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‘We Opposed the Resolution Because of Our Respect for the UN HRC’-Rajiva Wijesinha

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Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

by Ayesha Zuhair

In an interview with Ayesha Zuhair for the Daily Mirror, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Presidential Advisor on Reconciliation, discusses the resolution against Sri Lanka adopted at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Question:

Why was Sri Lanka unable to defeat the resolution brought against it at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last Thursday? Was it because India turned against Sri Lanka due to domestic compulsions or were there other factors at play?

The Representative of China askes for the floor at the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council. Room XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Monday 27 February 2012. Photo by Violaine Martin

Answer:

The Indian decision to vote against us, and also to indicate early that this might happen, was crucial, but I think we were facing an uphill battle anyway, given the pressures the UN and the EU together were bringing on other countries. We could have done more earlier on to work with those countries on other issues, to strengthen relations

Q:
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) views the resolution as the first step in the pursuit of justice and accountability; and Amnesty International (AI) says that it represents a positive step forward for Sri Lanka and an opportunity to end “long-standing immunity for human rights violations.” Your reaction?

A:
think it could be used as an opportunity if we realise that we have to do better both on making clear what we are already doing with regard to the reconciliation process, which is not simply about accountability in terms of retribution as some elements are suggesting; and also on moving more quickly on all elements of the reconciliation process, as laid out in the LLRC as well as in our draft Reconciliation Policy, which refers to restoration and empowerment as well as restitution.

Q:
There is criticism that the Sri Lankan delegation, despite its strength in numbers, was not adequately prepared for the 19th session. Do you agree?

A:
think the people who went did their best, but I think they too realised that preparation has to begin much earlier, and be based on a coherent long-term policy, that takes into consideration their concerns too, which was how Dayan Jayatilleka did so well in 2009. The policy we must work towards now should include restoring the mutual confidence we had with India a couple of years back, and also strengthening our ties with members of the Non-Aligned Movement

Q:
Now that the resolution has been adopted, what are its practical implications?

A:
Since, unusually for the UN system, a country specific resolution that goes into the past has been passed, we need to make sure first that it is not used for unwarranted and disruptive interference, and secondly that it is not used as an excuse for a harsher resolution in the future, that would excuse more active interference.

Q:
How do you justify the government’s decision to reject the resolution? Does it not amount to disdain for the UN and all that it stands for?

A:
On the contrary, our opposition sprang precisely from our respect for the UN in terms of its founding principles and the practices the Human Rights Council was meant to uphold. The fact that a senior Indian Minister indicated that India would not vote for a country specific resolution suggests that India too wanted initially to uphold these principles, though unfortunately other considerations prevailed in the end.

Q:
There are fears that although the UN HRC resolution is not legally-binding, Sri Lanka may be isolated on the world stage and that even economic sanctions may be imposed if we refuse to abide by it. What, in your view, are the real consequences of non-compliance?

A:
Given the strange ways in which UN resolutions can be interpreted, I think we need to be vigilant about abuse of this resolution.

Q:
Does the government fear that the real and ultimate purpose of this resolution is to set the stage to prosecute the current leadership for war crimes?

A:
I don’t think that was the intention of most of those who voted for it, but we have to remember that initially, when Britain was the moving spirit behind a Special Session on Sri Lanka in 2009, the then Foreign Secretary said in the Commons that dealing with war crimes was the purpose.

Even though I think the present British government is less prejudiced, we have to remember that bad money drives out good, and single-minded motivation – which we also see in some elements in the US administration, even though I would like to think those who know us better are not so wicked – can lead to persecution.

Q:
Government MPs have referred to an ‘international plot’ against the administration and a ‘western conspiracy’ to bring about regime change as the real motivating factors behind the US-led move. Do you subscribe to these views?

A:
There are certainly those in the West who would like a change of government. Sometimes they put it very tactfully, as with the EU official who suggested both to me and to others that perhaps Sri Lanka needed a different leader for peace, now that the war was over.

Sometimes they make no bones about their bitterness with the President, as with those who were pushing Sarath Fonseka on the grounds that he was the best bet to protect human rights and the interests of the Tamils, which obviously borders on lunacy.

I do not think these strange hankerings amount yet to a conspiracy, but in dealing with countries about which there is little knowledge, strange ideas can come to the fore – and we have to remember that there are very few people who know about Sri Lanka in the States except for those whose information comes from elite sources in Colombo

Q:
There are many who feel that Sri Lanka has failed to maintain good bilateral ties with the US and India, and that our relations with the two powers have hit an all-time low. How do you view these sentiments? Do you think that Sri Lanka ’s foreign relations have been managed skilfully?

