South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Manjula Fernando
The former Human Rights Minister and a former Chair of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe says the so-called international rights groups which resorted to extreme measures to salvage the LTTE during the final phase of the war were at it again and are trying to disrupt the national process of reconciliation. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, he points out that the Human Rights (HR) groups have disregarded the fact that key persons of eminence and even relatives of ex-LTTE leaders have come before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to testify.
“One of these rights groups fanatically called for UN intervention during humanitarian operations. Hidden agendas of these flawed rights groups should be exposed,” he added.
Q: The Human Rights groups ICG, HRW and the AI last week rejected a call by the LLRC to officially table their concerns expressed on alleged incidents during the final phase of war on terror, on the claim that this commission was flawed. How do you view this development?
A: This is typical of these three organisations. They have a pre conceived notion that anything Sri Lankan is subjective and biased which is furthest from the truth. If you look at the personalities in the LLRC they are persons of eminence and high stature, people who are regarded very highly across transcending political barriers in our country, people who have a history of working in their respective fields to forge unity and reconciliation amongst the different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.
The questioning of the integrity and independence of such an eminent Sri Lankan group shows very clearly that these human rights groups are very biased.
They are obviously playing out a political agenda.
This we saw during the course of the war and we are witnessing it again.
My personal view is that they should have given this commission a chance. They should not have dismissed it even before it concluded its mission. The distinguished panel have spent a lot of time with people at grass roots level. In addition, key people had come before the commission to give evidence.
And we know that at least two reports have already been sent through the presidential secretariat containing recommendations on language implementation and on cultural issues. The commission had been working diligently and impartially.
The objective is to ensure that we learn from the lessons and to build amity and unity between different ethnic groups in the country. This commission should be given a chance.
We have always said the final mile should be travelled by Sri Lankans. This is not the aftermath of a war which had been conducted outside Sri Lankan territory. We have not invaded another country. We are not proposing to forge unity in a third country.
And who knows best the problems in our country other than us? This is exactly what our President is doing. These groups must be more objective and give this national process a chance.
Q:The three rights groups issued their statements rejecting the LLRC invitation to give submissions simultaneously. Does it imply that they are working together?
A: Obviously they have coordinated their responses. May be this is the start of another campaign like we saw being conducted during the war to discredit Sri Lanka.
In the backdrop where even the UN Secretary General has expressed interest to learn the progress of the presidential commission and relatives of LTTE leaders as well as other eminent persons coming forward to testify, these prejudiced statements by the rights groups are very worrying.
This should be exposed to the world as its once again double standards being displayed.
This would have been an excellent opportunity for them to come before the commission and share their thoughts, to justify whatever the stance they have taken. But dismissing the commission point blank is tantamount to saying that they are not interested in any other point of view.
The UN Secretary General was under tremendous pressure by some of these HR groups calling for an international war crimes probe. An expert panel has now been appointed by the UNSG as a result and it is now in the process of calling for written submissions.
We have taken the position that the expert panel is not warranted since a national process on the lines of lessons learnt and accountability has already been set in motion. But despite all that the Secretary General has welcomed the national process.
These groups, if they were really professional organisations and if they are looking at Sri Lanka objectively should help us in the aftermath of the war.
We are very disappointed that these three organisations had rejected the commission’s invitation.
Q: Why would you say they have been subjective in asking for an international probe?
A: During the war some of these groups even went to the extent of sending people to Sri Lanka under the guise of tourists and making contact with groups here who were obviously against the elimination of the LTTE. And then going back with this subjective information and publishing reports highly critical of Sri Lanka.
Throughout the war they were very prejudiced and always critical of the humanitarian effort of the Government. They went to the extent of sabotaging whatever steps we were taking to safeguard our national interests.
One of these organisations even started talking about a UN intervention in Sri Lanka to stop the humanitarian operation. They have never been objective.
They refused to have a consistent dialogue with the Government and relied on dubious sources of information, we believe that they have been filtrated very highly and significantly by LTTE front organisations. They were not just balanced. We see once again their prejudice being displayed. This kind of behaviour should be condemned.
The countries financially assisting these international HR groups must exert pressure so that they be more professional and unbiased. I think the Foreign Minister should approach the biggest donors/funding states to convey this message.
Q: One of their reasons for rejecting the LLRC invitation is because this commission lacked an investigative mandate?
A: Well, the LLRC has a set of objectives that it has to achieve. We now have political stability, economic stability and social stability. We don’t want to destroy all that and upset the unity amongst all our different ethnic groups in multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual Sri Lanka.
For example, the statement made by Sarath Fonseka while campaigning for the Presidential election, on the white flag issue was a very negative statement. It created unnecessary anger and suspicion among certain sections of the Tamil community whom we were trying to bring back to the fold.
We do not want to do anything that would create instability. This is not the time to punish those LTTE cadres who have surrendered and who are under custody. We want to rehabilitate and re-integrate them into society. This is the time to forgive and forget. And to ensure that we learn from our lessons.
The Commission is trying to find out what the people’s grievances and expectations are and advise the Government accordingly. At the end of this whole exercise we do not want to go around finger pointing.
It is a process of reconciliation. We want to foster unity and ensure further consolidation of stability.
This is how we could ensure that the LTTE will never be able to raise their head again on our soil. We know as a fact that there was neither a policy on the part of the Armed Forces to target civilians nor to violate human rights.
The whole process is to ensure that we will never ever witness another era of terror in this country. We don’t want outsiders to come and dictate terms on what we should do.
Q: Do you think these HR groups have misunderstood Sri Lanka’s LLRC?
A: Well they have not understood and appreciated the objectives of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. I don’t think we should bring the Commission into it. This is what the Sri Lankans want. They yearn for stability and economic prosperity. We are sick and tired of the instability that prevailed. It affected the economic growth and economic development which resulted in the neglect of the North and East where the conflict took place. These people deserve a better life.
Q:Sri Lanka has gone up in the press freedom rankings. Your comments ?
A: We see this as a very positive development. There were problems that existed earlier due to the situation the country was experiencing. Now it’s peace time, we are no longer facing people who try to create havoc or wrong impressions about Sri Lanka.
Now the situation is calm and this is reflected as far as the media is concerned. When it came to various incidents against media groups or personalities, we never condoned them.There was never a policy on the Government to trample the media.
Source: The Sunday Observer – 24.10.2010