Full text of the Statement delivered by Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka and Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation, at the High Level Segment of the 28th Session of Human Rights Council today.
High Commissioner for Human Rights/ Madam Deputy High Commissioner
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour for me to be here today, representing the Government of Sri Lanka following the historic Presidential election that took place in my country 48 days ago on 8th January 2015.
As this august assembly would be aware, 81.52% of the registered voters in Sri Lanka from all parts of the island including the former conflict affected areas in the northern and eastern provinces exercised their franchise at this election. It was the largest ever voter turnout in the country’s history. Despite calls from some both within and outside the country to boycott the election, the people of Sri Lanka asserted their right to vote. Out of 66.28% of the total votes cast in the Jaffna District, 74.42% voted for President Maithripala Sirisena. In the Vanni District, out of the 72.57% votes cast, 78.47% voted for him. In the predominantly Muslim Eastern Province, President Sirisena polled 71.84% of votes in the Trincomalee District, 65.22% in the Digamadulla District and 81.62% in the Batticaloa District. 84.26% of the votes cast in his favour were from outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces reflecting that the people living in these areas also gave voice to the change of Government. It could therefore be said that this is the first time in our country’s history that we have a truly Sri Lankan leader who has been elected through the votes of all Sri Lankans irrespective of race, religion and language. All communities united in electing President Maithripala Sirisena who promised them a united New Sri Lanka in which ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is respected, celebrated and valued. They chose a leader who would fulfil their aspirations of strong and independent democratic institutions, freedom of expression, the rule of law, good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights. In doing so they rejected outright a regime under which the rights of the individual had been violated with impunity for almost a decade.
This peaceful change of Government that the people of Sri Lanka achieved through the ballot was a triumph for democracy not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. It was a victory for the values and principles which the Human Rights Council and the United Nations stand for and promote. It is also a clear manifestation of the commitment of the people of Sri Lanka to democracy and freedom and their dedication to uphold, protect and preserve the pluralistic nature of society.
Within days of being elected, the Government, carrying out its pledge to ensure media freedom, unblocked websites that were blocked, lifted restrictions placed on foreign media personnel visiting the country, enabled journalists to travel freely to all parts of the country and invited all media personnel living in exile to return.
Human rights activists, media personnel and civil society groups are once again free to engage in their work without fear of intimidation or harassment.
The NGO Secretariat which was previously under the purview of the Ministry of Defence was shifted to the Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs. The Government will work with civil society groups and taking their views on important issues into consideration.
On the first Independence Day ceremony in Sri Lanka since the election, on 4th February, the Government, departing from previous practice, acknowledged past tragedies that had taken place in the country and emphasised the urgent need for healing and unity. Addressing the nation, President Sirisena stressed on the requirement for meditative reflection on past errors and for desisting from heaping blame on each other. He made a commitment to work towards reconciliation and to unite the minds of the people of all ethnic and religious communities in the country. The Government also made a ‘Declaration of Peace’ paying respects to the citizens of the country of all ethnicities and religions who lost their lives due to the tragic conflict that afflicted the country for over three decades and to all the victims of violence since Independence. A commitment was made to ensure that never again will the country be allowed to be traumatised by the shedding of blood of her citizens.
Just days after assuming office, the President replaced the former military Governors of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country with two senior former civil servants. This set in motion the process of strengthening civilian administration in these provinces including cessation of military involvement in civilian activities, review of high-security zones and releasing of land for resettlement of the internally displaced. The Cabinet of Ministers has already identified and approved the release of one thousand acres of land from the high security zone. This land will be released in stages with 220 acres being released initially while more land is in the process of being identified for release. The UN Country Team which includes UNHCR is in active discussion with the Ministry of Resettlement and other relevant entities to work out resettlement plans for the internally displaced. We urge the international donor community to extend assistance to this important programme.
Work is currently underway to repeal the controversial 18th amendment to the Constitution which removed independent appointments to Commissions and lifted the term limits of the Executive President. The Government will re-introduce provisions of the 17th amendment to the Constitution that will provide for independent Judicial Service, Police, Public Service, Elections, Bribery and Corruption, and National Human Rights Commissions.
