Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanmuttu, political analyst and head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, spoke to The Sunday Leader about the recently passed US backed Resolution and what it will mean to the country. He expressed his hope that this will see Sri Lanka move forward from ‘post-war to post-conflict’.
Q:Now that the Resolution has been passed, what does this mean for Sri Lanka?
A: I hope that it means Sri Lanka will turn over an entirely new leaf and engage with the international community constructively as well as with our own civil society and move forward as far as reconciliation is concerned. The challenge remains of reconciliation and human rights protection, and irrespective of what has happened in the past it is now the time to move forward.
Q: Do you feel that implementation of the LLRC report, as called for in the Resolution, will be a success after all the time spent by the government in turning public opinion against it?
A: I hope that the government will explain to the public that it is implementing the LLRC because it considers it to be the right thing, and also that they show them that the recommendations are good for Sri Lanka. What we must not forget at the end of the day is that the LLRC is a Presidential commission appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. In the case of all the criticism about its mandate and its composition, the government stated that it is an independent Commission which will answer all the charges against them. Reconciliation cannot wait; it is a process that must be followed to ensure this country moves from post-war to post-conflict.
Q: You campaigned vigorously to win over support for the US Resolution; at the same time you faced heavy criticism. Why do you feel there was such opposition to this Resolution?
A: I think that the government of Sri Lanka totally disparaged the whole thing; they blew it out of proportion. The Resolution is extremely mild and diluted. The United States invited Sri Lanka to come and draft the Resolution with them. The Resolution is talking about, in my opinion, the international community extending a hand facilitating the implementation of a presidentially appointed Commission.
They mismanaged the whole thing. If you look at the statements made by the US right along, they made it very clear that they supported Sri Lanka’s domestic mechanisms in this regard. We spent a whole lot of money and expended a whole lot of energy with regard to this against the rest of the world and against our own people.
The irony is that this is all about reconciliation, and the way it has been dealt with has been in the most vicious terms.
Q:The government has based their opposition against the US Resolution by calling it interference. Do you see them as actually believing this is interference or are there ulterior motives?
A: If you look at parts of the Resolution it is simply calling on the government of Sri Lanka to implement its own recommendations. It is also saying that the Office of the High Comissioner for Human Rights should in consultation with the government of Sri Lanka provide assistance for implementation. I cannot see what interference there is in this regard. Some will make the point that the issue of interference lies with the fact that the question of human rights in Sri Lanka is now on the agenda of a multilateral UN organisation. It calls for it to be taken up at the 22nd UNHRC summit. Now we can defuse this very simply by taking steps towards implementing the recommendations.
Q: Do you believe the government’s opposition to this Resolution as being opposition to the LLRC report?
A: Personally I have always felt that the government has never been sincere with regard to anything on the reconciliation front. You take the talks with the TNA as an example, there is no parliamentary select committee and the talks have stalled.
When you look at past events such as the commissions of inquiry or all party representatives; all of these things were done for international consumption. The classic example is the National Human Rights Action Plan, now how many people have seen this?
The LLRC has not even been fully translated into Tamil or Sinhala. So who are they doing all of this for? In my opinion they have not fulfilled their responsibilities to their own citizens.
Q: The government has claimed that they are already working towards reconciliation and that the UN does not need to come in and tell them to do so. Do you feel that this is happening?
A: The one example I will give you in response to that is in September 2010 the LLRC came up with interim recommendations. The final report of the LLRC in November 2011 talks about the non-implementation of those recommendations. We are now in March 2012 and still there have been no signs of implementation. When you look at the recommendations there are some that can be done overnight, while there are some that will take time.
Yes, reconciliation will take time; however, I cannot see what the delay is. This is a government that rushed the 18th Amendment through the Supreme Court claiming it is in the national interest and it was passed. They have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The recommendation that the national anthem be sung in both languages could have been implemented by February 4. This leads me to believe that unless they are jolted into doing it, the government will be happy not doing anything.
Q: Do you feel the number of countries who voted against the Resolution is a sign that the LLRC is not accepted by the international community?
A: You have to recognise that when you get a Resolution in an international body, the vote is not a direct indication of the merits and demerits of the Resolution. There are a whole lot of other issues which come to the forefront. What I find interesting is that 40 countries co-sponsored this resolution.
If you look at the countries that voted, barring Russia and China, the US, the entirety of Europe, India and Nigeria all voted for it. The other key countries chose to abstain, so at the end of the day it would have been better for the resolution if more Asian countries had voted in favour.
However, I think there is a broad spectrum in the world which is telling Sri Lanka that this is not personal but rather we are extending a hand to you to help you implement your own report.
Q: Speaking to those against the Resolution and even those who supported it, it became evident very few people knew what it contained. Do you feel we are off on the wrong footing already?
A: I do not think you can have a proper functioning democracy in a country based on ignorance. That is a major challenge for not only the government of the day, but also civil society and the media as well. We need to be able to provide as much information to our citizens to allow them to make informed decisions. courtesy: The Sunday Leader
Related: Dr. P Saranavamuttu on human rights, accountability and the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, Aired on Feb 28, 2012:
To find out more about the hearings, and their significance to Sri Lanka, as well as the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka – Jovita talked to civil society activist Dr. Saravanamuttu-about what the people of Sri Lanka, would like to see as the outcome.