UNP MP Laxman Kiriella speaks to the Daily Mirror on Sri Lanka’s failing relationship with Tamil Nadu, the economic fallout from the UNHRC resolution and provides his simple answer to the Halal issue.
Q. What do you think would be the consequences for Sri Lanka, due to the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution passed against Sri Lanka; because some argue that resolutions are passed repeatedly against Israel and Cuba but they come to very little real consequence. Government members also argue that last year’s resolution had no effect and this would go on a similar path.
Well unfortunately the government and most media institutions are really suppressing the consequences that we will face; because today in the UN, if you are a member of that august assembly, you have signed various conventions which you must accept and implement. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, we have signed all the conventions with regard to Human Rights and Rule of Law. Therefore there is a duty cast upon us to implement those resolutions and if we don’t implement the resolutions, there will be an adverse inference on the government and subsequently the country.
Q. What, in your opinion, are these adverse implications for the country?
Human Rights is a universal concept, therefore no one can say that HR violations in a particular country is a domestic matter. There was a time when countries stayed out, because they felt they were interfering in the internal affairs of that country. HR is a universal concept and if HR violations take place in a particular country, any country in the world who is a member of the UN, can get up and point out that this particular country is violating HR laws and that the UN should take cognizance of it. There was a time when you did not have the right to stand up to such things taking place in another country. With regard to Sri Lanka, any country has the right to speak and censure the relevant countries.
Further, investors don’t like to come to a country where there are HR violations—that is an accepted concept. Sri Lanka is a classic example, for instance when the war ended in 2009 everyone thought that investors would flock to Sri Lanka, but that did not happen. Firstly, for investors to come to a particular country there has to be a Rule of Law. Secondly human rights have to be safeguarded. Then there should be independent institutions in the country, if an investor comes to Sri Lanka and he has a problem with the government. Say for instance the government was trying to acquire his business he must be able to go before the courts and say that process was unfair and he must be heard. For this to happen the judiciary must be free, the public service has to be free—if these requirements are not there, investors will not come here. Generally investors don’t like to come to countries that have been censured by the UN.
Most of our investors are from overseas, 70 percent of the money invested in the stock market is from the USA; a further 65 percent of our exports go to the USA and Europe. To attract good investors, we have to uphold good values—they don’t like to come to countries with black marks.
Q. All the consequences you outlined are economic, however despite the fact that Sri Lanka has been in the spotlight of the UNHRC for the past four years—according to the Central Bank Governor our economy has not suffered. He stated recently that over the past two years Sri Lanka grew faster than the economy of Malaysia.
No one believes the Central Bank Governor anymore. Some time ago the European Union passed a resolution against Sri Lanka and called on us to observe the International Humanitarian Law and restore democracy in Sri Lanka. However Sri Lanka ignored that resolution and then we lost the GSP+. The government at that time and especially Mr. Cabraal said losing the GSP+ was not a problem for Sri Lanka. However since that time, everyone is aware that the loss that causd by the removal of the GSP+ has been 1.5 billion USD, therefore who will believe Cabraal?
Two years ago he said it would have no effect, and now we have to go to the IMF and ask for a loan of 1 Billion USD. If we had GSP+ then we would not have needed to go to the IMF. This is a typically political reply, it has nothing to do with economics, and it is ‘sour grapes’. If they did not need money from the international community, then why did they go to the IMF?
Q. The government and the Economic Development Ministry give the justification that the reduction in revenue from the garment sector is due to the economic crisis that hit Europe and the States and the reduction in their purchasing power. The Ministry further claims that the economic downturn in the area of garments is due to the fact that workers are no longer interested in working in these factories.
After we lost the GSP+ it is a well-known fact that factories relocated in countries that have the GSP+, for example Bangladesh and Vietnam. Therefore since companies are incurring losses, they have started paying the workers less—that is the real story.
We are not even observing the ILO laws with regards to workers in garment factories; we have violated those laws and we are not paying them according to those minimum wages.
Q. It is generally accepted that Sri Lankan garment factory workers are paid more than their counterparts in Bangladesh and that this factor drives up costs.
No, that is not the case. I must tell you, if workers are paid well, they will definitely work in that establishment—they are in fact paid less. This is because, for garment factories to be successful in Sri Lanka we have to have the GSP+ and once we lost it, the companies that ran those companies suffered serious economic setbacks.
Q. What is your opinion of the manner in which the Sri Lankan government is dealing with the situation in Tamil Nadu? What do you think has been Sri Lanka’s foreign policy direction in the past few years?
When we were in power during 2001/2002 Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe made the Sri Lanka visa free for all Indians and he also encouraged us to go to South India and develop relationships with the South Indian politicians because, he said Tamil Nadu was more important to Sri Lanka than Delhi. That has proved to be correct, because today it is New Delhi that is being pressurised by Tamil Nadu—because New Delhi cannot act like they did in the good old days. Since there isn’t a single political party in Indian politics, it is now controlled by alliances.
Q. There is a growing nationalistic extremist element that is rising in the country at the moment - do you think the government is doing enough to control it?
How can the government control it - the government is behind them aren’t they? The government is behind them because today the government has nothing to sell. The war was over four years ago, after the war ended there was no economic benefit to the people; factories are closing down, jobs are becoming scarce, the cost of living is increasing—therefore the government does not have answers to those problems.
So the government is now trying to create a monster, earlier Prabhakaran was a monster—but that monster is no longer there. Now they are trying to show the problems of Sri Lanka are caused by the minorities—Tamils, Muslims and Christians. They are burning churches, they are harassing the Muslims and they are harassing the Tamils in the North and East. The government is trying to show that the issues in this country are due to the minorities.
This is not nationalism, this is fascism. Our country has had a tradition of tolerance. I am from Kandy and the Kings of Kandy ruled Sri Lanka for nearly 400 years—there was always religious tolerance. For instance when the Catholics were expelled by the Dutch, the Kandyan king gave them refuge in Wahakotte. When the Muslims were expelled by the Dutch, the Kandyan king settled them in the Eastern Province.
Sri Lanka is a Singhala-Buddhist country there is no doubt about it; but in this country the minorities have been living peacefully. That is the tradition of the Kandian kings, it is not to harass the minorities.
As a Buddhist I feel the answer to the Halal issue is to not eat meat, because Lord Buddha has said don’t eat meat—that is one of the five precepts. The Buddhist way is to stop eating meat, not to harass the Muslims.