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For Certain Countries Any stick is good enough to hit SL: GL

24 June 2014 04:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Minister of External Affairs Professor G.L Peiris in an interview with the Dailymirror set out the governments’ stance with regard to the recent spate of violence that arose in the South Western region of the country. He further insisted that the government’s refusal to invite the panel constituted to inquire by the Human Rights Council, was a stance taken on the principle against intrusion into a sovereign state and not because the “government had anything to hide”.
 

Following are the excerpts of the interview.







 

Minister, what is stance of the government to the international community with regard to the recent spate of violence that the country experienced in the South Western region? What repercussions do you believe it would have on Sri Lanka?

We have just briefed the representatives of all Muslim countries and I told them what is essential is to have a proper appreciation of the situation. This is the work of a fringe, a very small fringe extremist group. The extremism has manifested itself on both sides and again I stress that this is a very small minority. The redeeming factor however is that the mainstream opinion in the Sinhala Community as well as the Muslim Community is certainly moderate and reasonable. The last thing they want is religious disharmony.

I also briefed them in detail regarding the steps which the Government took when the news of the incidents was reported to the President. I was with the President at the time  in Bolivia and he spent three hours on the phone giving instructions to three groups of people. One was the security establishment, because the immediate priority was to ensure that the violence is stopped and it does not spread. So he spoke to the Police and also instructed to deploy the army in the event the violence spreads. The security authorities were brought out immediately to deal with the situation in Aluthgama, Beruwala and later in Welipanna.
The persons who were inciting were taken into custody, and at one point there were 58 who were arrested and 47 individuals were later detained. Pre-emptive action was taken, and anyone found to be in possession of any material that could be used to disturb the peace was arrested. Apart from the security authorities the President immediately got in touch with the political authority. That is the leaders of Government and Parliamentarians representing the Kalutara district.
He requested one of them to rush to the spot and to talk to all parties concerned and to restore calm which went a long way. The third group of persons he contacted were the religious leaders and they played a very salutary role. The Buddhist monks and the Moulavis assembled as a matter of urgency and ensured that the situation was dealt with and tranquility restored.

 I also told the representatives that we are taking action to involve society at large, subsequent to restoring law and order which has been done. We are involving the business community, of all communities, professional groups, academics from universities, all of them are getting involved in this effort and the religious leaders are playing a particular role.

The police have been given strict instructions not to allow processions or rallies which have the potential to disturb the peace and the President has ordered an immediate inquiry and he categorically stated during his visit to Beruwala soon after his return from Bolivia that any property that has been damaged would be rebuilt and compensation paid.
 




There has been criticism levelled at the government to the effect that it played a passive role with regard to the violence, or the incitement of it?

I dealt with that directly during my meeting with the representatives on the assertion that there is some form of complicity. And I said that this is totally false and indeed mischievous.

The basic point there is that no one acts in a manner that is directly contrary to his interests. The Muslims constitute between 6 to 7% of the population of our country, and by and large they have been very supportive of our government. They have been with the government through thick and thin. This country has a tradition of harmony and in the towns and villages the Muslim and Sinhala Community have lived with each other, participating freely in their social activities. Then I asked why a Government would deliberately alienate the Muslim Community when we have always had their empathy and goodwill. So from the larger interest of the nation solidarity is of utmost essence. But even if you look at it from a narrow political standpoint the Government does not benefit at all from antagonizing the Muslim community, indeed the Government stands to lose. So I made it clear to the diplomatic community which I addressed that this campaign against the Government has two dimensions.

The internal aspect is to alienate the Muslims from the Government, to deprive us of their support.  The external dimension is to alienate Muslim countries and to make it difficult for Muslim countries to support Sri Lanka in the international fora. There is an orchestrated campaign which is intended to achieve the two objectives. The Government of Sri Lanka has every possible motive to prevent this from happening. Not to encourage it in any manner whatsoever.



There is a perception that the governments response in its “right of reply” to the Human Rights Council, lacked objectivity. Do you believe it was so?

We have said all along that to point the finger at one side solely is a distortion. There was extremism by a small group from both sides and the government’s effort from the very beginning was to bring about amity between the two communities. Now the two communities must not be confused with the extremist groups.
The two communities are distinct and different from these groups. That is why when the religious leaders met the two groups they did not find it difficult to restore calm because the inherent feeling of these people was harmony and they strongly desired the restoration of normalcy. I think the need of the hour is to prevent anything that would result in the extension of these incidents.

At the moment there is no violence and its of paramount importance to keep it this way. Anything provocative that could ignite further violence must be prevented and the Government has done everything in its capacity to prevent any such thing from happening. Now having dealt with the initial problem of restoring law and order the Government is now looking at ways of involving the larger community in order to ensure that there would not be recurrence of this in the future.
QWhat impact do you believe the recent incidents would have on the continuous allegations hurled against the Government with regard to its Human Rights record?

