By Mangala Samaraweera –
The UNHRC, on March 22, adopted by majority consent, a resolution on the implementation of recommendations of Sri Lanka’s president appointed LLRC. Responsible officials of the government and the state media continue to describe the adoption of the resolution as a massive defeat for the country, alleging that pro-LTTE nations jealous of Sri Lanka are behind it and that it is a big challenge and threat to the national sovereignty and an illegal interference of internal affairs by the international community.
The increasing interdependency of states is a key feature of international relations today. Sri Lanka and all other civilized nations have accepted through international conventions that the international community has the ability to intervene if a country denies its citizen’s democratic rights and represses them.
The Westphalian notion of sovereignty, based on the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 which articulates the principal of non intervention of one state in internal affairs of another state, is no more absolute in the modern world.
Today this notion has been replaced by the notion of responsible sovereignty by which a nation can be held accountable if it abuses the rights of its citizens.
For example, we do not have the right to assault or kill a brother or a child of our own inside our house and when the police intervenes, to say that this is my home, therefore you have no right to interfere, and run away from the law.
As a country that has worked to give the UN such powers, we are bound by international conventions and laws to act accordingly.
It was Thamara Kunanayakam, the present permanent representative of Sri Lanka, who first told the UN-CHR in Geneva that the UN should not allow a government to repress its political opponents in the name of national sovereignty.
In 1987, as representative of the World Christian Conference, she made a statement at the UN-CHR. She concluded her speech by appealing to the UN not to allow the concealment of human rights issues in the name of terrorism and separatism. (Thamara Kunanayakam’s speech was tabled in the House with a request that it be included in the Hansard)
Together with me, it was the then Hon. MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, as co-conveners of Mothers’ Front, who reiterated in this House that the international community should exert pressure on our country over human rights violations in the post-1989 period.
The information I gathered in Sri Lanka was taken by him (Mahinda Rajapaksa) to Geneva and presented to the UN-CHR in every March and October, with him asking the UN repeatedly to intervene in Sri Lanka’s issues.
According to his speech on 25 October, 1990 in page 366 of Hansard, he said, “I took the wailings of this country’s mothers. Do I not have the freedom to speak about them? It was the wailing of those mothers which were heard by those 12 countries.”
As an MP, he obtained the badge to gain entry to the UN-CHR through Quaker Peace Organization, and he attended the sessions every time with the Nimalkas, Sunandas, Sunilas and Sooriya Gunasekaras, whom the state media is branding as terrorists today.
It was Hon. MP Mahinda Rajapaksa who demanded in Parliament that the UN be allowed to visit our country and investigate.
According to Hansard page 941 of 04 December, 1989, he thanked the government for permitting the ICRC to enter the country, and asked that the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and Amnesty International be also allowed to visit Sri Lanka.
It is Hon. MP Rajapaksa who requested that the Sri Lankan government be imposed conditions over human rights, and page 365 of Hansard, dated 25 October 1990 quotes him thus: “We asked the donors countries as to why conditions cannot be imposed when giving aid. That was the request we made. It is what has been fulfilled today.”
On 25 January 1991, he told parliament, “We went and told donor nations to cut these and these, and to tell this government to protect human rights of the people of this country. Therefore, I am asking you whether it is wrong to impose it as a condition when giving aid.” (Page 424 of Hansard)
I am mentioning here an important advice given me personally and later to the House by Hon. MP Rajapaksa.
According to page 424 of 25 October, 1990, he said, “If the government is going to deny human rights, we should go not only to Geneva, but to any place in the world, or to hell if necessary, and act against the government. The lamentation of this country’s innocents should be raised anywhere.”
Even 22 years later, I am proudly adhering to that advice.
Then, the Mahinda Rajapaksas, Thamara Kunanayakams, Nimalka Fernandos, Sunanda Deshapriyas participated in the UN-CHR.
In UN-CHR’s place, the UNHRC was formed in 2006 with more powers of direct involvement in a country with regard to human rights.
Sri Lanka, together with other countries irrespective of their political and socio-economic differences, voted for the formation of the UNHRC, establishing the UN’s right to involvement at instances of a nation fails to safeguard human rights and to promote basic freedom.
At the time I was the foreign affairs minister, the cabinet, led by the president, gave its approval to the proposal 60/251 in that regard.
Not only that, soon after the war ended in May 2009, president Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed in the presence of UN chief Ban ki Moon to further fulfil international obligations, according to a joint statement issued by the foreign affairs ministry on 23 May, 2009.
