By Dharisha Bastians –
British Under Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt praised Sri Lanka’s progress since the end of the war on a visit to the island, but warned that as the proposed host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year, the country will be under even more intense scrutiny from the international community.
Stressing that economic development alone could not meet the country’s post-conflict challenges, the UK Minister remarked that Britain is yet to decide on its level of attendance at CHOGM in Sri Lanka in November, but stressed that they would be looking to the hosts to demonstrate commitment to upholding commonwealth values of good governance and democratic principles, adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights. “This will help ensure a well-attended and successful meeting,” he noted.
Asked if the Queen would attend CHOGM in Colombo this year, Minister Burt responded the British Government did not make that decision. A decision on the monarch’s attendance would be made by Buckingham Palace in consultation with the Commonwealth, he said.
Burt was presenting a lecture entitled Sri Lanka – 2013 and Beyond organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies and the British High Commission, Colombo where he spoke candidly of Sri Lanka’s challenges in the post-conflict phase.
He said that the UK, UN and others have expressed deep concern at the recent impeachment and dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice because rule of law is crucial to long term prosperity and judicial independence is a core principle in free countries. He said that as a candid friend of Sri Lanka, the UK spoke frankly to Colombo about the challenges.
“We believe in maintaining independent institutions in encouraging individuals to speak out and engage constructively in debate. The rule of law is crucial to long term prosperity. Respect for our legal systems is part of the cultural heritage of both the UK and Sri Lanka. as a lawyer myself, it is a principle I feel particularly strongly about,” the Minister said.
He also drew the corelation between business, investment and a robust justice system with mechanisms to independently resolve disputes.
“And the concepts found within our legal systems, certainty of contract, non-retroactivity and the equal application of laws are the foundation for business and growth,” the British Minister explained.
“It is why we are so concerned to see individuals brought to justice in particular cases of violent attack, it simply cannot be right for the accused to be walking free,” he said.
Pulling no punches and quoting from the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report Commissioned by the Government of Sri Lanka, Burt said that “the rule of law must prevail, regardless of the political links of alleged wrong-doers.” He said that he had made clear to Ministers during his visit to Colombo that more work was needed to “deliver the path to reconciliation that the President has frequently advocated.”
Mr. Burt referred to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks as the co-chair of the panel reviewing the UK Millenium development goals, where he referred to the ‘golden thread of development’. “True prosperity is not possible without good governance, property rights and the rule of law effective public services and strong civil institutions, free and fair trade and open markets,” he said.
“These are the reasons why I have welcomed the LLRC report. And why we continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to take concrete action to implement its constructive recommendations and why the UK speaks franks to the Sri Lankan Government about what more we believe it needs to do to ensure peace and prosperity in your country,” the British Minister said.
During his visit, Burt said he had encouraged the Government in Colombo to minimize red tape and address corruption to set a more attractive climate for investors. “I have welcomed the end of the war and the end of horrific LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka. But I have also called on all parties to uphold civil and political freedoms and for the Government to set an example,” he said.
In an impromptu response to the Minister’s lecture and a brief Q&A session, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris queried whether “candid” friends of Sri Lanka believed that bringing resolution after resolution was the right way to target a country that was just finding its feet after a brutal conflict. Peiris also raised the question of why Sri Lanka was being targeted while so many other nations were being shown leniency by the international community. “If it is about human rights or morals and ethical values, then they must apply across the board,” Peiris said.