The Bill on Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses which was delayed for over 5 years was passed unanimously by the Parliament on 19th February. Once this law is enacted, expeditious steps will be taken to set-up the necessary institutional framework to give effect to its provisions. This will facilitate the conduct of fair trials by striking a balance between the rights of the accused, the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and the entitlements of witnesses.
The end of terrorism in May 2009 during the previous administration, though not without cost, was a necessity without which the restoration of human rights and equitable and sustainable development of the nation could not be achieved. However, with the Government at the time choosing to operate with a sense of impunity and a triumphalist approach, opportunities for reconciliation and restoration of human rights suffered. The historic election of 8th January this year that marked the end of that regime has now offered Sri Lanka an unprecedented opportunity to fulfil human rights objectives and work on achieving reconciliation. The Government recognises the importance of this opportunity and is resolute in its commitment to address these issues sincerely.
The Government has already undertaken the review of cases of individuals in detention. Discussions are taking place with the ICRC to explore further areas of cooperation including for the consolidation of the lists of missing persons and addressing areas of concern relating to the families of the missing. This includes obtaining assistance for psychological support.
Recognising the need to rebuild trust, harmony and an inclusive nation to bring about reconciliation, the President has set up a Special Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation which will function directly under him. This mechanism would, among other matters, identify immediate problems that require to be solved and recommend solutions to achieve reconciliation.
Discussions are already underway to look at ways and means of expanding the scope of human rights in line with internationally accepted standards. Recognising that the previous Government failed to implement the recommendations of the Commissions that were set up at the time, including those made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), action is now being taken to explore steps that can be taken in this regard. This includes examining incidents identified by these Commissions as serious violations of human rights which warrant further investigations and a criminal justice response. The content of the Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka too can be taken into account by domestic investigative and judicial mechanisms which we are in the process of setting up. The Government has already begun discussions regarding the nature of local mechanisms that should be put in place for this purpose including amendments to existing laws.
It is significant for us in Sri Lanka that the core theme of this high-level segment is ‘Strengthening of International Cooperation in the field of Human Rights’. As an island nation located in the Indian Ocean, mid-way between east and west, records dating back several thousand years indicate that Sri Lanka has always maintained contact with the outside world. The last few years when Sri Lanka moved away from this cooperative approach was an aberration. It was not in keeping with our nation’s interests or with our nation’s character and personality. We are firm in our belief, that, to be successful, the journey of reconciliation and accountability is one that the people of our country must embark upon, on their own. We do possess the competence, the skills, and the human resources required for this purpose. But we recognise that in this journey, there is much that we can draw from the experience of others in the international community. We have much to gain from their advice, technical support and assistance.
It is with this sincerity of purpose that I reached out to the High Commissioner for Human Rights last month on behalf of the Government to invite him to visit Sri Lanka at an early opportunity. I also requested for the Sri Lanka situation to not be discussed formally at the 28th Session of the Council in the context of the progressive steps being taken by the Government. I thank the High Commissioner and the President and members of this Council for the support extended to Sri Lanka by granting this request.
The Government will engage and work in cooperation with a range of international organisations and countries across the world. Our approach is to seek solutions to issues through dialogue, cooperation, understanding and learning and not through confrontation. In this spirit, the Government commenced a dialogue with the Government of South Africa last week to learn from their experience of truth-seeking. A delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of International Cooperation visited Sri Lanka for this purpose. While they met all relevant stakeholders during the visit, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs took the unprecedented initiative of inviting civil society representatives to a workshop hosted in the Ministry to exchange and share views in this regard with Government representatives and the South African delegation.
The Government has invited Mr. Pablo de Greiff, the Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence to visit Sri Lanka for consultations. He has proposed to visit us at the end of this month. We also look forward to receiving the Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances and we hope that the High Commissioner himself would find time to visit at an early opportunity. In this spirit of engagement, dialogue and cooperation, we look forward to inviting other special procedure mandate holders as well on a needs-based manner.
As you are aware Mr. President, Sri Lanka is a party to all core human rights conventions. We will work actively with the treaty body system and revisit and address recommendations made by them.
