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British Under-Secretary Alastair Burt “Lectures” to Sri Lanka to which Minister-Professor GL Peiris Responds

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Alistair Burt MP

Alistair Burt, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs delivered a guest lecture on “Sri Lanka 2013 and Beyond” at the Lakshman Kadirgarmar Institute on Thursday.

After praising what Sri Lanka has achieved in terms of economic growth and infrastructure development in the first part of his speech, Burt mounted the usual Western hobby horse and started making a very prescriptive speech about what SL should do.

Saying that an absence of war alone is not enough, he spoke of the need to implement the LLRC report, to uphold civil and political freedoms, to maintain independent institutions, to encourage individuals to speak out and engage constructively in debate and stressed that the rule of law is crucial to long-term prosperity.

He also spoke of judicial independence mentioned the fact that the International Commission of Jurists and the UN, have expressed deep concern at the recent impeachment and dismissal of Sri Lanka’s CJ and that the rule of law must prevail regardless of the political links of alleged wrongdoers. He also stated that the British experience in Northern Ireland has taught them that long-term peace can only be achieved through an inclusive political settlement that addresses the underlying causes of the conflict. He also referred to the scrutiny that Sri Lanka will be subject to at the UN-HRC session in March this year.

External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris was presiding at the meeting addressed by Burt. After the visitor made his speech, GL responded to Burt by saying that when he was nine years old, he listened on the radio to a speech delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru to the parliament of Ceylon while on a visit to this country. Nehru had said that the greater the experience he gathers about governance, the more reluctant he becomes to advise others on the resolution of their own issues. GL stated that as he listened to Burt, he was reminded of Pandit Nehru’s words of wisdom.

He pointed out that there has to be a level playing field – equal treatment in equal situations, and that just days ago a certain country had announced that they would not be attending the UN Human Rights Council session in March, and that they would not participate in any manner in the Universal Periodic Review stating that these are domestic issues and that they feel no need to discuss this with foreign countries. The country that GL was referring to was Israel even though he did not mention the name.

GL pointed out that Sri Lanka in contrast, engaged with the Human Rights Council and participated in the UPR process. He told Burt to observe the contrast in the manner in which these two countries have been treated. There is no talk of resolutions against the country that has told the world point blank that they have no intention of cooperating in the UPR process or even attending the UN-HRC sessions. There are no ‘friends’ who want to point out to them the error of their ways. On the contrary they are accommodated by postponing the UPR in the hope that there will be a change of heart.

So the attitude towards that country is collaborative, and conciliatory. But with regard to Sri Lanka, despite consistent engagement with the UN-HRC, there is resolution after another. The question that GL posed was whether there is any objectivity to be seen in this whole process. He pointed out that even though an erosion of confidence in SL was mentioned, even as he speaks, the first ever Turkish Airlines flight is coming into Sri Lanka. Korean Airlines will also begin operating three direct flights a week to Colombo from Seoul.(The Turkish Airlines flight came into Sri Lanka on the 1st February and in it came Turkey’s first Ambassador to Sri Lanka Iskender Okyay to set up his Embassy in Colombo. Sri Lanka opened up an Embassy in Ankara six months ago.)

GL’s pointed out that all this points to confidence rather than the opposite. He also pointed out that in no post-conflict situation anywhere in the world has there been as much progress on the ground as in Sri Lanka in so short a period of time. COURTESY:SUNDAY ISLAND

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