The Government is engaged in a number of informal diplomatic initiatives to counter accusations against Sri Lanka, particularly when the UN Human Rights Council’s international investigation into alleged war crimes gets under way. The move is notwithstanding the official position that no such investigation would be recognised nor would those conducting it be allowed to [...]


Despite rejection, Govt. works out strategy to face UN probe

Pakistani lawyer briefs Govt. leaders on what to do, but non-confluence of thoughts in UPFA - Urgent Bill to protect victims of crime and witnesses as another response to Geneva resolution

The Government is engaged in a number of informal diplomatic initiatives to counter accusations against Sri Lanka, particularly when the UN Human Rights Council’s international investigation into alleged war crimes gets under way.

The move is notwithstanding the official position that no such investigation would be recognised nor would those conducting it be allowed to enter the country. The composition of investigators and their terms of reference will be announced by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay within the next two weeks. Formally it would be identified as an investigation conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as against terminology like a Commission of Inquiry or a probe by a Panel of Experts. The first intimation of the move, according to reports from Geneva, is to be to the Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva. That is for the purpose of formally conveying the message to the Government. A public announcement is to follow.

Just a week ago, the Government held consultations with a Pakistani legal expert. He arrived in Colombo after President Mahinda Rajapaksa made an appeal to Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff. 

The lawyer, Dr Mohammad Azam Chaudry  gave his views at a meeting chaired by External AffairsMinister G.L. Peiris. Among those present were External Affairs Ministry Secretary Kshenuka Senewiratne, Attorney General Palitha Fernando and Pakistan’s High Commissioner retired Major General Qasim Qureshi. Ahsan also had separate meetings with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

One of the suggestions he made was for Sri Lanka to initiate a special session of the Human Rights Council after winning the support of more countries. He was of the view that besides the eleven nations that voted in favour of Sri Lanka (or against the United States sponsored resolution) in March, the support of only four more countries was required to call for such a special meeting. At that meeting, he said that Sri Lanka would have to make a strong case of its current position by winning over as many member countries as possible. As for the proposed OHCHR investigation, he said, there was no way it would be called off. He held the view that it was a perfectly legitimate exercise whatever the other factors might be. He was also of the view that it would be useful for Sri Lanka if there were international observers present at domestic inquiries that were under way. That was to lend more credibility to the process.

Minister Wimal Weerawansa offering Atapirikara to the Malwatte Mahanayake when he visited the prelate to explain the 12 point reform proposals of the NFF. Pic by Shane Seneviratne

Of course, heeding such moves now would raise a number of questions. Main among them is why no such action was initiated by the External Affairs Ministry when successive resolutions were introduced by the US in the past three years. Needless to say the Pakistani advisor’s views did not create a welcome mood. Peiris did ruffle feathers when he declared somewhat tersely that the consultation was to determine different legal positions and asserted it was not to obtain views from the visiting legal advisor on what the Government of Sri Lanka should do.

This was clearly the result of what one EAM source described as a “non-confluence” of thoughts. Peiris, who gave face officially to most of the Government’s initiatives, was to say he would at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council in September raise issue concerning Sri Lanka and “sort out matters.” He, however, did not elaborate. Going by what he said, there were three previous occasions when things could have been “sorted out.” How he plans to do it on a fourth occasion was unclear even to those present at the meeting. Quite clearly he was not happy with some of the views expressed by the Pakistani advisor. He did not seem to be seen to be upstaged by Ahsan who made another suggestion to have a panel of “observers” of international standing to monitor investigative proceedings conducted in Geneva. Whenever such proceedings are over, that would enable them to make their own conclusions and go public. Whether UN Human Rights Council procedures would allow such a move and who will be willing to serve in the process is not immediately clear. Of course, in official terms, such “observers,” Government wants to make clear, are not on their own initiative.

Minister Basil Rajapaksa was to explain that the Government did not recognise the international investigation. A domestic process has been in place, he said. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was more pointed. He said issues relating to accountability had already been investigated by military courts of inquiry. He added that a Commission of Inquiry was now probing disappearances. Ahsan was due to report on his meetings in Colombo to Premier Shariff.

