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‘Sri Lanka has not been defeated at the UNHRC’

14 January 2014 04:26 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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On the verge of a third resolution being passed against Sri Lanka, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris spoke to  on the government’s stance regarding the resolution. He refuted the notion that the government has been defeated time and again and insisted that the Rajapaksa government could, if it so wished, avoid the resolution by acceding to the conditions laid down by the sponsors of the resolution. In a wide ranging discussion with the,  Professor, Peiris spoke of the reasons he believes why resolutions were being passed against the country, the influence of the Diaspora, the development carried out by the government, and asked those sponsoring and supporting the resolution to look at the ground situation objectively, and ask themselves if the progress made was reasonable giving adequate attention to the complexities involved in the process of reconstruction, reconciliation and re-integration during the post-war period
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SL is very much in control




There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of this event and about its implications. We would like the people of Sri Lanka to understand that the government has at its disposal a variety of options. I made this point during the debate on the Ministry of External Affairs in parliament, in response to a question raised by Opposition MP, Lakshman Kiriella. He asked me what the government’s strategy would be in Geneva in March. This is the third consecutive time a resolution on Sri Lanka is going to be brought to the Human Rights Council.
I told Mr. Kiriella that we would stop it the following morning which we could.  In fact, there is a way to do it, but conditions will be laid down for it. The government can agree to those conditions and ensure that there is no resolution against Sri Lanka. We are very much in control of the situation. It is quite wrong to believe that Sri Lanka is defeated year after year at the Human Rights Council. Defeat is something beyond one’s control, but this is not the case. We can agree to the conditions being insisted upon by those sponsoring the resolution, and as a result, there would be no resolution against Sri Lanka. We can bring about such a result if we decide to do so.
 





Safeguarding national interests




But the question is, is it the right thing to do? Is it fair by the people of this country to agree with that? Is it in the national interest of country for us to do so? It is not the government’s position that we are prepared to do anything to stop resolutions from being brought forward. We don’t believe that that is a responsible position for the government to take. There are things we can agree with and there are things we cannot agree with.  The difference between those two has to be determined by one yardstick and one criterion alone, and that is the future of this country and the well-being of its people. That is the determining consideration.

We also need to remember that it was a thirty-year conflict and four years have lapsed since the end of the conflict. One has to ideally reflect on what has been done on the ground within those four years, and assess if that progress is reasonable? Nobody is saying that the situation is perfect. Still there are things to be done, and that is because of the complexities we had to face at the end of the conflict.
 





Defeat of LTTE helped the region





One has to consider whether the progress made on the ground is sufficient within that period of time after the conclusion of the conflict. It is important to remember that some of our achievements have been unique. Since May 2009, there has not been a single terrorist act in this country.  Only a very few of the countries in the world that faced conflict situations can claim such success. In many such situations, agreements had been entered into and peace and stability was proclaimed.  However, there had always been violent incidents later at least sporadically, if not frequently. Sometimes violence re-emerged in those countries even half a century after arriving at political solutions. That is the normal pattern. But here the situation is different. Had terrorism continued in Sri Lanka, the entire region would have been affected because terrorist organisations don’t act in isolation but in collusion with each other. Now if one looks at the situation in many other parts of South Asia, terrorism can be identified as a serious impediment to progress. Terrorism is the one single impediment to the progress of these countries.

Therefore, what has been achieved by President Rajapaksa and his government is bringing peace and stability to this country. Benefits of the prevalent peace are being enjoyed beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. Only a few countries that faced conflict situations can claim such success.
 





Achievements





I’d like to explain what we have achieved after the end of the conflict. The government has resettled 297,000 Internally Displaced Persons which is no small achievement. Demining which is a very complex thing, has been quite successful in the North. The government re-integrated the ex- combatants into the mainstream society. They were the people who had taken arms against the state. Having exposed them to many different programmes, the government has taken steps to resettle them in their villages. That is a significant achievement too. Nobody can deny the extent of economic progress which has taken place in the Northern Province of the country during the last four years, where the economy is growing at 22% when the overall national growth is around 6%.  Community life has been normalised in that part of the country where there was so much of chaos during the time of terrorism. In that part of the country, there was nothing to look forward to; there were only emptiness and darkness. But now the economic growth in the region has been restored.

Fishing, Agriculture and a multitude of other industries have been given renewed life. The social well-being, in terms of education, healthcare and all other facets have been looked into and are developed on par with the rest of the country.  What you see today is, in essence, an economic renaissance in that part of the country.
 





Political empowerment



 

Now when it comes to the question of political empowerment, the Provincial Council elections have been held and after a lapse of so many years there is a functioning provincial council.  Now these are not easy decisions to make and it required a great deal of political courage and conviction to do so. Four governments under four different Presidents did not hold these elections. But President Rajapaksa had the courage to hold these elections despite knowing very well that the government was not going to win the elections.

The deployment of vast resources for the development of the Northern Province was also a hard political decision. Let us face the reality. If one is looking at political benefit then one could have used those resources in other parts of the country, where there are political dividends. But the government decided that it is the time to do the right thing rather than do the politically expedient things. These were all difficult political decisions and those decisions were made appropriately.
 





