Sri Lanka looks set to push familiar messages of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs whilst also offering some “deliverables”, when the country comes up before the UN Human Rights Council later this month and early next month. It has not yet been decided whether a delegation will fly from Colombo to Geneva or participate [...]


Foreign Secretary: A familiar message to be shared at the upcoming UNHRC sessions


Sri Lanka looks set to push familiar messages of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs whilst also offering some “deliverables”, when the country comes up before the UN Human Rights Council later this month and early next month.

Admiral (Prof) Jayanath Colombage, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It has not yet been decided whether a delegation will fly from Colombo to Geneva or participate virtually. The Core Group on Sri Lanka — Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Britain — will present a new resolution. But the Government will urge the Council, as it has done in the past, to consider that it had waged war against the LTTE to protect people in fulfillment of its electoral mandate, and the military did not fight in a vacuum.

The LTTE was labeled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2008 as the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world, said Admiral (Prof) Jayanath Colombage, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said it pioneered suicide bombing, the suicide vest and suicide women cadres, killing two world leaders. An average of 250 lives — including of LTTE fighters — was lost each month during the 30-year war, he claimed. It was not immediately clear how the figure was arrived at.

“From May 19, 2009, to date, it is zero deaths,” Admiral Colombage said.

“That means life is protected here by the Government action. The right to life, to me, is more important than human rights because first you have to live. If you live only you can enjoy human rights.”

(Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”)

“But the international community continues to blame the Government for lack of accountability, reconciliation, payment of reparations and a domestically constituted mechanism to resolve this issue. In recent months, they have said they ‘observe another new trend going the negative way,’ ” Admiral Colombage said.

“They are saying, ‘Oh, the trend is bad.’ I do not know what it is. They have to tell us,” he added.

He did reveal that in a report on Sri Lanka to be released to the UNHRC, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, had identified “early warning signals, and a negative trend in the country.”

The report had been sent for comments from the Government and was sitting on his desk this week. Even the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was seen as “a negative trend.” But it had gone through due process, and the 32 petitions against it in the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court of this country ruled that certain clauses were against the constitution and certain clauses could not be handled by the Parliament,” Admiral Colombage said.

“So the Government made the amendments and it was passed by a two-thirds majority of a democratically-elected parliament that included a few Tamils and a few Muslims. I think any country should respect the democratic mandate of another sovereign country.”

The Secretary also made the oft-repeated argument that there was recorded evidence of the LTTE holding 300,000 people as a human shield during the last stages of the war; that the LTTE and its remaining cadres mingled with these people and had artillery and mortar guns amongst them along with other weapons. This “heinous crime” was never referred to by the international community, he said.

But, he admitted, they could be targeting the Government as the LTTE, having been “comprehensively defeated”, was no more.

“Still, they must at least mention this and look at the Sri Lankan Government’s actions in context,” he said.

The 300,000 civilians in question, were taken over to the military side, given medical treatment, fed and taken to centres for the internally displaced where international agencies like the UN and Red Cross had access.

“If we were really as accused, we could have killed them all,” Admiral Colombage said.

“But we did not. They were our people.”

On allegations of civilians disappearing after entering Government control, he said: “There are a few allegations. Allegations can be there that some activities took place. I do not know. I really did not investigate. I am not privy to that investigation.”

These claims, he said, kept dogging Sri Lanka because “someone wants this issue alive for some ulterior objective.”

“We cannot look at this in isolation, as a 65,000sq km island,” the Secretary said.

He said Sri Lanka was in a geographically, geo-strategically and geo-economically important location.

“As I see it, this is one reason the so-called international community is trying to point a finger at us.”

Admiral Colombage also said the Government’s relationship with the UN was “at a good level” because Sri Lanka was a responsible member of the system.

“We have no issue, as an individual country, with the United Nations Human Rights Council,” he said.

“But the UN Human Rights Council is always accusing Sri Lanka. They come out with a certain shopping list. When we do that, they change to another shopping list. When we do that, then they give another shopping list. This is the trend.”

He said the current administration was cooperating with the UNHRC, “But we don’t want to surrender our sovereignty totally to an international body. And we do not like the international body to dictate terms to us and say ‘do this, do that’ at gunpoint. We would like to be treated as a sovereign nation, an independent country. We have to find our own way of reconciliation,” he added.

In this regard, the Secretary claimed the Government (including intelligence agencies) was taken “completely by surprise” on the demolition of the war memorial at the University of Jaffna — a provocative act just days before the UNHRC sessions. That was why the Government immediately said it would rebuild the monument.

“That was not something we needed at this time. I think it was not necessary and it was contrary to what we want to achieve. We want reconciliation, peace and harmony. And, by doing this again, if we antagonise a community in this country, that is not what we want. I think from what I hear from the inner circles, no one in the Government is saying it is a good thing. Everyone is saying it is a bad thing.”

The Secretary also said the President had a genuine interest in finding answers to the question of missing persons — to find out how many were missing, the circumstances of their disappearance, whether reparations should be paid and to issue certificates of death or absence.

But Admiral Colombage also raised the usual doubts regarding missing people — such as those who “have gone abroad” and now use different names.

“So, everyone is not really missing. They’re living somewhere.” he said.

The Government was also committed to supporting and maintaining the momentum of institutions like the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations and even the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Budgets had been passed and action plans requested in this regard.

Even High Commissioner Bachelet’s report had accepted that reparations totaling Rs 142mn (at the rate of Rs 6,000 per person) had been paid to 4,385 out of 16,275 applications processed by the OMP from January to November 2020. Provisions had been made to continue the payment.

The Secretary admitted the Government was likely to be questioned about the refusal to allow the burial of deceased COVID-19 positive Muslims. He said some Governments had already raised the issue with his Ministry.

While the matter was beyond his purview, he said he had also “read the signals coming from the political leadership” and they wished to find a solution to this matter.


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