Another matter that is being looked at is to obtain expert military opinion and the support of as many US lawmakers as possible. In this regard, a Government dignitary has already had a meeting with a leading retired United States General in Los Angeles. He is 69 year old retired General Wesley Clarke. During his tenure of 34 years in the US Army, he has been Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, US European Command and US Southern Command. He has seen wars in Vietnam and Kosovo. Government sources say Gen. (retd.) Clarke is to visit Sri Lanka but a firm date has not been decided upon.

Last Friday, Senator James M. Inhofe (Republican – Oklahoma), a member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote to President Barack Obama requesting him to “support” his (Inhofe’s) resolution in the Senate on Sri Lanka. Noting that he believes there is “a dangerous lack of balance in US foreign policy towards Sri Lanka”, he called upon the US President to “review your current policies towards that country and seek further engagement to assist them as they continue their progress toward reconciliation and reconstruction after 30 years of a bloody civil war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists.” Here are other highlights of his letter:

“In my two letters to Secretary Kerry and one to Secretary Hagel (Defence Secretary) over the past year, I noted the economic significance as well as geostrategic location of Sri Lanka; both are vital to the long-term financial and national security interests of the U.S. in Asia. However, at a time when the U.S. is recalibrating its foreign policy toward Asia, I am concerned that we may be giving this island nation reason not to consider the U.S. a friend and strategic partner, mainly because of our continued seemingly single emphasis on accountability for what happened during the last phases of their civil war, as well as on political reconciliation.

“Reconciliation between the Government and the former Tamil Tiger terrorists, as we have seen elsewhere, is a complex and lengthy process that deserves our constructive support. And while much remains to be done since the Tamil terrorist defeat in 2009, last September’s provincial elections in the former terrorist Northern Province provides an example that political reconciliation is under way. There, the Tamil National Alliance (the civil, non-violent, Tamil community) won 30 out of 38 seats. International observers declared this as a “free and fair” election, and noted the thorough preparations by the Sri Lankan government which succeeded in drawing significant voter turnout.

“In addition to taking concrete steps towards political reconciliation, the Sri Lankan government has devoted major resources toward rebuilding the war-torn Northern Province. Since 2009, $ 3.2 billion, or 6 per cent of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product, has been spent clearing over a million landmines, resettling nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons, restoring physical infrastructure, improving health and education sectors and strengthening financial inclusiveness.
“Motivated by these facts, in February 2014, I introduced S. Res. 364, which calls upon you to develop a comprehensive and well balanced policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects U.S. interests, including respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as economic and security interests. It also calls on the U.S. and the international community to assist the government of Sri Lanka, to deal with any grievances arising from actions committed by both sides during and after their civil war. And specifically encourages the government of Sri Lanka to adopt a South African type of Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will take into account all alleged war crimes that may have been committed by both sides in the civil war….”

It was just last week that President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Seiji Kihara, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, “We are in the process of implementing all other demands made by sponsors of the Resolution.” He, however, made clear this was with the exception of “an international inquiry” into alleged war crimes. Those remarks came as clear proof that despite rejecting the UN Human Rights Council resolution, President Rajapaksa himself has now gone public to say issues in the resolution barring one have been addressed or are being addressed. This underscored the fact that the UPFA Government is now taking seriously the outcome of the UN Human Rights Council resolution and the situation that portends after an international investigation into alleged war crimes is concluded.

Another important step in this regard is the hurried forwarding to the Cabinet of Ministers a draft Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill by Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem. He has said that “as a matter of great national interest,” the draft law should be Gazetted and tabled in Parliament. The preamble of the draft law points out that it is to, among other matters, “give effect to appropriate international norms, standards and best practices relating to the protection of victims of crime and witnesses.” The seven objectives the draft law seeks to achieve are:

  •  Set out, uphold and enforce the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses and to provide for a mechanism to promote, protect, enforce and exercise such rights and entitlements;
  • Provide assistance and protection to victims of crime and witnesses;
  • To enable victims of crime to obtain compensation from persons convicted of having committed offences against them;
  • Provide for obtaining redress by victims of crime, including restitution, compensation, reparation and rehabilitation of victims;
  •  Set out duties and responsibilities of the State, Judicial Officers and public officers towards the promotion and protection of the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses;
  •  Stipulate offences that may be committed against victims of crime and witnesses and the penal sanctions that may be imposed on persons who commit such offences; and
  •  Provide for the adoption and implementation of best practices relating to the protection of victims of crime and witnesses.