 Obvious disproportion





Now, bringing resolution after resolution after resolution against Sri Lanka has its implications. There is a conviction in many parts of the world and we see it as we talk to many governments of the world that there is an obvious disproportion in the situation in the country and the degree of interest it is attracting at the Human Rights Council twice a year.

It is almost as though Sri Lanka is the most troubled country on Earth. However, many countries believe otherwise. They have told us quite clearly that they do not understand this continual persistence on Sri Lanka is, when there are other serious situations in different parts of the world. This has caused obvious disquiet among these friendly countries.
 





Political power of the diaspora





But the reason for this is obvious, as much as the Diaspora is not monolithic and comprises different elements; one part of this Diaspora has not given up the ideal of ‘Eelam’. All they have changed is the modality and the method. Although the goal is the same there is a shift in the mode they use in pursuance of this. Of course they don’t use bombs and guns and suicide bombers now but are using other methods. There is an economic onslaught on the country, with many being discouraged to invest in Sri Lanka, trade being hampered and so on. The other mode is the use of Human Rights as a political tool. Don’t forget that although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in the country, groups that were close to the LTTE continue to posses the vast amount of financial resources the LTTE once possessed. However, at the time the war existed, they had the money but at the same time they had expenses. Now they don’t have any expenses and these funds are used to buy ‘political influence’ instead.

If you look at how potently they are doing this, one case point is that official delegations representing western governments had provided members of these groups with official accreditation during the last Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.

We are talking of a situation where the resources of these people are exceedingly useful to politicians of these governments. There are instances where week after week, Sri Lanka is hounded out by these members at their respective parliaments. There are also instances where these very members, three months after losing their elections have accepted paid office at some of these organizations.
 





Diaspora





This group of the Diaspora contribute very substantially to party coffers and members of the legislature of those countries and have got personally involved in canvassing for these people, sometimes even in Geneva. This has happened.

Therefore, it is clear that this is not a moral issue but a political one; there influence is such that they are able to tip the scale in closely fought elections in those countries. This tipping of the scale is not confined to the counting of heads, but expands to the vast financial resources available to them. Their organisations are a useful asset to the political parties of those countries. That is why, Human Right are used as a political tool effectively against particular countries. This has caused a great deal of worry and anxiety to us and many other countries over the world.
 





No uniformity





What is perfectly obvious is that there is no uniformity or consistency in the standards that are being expected and imposed. If you look at some of these situations across the world today, these standards that are sought to be imposed on Sri Lanka, are not applied with regard to any of those countries. That is because those countries are politically useful to the countries that are sponsoring these resolutions. The usefulness includes economical, political and financial benefits that are derived from them by these countries.

Many of the countries approached by the sponsors of these resolutions have repeatedly asked us, ‘How can we say no to the United States?’. To be exact, this resolution was initially proposed by the Canadian government in September 2011. At that time the situation was so bad against the Canadian government and they didn’t even have the necessary means to get the resolution off the ground. Canada then informed us that at the time they were not proceeding with that resolution because they didn’t have the support.

The situation changed 180 degrees when the United States took over. Many countries have told us privately that they have no option, but to support the resolution because they are dependent on the United States. Some are dependent on the US for their security against threats by other countries, while others are dependent on US aid and US trade.
 





Can’t say ‘no’ to US





So they have difficulty in saying ‘no’ to the United States, so the intensity of the pressure on these countries on the eve of voting in Geneva is immense.

Therefore it is clear that the voting patterns in Geneva are not determined by the rights and wrongs of the situation, nor on the considerations applicable to Sri Lanka but on the bilateral relationships between the country bringing in the resolution and the countries from which the votes are being canvassed.

That is a total distortion of the Human Right Council’s purpose.  The General Assembly when it abolished the Human Rights Commission, specifically stated that they were dissatisfied with the Commission because it was getting unduly politicised and they wanted a body which would be issue- based. A body which would look at issues based on its merits and de merits. But that is certainly not happening in the Human Rights Council today.
 





“Political rally in Sri Lanka”





We are certainly prepared to work with the Human Rights Council. We invited the special rapporteur on education and the special rapporteur on political rights of internally displaced people. Now the special rapporteur on education has informed us that he is not able to visit the country for the whole of this year.  There is a great deal of manipulation here. On the eve of the resolution, we have an avalanche of letters from special   rapporteurs willing to come, Why is it that this rapporteur is not able to visit the country for the entire year? These are the developments with regard to the Human Rights Council which have given us reason to feel very unhappy.

We can agree to conditions and stop the resolutions but at the end of the day our obligation is to the people of this country and there are things that we cannot agree to. Solutions have to be evolved in keeping with priorities in this country and the requirements of this country and simply because of the intensity of pressure, many of these things are sought to be imposed on us by politicians of other countries for their benefit.

It would be a betrayal of the national interests of Sri Lanka to agree to them. As one of the leaders who visited the country during the Commonwealth Summit told us, “This is a political rally in your country for the benefit of audiences abroad”. We cannot succumb to pressures of that kind. It is certainly not the truth that these pressures are altruistic and that it is motivated by a desire related to the well-being of the people of this country. There is no altruism in this, but instead it is dominated by self-interest. This is highly selective discrimination targeted against particular countries which is why we are saying that there is no defeat here. We can certainly put a stop to the whole thing but there is a quid pro quo and how much of the quid pro quo is of national interest? That’s how we propose to address this situation.
 





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