A:
I think we can certainly do much better, most obviously by having a policymaking think-tank that studies shifting priorities in the countries with which we interact. Chief amongst these is India , and we obviously need to understand why the initial confident claim that India would support us was misplaced. I believe this is a good opportunity to rebuild relations, in that India too has realised that the moral prestige it had in Asia has been adversely affected.

We should try now to work together with the other SAARC countries to help India to be seen as a leader, not a follower either of the West or of temporary compulsions within the country. At the same time we must be sensitive to Indian concerns, just as we expect India to be sensitive about our concerns. Our current ambassador has done well, but perhaps when his term is over we should think of sending someone who is personally acquainted with thinkers at high levels, like for instance Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne who has studied there and done good work in Social and Cultural Relations.

The United States is more difficult, because it tends to be schizophrenic, particularly in an election year. Where there are no obvious US interests at stake, countries can become the plaything of individual predilections. US policy is often made by lobby groups and media soundbites, and opinion polls which depend on these but are treated as sacrosanct.

While we should of course engage positively, to try to find out what precisely they want, we have to remember that the US ambassador in Geneva had told ours that they would get us this March, whether the LLRC Report was good or not. It would be best therefore if we devoted some study to US concerns at present, and worked out how to deal with these in the long term, than simply responding to carrots or sticks.

On the whole I think there are enough people in decision making positions there who are balanced, and we need to make sure we talk to them seriously, make our own position clear, study what they say, and work out responses which will save us from being victimized. For this purpose we need to engage at high levels also with India as well as those countries that supported us so solidly in Geneva , and who have much more experience of dealing with a world power that oscillates between ruthlessness and sanctimoniousness.

Q:
Do you think it is necessary and/or advisable for the government to establish a direct and on-going dialogue with Tamil Nadu?

A:
Most certainly. When I was there last year, at the request of our Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, I was told, by the Tamil intellectuals I spoke to, and often argued with, that I was the first to have engaged with them in that fashion. We must make them understand our difficulties, but also make clear our commitment to the Tamil people, and the need to make up to them both for majoritarian political decisions in the past, and the suffering they underwent.

Though this was mainly due to the LTTE in the latter stages, we must explain with statistics that collateral damage was minimal – while also making clear our regrets for the attacks on Tamils in the past, and showing that these have not been repeated in recent times.

In this regard I am astonished that we now do not have a Tamil speaking ambassador in Chennai. However good the new man is, the excellent contacts established by Mr. Amza and then Mr. Krishnamoorthy need nurturing through active communication now. I should add that I am also bemused by the Ministry decision to transfer the two senior Tamil speaking officers in London . I suspect sometimes that decisions are made without full study of the implications, and this cannot continue.

Q:
Can you confirm whether or not India played a role in amending any of the clauses in the resolution, prior to its adoption?

A:
I was not in Geneva on the last couple of days, so I only know what I saw afterwards in the press, that India claimed credit for inserting a clause about consent and concurrence. While this is a good thing, in toning down the resolution to a limited extent, obviously it does not answer all the concerns that our ambassador laid out in a very clear paper she prepared for sympathetic groups.

I am sorry that such a paper was not prepared and circulated earlier, perhaps with the advice of our friends including India – I have never forgotten what an Indian journalist told me a year or two back, that whereas in Dayan Jayatilleka’s time we asked India for advice, after he was dismissed we only asked for a vote. I think we must realise that common interests should be pursued through principles.

Q:
Is it democratically acceptable for the international community to push Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the LLRC without it being first approved by Parliament? What is the way forward?

A:
As we know, having allowed majoritarianism to trump democracy ourselves in the past, democracy is not simply about majorities. It should be based on constitutionalism and the rule of law, with rights that cannot be trampled on by a majority vote, in particular rights for the weak. The vote in Geneva went against the principles of the UN, which is why we find it unacceptable.

The Leader of the House tabled the Report in Parliament, and made it clear that Government would go ahead with implementation. This does not mean that all recommendations will be implemented at once, and Government may find that some are difficult, but what should be done is to implement as swiftly as possible what can be done now, and to explain what may be delayed or not done. Government must decide, taking all factors into consideration, including some that the LLRC may not have been aware of, but it owes it to the country and the Commissioners to explain what it cannot accept or can only accept in the long term. courtesy: Daily Mirror

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21 Comments

  1. Never knew of the prowess of the professor in dealing with psychiatric issues. The professor seems poised to cure the multiple personality disorder (Schizophrenia) of Good old USA. All the best in your therapeutic adventure, Sir.

