(Text of Jaffna District TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran’s Speech in Parliament on the 25th of November 2020 during the budget vote for the Foreign Affairs Ministry.)
Honourable Presiding Member,
I am happy to follow the Minister himself as we discuss the votes on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Minister is an experienced parliamentarian and able person and I’m glad to discuss a few matters with regard to Sri Lanka’s foreign policy while he is present together with also a very able and dynamic young parliamentarian, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
It was rather comical to witness the spectacle this morning as we started the debate – the bickering between the government benches and the main opposition each trying to absolve themselves from responsibilities they had undertaken in the international arena. Honourable Lakshman Kiriella blaming President Mahinda Rajapaksa, for agreeing with the Secretary General of the UN on the 26th of May 2009 in Kandy, undertaking to inquire into the allegations of human rights violations. And for his part, the Honorable Minister blaming the main opposition when they were in office for co-sponsoring resolution HRC 30/1 before the UN Human Rights Council.
These acts are not acts of certain governments that are in office at a particular point in time, these undertakings are given on behalf of the state and in the international system these obligations are taken very seriously. The Minister read out the letter sent in February this year claiming to withdraw from the co-sponsorship of resolution HRC 30/1.
All of us know that you can’t withdraw from an act that is already done. The Minister was heard to say in this House that that co-sponsorship happened without the knowledge of anyone not even the President of that time.
I want to ask a question: if that be so, how did Sri Lanka co-sponsor resolution 34/1 and 40/1 several months thereafter both of which were merely roll-over resolutions of 30/1. 30/1 was done on the 1st of October 2015. 34/1 was in March 2017 and 40/1 was in March 2019. Three times over! same contents and how does a responsible Minister stand up here and say nobody knew about the contents. These undertakings are on behalf of Sri Lanka. Of the state! There are serious repercussions if you resile from international commitments.
I want to post another question: on the 29th of July 1987 Sri Lanka entered into an international bilateral agreement with India, commonly known as the Indo – Lanka Accord. Various speakers in this House at various times will say various things about this agreement. Mr. Foreign Minister, would you have the courage to write a letter to India like you did to the UN Human Rights Council and withdraw from the Indo- Lanka Accord? If you don’t and if you haven’t done that over several decades of your party in office, you must honour it. No point saying this was thrust down our throat; if it was thrust down your throat withdraw – write a letter to India like you did to the UN human Rights council. Are you brave enough to do that?
if you don’t, I will read out the fundamental principles of the Indo-Lanka accord which is still binding on Sri Lanka. It is an international bilateral agreement: first, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual society, two, each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured. And three, the Northern and the Eastern provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples. Basic principles laid down at the forefront of the Indo-Lanka Accord. You can’t resile from that, nor can you even resile from undertakings given to the UN Human Rights Council – not once, but three times. But more importantly, what President Rajapakse did.
Before President Rajapakse did that in May 2009, on the 02nd of March 2009 honourable Mahinda Samarasinghe on behalf of Sri Lanka said this at the UN Human Rights Council. He says: “Our National discourse has been dominated for decades by an ethnic issue which requires a political solution as a means to resolve the problem”, he didn’t say a military solution, he said it requires a political solution. “On a recommendation of the all-party representative committee we are able to properly implement the 13th amendment to the constitution which was passed in 1987”. Words of your government’s Minister at that time, and following that on the 26th of May, this is what President Mahinda Rajapakse said in the joint communique with the UN Secretary General.
President Rajapakse expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialog with all parties including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka. Now why did he do that? Will you write a letter to the UN Secretary General withdrawing from this commitment, that your President did this on the 26th of May 2009? He said this, not only the implementation of the 13th amendment. 11 years have passed and it has not been implemented, your solemn promise, your leader’s solemn promise to the Secretary General of the UN, no less!
I am saying this because there are repercussions if you don’t deliver on your promises to the international community. You pride yourself that we are a part of the civilized community of nations. We will not be part of the civilized community of nations if we willy-nilly ignore and violate commitments we make to the international community. And the very next day, on the 27th of May 2009, the day after President Mahinda Rajapakse agreed – I am only referring to his guarantee of implementation of the 13th amendment and going beyond that but there are other agreements in that with regard to violation of human Rights and that there’ll be a domestic mechanism in your letter in February this year too you say there’ll be a plan.
where is that? Where is that plan?
For 11 years you fooled the world now for 11 months or so you have fooled the world or you think that you can fool all the people all the time. That’s what you think, because the very next day at the UN Human Rights Council a resolution was adopted which said “welcoming also the recent assurance given by the President of Sri Lanka”, the previous day he gave that assurance, “welcoming also the recent assurance given by the President of Sri Lanka, that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution as well as his commitment to a political solution with the implementation of the 13th amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”
So 13th amendment implementation was the first step, that was promised for over and over and over again, not just to the UN human rights council but to India and I am going to read the three joint communicates that were issued once with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh where President Mahinda Rajapakse’s commitment was recorded “ The Prime Minister emphasized that a meaningful devolution package, this was in June 2010, 10 years have passed, building upon the 13th amendment that’s what honourable Mahinda Rajapakse said: …would create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement. So he said building a ….
