By Rajiva Wijesinha –
The focus of the recent interview I had with Ceylon Today was supposed to be the forthcoming visit of Navenethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In fact there was a wide range of questions, my full answers to which have been reproduced, since some of what I said had to be edited out for reasons of space. In general though the paper had done a good job, and with regard to the main focus they had omitted hardly anything. Still, it may be useful to reproduce those sections here for the record.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay , is due to arrive in a few weeks. Do you view her arrival as an opportunity for the government or a signal of caution to the government?
I think this could be a great opportunity for the government but some elements in it may treat it as something to worry about, which could have unfortunate consequences.
The High Commissioner and the UN are still pushing for SL to investigate alleged war crimes that occurred during the latter stages of the armed conflict and address issues of accountability in relation to the armed forces and their conduct. Do you think this is going to be a key message of Pillay to the Government?
This element, which has been grossly exaggerated, will come up but I believe there are more important things which she will concentrate on.
The Government has obviously not been able to convince the international community of its genuine commitment to addressing accountability issues even four years after the conflict. Why has the government been ineffective in doing so?
The government has been ineffective because it panicked over what it saw, correctly, as unfair treatment. Instead of dealing swiftly with the very minor charges about which there was prima facie evidence, it developed a discourse which saw all charges as traitorous, rather than false.
The rot set in with the manner in which it responded to Sarath Fonseka’s charges, which could have been refuted through his own very different words some months earlier. After that it became difficult to deal properly with the residual charges – such as those noted in the government’s own LLRC report – since some elements in government feared that Sarath Fonseka and his supporters, in the forces and outside, including those who had supported the government against him, would cry treachery themselves.
This is a simplistic fear, because such support is minuscule, but the government’s agenda in this regard is being set by those who profit by panic.
Do you think the Foreign Ministry has been ineffective in projecting an accurate and positive picture of the progress Sri Lanka has made after the war to the diplomatic community?
Critics assert that while the media may seek to apportion blame on the foreign Ministry it is the fact that limited progress has been made on the ground, which has caused the international community to express displeasure over Sri Lanka and its HR/ accountability track record. Do you agree?
We have made considerable progress on the ground, which the Foreign Ministry has failed to project. For a couple of years our image was projected by the terrible Pieris twins and, though they were critical of each other, and seemed to have very different perspectives, as I saw during the March 2012 farce, both came across as humbugs, precisely because neither was pushing domestically for what they claimed was happening. I was stunned when the then American Ambassador told me we were being ambiguous about the LLRC report, and I said she should listen to what the accredited spokesmen of government were saying, not individual critics (she had cited Mr Weerawansa). She wanted to know who the accredited spokesmen were, and when I mentioned the Pieris twins, she said that they had both lost all credibility. Though Ms Butenis was playing her own little games, that was when I began to realize what a sorry state we were in.
The recent incident in Weliweriya where the army was used to crackdown on peaceful protestors was condemned both locally and internationally. Do you think this will be a key theme of Pillay’s deliberations with the government?
Yes, I would expect so.
Don’t you think the use of the army in such an instance was completely unnecessary and is only going to worsen the perception abroad that citizen’s rights are not respected?
I don’t know the situation on the ground, so cannot say that the use of the army was unnecessary, but certainly its use of live ammunition was, and this increases worries both locally and abroad.
What do you think are going to be the consequences in terms of our foreign relations and international image as a result of this one incident?
I think we should be more concerned about the feelings of our own people. With regard to our international image, since we cannot get across the good things we are doing effectively, and since those making the running against us cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, this will I suspect make little difference.
The Opposition notes that citizens in the North and East still continue to live in mud huts and are devoid of basic facilities. Do you agree?
The Opposition is talking nonsense as usual. Our Resettlement programme was extremely successful and, though there are some shortcomings, by and large we have every reason to feel proud, of resettlement and the facilities available. I wish the Opposition would be more serious about areas in which we could do much better, ie Human Resource Development, where in both the North and the rest of the country, we are not doing enough.