  2. I think it is not a harresment or insult on Sri Lanka, so we created a commission and we found weakness and strenth, now we have to implement those recomondations whcih we found. Only think, International commiunity were persuade to Sri Lanka through UNHRC BY PASSING A RESOLUTION. BUT RESOLUTION IS OUR ONE WHICH THEY PASSED. Why we botherd implement it, on the other hand in government side, this occation have given a good and better enviorment to implement these recomondations without distrupting from others exremist parties in the government. This is the one of best chance for build up imaginity of the country and government among the international commiunity.

  3. Two wrongs never made a right.
    Whatever the US policy on Palestine which is genuinely horrible, they seem to have got the policy more right than wrong on Lanka. They are trying to deepen economic cooperation (but it seems mainly trying to sell military hardware to the SL Navy, THe US is also selling huge amounts of military equipment to India to boost its sagging economy) while holding the Rajapakse regime accountable for the erosion of democratic institutions and governance in post-war SL.

    It is not the whole county of Sri Lanka which will last beyond the current petty dictatorship that is in Checkmate at this time, but the merely the Rajapske regime. Rajapakse has gone from “safe zone into danger zone” as Gomin Daysiri put it. Rajapakse has been checkmated and the writing is on the wall regarding a war crimes trial sooner or later, UNLESS he stops his double-speak and time wasting, and ensures genuine reconciliation by demilitarization and power sharing, but its seems his brothers who are benefiting economocilly from the military business (MILBUS) crony capitalism pioneered for their benefit post war, will not let him do. Seems MR is between a rock and a hard place!

  4. John Wayne, sorry but I think your sitting on your horse backwards! Free from rhetoric and the propaganda by MR political appoints and the pro-LTTE sympathizers, I think he has done a lot more for the good of the country since 2009 then many of the last few presidents and is a hell of lot better than the alternatives. You best herd all your cattle into your corral before calling it a day partner, your missing half your herd. I am waiting for truly fair War Crimes Tribunal, it must bring the LTTE remnants and their think tank over seas to task for their role in 30 years of crimes against humanity. Your forgetting, there is still no verifiable evidence being produced to substantiate the accusations being made about the end of the war, and indeed the actual number of verified casualties is declining day by day. Based upon this evidence the world will come to the logical conclusion and those truly responsible should be brought to justice, but as an unbiased outsider who has followed this all very closely, I don’t believe the blame falls in the GSL.

  5. Rajiva thinks ‘you scratch my back and I scratch your back’ style does work with the US.

    “… though the Island Nation had won the war, it might lose peace in the long run.” That US originated statement is now copied by Indians. Needless to say, India follows its new master and says peace in Sri Lanka is not stable. But we all know that no bombs have exploded since end of the war.

    Now think of the stability that India brought with Indu-Lanka accord. It sets on fire not just the North and East but the entire South as well. If that had been the outcome of peace plans rammed by Indian on us, one could visualize what’s in store if we follow the US demands. We will end up as another Libya. Is that what Sri Lankans want?

    We all knew that if India hadn’t trained, armed and financed few thugs and made LTTE the most ruthless terrorists in the world, Sri Lanka separatist war wouldn’t have gone on for three decades. Least India wouldn’t have got its ex-PM, Rajiv Gandhi blasted. If it had not saved Pirapakaran, who was about to be captured by the army over two decades back, the war would have been over in 1987, and tens of thousands of lives would have been saved.

    We Sri Lankans wonder whether India is on its way to repeat the blunder again, this time by allowing rump LTTE of Tamil Nadu to destabilise Sri Lanka. For one thing, without India giving them a hand there is not a chance for terrorism restart in Sri Lanka. India should know that if Sri Lanka breaks apart India will certainly follow suit.

  6. Despite what Prof. Rajiva says, USA was not there to lose,not this time, with the elections round the corner. A loss at hands of a minnows like Sri Lanka would have been more than an embarresment to washington.So whatever we did,they will do more and make sure they do not lose. They coerced those who can be coerced some,bought some and armtwisted India or sometimes it looks like conspired with India.However they got it passed and what got passed is the concern now. The resolution calls for consent and concurrence,both of which the resolution it self lacks. What got passed in the case of Sri Lanka looks like a resolution sans any resolve. Shortcomings from the governmnet side though visible, they clould’nt have overcome the US clout.
    Some people are already standing at the ICC with their charge sheets but still without the evidence! When will this misled lot realise the USA is not interested in doing their bidding but the US interests.
    Sukumar,Schizophrenic or not, USA is neither GOOD nor OLD.