Here comes the honorable Mahinda Samarasinghe who gave the assurance to the UN on the 2nd of March 2009. …
“The president of Sri Lanka reiterated his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of Peace, Justice and dignity. Consistent with democracy pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights.” Towards this saying the President expressed his resolve to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the constitution designed to strengthen national amity, and reconciliation through empowerment in this context he shared his ideas on conducting a broader dialog with all parties involved. The Prime minister of India expressed India’s constructive support for efforts that build peace and reconciliation among all communities in Sri Lanka.
Now this was followed when, then external affairs Minister prof. G.L. Peiris visited New Delhi in May 2011, in a joint press statement, I am glad that Prof. Peiris is in the house when I quote it. “The external affairs minister of Sri Lanka affirmed its government’s commitment to ensuring expeditions and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of the Tamil parties. A devolution package “building upon the 13th amendment” “words of assurance given by Prof. Peiris,” to India. Building upon the 13th amendment would contribute towards creating a necessary condition for such reconciliation again reiterated in January 2012 when external affairs minister S. M. Krishna visited Sri Lanka and with Prof. Peiris by his side this is what he said “The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution and building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers, we look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process.
A decade has passed. You haven’t done a thing, some efforts were taken at the last government. We participated in good faith, members who are now in the government also participated the Honourable minister of foreign affairs was a member of the steering committee, Honourable Susil Premajayanth even headed an ad-hoc committee, with regard to the relations between the Parliament and the provincial councils and gave a good report. Honourable Bandula Gunawardene chaired another committee, Honourable Mahinda Samarasinghe chaired another committee on Human rights or fundamental rights and gave a brilliant report, Honourable Dr. Wijedasa Rajapakse who hides behind his lamp all the time here in this house in these sessions was also a member of the steering committee and drafted the proposals with regard to the land powers.
So there was an effort, but that you have abandoned now. Yes state minister ….. thank you… , thank you for that assurance that you will abide by all the assurances given to the world. Before I conclude I need to touch on one or two other matters,
I am thankful for the number that the minister gave of the Sri Lankans who have been repatriated, but there is a serious issue with regard to the people in the Middle East. Our labour force contribute so much to our economy not being given priority in the repatriation process. I hope the foreign minister will look into that and will give them the priority.
Secondly, this is the month of November in which I said this sometime ago also, all those who died in wars are remembered. That is why we sell poppy – world over this is the period in which it happens, and in Sri Lanka particularly in the Tamil areas for the last 3 decades it has become a custom to remember the dead who fought the war, they may have fought the state but nevertheless they are dead and their families and others have a right to remember them as they are accustomed to do.
The government has taken great exception to this now suddenly this year and is flying members of the Attorney General’s Department by a special helicopter to Jaffna, to Mullaitivu – to all over the place amid covid restrictions when the attorney generals department is in the isolation zone, they are flying around all over without being quarantined to oppose and to obtain orders from the magistrates preventing mothers, fathers, sisters brothers remembering the dead. Most unfortunate, most undignified act by the state.
Honouring the dead, remembering the dead is even in our culture a solemn affair, to be chasing after people … the other day I stood with a mother, 83 years old, she has only a shack for a house, her son died in 1985, and as she lit her lamp, I participated in that event, a solemn occasion. Why are you so worried, why are you so scared of the dead? Is it because you put them to death in the most brutal manner violating all the international norms?
The other thing is sovereignty is for all the people. Sovereignty is not to be enjoyed by the majority only, and that must be kept in mind If the majority only enjoys sovereignty then you are leaving the other peoples out. You are forcing them to claim their own sovereignty and that would be your own act.
The foreign minister when he started, said he wants to give a lesson to Honourable Lakshman Kiriella about the fact that India is a Union because they had princely states and they had to be brought together, I want to ask him about the history of this Island, when the Europeans conquered this Island was there one state here? Was there one kingdom in this Island? No, there wasn’t one kingdom in this Island, there were three kingdoms in this Island, and they all fell to Western powers at different times.
It was only in 1833, consequent to Colebrook-Cameron commission report, for administrative convenience it was made one country, so you must remember when you try to take lessons on how India became a Union or how the United States of America became states coming together remember the history of this country as well. This country consists of different peoples who each have their own right in International Law; violation of International law is not a domestic matter.
You can’t hide behind the cloak of sovereignty, state sovereignty. There’s nothing called state sovereignty today; sovereignty is to be enjoyed by the people. You can’t hide behind the concept of state sovereignty and violate international law and claim that it is a domestic matter. You know that very well. So fashioning the country’s foreign policy you have now gone on reverse gear; you have put the country at peril and on this particular occasion when we debate the votes on the foreign ministry I think it is our duty to bring it to your notice that you need to turnaround. And promoting accountability and reconciliation is not a matter that violates the sovereignty of any country.