaliate. This has got nothing to do with the competency or incompetency of the Sri Lankan missions but instead as I told you other considerations that have got nothing to do with logic and reasoning.
If you leave out the resolution and everything else, there is the notion that many of those appointed to these missions are political appointees and are incompetent. What is your take on this?
Well I’m not saying that everyone is equally competent but some of our best representatives are in fact politically appointed. Thisara Samarasinghe and Wasantha Karannagoda are two examples. They are serving the country pretty well. I’m not saying that everyone is performing with equal competency of course some are more effective than others, but I would say that in a difficult situation are doing their job and the forces that are pitted against them have tremendous clout and are not governed by any consideration for justice.
Pix by Pradeep Dilrukshana