  7. Rajiva Wijesinha says:

    “The policy we must work towards now should include restoring the mutual confidence we had with India a couple of years back, and also strengthening our ties with members of the Non-Aligned Movement”

    The problem lies within Sri Lanka and the state’s undemocratic structure. The Sri Lankan establishment likes to think that every aspect of people- state relation is wonderful. More and more people are alienated from the state and the only way to access share of state power is through party and family cronyism.

    Well we are aware of past and present party cronyism. If we haven’t learned anything from our own past and other countries further public relation exercise will not save Sri Lanka.

    Rajiva sounds reasonable however his analysis and prescriptions do not address the underlying causes of problems and his loyalty is misplaced.

    Why does he want to defend the indefensible?

  8. “…and we have to remember that there are very few people who know about Sri Lanka in the States except for those whose information comes from elite sources in Colombo…”

    Is it not the Colombo elites ruling the country?
    Why is not the LLRC Sinhalese and Tamil Translation published for the masses yet?
    ————————————————————–
    “….our opposition sprang precisely from our respect for the UN in terms of its founding principles and the practices the Human Rights Council was meant to uphold….”
    ha ha ha Sri Lanka wants to uphold the principle of UN Human Rights in UN and not in their own country
    ————————————
    Q:
    Does the government fear that the real and ultimate purpose of this resolution is to set the stage to prosecute the current leadership for war crimes?
    ….surprise surprise there is no forthright denial that there was no ware crime in his answer…instead he is immeresed in his own self importance
    ———————————-
    Q:
    Do you think it is necessary and/or advisable for the government to establish a direct and on-going dialogue with Tamil Nadu?
    answer should be we must first build bridges with the our own Tamils in Sri Lanka?
    ———————————————–

    I can go on and on but this gives the flavor and the intention

  9. MAY I ASK FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WHERE DO YOU FIND THE PERFECT GOVERNMENT OR A UTOPIAN SOCIETY….DO YOU THINK U.S., U.K. EU , CANADA OR BRITISH HAVE A PERFECT GOVERNMENTS. THAT IS BALONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE WEST WANTS TO MAKE TROUBLES , SO THEY COULD GET A UPPER HAND., DUE TO CHINESE INFLUENCE IN SRI LANKA. HOWEVER THIER EVIL PLANS WILL FAIL., SOONER OR LATER. SRILANKA HAVE TO WATCH THIER BACK ALL THE TIME. ,, CAUSE WEST AND INDIA NOW SLEPPING TOGETHER. I AM 200 % POSITIVE MR AND GATABAYA COULD HANDEL ANYTHING.

  10. Yes quite right Rajiva, the Rajapakse Regime (not Sri Lanka) needs to rebuild bridges with the rest of the world and get cracking on de-militarization and devolution of power, or the Common Wealth Heads conference 2013 in Hambantoata would be a giant flop with all and sundry boycotting it!
    Ggiven their inane nationalist rhetoric on “national sovereignty”, Rajapakse Co. need to also wake up to the fact that in a globalized world where every level of society is trans-nationally networked, sovereignty is merely a legal fiction devoid of real content. Rajapakse Bros Inc thought they could turn Lanka into their private Banana republic and destroy democratic institution and due process in tiny Lanka with impunity after ending the war- which we all appreciate
    The US resolution with India’s backing has put the brakes firmly on Rajapakse Co, and we citizens of Lanka ought to be truly grateful to the trans-national civil society networks and ironically even the ‘LTTE rump’ of the Tamil Diaspora for this!
    What a reality check for Rajapakse brothers and their military business plan to rule post-war Lanka!

  11. Of course MR can have a finger on the brothers too, but the Waluwa menality
    must change. An iota of good governanace is all that is required.

  12. Taking vote from the nations who are acting based to their own interests will never give correct decision of an issue of sovereign nation. Hence calling votes is principally and realistically incorrect. The India’s decision is the best example.