Although the Government has achieved much during its 48 days in office, there are many more hurdles to overcome including bureaucratic bottlenecks, entrenched attitudes resulting from the practices of the previous regime and extremist elements that attempt to derail the Government’s initiatives especially in the lead up to the upcoming Parliamentary election. For some of us, the changes that are taking place and the speed at which the issues concerning our people are being addressed may not be rapid enough. I assure this Council however that the political will and commitment required for this purpose has not diminished in any way.
The Government is committed to this important and historic journey that we have embarked upon which is critical for the realisation of the aspirations of the people of our country. I urge this Council, the High Commissioner, our bilateral partners, international organisations and also the Sri Lankan diaspora, all who wish our country to succeed, to trust us, have faith in us, support us and strengthen our hand.
alex / March 2, 2015
A lot of fine words so far. I think the world wants to see a lot more action.
Sylvia Haik / March 6, 2015
Alex, for Heaven’s sake give the man credit for a brilliant speech. I hope it will serve as a ‘to do’ list to fulfil at least during the tenure of this President. This speech should have laid the foundations to resume earning the international respect that was squandered by the Rajapakse regime
Amarasiri / March 8, 2015
Mr. Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs,
Thank you Sir, Well articulated. You have a lot of garbage, Mahinda Rajapaksa garbage, to clear.
Only 9 Tamils Mootals left in London? That is very good News for Tamils, because they were the biggest problem they had, the Fools aka Mootals. They need to move on, like the Common Sense Tamils. The Modaya fraction among the Sinhala, as well, seem to be going down.
1. “As this august assembly would be aware, 81.52% of the registered voters in Sri Lanka from all parts of the island including the former conflict affected areas in the northern and eastern provinces exercised their franchise at this election”
That is voter participation rate that is 81.52/50 ( for USA) =1.63, 63% above USA voter participation rate.
2. “It could therefore be said that this is the first time in our country’s history that we have a truly Sri Lankan leader who has been elected through the votes of all Sri Lankans irrespective of race, religion and language.”
“In doing so they rejected outright a regime under which the rights of the individual had been violated with impunity for almost a decade.”
This is a profound statement.
3. “The NGO Secretariat which was previously under the purview of the Ministry of Defence was shifted to the Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs. The Government will work with civil society groups and taking their views on important issues into consideration.”
4. “On the first Independence Day ceremony in Sri Lanka since the election, on 4th February, the Government, departing from previous practice, acknowledged past tragedies that had taken place in the country and emphasised the urgent need for healing and unity.”
5. “Just days after assuming office, the President replaced the former military Governors of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country with two senior former civil servants. This set in motion the process of strengthening civilian administration in these provinces including cessation of military involvement in civilian activities, review of high-security zones and releasing of land for resettlement of the internally displaced.”
6. “Work is currently underway to repeal the controversial 18th amendment to the Constitution which removed independent appointments to Commissions and lifted the term limits of the Executive President. The Government will re-introduce provisions of the 17th amendment to the Constitution that will provide for independent Judicial Service, Police, Public Service, Elections, Bribery and Corruption, and National Human Rights Commissions.”
The List of Good Governance Compared to what Medamulana Mahinda Rajapaksa was doing is quite long. Keep going, Sir.
Nathan / March 2, 2015
The ending of terrorism during the previous administration, though not without cost, was a necessity, the Foreign Minister has asserted.
Was the high cost of civilian deaths also a necessity? Shouldn’t the ‘surendees’ have been dealt with in accordance to international norms?
Should the elderly, the women and children have been ‘incarcerated’ in the so called ‘welfare centres’ in the name of Humanitarian assistance?
When released (after years of ‘detention’), shouldn’t they have had been provided with amenities suitable to overcome inclement weather?
Shouldn’t there be an effort to bring the perpetrators of human cost to face justice?
What is the plan and program in place to instil reconciliation.
anonymous / March 2, 2015
It’s still early days Nathan. The dark clouds of the ‘white vans, abductions, racial attacks, torture, money laundering, corruption’…. are still hanging over Sorry Lanka. Relax and enjoy the freedom, watch the culprits trying desperately to cover up the ‘S–t Hole’ they are in which they themselves dug. Even a human being has to spend at least 8-9 months in a mothers womb before it sees daylight. You must seriously think of reading a little bit about ‘Dependent Origination’.
