Rajiva Wijesinha Interviewed by Ranga Jayasuriya
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP and presidential advisor on Reconciliation blames the Ministry of External Affairs for the lack of professionalism within the ministry and says it has not even bothered to find out who the members of the visiting delegation from the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner are.
“… Can you understand a Ministry, supposed to be in charge of External Affairs, that has not even bothered to think about who Richard and his team might be (referring to the proposed delegation from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), that seems to have been busily preparing the ground for the Resolution that the ministry tried to oppose in Geneva?” Prof. Wijesinha asked in an interview with Ranga Jayasuriya of LAKBIMAnEWS.
Q:The government has agreed to receive a delegation by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to offer “advice and technical assistance” to implement the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka. Does not that signal a change in the previously stated position of the government? (The government earlier rejected the UN resolution and External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris said that the government had ‘taken a decision not to abide by the resolution irrespective of the result’).
A:You must ask the Ministry of External Affairs about the relationship between the various pronouncements spokesmen in this regard have made. As I have said before, there is a lack of professionalism in the way that particular agency of government works, as exemplified most recently in the manner in which it reacted to the email about which our former representative, Tamara Kunanayagam, wrote to the Office of the High Commissioner. Though I gathered from Ms. Kunanayagam that the president had been concerned about this email, the Ministry of External Affairs concentrated on letting Ms. Kunanayagam down and forgot all about the email, and its contents.
I was in fact astonished to find that they had not even bothered to find out who the people were who had been acting as agents, provocateurs, and clearly exceeding their briefs. We know for instance who Cynthia is, and Christof Heyns is, given his full name and designation. But can you understand a ministry supposed to be in charge of External Affairs that has not even bothered to think about who Richard and his team might be, who seem to have been busily preparing the ground for the Resolution that the ministry tried to oppose in Geneva?
Tragically, the superb cooperation between Indian and Sri Lanka which led to a forceful rebuke of the high commissioner for trying to subvert the decisions of the Council by the then Indian ambassador in Geneva – was forgotten after Dayan Jayatilleka left, and what should have been the foundation for reasserting the original principles on which the Human Rights Council was set up was destroyed. I only hope the present ambassador in Geneva, who is less inclined to pursue false gods than the last career diplomat to hold the post, will work to rebuild that relationship in the manner Ms. Kunanayagam and Dr. Jayatilleka exemplified. I should note that I have still not got responses to the queries I sent the minister and the secretary, as advised by the president, about the aberrations of the past.
In your opinion, what has actually prompted the government to change its earlier position as per the US backed resolution?
The government’s position about working on the LLRC recommendations is nothing new. This was stated by the leader of the House when the LLRC report was tabled in Parliament in December. Unfortunately, a few elements bucked the general trend of welcome of that report by claiming that it did not do enough, which then led others to claim it was doing too much, and the whole matter was left in abeyance for several months as people concentrated on symbols rather than substance.
I think the manner in which the original Indian position of support for Sri Lanka was overturned made the government realize that it had to work more quickly. I am still not sure that the people making the running know the difference between cooperating with those who have the interests of the Sri Lankan people as a whole at heart, and those who want to score brownie points for electoral reasons or their careers. But if we concentrate on the principles enunciated in the National Human Rights Action Plan and the LLRC Action Plan, we can’t go wrong.
Reports say UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay is expected to visit Sri Lanka. Has her visit been finalized? Given the strong opposition to the UN Human Rights Commissioner within the government and its constituent parties, wouldn’t that mean the government is losing face within its nationalist support base?
I have no details about her visit, or the different views of different components of the government, though I am sure they all have Sri Lankan interests at heart. The government may need to explain its responses more clearly, and for that purpose, at whatever level the visit does take place, I hope we set in place mechanisms to ensure cooperation rather than patronage as we managed to ensure in the days when my ministry coordinated visits from UN Human Rights personnel. The excellent cooperation and helpful advice we got from Walter Kalin and Manfred Novak should be replicated, but the absence of a dedicated ministry, which knows the facts and what is needed has been a problem in recent years.
A main element of the UN resolution was that it called on the government to present a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps implementing the recommendations made in the Commission’s report and to address alleged violations of international law. However, the LLRC action plan only recommends completing ongoing disciplinary inquiries conducted within the armed forces statute. In that context, doesn’t it fall short of a full scale investigation into allegations of war crimes, and thereby, fail to address the concerns raised in the UN Human Rights Council?