Certain countries would take any opportunity that is given to them to attack Sri Lanka. Any stick is good enough to hit Sri Lanka with. Any opportunity is seized with great enthusiasm. We do not see the same people issue statements of this kind when comparable incidents occur elsewhere. That does not mean that we condone or justify what happens and the Government is fully focused on preventing this. But I am on the subject of total lack of consistency and the application of highly subjective criteria when it comes to Sri Lanka.

We do not think its helpful to issue statements of condemnation within a couple of hours by rushing to judgments without ascertaining facts. Also we do not think it’s right for the people of Sri Lanka to rush to foreign embassies  and take up these issues with them because at the end of the day these are Sri Lankan issues which have to be resolved in this country and particularly because some of these countries have reasons of their own to embarass Sri Lanka. So the approach of running to foreign embassies to resolve internal problems, is wrong. If the motives are different, then of course it’s a separate matter.


The police have been given strict instructions not to allow processions or rallies which have the potential to disturb the peace and the President has ordered an immediate inquiry and he categorically stated during his visit to Beruwala soon after his return from Bolivia that any property that has been damaged would be rebuilt and compensation paid.





Going beyond recent issues, there has been a panel appointed by the Human Rights Council to look into the alleged violations of Human Rights in Sri Lanka, why have you all resisted the panel?

We have explained our position clearly. The President had the opportunity of having a discussion with Mr. Ban Ki Moon in Shanghai about a month ago and he also met the Secretary General on the sidelines of the G-77 Summit held in Santa Cruz,  Bolivia. We made it very clear to him that there is no way that we can submit our country to an international investigation and that position has now been overwhelmingly endorsed by the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

So we are not submitting ourselves to an international investigation. But as far as the domestic process is concerned it is currently ongoing. The Commission that was appointed to investigate into disappearances  has received over 16,000 representations. They have held sittings in all parts of the country including the North and the East. They have indicated that they are likely to submit an interim report. So the domestic processes are continuing. Also there is extensive cooporation with the United Nations system. It is not that we are distancing ourselves and adopting an isolationist attitude. I said this to the Assistant Secretary General of Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez who was in the country a few days ago.

There are so many areas where there is very productive collaboration which include UNICEF, OCHA, UNIDA among many others. There is active collaboration in many areas. But we cannot submit to an international investigation and the reasons are very clear.

We cannot submit ourselves to an investigation because the investigation is not based on Justice or fair play,  but instead it is a political exercise.

How do you explain the fact that the Commissioner for Human Rights said  that Sri Lanka had embarked on various courses of action “ Under the guise of terrorism”- that means there was no terrorism in her view.

The first call for an international investigation was just a week after the cessation of hostilities and it is very clear that this is a situation where there is bias and prejudgment. So it would be wrong on our party and a betrayal of the trust the people of this country have reposed in us for us to accept an international investigation.


We do not think its helpful to issue statements of condemnation within a couple of hours by rushing to judgments without ascertaining the fact. Also we do not think it’s right for the people of Sri Lanka to rush to foreign embassies  and take up these issues with them because at the end of the day these are Sri Lankan issues which have to be resolved in this country and particularly because some of these countries have reasons of their own to embarass Sri Lanka.






But why is the government scared of an international investigation? Why could they not cooporate if in fact the Government has nothing to hide?

This is an argument that is often used “ if you have nothing to hide why do you resist an international investigation”. There is the issue of propriety, there is the issue of national pride, there is the issue of legitimate pride.

Sri Lanka is not a country that lacks expertise or institutions and there is no justification whatsoever for us to be subject to such investigation. Infact  the Asst. Secretary General of Political affairs admitted that with regard to certain countries there is a dire need for input from the International System but Sri Lanka is not one of them.
So there is absolutely no justification for such an investigation. We all know how the so-called panel of experts did their work and collected evidence and how prejudiced the report was. We have no doubt that the same attitude would prevail this time. So it has got nothing to do about hiding or concealing anything. It’s simply not in keeping with the dignity and self respect of the country to subject ourselves to such an investigation.

We have also made the point which was reflected in the text of the resolution passed in Parliament- that it would really inflict grave harm on the domestic process.  It is perfectly clear to everyone that any viable solution has to evolve from within the country. The effect this would have on the local process is that those participating in it would feel that there is no point in participating in the local process. Instead they would believe that they could get what they want by the exertion of pressure at an international level. That is  wholly unrealistic because foreign countries cannot impose solutions on this country. So by encouraging the view that more and more pressure would result in a solution one is going to be weakening the local processes. That is the real harm that this emphasis on an international investigation is causing to our country.
 



We have said all along that to point the finger at one side solely is a distortion. There was extremism by a small group from both sides and the government’s effort from the very beginning was to bring about amity between the two communities. Now the two communities must not be confused with the extremist groups.




 

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