Even the help of deities is being sought to defeat the latest United States backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya in his Air Force helicopter on Friday to take part in a special Pooja according to Hindu rites. [...]


Pillay report next week: Western powers likely to base resolution on it

President seeks aid from deities while Govt. team discusses possibility of TRC with South Africa; TNA makes no commitment Rajapaksa tells ministers to mind their tongue; UNP's no-confidence motion will focus on PM and the heroin imports

Even the help of deities is being sought to defeat the latest United States backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya in his Air Force helicopter on Friday to take part in a special Pooja according to Hindu rites.

The ten-day long ritual including the lighting up of the sacrificial fire has been playing out at the private residence of Minister Arumugam Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, at his tea plantation, Wavendon Estate. Nine Nambudiri Brahmins have been specially flown in from Kerala in South India to officiate in the ceremonies, costing a lot of money. Helping in arranging it was a businesswoman from that Indian state. It was Thondaman who invited Rajapaksa to the event since he was also dedicating it for victory to Sri Lanka in Geneva. Whilst in Nuwara Eliya, Rajapaksa also drove to the Punduloya bazaar where sections of the shops were gutted by fire recently due to an electrical short circuit.

The religious event came as the US and a core group supporting it including Britain and Canada (though not a member of the UNHRC) were locked in consultation on the text of the draft resolution. It is being based largely on the recommendations of the report to be presented to the Council next week by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay. The Sunday Times (Political Commentary) last week revealed exclusively the recommendations made by Pillay. Though a detailed response to her report has been forwarded by the Government after her report was forwarded for comment, according to diplomatic sources in Geneva, there would be no change in the recommendations she has already made. Her report is to be made public next week.

To the Human Rights Council, Pillay has recommended to “establish an international inquiry mechanism to further investigate the alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and monitor any domestic accountability process.” For those drafting the latest US resolution, this has come to be a tricky issue. What would form such an “international inquiry mechanism” remains the question. On-going consultations within the core group appear to favour a Special Rapporteur with a specific mandate functioning under the Human Rights Commissioner. In such an event, another matter that remains to be sorted out is whether or not the words “international inquiry” warrant specific mention in the resolution. Shaping terminology has become important to win the support of as many countries as possible. However, the absence of such a reference would not mean the resolution would not seek an international probe. The lengthy preamble prefaced many times by the word “Whereas,” will set out the avenues of a probe that would make clear that it is international in character.

Pillay also made 12 different recommendations to the Government of Sri Lanka. Among them, she made a call “to finalise laws dealing with incitement to hatred, witness protection, the right to information, the criminalisation of enforced disappearances, in line with international standards, and revise existing laws to bring them into line with International Human Rights Law.” She also called for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. She said perpetrators of attacks on minority groups, media and human rights defenders should be arrested, prosecuted and punished.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, who was in Sri Lanka early this month has also met South African (Abdul Minqi) and Indian ( Asoke Kumar Mukerji) envoys in Geneva to brief them on issues related to the resolution. This was en route to Washington DC after her visit to Colombo with a stop-over in London.

Whilst lobbying of some member countries of the UNHRC continued this week, the Government also despatched a delegation to South Africa “primarily in relation to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” An External Affairs Ministry (EAM) statement in Colombo on the eve of the delegation’s departure said the two-day visit was with the “aim of understanding the manner in which that exercise can help Sri Lanka’s own reconciliation process, following the defeat of terrorism.”

The delegation was led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and included Minister Douglas Devananda, Deputy Minister Faiszer Musthapha, EAM Monitoring MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Batticaloa organiser Arun Thambimuttu. Whilst the delegation was in Pretoria, Ebrahim Ebrahim, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, told the BBC Sinhala service Sandeshaya: “The visit by the Sri Lankan delegation is on their request.”

He said “they are coming to share our experience” and added that “co-operation of both the Government and the TNA is needed to resolve the problem.” Ebrahim has visited Sri Lanka in the past months for talks with government leaders on South Africa’s offer of help set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
His remarks make clear that the initiative, after President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address to the South African Parliament last week, was entirely from Colombo. Zuma announced that Cyril Ramaphosa, Vice President of the African National Congress (ANC), would be the special envoy for Sri Lanka and South Sudan on peace and reconciliation issues.

