The United Kingdom strongly hinted this week that the resolution on Sri Lanka that it will co-sponsor at the UN Human Rights Council next month will include a call for a credible, domestic investigation into allegations of war crimes. “I think, first of all, the resolution will be updated to reflect the current situation and [...]



Nobody is talking about regime change in Sri Lanka: British High Commissioner

- Says int’l investigation necessary if no domestic process set up - Voices concern at attacks on mosques, churches

The United Kingdom strongly hinted this week that the resolution on Sri Lanka that it will co-sponsor at the UN Human Rights Council next month will include a call for a credible, domestic investigation into allegations of war crimes.

“I think, first of all, the resolution will be updated to reflect the current situation and current issues of concern,” said John Rankin, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. “A particular issue of concern is the attacks we have seen on religious minorities, on mosques and Christian churches.”

“The other new point is that those calls for a credible domestic investigation have not so far been delivered,” he said, in an interview with the Sunday Times. “And in the absence of that delivery the UK, as our Prime Minister made clear, would be calling for an international investigation.”

John Rankin. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

Mr. Rankin said UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay had made this point during her visit to Sri Lanka in August 2013—that, since a proper domestic process had not been established, the international community had “a duty” to call for an international investigation.

But Mr. Rankin refused to commit on the wording. “We wait to see the text of the resolution,” he said. “The US is likely to lead again on the resolution but the UK is likely to be a strong supporter and co-sponsor of that resolution,” he said. “We hope it will address those areas of concern that the US has outlined and which the UK agrees with.”“First of all, this issue isn’t going to go away,” Mr. Rankin said, in response to whether there was an appetite or funding for an international war crimes investigation on Sri Lanka. “Concerns over allegations in this area have been reflected in the Human Rights Council in the past two years and will continue to be raised unless they are addressed. Secondly, there are existing mechanisms within the UN and within the Human Rights Council which can address these issues.”

Mr. Rankin was asked why the UK did not take action against members of the LTTE (such as Adele Balasingham, the wife of the late Tiger theoretician Anton Balasingham) who were resident in the UK. He said there were no extradition requests from Sri Lanka.

“So far as I’m aware, no request for extradition for any individual currently living in the UK and who may be alleged to be a former LTTE member has been made by the Sri Lankan Government,” he said. “If there are allegations brought against any individuals currently living in the UK for actions carried out during the conflict, then they should be investigated, absolutely. There are other individuals who are of course now members of and working with the Sri Lankan Government.”

The High Commissioner said he had no confirmation yet of a proposed visit by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to London next month. He did not rule out the possibility of protests if he did arrive as planned.

“I have read the press report in the Sunday Times that President Mahinda Rajapaksa maybe going to London next month for a Commonwealth event,” he said. “I wait for confirmation of that. Should he come, we will facilitate his attendance at Commonwealth meetings and I hope he will be able to go about his business in an uninterrupted fashion.”

“Of course, it’s also the case that people in the UK have right to peaceful protest, and we wait to see what happens when the President comes,” he added. “But as I said, we want to facilitate a successful visit to London by the President should he choose to come.”
Despite a sustained campaigned against the Rajapaksa regime on the basis of alleged war crimes committed at the end of the war, the Government is strongly supported by a majority for the primary reason that it won the war against the LTTE. When asked to comment, Mr. Rankin said President Rajapaksa needed to be respected as a democratically elected President.

“Results of internal elections are for individual voters here to determine,” he explained. “Of course, I recognise the fact that the end of the war was very much welcomed by many people in this country and that’s wholly understandable. The UK can only set out its concerns and make clear that we believe that by addressing these issues of concern, Sri Lanka can fully realise its potential, fully attract inward international investment and further build its relations with the international community.”

Mr. Rankin rejected the contention that the West was clamouring for regime change in Sri Lanka. “Nobody is talking about regime change,” he stressed. “Investigating past actions can be difficult. But, in the United Kingdom, we take allegations of any alleged wrongdoing by our armed forces very seriously and we fully investigate them. It’s only towards the end of last year that one of our soldiers was convicted in the UK courts for murder for actions he carried out in Afghanistan.”

“So we do take painful decisions to investigate painful allegations of past wrongdoing when required,” he claimed. “It’s only in the absence of a proper domestic process that an international process comes into play. “

What is required is an investigation into the allegations. “One needs to know, too, what the results of that investigation are,” Mr. Rankin elaborated. “Where governments or individuals make mistakes and breach relevant laws, then in a country with a rule of law, there should be accountability for those actions. But nobody is talking about regime change. That is not the objective of the exercise”Experience would suggest that Human Rights Council resolutions can have a positive effect, the High Commissioner said. Burma was a country of concern to the international community for many years and resolutions were passed in the Human Rights Council against the wishes of the Burmese Government. “But that’s turned around,” he said. “We now have the Burmese Government working cooperatively with international human rights mechanisms, and a consensus resolution being passed on Burma agreed to by all the members of the international community including Burma itself.”

“So a repeat of that experience, moving from contentious dialogue to a constructive one is something we would very much like to see,” he emphasised. “But for that to happen, there must be action in these areas of concern.”

Mr. Rankin said the LTTE crimes are not being ignored. “In just about every speech I have made in this country in three years, I have said that the LTTE were a dreadful terrorist organisation and no one should mourn the defeat of the LTTE,” he pointed out. “We welcome the end of the conflict. Nobody should mourn the fact that LTTE terrorism is no longer taking place in this country, and the LTTE should be responsible for their violations.”-

Talking business

In terms of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Indices, Sri Lanka is the easiest place to do business within South Asia. This is, therefore, a good market for UK companies to come here and the country continues to win new business in Sri Lanka.

But there were challenges, said John Rankin, British High Commissioner. “Sri Lanka is trying to attract more foreign direct investment to enhance the growth rate. I believe that, in order to achieve that, if there could be a further tackling of challenges of corruption, if there could be reduction in bureaucratic red tape, if we could have a one-stop-shop for inward investment that would help to further increase…”
Does the Board of Investment not work? “Your words, not mine,” he said. “What we would like to see is a BOI or similar body that is able to develop that one-stop-shop model and that would make it easier for companies to come and invest here.”One of the challenges Sri Lanka faces is “potential overpayments to win business”.

“The difficulties Sri Lanka faces are the difficulties that many other countries face, if there are concerns over potential overpayments to win business, if there are concerns that an investment will not be able to go ahead unless the right people are in favour of it,” the High Commissioner outlined. “So what we want is transparency and good governance. The more that can be achieved, experience shows, more inward investment will flow into any country.”

“And so these issues are not unique to Sri Lanka,” he concluded. “They are ones we hope any country will improve on to encourage international business which will benefit both of us.”

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