(Request was made to include the joint statement in the Hansard)
In this backdrop, president Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the formation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on 15, May 2010.
Tabling the final report of the LLRC in Parliament on December 16, 2011, Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva thanked the commission on behalf of the president for fulfilling its important task with commitment and responsibility within a short period.
The international community too, through the Geneva resolution, has welcomed the LLRC report and its recommendations.
Even the countries that voted against the resolution appreciated the LLRC report and called for time for the implementation of its recommendations.
‘The Island’ has reported that Sri Lanka’s ally Russia too, has said that the recommendations be implemented as soon as possible.
Even the president could be proud by the fact that the LLRC report has been recognized in that manner, at a time when presidential commission reports end up in the dustbin.
If the present regime tries to evade its responsibility or gain time from implementing the LLRC recommendations by calling the widely supported LLRC report as a Geneva resolution conspiracy, that exposes the dictatorial nudity of this government.
I unreservedly say that it is only the traitors, with the national flag tied around their bodies and anti-democrats dreaming of dictatorship, who could oppose the LLRC report.
They are attempting to make Sri Lanka another Congo, Uganda or Zimbabwe. They are trying to make president Mahinda Rajapaksa another Mugabe. At a time when even Myanmar is on the path back to democracy, they are trying to make Sri Lanka the new Myanmar of Asia. We are making enemies of our true friends.
It should be remembered that not only the US and the EU that led the resolution in Geneva, but also our neighbour India which supported it, are our true friends who have always supported us. The US and Europe are the biggest markets for our products.
The US accounts for one-third of our investments and bought 1.7 billion dollars worth of goods in 2010. Furthermore, their support was a key factor in the war against the LTTE.
It was a serious drawback for the LTTE, when president Bill Clinton proscribed it in the US in 1997.
Also, we should not forget the support given by the US when I was the foreign affairs minister for the proscription of the LTTE in Europe.
Then, seven countries in the 25-member EU did not agree with the LTTE ban, and it became a difficulty to adopt the ban as a unanimous decision. Therefore, I met secretary of state Condoleezza Rice several times and through the offices of deputy secretary of state Nicholas Burns, got the consent of those seven nations to proscribe the LTTE on 29 May 2006. Even the LTTE admitted it as one of its biggest defeats and in his Heroes Day speech, Prabhakaran rebuked the international community for having been deceived by the Sri Lankan government.
Furthermore, it was at my request to Mrs. Condoleezza Rice in January 2006 that a special unit was formed with 41 fulltime agents to crackdown on LTTE fundraising in the US through various front organizations. Also, I was instrumental in getting the US to lead a committee at the highest level with support from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam to halt the procurement of weapons by the LTTE.
Not only for us to win the war, but in our development efforts, the US decided to become a major contributor. In 2003, the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met president George W. Bush and it was at that meeting that Sri Lanka was chosen as one of the 17 beneficiaries in the Millennium beneficiaries, to receive aid, not loans, because the island was recognized as a country with a good democratic foundation. Sri Lanka was allocated 780 million USD for the development of infrastructure.
In January 2006, when I visited Washington, agreement was reached to grant the aid directly to Sri Lanka as the first country to receive that benefit, and it was decided that presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and George W. Bush would sign the pact when the former visited Washington for the UN General Assembly in September.
I named Ajith Nivard Cabraal to coordinate arrangements on behalf of Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately for the country, its international image began to suffer between January and September of that year due to incidents such as the killings of MP Raviraj, Trincomalee students, 17 French aid workers, while disappearances and threats and killings of journalist were reported from both the north and the south and the white van menace raised its head.
The white van threats were first directed at the people of the north and the Muslim businessmen in the south. But, today its targets are opponents of the government, journalists and even SLFP activists, with Sagala Senaratne narrowly escaping death.
Before that, an attempt on the life of the SLFP chairman of Kolonnawa was foiled. Between 18 October 2011 and 27 February 2012, more than 26 persons have been victimized by white vans.
Today, the Rajapaksa administration and the nation are at a decisive juncture and it should be decided whether it will follow the footsteps of the Emperor Dharmasoka to usher in a democratic and prosperous era by implementing the LLRC recommendations, turning a new leaf in Sri Lanka’s history by setting aside the past mistakes and wrongs, or the dictator Robert Mugabe by creating a rogue state that is internationally isolated.
*Mangala Samaraweera’s Parliament speech on April 4, 2012