The wording of the UN resolution you use makes it clear that the war cry of war crimes indulged in by hypocrites such as David Miliband has been forgotten. The Americans, as I have pointed out, are less single-minded in this regard, and since their dogmas are less dependent upon local electoral considerations but more on enhancing their regional position, whilst also making clear their worries about terrorism in general, toned down the initial draft. Though the final resolution still has elements that seem to violate the principles on which the UN was founded, the modifications will ensure interpretation in terms of those principles. We must however make sure that we rebuild the coalition that resisted such violations way back in 2009, while ensuring that we fulfill our Human Rights obligations to our own people. The LLRC Action Plan makes clear, in its first four recommendations, the different levels of evidence available and the actions to be taken, and following those will ensure that violations that occurred are addressed in the same way that other countries have addressed such violations, as for instance with the recent finger cutting horrors in Afghanistan by some American soldiers. We are adult enough to realize that those are individual aberrations, not caused by the rather sordid training programmes they engage in sometimes which have now been highlighted, and we must hope that the saner people in America realize the same about any violations that have occurred in Sri Lanka
Going by the previous government statements and the LLRC recommendations themselves, it is fair to say that the government is not prepared to conduct a full scale probe into the alleged war crimes. Why is that?
The government is investigating instances where there is a prima facie case. The exaggerations in the Darusman report, which ignored evidence of the UN itself, do not amount to credible allegations, let alone providing credible evidence.
There is obviously a difference of policy positions between the government of Sri Lanka and the Office of the UN High Commissioner as far as investigations into allegations of war crimes are concerned. Ms. Pillay has regularly called for an independent international investigation. Would such differences make it difficult for the two parties to cooperate (to implement the UN resolution)?
Ms. Pillay has been reiterating the same dogmatic position for the last several years, fed no doubt by officials who see it as their duty to promote investigation and perpetuate their own influence – which the Colombians warned us about four years ago when Louise Arbour was hankering after a permanent presence here, and her lieutenant, Rory Mungoven was asking me about his outfit replacing the Norwegian led SLMM. We need to make it clear that we see no reason to internationalize the matter, which is why, as I have long advocated, we should have an official, formal rebuttal of the Darusman report, based on evidence – which I have produced, in The Road to Reconciliation and its Enemies and other writings, but which – though I was assured it was being prepared – has not been done on an official basis yet. Having made that clear, we should of course proceed expeditiously to fulfill the LLRC Recommendations, including taking appropriate disciplinary action where the evidence warrants it.
The UN resolution adopted in March requested the Office of the High Commissioner to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its 22nd session. Do you think what appears to be the lack of progress in human rights situations would lead Sri Lanka to be subjected to further scrutiny at the UNHRC?
There has been much progress, though we need to record this systematically, something we have failed in, miserably. Though I have been urging that the website for Human Rights planned at the Ministry of Plantation Industries should be started, I can understand why a ministry dealing with a very different subject does not have the personnel or the resources to move on this. Unfortunately, there was much confusion as to what Human Rights is about when the decision was made in 2010 to hand the subject over to the Ministry of External Affairs. While its secretary told me clearly that they could not handle it, this position was not made clear to the president, until he finally asked the Minister of Plantation Industries to handle it. However, the resources required have not been made available, as indeed I have found in convening the Task Force on expediting fulfilment of the National Human Rights Action Plan. While I have had excellent cooperation from relevant ministries, and the input of secretaries to Justice, Women’s and Children’s Affairs, Prisons and Rehabilitation, Lands, and so on have been excellent, coordination and collation have suffered. I think a better mechanism will save us a lot of difficulty, both in making clear what has been done, and in identifying for ourselves what more needs to be done.
Can you see any tangible improvement in the human rights situation and other related areas such as resettlement, Tamil detainees, disappearances, since the UN resolution was adopted in March?
The situation with regard to resettlement and detainees has been improving consistently from 2009 itself. Our record on resettlement is extremely good, and ditto with rehabilitation of the former combatants, far in advance of any other country in the world in similar situations. We also started to address the question of detainees in 2009, with the president setting up a committee in our ministry to expedite action. Though the committee ceased to operate after the election, with the closure of our ministry, work on this continued.
Sadly, publicity about this was nil, but when I kept pursuing the matter, I finally, in the middle of last year, got statistics from the then attorney general which showed that, that problem had continued to be addressed. He also mentioned then the policy which the government has continued to carry out, of using the rehabilitation mechanism for many of those early detainees too. However, there should be a mechanism to make clear what is being done, and clarify the achievements with regard to these two categories, and indeed a few days ago, once again, I sent a suggestion to the Presidential Secretariat which worked so effectively on the LLRC Action Plan, about ‘a Registry for information about Reconciliation initiatives.’ Better information is also needed about disappearances, since there is much disinformation and confusion of statistics in this regard. A Registry to record allegations and ensure the police follow these up would be useful.
Do you think that the Sri Lankan government is capable of addressing the multitude of concerns pertaining to rights violations — many of which are blamed on its military apparatus — without international help? Can we do it without the ‘technical assistance’ of the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner?
Yes, of course we can. Unfortunately there are so many allegations without foundation that reactions tend to be emotional. That is why the LLRC has been so helpful, because it records those on which there seems to be a prima facie case and makes clear the need to investigate these, a position the Action Plan reinforces.