There is nothing anyone could do to make things ‘All Perfect’. That is the way it (Samsara) is and that is how it will be for another 2500 years. Metta!
P.S. ” What is the plan and program in place to instil reconciliation”
How many people planned things for the country?
D.S, Banda, Dahanayaka, Dudley, Sirimavo, Wijeweera, JR, Premadasa, Chandrika, Wijethunge, Prabhakaran, Mahinda, SF and now Ranil+My3?
Plans are all ‘Dreams’ and not real. Everything in this universe is ‘Anicca’ ( Transient,impermanant, unstable having the nature to arise and pass away), ‘Dukkha’ literally, (hard to bear) and ‘Anattha’ (Literally (‘not self’, impersonal).
So Nathan, accept thing ‘the way they are’ and you will be happy and free from suffering. Metta!
Nathan / March 3, 2015
Hi anonymous, Your remark is reasonable & friendly. I wish to stay on your good side.
What is our responsibility towards bringing about changes to ‘the way they are’. Is accepting them ‘the way they are’ the only way left for us.
anonymous / March 3, 2015
“What is our responsibility towards bringing about changes to ‘the way they are’. Is accepting them ‘the way they are’ the only way left for us.”
Nathan, we do not have to take responsibility towards anything as everything is impermanent and constantly changing.
“Awareness is your refuge:
Awareness of the changingness of feelings, of attitudes, of moods, of material change, stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is indestructible.” (Buddha damma)
Ram / March 3, 2015
This is a quote from Hillary Clinton, one of the ‘Three Graces’ with regard to the most recent Gaza invasion.
“I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”
This is on the same day that John Kerry rebukes the UNHRC for doing exactly what he used to do TILL the 8th of January 2015 as regards Sri Lanka.
cholan / March 2, 2015
Another bunch of con to fool international community …this guy represented goon MR just few years ago and the UN members are not fools …..truth is Tamil problem has gone into the hand of International community….
Native Vedda / March 3, 2015
Mahinda, Gota, Blacker, Weerawansa, Mohan Karuna, KP ………… Dayan
Are you there?
This island needs you.
Critical time needs drastic actions,
Need of the hour is a successful coup,
Unleash smart ass patriotic forces,
Time for a bloody good riot
Arm the thugs with weapons from Gota’s floating armoury,
Gnanasara are you ready to lead your saffron clad thugs into the Islamic Republic of Kathankudi?
The island is being sold to foreigners, soon the UN forces are expected to arrive, ………..
You cannot expect the Armed forces to fight a war with foreigners, as usual they will be hiding behind their women folks.
Hence we will have to rely on Banda’s rent a mob agency.
Lal loo, sach, mechanic, Nisantha De Silva, Ramuuuuu, ela, nike, OTC, Sinhalese Buddhist. Navin, Thonda, Ravi Perera, bla bla blabhaya, Nalini, Jim softy, K A Sumanasekera, …………………. all other MR’s minions,
are you with smart ass patriots or against them?
Peace Lover / March 3, 2015
naughty naughty thoughts eh boy Native Vedha :-)
Ajith / March 3, 2015
“The end of terrorism in May 2009 during the previous administration”.
Srilanka had several types of terrorism by various groups, institutions, government, and individuals since Independence until now, so it is not accurate to say that terrorism ended in May 2009 it continued until January 2015. We have to wait and see how it will go in the future. First we should recognise that the term terrorism cannot stand alone if we don’t recognise that there may be underlying reasons or causes. The underlying causes are so far untouched by None.
Pacs / March 3, 2015
The accused and the Judge can not be the same person. In reality mi3 was excecuting the genocide as the acting executive president during the final days of the war 2009 where erasing of evidence and the acts of genocide intensified.
Lakwin / March 4, 2015
Technically, the conduct of the war was the sole domain of MR, GR, the National Security Council and members of the Military Command. Maithree was the Minister of Health at the time. The ending of the war was the priority at the time, one that I fully supported in order to end a very dark chapter in our history. However the methods and means employed to end the war is not something I support and weighs heavily on my conscience. What started as a war of liberation quickly became twisted into a war of retribution and lost any righteous and moral high ground. The post war events only made the perceptions of the war worse by hosting annual ‘Victory Parades’ as if we were some Stalinst Soviet republic.
