On March 21, the US will introduce a tough resolution at the UNHRC to make Sri Lanka culpable of human rights violations during the war against the LTTE. What is Colombo doing to convince countries not to support it ? Padma Rao Sundarji talks to Sri Lankan foreign minister Prof. G.L. Peiris.
Q: On March 21, the US will introduce a tough resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva to make Sri Lanka culpable for human rights violations during the war against the LTTE. What is Colombo doing to convince countries not to support it?
A: Not everyone is pursuing Sri Lanka. I just returned from Japan. Officials there are amazed at the progress within just 3 years since the end of war. Thousands of Tamils including 595 LTTE child soldiers have been reintegrated, demining is almost complete. Schools are running. In how many countries of former conflict –many of whom are supporting the US resolution - have you seen such speedy work?
Q: India is likely to vote against Sri Lanka again. Will there be repercussions on bilateral relations ?
A: India has seen and made an immense contribution in the north: building houses, laying railway tracks and helping with agricultural inputs and the creation of livelihoods. We believe therefore that she has a moral responsibility to support Sri Lanka. It is in her interest, no less than in ours, to ensure that there is a stable, longlasting settlement. New Delhi must adopt methods that are conducive towards achieving that. To do anything that would polarize an already complex situation would be a mistake.
Q: Human rights organisations, too, slam Sri Lanka. Journalists have disappeared, the SLA allegedly tortured Tamils.
A: This is not about moral issues. It is a vicious political campaign. The war is over, but for those who funded and nurtured the Tigers, only the modality has changed, not the objective. Instead of through guns, suicide bombs and violence, those rich and influential overseas Tamils are now trying to isolate Sri Lanka by dissuading investors and getting their host countries to misuse trade agreements for overtly political purposes. From gun-running to smuggling, they have stopped at nothing to amass colossal financial resources over 30 years. We have evidence of threatening letters written by such overseas Tamils to their local MPs. We have proof of foreign MPs who repeatedly attacked us, taking on paid jobs with LTTE-riendly groups after their term. The diaspora also commands a media network. Those ‘missing’ journalists showed up in other countries. Cases of alleged abuse that HRW gave us in Japan turned out to be uncorroborated applications for asylum.
Q: What about the latest Channel 4 footage showing Prabhakaran’s dead son ? Is it authentic?
A: We have never refused to examine any new material brought up, even though our past experience shows that these videos were fakes. But why is it that Channel 4 material invariably surfaces on the eve of events like the ongoing 22nd session at the UNHRC ? If you have incriminating material, why not put it all up ? Why in instalments?
Q: Is it admissable for an independent body like the UN to screen a film by a private party and accept it as evidence without conducting its own forensic investigation?
A: Definitely not. The UN is supposed to be an impartial body. UNHRC chief Navanethem Pillay called for an investigation into human rights violations by our army exactly a week after the war ended. What evidence could she have possibly gathered within seven days? She wrongly characterizes the findings of a panel set up by the UN Secretary-General as a UN report to strengthen her case. EU delegations travelled to northern Sri Lanka and came back impressed. Many told us privately that they do not agree with what is happening at the UNHRC but are forced by Brussels to vote in a particular way. We invited Ms Pillay to Sri Lanka two years ago to assess the situation herself. She laid some conditions -which we fulfilled -and promised to come. We are still waiting.
Q: During the 30-year-war, there were many human rights excesses committed by the LTTE. Is any attempt being made by any court of law to try the last of the LTTE support base like its funders in western countries?
A: That is precisely the imbalance. Certainly, there were atrocities on both sides. Yes, finding evidence that will stand scrutiny in a court is not easy, because the LTTE was in effective occupation of a section of our country at that time and destroyed most of it. But that cannot be the reason for countries critical of Sri Lanka to lay disproportionate emphasis only on the one side, and show no concern for the other. Much of the existing international law on conflict focusses only on those between states, not on asymetrical conflicts against non-state actors.