UPFA Government sources say the delegation’s visit would bolster Sri Lanka’s position at the UNHRC that measures towards reconciliation have in fact been taken with the Government giving consideration to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Ebrahim was also quoted as saying that South Africa has not taken a decision still about voting in Geneva. The BBC’s Sinhala service widely broadcast in Asia had a Q&A with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran. It said:

Sumanthiran: The Sri Lankan Government takes part in various process and then leaves them. Now with the impending resolution in Geneva the Governemnt is trying to show interest in the South African efforts in reconciliation and show to the international community they are keen on reconciliation.
BBC: There is an invitation to the TNA as well from South Africa. Will you take part?

Sumanthiran: If we get such invitation we can discuss. We have not discussed this and we have not taken any decision.
BBC: Do you say that the visit to South Africa is an attempt to reduce the strength of the resolution

Sumanthiran: Yes, that’s what we say.
BBC: You say the purpose of the visit is to dilute the proposed resolution against Sri Lanka. In that case do you also say South Africa is also involved in it?

Sumanthiran: No, I do not say that.
BBC: When we spoke to South African Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, he said that an internal solution would be better than an international solution.

Sumanthiran: Yes, if such solution could be brought about, it would be better. But we do not see any such solution coming.
BBC: Do you believe that the intervention of South Africa would be a success?

Sumanthiran: We will support anybody’s intervention as we believe that a solution is necessary. However we will not allow anything to harm our community.
The upcoming US resolution was also discussed at a Friday night meeting of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentary group. TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran briefed members about his meetings with Colombo-based diplomats. Jaffna District MP Suresh Premachandran raised issue over resolutions being moved by the Northern Provincial Council. He said some of them could be beyond the brief of the NPC and asked that some safeguards be adopted. He proposed an Advisory Committee to go into such resolutions before they were moved. Issues at different local bodies in the North were also discussed. He also raised the issue of the Government not complying with different assurances given to them.

TNA leader Rajavarothaym Sampanthan told the Sunday Times that the setting up of a TRC, as part of reconciliation, “was mooted two years ago. Both the Government and the TNA delegations visited South Africa. Yet, the Government did not show any interest.”

He said that the TNA is “supportive of an initiative to set up a TRC” and added that “at the same time not a limited one to enable the Government to overcome its present predicament. It must be a comprehensive process. It must address the root cause of the conflict. It must address the ground situation where since the end of the war, there are several urgent and unacceptable actions taken by the Government, in relation to land, both state and private. It must address the question of accountability so that the truth can be ascertained and there must be an acceptable solution.”

Even the main opposition United National Party (UNP) is not in favour of a TRC. Its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told a meeting of party seniors this week that the Government should first implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). “It (Government) will also have to restore the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and allow the passage in Parliament of the private member’s motion setting out guidelines for the impeachment of Judges,” he added.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) also distanced itself from the TRC. Its Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath said, “Soon after the separatist war ended in 2009, it was the JVP which made a proposal that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be set up. It is almost five years now. The Government has taken much too long a time on this. However without any further delay it can start the process. If the Government had acted on this earlier, the people who suffered from the war would have won some relief. We would not be under international pressure. It seems the Government has now gone to South Africa as it is under pressure. Even if it appoints a TRC, it should be able to complete the process in six months. Otherwise the problem will be aggravated and we will be under more international pressure.”

The Government’s delegation to the UNHRC is yet to be finalised. The only certainty is the fact that External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris will head it. Others
are yet to receive Presidential approval. Thus Presidential spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake’s announcement last week that Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe would be a member remains unconfirmed. Samarasinghe, who is also the President’s special envoy on Human Rights, and a veteran of UNHRC sessions in Geneva having taken part on six previous occasions, if included, would serve as only a member. He had previously headed Sri Lanka delegations. Highly placed Government sources believe Samarasinghe was likely to be called upon to represent Sri Lanka at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Geneva from March 16 to 20. The sessions will see a general debate on The IPU at 125 as well as hear a report of the Standing Committee on United Nations Affairs.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been livid with some of the ruling party members who spoke disparagingly about the Government. “Tharangey paavadena eka navaththala, Pakshaye pavaadeema navaththanna kiyanna (Halt the issue of betraying the game and put a stop to the party being betrayed),” he told Ministers at Thursday’s weekly ministerial meeting. The remarks came when Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage moved a proposal to make ‘match fixing’ an offence. Rajapaksa has been keeping a close tab on ministers and officials’ comments on the upcoming events in Geneva, both in public and in private. So much so, some ministers have turned down requests from Western diplomats who want to discuss matters related to the latest US resolution.