MR administration and the shot callers of that administration (namemly GR, BR, NR, SVG, GLP) are responsible for the irresponsible end of the war. Their lack of transparency during and after the war is the only thing to be blamed for the mess we have to accept we are in today.
Piranha / March 3, 2015
Will the new government be able to save the Rajapaksas and the military from blame by the UNHRC for the heinous crimes they committed against the tamils?
Is the Sirisena government worried about an uprising by the Sinhalese egged on by the likes of Weerawansa if the UNHRC publishes its report at a crucial time for the Sirisena government?
Mangala is trying his best by his diplomacy and his speech today. Postponement of the inevitable guilty verdict against the Rajapaksa’s and the military may give time for the Sirisena government to get a firmer grip on power following elections. That appears to be the government’s motive, I suspect.
sach / March 3, 2015
Inevitably guilty? LOL
Burning Issue / March 3, 2015
“Is the Sirisena government worried about an uprising by the Sinhalese egged on by the likes of Weerawansa if the UNHRC publishes its report at a crucial time for the Sirisena government?”
You have missed out the most vocal of them all; DR DJ. This man is hell bent on stirring up Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. He wants a rebellion and he is prepared use any language. It is extremely disappointing that this learned individual has stooped so low!
Srinath.gunaratne / March 3, 2015
What a waste of tax payers money!
sama / March 3, 2015
But pulligonas of your kind stayed as if kirimati gilapu kimbula while Rajapakshes abused srilanken airlines planes for their entourages.
I have the feeling Mangala et al has achieved more than what GLP did with his entire last term.
Seelawathi / March 3, 2015
why not you try to mind your own business since yours are not far from that Wimal etal who even today says that it was revengeful act to question his wife for the criminal act carried out by her. Had the similar done by someone from average, it should have been a crime, while the bugger and his wife to move on such acts are not regarded as crimes.
Seelawathi / March 3, 2015
yes, you said nothign at the time, MR ate the tax payers funds for his own and kith and kin… how come backlickers of your kind were scared still at that time ?
Gowdilyan prof / March 4, 2015
Mangala seems to be successful, all because he spoke what is considered to be right and true. The principle goes on to say if you need to be accepted without much effort, you need to be right and true. That is an easy way to be get accepted.
Rome was not built over night. Babies are born only after nine months. So, while there are 5.7 million out of 11.9 voters who still not aware of the corrupt, Undemocratic and ruthless forces and want lto continue to rule the country, how could people on earth look for miracles to happen overnight. Brutality, ingenuity, inhuman, greed, also stupidity all a package. If not people tend to commit such negative behaviours will last for ever. But because of the mixture of these qualities they are caught before they really realize their crimes. Let us allow the Samaritans to take position of their camp strongly and equipe to fight not only the wicked but also the ignorant and unsuspecting folks.
Presidet MS correctly made the comments that his predecessor is a shameless creature to fly in the state owned helicopter without formal approval. So these are the dirty behaviours of such guys. Yes, when time works out correctly currupt a and brutals will dig their own graves.
Lakwin / March 4, 2015
I completely agree with you here. There is a shockingly large number of ‘unenlightened’ individuals in the country which is perfect for people and organisations who wish to stir up hate between communities. The government should take it upon themselves to educate the public on the importance of change, rule of law, respect of that law, exactly what a tyrannical government is, and to broaden and awaken the peoples conscience. All of the above are what most governments in our independent history are guilty of, especially the previous administration. And then proceed to practice what they preach.
Emil van der Poorten / March 8, 2015
Unfortunately, Mr. Samaraweera’s words have a familiar ring, better put together than the Stalinist nonsense that the Rajapaksa horde kept pouring out in order to shore up its violent “Sinhala Buddhist” base but that’s about all.
What this speech also exemplifies is the equivocation that the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe government seems, increasingly, to demonstrate and will merely delay the return of the chauvinist, violent xenophobes, with or without the Rajapaksas at its helm, and a descent into a worse cauldron of violence and corruption.
It is yet another example of not biting the bullet but simply delaying a necessary facing up to reality and fact with the inevitable results that will follow.