    As professor highlighted we should rigorously analyze our Foreign Service and place suitable people to handle it. As all governments did to date we cannot appoint Ambassadors like appointing Chairmen to corporations. The skill level that our Ambassador to the Geneva communicates with international community must be required especially for English speaking countries. If anybody cannot communicate accurately then at the initial point itself it will become unsuccessful.

  13. He is absolutely in rejection mod, still trying to tell the old story to IC such as LTTE, War on terror, US carried out mass murder, NGOS and INGOS are LTTE puppets.

    I don’t know what he is talking about, he is hell bent to protect the Rajabaksa regime with all his lies, what a bunch of liars.

    Don’t think that world is full of stupids.

    Come up with an action plan, and impliment it, if you can’t impliment your own LLRC what is the point, is it something done to deceive the IC and counter the UN report. Come on wake up man.

  14. It is not clear as to what policies are going to be adopted for Reconcilliation. Various politicians in government voice different policies. Keeping 60,000 soldiers in the North and East; Securing the high security zones without allowing the people to go back to their own homes;Enforcing military administration in the North.These are not policies for reconcilliation. Many of the Tamils supported the Government to defeat the LTTE for they did not want a war and they faced severe consequences. But the attitude of the Government indicates that the Tamils have no place in Sri Lanka. Fighting a resolution which was watered down, itself shows the motive of Rajapaksa’s government. The Tamils will be forced to have only one alternative.

  15. So, its good then we starve the Tamils with the 70 000 claim, knowing well it was more like 300 000, also not having any Tamil inclusion in thr national language is therefore great then.

    Even that Oxford educated SWRD thought their bigot policies were good, the shot by monk !

  16. Taking vote from the nations who are acting based to their own interests will never give correct decision of an issue of sovereign nation. Hence calling votes is principally and realistically incorrect. The India’s decision is the best example.

    As professor highlighted we should rigorously analyze our Foreign Service and place
    suitable people to handle it. As all governments did to date we cannot appoint Ambassadors like appointing Chairmen to corporations. The skill level that our Ambassador to the Geneva communicates with international community must be required especially for English speaking countries. If anybody cannot communicate accurately then at the initial point itself it will become unsuccessful.

  17. The last Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting,by majority consensus, refused to approve the proposal by the Commonwealth Secretaiat,to appoint a Commonwealth Commissioner of Human Rights.
    As the government,now vehemently denies the allegations directed against it,will the President propose such an appointment.
    Will Prof. Wijesinha support the proposal.

  18. Prof. talks mainly about how to deal with the countries and UNHCR. Prof.! As happened for the last 64 years, the Sinhala nation,its Government and it’s “think-tanks” fail to identify the root cause of the ‘Geneva Resolution’ and deal with it correctly. What the Rajapaksa Government has to do is to implement all the recommendations of the LLRC without any delay. Once it is done, Lanka will be able to close the door for the foreign countries from interfering into our matters in the way they wish.
    But, still the Sinhala Nation, its Government and its “think-tanks” fail to deal with the problem in a correct way! It is because of its Sinhala – theravada Buddhist nationalism based on imaginary and false doctrine: “Aryan” – Sinhala – Singhalese – Theravada Buddhism with one to one correspondence! Dear Prof! Unless the Sinhala nation gives up its Sinhala – Theravada Buddhist nationalism based on the imaginary and false doctrine, there will not be any positive chance in our country, as well as in the UN!!

  19. UNHRC proved itself an unreliable organization and working for super powers/politics. Human Rights is not the priority of the UNHRC. Navi Pillai read the LTTE propaganda publicly in 2009 and proved herself a bias person. Sometime the the WHITES and their slaves think “how this petty Sinhalese resist WHITES and their criminal friends”.

    America has nothing to do with any HUMAN RIGHTS issues because it is always super HUMAN RIGHTS violator and killer of innocent people in other countries. Did they find the so called Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? But they killed more than half million people in Iraq. more than 4 million became refugees in other countries. They killed Saddam in a Kangaroo Court.

    When Isreal comes America support all the human right violations of Israel against Palestinians. Jewish Isreal kills palestians everyday. Can Navi Pillai go behind Israel on the basis of the accepted resolutions against Israel? If she cannot take any action against Isreal, UNHRC have to shutup on the issues of Sri Lanka.

    Those who bark against Rajapakse who destroyed the WEST backed LTTE, must know how the Tamils can live in peace with Sinhalese.

    If the Tamils wag the tail to Americans they will supply some guns through third parties. But Tamils must remember 10% cannot defeat 70% in any way.

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