The ministers also discussed what they believe is a disturbing situation. This was after Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that paddy prices were increasing. He said the Paddy Marketing Board had released its buffer stocks to ensure there was a stable price in the market for different varieties of rice. Rajapaksa noted that it was a good development for farmers. Consumer Affairs Minister Johnston Fernando was to complain that some newspapers were accusing him of not releasing sufficient stocks. He was of the view that the situation would have to be carefully analysed and decisions taken. Rajapaksa was to seize the opportunity to warn ministers to be careful when they make speeches on matters relating to the cost of living. They should refrain from making remarks that would place the UPFA Government in a compromising position. “You all say that vegetable prices have come down or such things,” he pointed out.

Rajapaksa was also livid when he spoke at the opening of the annual Deyata Kirula “national exhibition and development programme,” this time in Kuliyapitiya. This is the fifth in the series with the previous ones in Pallekele (2010), Buttala (2011), Anuradhapura (2012) and Ampara (2013). Rajapaksa said in a nationally televised speech: “Our development work is seen with jealousy by some. When we defeated the terrorists at one time they said though we defeated terrorism we do not know how to develop the country. Now they say what is the use of making roads as it is a waste of money or that commissions are being made. They say these things with jealousy and hatred. Every year in March they say that the economy has failed. They repeat this every six months. They say economic sanctions will be enforced. They want to stop the development process.

“They should remember that it is the country that gets destroyed. It is a loss to the country where they were born and where they were educated. Those who would be fooled are those who betray the country.

“We have proved to the world that this is not a failed state and that we have made achievements. The UN has positively accepted these achievements. The Food and Agriculture Organisation accepts that the status of Food Security in Sri Lanka is at a high standard. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees too is pleased with our work. The World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme also accept our success. They give us a good certificate regarding improving the literacy rate, reducing poverty and regarding the attention on children. You cannot improve a country without facing challenges. Remember that Sri Lanka will rise while facing challenges. As we become a powerful nation in Asia we will face more challenges. We will face them. If you need to avoid them we will have to live in a dark era like in the past by postponing solutions to issues. We have chosen the difficult path.”

The programme is accompanied by a Deyata Kirula Mobile Service where Divisional Secretaries and Grama Niladaris, representatives of Ministries, Departments and agencies began moving from village to village since July 1, last year. They covered some 2,731 villages to identify local development projects. They include drinking water supply, rural electrification programmes, small irrigation schemes and rural roads. About Rs. 100 million had been allocated for conduct of the event.

Diverting attention from Geneva this week was the UNP which handed in a motion of No-Confidence on the Government on Friday. Contrary to earlier expectations, it was focused only on matters relating to Sri Lanka’s biggest ever drug bust — the discovery of heroin concealed in synthetic tins packed in a container. Though it was weighed at 261 kilogrammes, the Government Analyst said without the polythene wrapping it had a net weight of 241 kilogrammes carrying a street value of more than Rs. 2.4 billion rupees. The importer of the container had obtained a letter from Keerthi Sri Weerasinghe, Co-ordinating Secretary to Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, to clear the cargo without the payment of demurrage. Here is the full text of the motion:

“Whereas the Media reported that Police investigations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and other countries have revealed the existence of an international drug cartel operating across South East Asia and the Gulf coast, and

“Whereas the investigations have also revealed that Afghan manufactured heroin is (1) brought into Pakistan and then directed to Sri Lanka (2) brought into Pakistan and India through the Punjab border and finally to Sri Lanka making Sri Lanka the focal point for distribution of heroin to other parts of South Asia, and
“Whereas this drug cartel has become a threat to the well-being of the region, and

“Whereas the investigations have revealed the involvement of Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan nationals in this syndicate, and
“Whereas these drugs are available in every nook and corner of Sri Lanka resulting in increasing consumption of heroin by young people, and
“Whereas Kumaran Pathmanathan who is wanted by the Interpol for the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and reported to be involved in drug smuggling, lives in Sri Lanka under the protection of the Government, and