Among other highlights of the 38 page draft law, which the Attorney General has opined is consistent with the Constitution are:

  •  The recognition and setting out of (a) the rights of victims of crime (b) entitlements of witnesses.
  • Creation of certain offences that may be committed against victims of crime and witnesses
  •  Establishment of a mechanism for the inquiry into complaints against infringement or imminent infringement of rights or entitlements of victims of crime or witnesses
  •  Establishment of an Authority for the purpose of administering the provisions of the law. It will be called the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses.
  • Establishment of a Special Division by the Inspector General of Police to provide assistance to victims of crime. It will be called the Victims of Crime and Witness Assistance and Protection Programme. It will assist and protect victims of crime and witnesses.
  • Impose duties on courts, commissions or law enforcement authorities in providing protection to victims of crime and witnesses.
  • Establishment of a special fund to be utilised for payment of compensation to victims. Such an amount would not exceed one million rupees or twenty per cent of the maximum fine payable for a particular offence.
  •  Provide for the recording evidence through contemporaneous audio visual linkage from remote locations within Sri Lanka. A Court or a Commission is being empowered to decide whether evidence or statement is given through audio-visual linkage, and on the admissibility and use of such evidence or statement recorded.

According to Justice Minister Hakeem, the draft law provides for different parts to be brought into operation on different dates. He notes that this is to enable the necessary infrastructure and other requirements are in place when the entire law becomes operative.
Developments in the recent weeks come as further proof that addressing issues that have arisen in the past more than three years before the UN Human Rights Council has been ad hoc. At first, it was a case of ignoring the issues and allowing three different resolutions to follow one after another. Little or nothing was done by the External Affairs Ministry or Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions overseas, particularly in Washington DC. Not even the public relations firms that pocketed millions of dollars from the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington or the Central Bank in Colombo (running a parallel External Affairs Ministry operation) were able to deliver or do much damage control.

The result is what is playing out this week. Most Sri Lankans are unaware that self-appointed experts have been travelling the globe at taxpayers’ expense to lobby persons identified as important mainly in the United States. Here again, targets for such an exercise had to be identified by a friendly country. In most instances, one former high ranking personality in that country has been working through his own contacts in the US. They were in Colombo on numerous occasions, says an EAM source. Does anything more need to be said about the conduct of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations? There is a serious disparity in the millions of dollars now being spent and the commensurate returns. Does anyone care?

Is Weerawansa revolting or playing double game?
“All our problems are now over. Let us face for photographs together,” quipped a smiling but tired looking President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he met Minister Wimal Weerawansa, leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), by chance on Friday night.

The occasion was the 70th anniversary celebrations of K.D. Ebert and Sons, a local construction firm, at the Water’s Edge in Battaramulla. Rajapaksa was there as chief guest and Weerawansa as Minister in charge of Construction.

“I was going to come here after attending a wedding. When I learnt you were at this function, I left there early and rushed here immediately. I wanted to catch you,” said Rajapaksa. He asked why his Construction Minister and NFF leader was reluctant to meet him. “You give us a time and we will be there. We will write to you later next week,” Weerawansa replied.

Although he did not tell Rajapaksa, the NFF has now written to the Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, seeking an appointment. This was to brief him on the differences that have arisen between the party and the UPFA leadership. The main issue centres on what the NFF suspects are moves to allow casinos in Sri Lanka with foreign collaboration. Government ministers have been making contradictory public statements over this issue.
Rajapaksa asked Weerawansa what the Mahanayake Theras had to tell the NFF delegation last week. He replied, “There were different views. While some said we should stay within the UPFA Government, there were others who said we should quit.” He did not specify who they were. “Deng okkoma hari ney (Now it’s all okay), remarked Rajapaksa.

