Colombo Telegraph

An Open Letter To President Rajapaksa

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr Laksiri Fernando

Dear Mr President,              

I have read your speech at the 65th Independence Day celebrations in Trincomalee with considerable mixed feelings or rather disagreeing with some of the key pronouncements that you have made particularly on the UN. Even on others, I have serious doubts since your noble pronouncements do not match with the existing realities.

Let me begin with the epitaph of ‘freedom of the Kata Kirilli or Gomriththa.’ It is true that whether our village farmers completely know about the Ambattha Sutta of the Lord Buddha or not they respect the freedom of Gomriththa to nest in their paddy fields without making any hindrance to them as you have correctly mentioned. As the Buddha said “But, Ambattha, even the quails, that little birds, can live freely and chatter freely as they like in their own nests.” But in the case of Sri Lanka, even after the end of the war, how many family nests have been destroyed by thuggery and violence perpetrated through political patronage at various levels? How many voices of ‘chattering’ journalists have been silenced in the North and the South? Do I have to mention about Lasantha, Nimalarajan, Pradeep and long list of others?

Today (5 February 2013) I read your full speech in The Island newspaper, along with the news of the “Monks Killing: Moratuwa Dy Mayor [UPFA] Arrested.” This gruesome killing of the chief monk has happened next to my home village, Koralawella, at a place very dearly known to me at the Egoda Uyana Sunanda Upananda Temple. Isn’t this a continuation of what has been happening in Kelaniya, Kolonnawa and many other places with the patronage of some ruling party politicians? More dangerous in the present incident is the people themselves taking the law unto their own hands and allegedly executing the suspected perpetrators.

I remember how you came to Geneva in 1991 with Vasudeva Nanayakkara with long lists of the disappeared of that time to present before the UN Human Rights Commission, the predecessor of the current Human Rights Council. We met with the delegates of many countries to present the human rights violations in Sri Lanka irrespective of whether they were from the West or the East, but mostly with the Western delegates for obvious reasons. We also interacted with the LTTE representatives without any inhibition. Didn’t we? That time I was in-charge of the human rights program of the World University Service (WUS), Geneva. Those days, the ‘sovereignty’ or ‘meddling in internal affairs’ that you talk about today was not important matters to you. Why?

Let me come to the main point of this letter and that is the UN. I strongly feel that you have not given the correct picture of the UN principles to the people in Sri Lanka; what is given is a partial and a distorted picture. You have quoted three paragraphs of Article 2 of the UN Charter but those are not 1, 2 and 3. Those are paragraphs 1, 4 and 7. There are altogether 7 numbered paragraphs in the Article and they are prefaced by saying “the organization and its members, in pursuit of the purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following principles.” (my emphasis).

The purposes of the UN are grouped into four paragraphs in Article 1 and they broadly relate to (1) maintaining international peace and security (2) to develop friendly relations between countries (3) promotion and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and (4) to be a centre for harmonizing these common ends. Therefore the organizational principles that you have quoted are nothing but subject to and in the promotion of the above objectives. If there is any dispute between your government and (some) other countries at present, they are related to human rights and issues of reconciliation after the end of the war. These are also the disputes within the country between your government and the opposition, your government and the TNA and your government and even the judiciary.

The Charter as you know begins with saying, “WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,…”

There is no question or dispute that the UN “is based on the principles of sovereign equality of all its members” as you have said. We don’t need to have any inferiority complex regarding this matter and we should be able to employ the best diplomats who could assert this equality. But unfortunately this is not the case today. According to our own Constitution, the sovereignty of our country is not the property of any government but the right of the people. Please also re-read the exact meaning of the second paragraph that you have quoted as follows.

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

There are two propositions in this paragraph. The first is a complete imperative where “all members shall refrain in their international relations form the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Of course there were instances where this imperative was breached but in the case of Sri Lanka at present there is no threat or risk of using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of our country. All the rhetoric on the subject is related to hiding and camouflaging human rights violations and other atrocities within the country. The second proposition very clearly implies that there are “other manners” in which the member countries could influence other member countries but not “inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

If the above paragraph is in respect of the member states of the UN, the position in respect of the United Nations itself is entirely different. This is very clear when you interpret the last paragraph that you have quoted. The full paragraph from your own speech is as follows.

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter.” (my emphasis again).

According to this paragraph there are two areas where even the UN cannot intervene in matters of a member state. One is the area which “requires the members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter.” These are explained in Chapters VI and XIV. We should also keep in mind that, although not stated in this paragraph, there are matters that the UN and its Security Council could directly intervene and these are explained in Chapter VII as matters of ‘international security and peace.’

The other area pertains to the “matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction.” The word ‘essentially’ is usually emphasised by the experts. There is a considerable agreement that human rights are not ‘essentially within the domestic jurisdiction.’ This means UN could interfere at least in grave human rights matters.

Yet in my present view even the UN should refrain from intervening, as much as possible, in human rights issues, if there is no consent, in countries directly although it perhaps has the mandate to do so. Instead the UN should utilize the ‘other manners’ or other means in influencing the countries under its scrutiny. This is exactly what is happening today and Sri Lanka should not be agitated by the situation.

Therefore my appeal for you is to cooperate instead of resisting or objecting to the UN, keeping in mind the best interest of the people in the country irrespective of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or any other distinction. Sri Lanka should have a better understanding of the United Nations, its objectives and particularly on human rights.

There were many other pronouncements in relation to the ethnic issue, its settlement and reconciliation in your speech which go contrary to the principles of human rights and best interests of the country and the people. However, I refrain from commenting on them hoping that even at this last stage before the government delegation going before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that you might moderate your stance and change course considering the best interests of the country and the people.

Yours sincerely,

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