“Whereas in August 2013, the Coordinating Secretary to the Prime Minister had issued a letter to the Manager, East Asia Gateway Terminal requesting him to release a container which turned out to contain narcotic drugs, and

“Whereas the Coordinating Secretary’s complicity in this transaction is evidenced by his resignation dated 9th December, 2013, and
“Whereas the Government has failed to coordinate with the authorities in India and Pakistan in regard to eliminating this syndicate, and
“Whereas the Government has failed to make a full inquiry into the detection of vast quantities of drugs smuggled into the country, and
“Whereas no meaningful measures are being taken to eradicate the distribution of drugs within Sri Lanka, and

“Whereas it appears that the government is unwilling to control and curb this menace, and
“Whereas this menace appears to be continuing unabated as seen by some recent reports of containers being released without checks, and
“Whereas this will result in disastrous consequences to the social and economic fabric of this land which boasts of a proud history of over 2500 years, and
Whereas if this continues, the future of this country would be in peril making Sri Lanka a narcotic state,
“This House resolves that it has lost confidence in the ability of the Government to secure and promote the welfare of its citizens.”

Though the resolution is somewhat late, it will still draw attention to the smuggling scandal. The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) is only pursuing the drug smuggling and related aspects of the detection. The role of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the exercise is not being pursued after the Prime Minister’s son, Anuradha in a lengthy statement claimed responsibility for directing Co-ordinating Secretary Weerasinghe to issue the letter. He claimed he did so on his own accord. In the light of this, no statement was obtained from the Prime Minister. For this purpose, no other Police investigative arm was also assigned. Now Police narcotics sleuths and their counterparts in the Customs will visit Pakistan again next week. Their mission is to seek the help of the Anti-Narcotics Force in Pakistan to unravel the network responsible for smuggling heroin into Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa being welcomed by Kandyan Dancers when they arrived at the Deyata Kirula exhibition in Kuliyapitiya. Pic by Jayamal Chandrasiri

In a related development, Premier Jayaratne at long last extended an apology to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leader, Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thera. If he refused to do so in the presence of President Rajapaksa, when he met a delegation from the JHU at ‘Temple Trees’, he did so after his son Anuradha mediated on his behalf. This is particularly after the JHU threatened to sue Premier Jayaratne for calling its leader a “cheevaravadhariya” (a man in robes) for a billion rupees. Anuradha appealed to Most Venerable Napana Pemasiri, Maha Nayaka Thera of the Ramanna Nikaya to mediate an apology. He gave the prelate a written letter from Premier Jayaratne requesting forgiveness. Based on that, the Maha Nayake wrote to Ven. Omalpe Thera who said he would humbly accept the apology.

With that, at least the JHU has resolved the issue over what it deemed was a derogatory remark. What its stance on the actual involvement of the PMO in the heroin smuggling attempt (which was overshadowed by the slur on its leader) is unknown. As the JHU is contesting the forthcoming provincial elections, it may want to keep its mouths shut without saying anything that would embarrass the UPFA. However, the UNP’s Vote of No-Confidence will now resurrect the issue and the Government will be compelled to provide answers in Parliament to the many questions raised.

UNP’s Political Affairs Director Mangala Samaraweera told the Sunday Times, “the idea to move this motion originated from the Government benches. When talking to us in the lobby, some ministers and MPs asked us what we are doing about the damning heroin smuggling issue. So we have now placed the motion though we know those who wanted it will not vote for it.” On an earlier occasion, however, Samaraweera defended Premier Jayaratne arguing that letters to waive demurrage were a routine exercise. He told Parliament that he, when he was Minister of Ports, had heeded such requests from even President Rajapaksa. However, Samaraweera is now a signatory to the motion.

Come next week and the official report to the Human Rights Council from Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay will become public. This is just days ahead of the Council sessions that begin on March 3. It will set the tempo for the third US resolution. Set to counter the main elements in the report is the leader of the Sri Lanka delegation, External Affairs Minister Peiris. He will address the 25th sessions on March 5. Nevertheless, some of the critical questions would remain. Main among them is the inability of his own Ministry in conducting the country’s foreign policy efficiently, something that would have prevented some of the harsh criticism Sri Lanka is facing in the world today.

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