UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has agreed to give Sri Lanka more time to engage in what he called a “meeting of minds” to address the concerns of the International Community, but said this could not be an indefinite period.
His response came after Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met the UN Chief in New York on Tuesday and appealed to him to give more time and space for the Sri Lankan Government to work out a political settlement to the “democracy deficit” in the post-war period.
The meeting was a rare one as the UN Chief normally does not meet with Opposition leaders of countries. He was accompanied by his Chief of Staff Satish Nambiar while Devinda Subasinghe, former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US, accompanied the UNP leader.
During the meeting, Mr. Wickremesinghe told Mr. Ban that it was not that the Sri Lankan government was not engaging with the UN or “interested countries” over allegations of purported human rights violations committed during the latter stages of the war to defeat the LTTE in May 2009. He said the Opposition was also prepared to work with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in responding to the report by the UNSG’s panel of experts who had made some scathing allegations against the government.
The UNSG had responded by saying that engagement was not enough by itself and that there should be some visible action on the part of the Sri Lankan government to probe these allegations.
He said that the “Sri Lanka issue” would “not disappear within the UN or outside”, but when asked by Mr. Wickremesinghe what the UN hoped to do in the aftermath of the experts report, the UN Chief was non-committal saying “we haven’t decided yet”.
Mr. Ban said the initiative was with the Sri Lanka government, “if not something else can happen”.The Opposition Leader said he had already suggested to President Rajapaksa that he should show “remorse” as a Buddhist following the example of Emperor Asoka for the killings of civilians during the war against the LTTE. He said the UN experts report was impacting negatively both domestically and internationally on Sri Lanka, and underscored that any way forward would need to take not only Tamil sentiments, but those of the entire country into consideration.
He told the UN Chief that the emerging “democracy deficit” caused by the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the doing away with independent Police Commissions and the independence of the judiciary, and the Attorney General’s Department together with the repression of freedom of expression and media freedom, needed to be taken into account, but that the country remained a democracy with institutions to conduct a process of accountability.
Mr. Ban said the UN’s concerns were not only about what happened during the war, but also included human rights issues in general and broader aspects of democracy. “That is what we would like to see,” he said.
The UNP Leader had said his party had not taken a decision on whether to participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee the government was seeking to appoint to study Constitutional amendments vis-à-vis further devolution in relation to the 13th Amendment.
He told the UN Chief he would consult other parties, including the Tamil National Alliance. He pointed out that his party had a minority Tamil support base outside of the North and East and that the UNP as a responsible national multi-ethnic party would make a responsible decision.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said he would brief President Rajapaksa on his talk with the UNSG and keep stressing the need to engage further with the world body and arrive at a national consensus both on the UN panel report and in addressing ethnic issues in Sri Lanka.