The chance meeting between the two on Friday night was the first in more than ten days. Ahead of the UPFA May Day rally, as revealed in these columns last week, President Rajapaksa tried to contact Minister Weerawansa but his calls went unanswered. The next day three others – Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath – who were trying to reach him on behalf of the President also failed. On May 5 (Monday) the NFF at its second national convention and May Day rally at the Sugathadasa Stadium adopted a 12 point “reform proposals” which it wants the UPFA Government to accept. “If there is a genuine difficulty about one or two of them, we will understand. However, we expect the Government to tell us what it will do with the others,” Weerawansa said yesterday.
Among the other highlights of the 12 point NFF “reform proposals” are:

  •  No investigation or inquiry should be held due to undue international influence other than what has already been initiated in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the national legal system. We strongly condemn the suggestion made by various political forces influencing the Government to hold such internal investigations.
  •  No negotiations officially or unofficially should be held with any state or non-state party based on amendments to the 13th Amendment or its fuller implementation that have been forced on to the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and all citizens of Sri Lanka.
  • The Government should ban forthwith all operations of foreign funded fundamentalist religious organisations which pose severe threat to the co-existence and peace among diverse ethnic communities.

Most of the “reform proposals” are very much in line with the UPFA Government’s thinking and has therefore cast doubts whether the NFF is engaged in a devious, multi-pronged propaganda exercise. “Most of their proposals will meet Rajapaksa approval. Then everything will end happily ever after,” said a leading UNP member. He argued that Minister Weerawansa’s transparent ploy was to strengthen President Rajapaksa’s hand so he could meet discontent within, face both foreign and domestic issues. “Concurring on the NFF demands will make him the man of the match. He can cite opposition within UPFA as the reason for not wanting to go ahead with some measures,” he said.

Within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the major partner in the UPFA, Weerawansa’s moves have brought forth mixed responses. A formidable section led by a powerful minister is of the view that if the NFF wants to quit the Government, it should be allowed to do so. They argue that the UPFA should not allow a situation where “the tail wags the head.” Some ministers have gone so far as to suggest that Weerawansa should be expelled. “Kalabala wenna epa,” (Don’t be excited) was Rajapaksa’s response. However, another section which also included ministers and partners of the UPFA opined that Weerawansa’s “exercise for course correction” was timely and would save enormous embarrassment for the UPFA due to public discontent. “See how such discontent played out at the Indian polls.

eople voted out the corrupt Gandhi dynasty. We should not allow that to happen to the UPFA,” one minister who is backing the NFF said. There were yet others who felt that Weerawansa and the NFF were bent on ensuring that his eroding vote base in the Colombo District is halted. This was particularly after the outcome of the recent Western Provincial Council elections where the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) votes increased by some 35,000. They point out that Weerawansa and his party had the option of either merging with the SLFP or maintaining a separate identity. The latter may be a compelling factor for its current stance, they pointed out.

Weerawansa told Buddhist prelates in Kandy that if the UPFA leaders did not pay sufficient heed to the NFF’s demands, the party would not hesitate to sit as an independent group in the opposition. Their idea in such a situation was to start a new movement. He had said the NFF would not join other opposition groups but would highlight the reasons why it cannot go along with the UPFA. Whether this is political posturing or not will only be clear after the NFF’s meeting with President Rajapaksa. During the meeting with the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter the Most Ven. Tibbotuwave Sri Siddartha Sumangala Thera, the subject of NFF’s relations with the UPFA became so sensitive, the media representatives were asked to withdraw. On Friday, Weerawansa and a delegation from his party met the Mahanayake of the Amarapura Nikaya, the Most Ven. Davuldena Sri Gnanissara Thera.

Minister Weerawansa told the Sunday Times “all the Mahanayakes whom we met have given their ashirvada or blessings. Beginning next week, we are launching a village level campaign to educate the public about our position and the 12 point “reform proposals.” We will tell the people why we have taken up this position and if the need arises function as an independent group in the Opposition, he added.

Today, Weerawansa said, he will launch a campaign titled Arthikayey Gaman Maga (the path of the economy) where CDs of the proceedings of the May Day rally will be distributed. The campaign will be launched in Colombo after he returns from Matara where he will attend the Government’s Victory Day parade.

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