Separatism has no place in Sri Lanka. Tamils in Sri Lanka have very clearly rejected the idea. Before the 22nd Session of the HRC, we will present our HR situation report at the Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review in October. We are looking forward to that. What happened during the war situation has to be viewed very carefully. We need to avoid fantastic and unrealistic explanations and speculative details, states Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam.
Following the adoption of a resolution by UNHRC asking Sri Lanka to investigate alleged abuses during the final phase of war with LTTE, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India, Prasad Kariyawasam, talks in detail about the situation, in an interview with Saurabh Kumar Shar of The Sunday Indian, published on May 31, 12.
Here is the text of the interview:
Q: What is the current situation in the Human Rights Council with regard to the debate on Sri Lanka following the passing of the resolution?
A: There are two aspects. The first is our relationship with the international community, including US and UN.Second of course is our relationship with India. As far as the resolution is concerned, it is an event we wish had not happened. But we are moving on. We don’t think the resolution was in any way helpful to Sri Lanka. Its content, with regard to the LLRC report is nothing new as we are already implementing the LLRC recommendations step by step. In that regard the resolution did not add any value to us. However, this event need not affect the way we interact with India or the international community for that matter.
Q: UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne argued that Sri Lanka is a “failed state”. In her Report, Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also reflected similar sentiments. How damning do you think is the use of such nomenclature?
A: Such nomenclature and lexicon is being used by people who are motivated or are ill-informed and have complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground. Those who have visited Sri Lanka and are aware of the ground realities will never use such words. Sri Lanka has achieved one of the highest economic growth rates in Asia (8 per cent) in the last financial year. The Northern region is growing by 22 per cent, to put it in perspective. We have restored peace and stability throughout the country. Are these symptomatic of a failed state? Indian investment in Sri Lanka is growing like never before. ITC is building a hotel at Galle Face. Tata Group, Airtel and many others are investing substantially. India and Sri Lanka are jointly developing a power-plant in Trincomalee. India is also developing our railways. Tourism has increased by 40 per cent every year for the last few years. Economy is booming. Which of these appear to be an indicator of a failed state? It seems that political motives have come into play whenever such words are used.
Q: Experts tend to reduce the challenge faced by Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council to a problem between Sri Lanka and the US-EU alliance. However, India’s change of stance in the final weeks changed the scenario. Was it predictable or did it come as a bolt from the blue?
A: As I mentioned earlier, the resolution was unfortunate. It did not add anything to our main objectives that are defined by 3 ‘Rs’: Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation. We have embarked on achieving these objectives in our own way and want to find home-grown solutions. Naturally we are more concerned about our people than anybody else. Therefore, misperceived, misdirected attention on Sri Lanka by the international community is not helpful. The resolution was ill-timed and unnecessary. Some of the countries, including India, may have voted for the resolution for their own reasons. We are ready to move on. With India, we have an age-old relationship and that will remain strong as ever. As neighbours we have issues at times where we agree to disagree without our deep friendship being affected adversely.
Q: But you did manage to get most of the regional votes and that was rather impressive. Analysts believe that it was because while Sri Lankan diplomacy remained focused in the region, it did not do enough when it came to Europe and even Latin America. Was the weakness of Sri Lankan diplomatic strategy a reason for the passing of the US sponsored resolution?
A: The resolution was sponsored by the most powerful nation in the world. Naturally the result would reflect their sway in the international community as well as that of their allies. The substance of the resolution however did not merit that kind of vote and attention. There are other issues in the world that needs to focus on more than Sri Lanka. Therefore the motives of those who sponsored the resolution are unclear and questionable. But as I said, we have moved on. What the resolution recommends is being implemented by us already, step by step, at our own pace in a careful and mindful manner. Implementation is carried out not because of international pressure but because that is the best for our people. What this resolution has basically achieved is that it has emboldened some Tamil diaspora extremist groups such as TGTE in New York, GTF in London and Nediyavan Group in Norway, all of whom are LTTE remnants, to believe that they can resurrect the campaign for Tamil Eelam, that is a separate state in the North and the East of Sri Lanka. This has had a negative effect in Sri Lanka and seems to have generated counter-reactions vitiating the atmosphere to achieve home grown solutions to issues of current concern for all communities in Sri Lanka. We are concerned that some elements in Tamil Nadu are also talking about a separate Eelam now and that is counter-productive. It will only poison the climate and make our efforts towards reconciliation more difficult.
Q: Hillary Clinton invited Minister Peiris to the US to engage prior to the resolution. Why did he refuse to go? Couldn’t Sri Lanka have guaranteed a different result if you had engaged with the US?
A: That is rather speculative. When leaders of countries meet each other, they do it at each other’s convenience. Such a meeting that would naturally discuss all bilateral issues and the resolution are mutually exclusive.
Q: Clinton stated right after the vote that she wished to engage with Sri Lanka. What is the government’s plan with regards to engagement with the US?
A: The minister just had a visit to the US. His interaction with the Secretary of State was constructive and fruitful, particularly with regard to implementation of the LLRC recommendations. We had 3,00,000 IDPs just 3 years ago, now we have less than 5000. Even those will be settled by July 31. That is the time by which we expect to be able to completely de-mine the Mullaitivu area. All except a few hundred out of the 11,000 LTTE combatants in custody have been released. We want to engage all parties including the Tamil parties and groups through the Parliament Select Committee that has been set up (by the president) to take care of constitutional reforms that will be necessary to consolidate the reconciliation process and accommodate the aspirations of all communities. We want the Tamil National Alliance to come on board as soon as possible. We don’t want groups based abroad, far removed from the ground in Sri Lanka to say or do things that may hamper the reconciliation process. The solution to our problems must be found by those living in Sri Lanka; by those who are affected by the ground realities and not by external intervention.
Q: How will Sri Lanka engage with the UNHRC in the future, now that this resolution has been passed and you are expected to present to them a progress as and when the 22nd Session commences?
A: People should not try to impose models of reconciliation and political solutions on the situation in Sri Lanka. We will have to evolve our own model if it is to be effective. The Indian model of a federal structure, while suitable for a large country, may not be ideal for us. Our own model crafted by our own people will offer political accommodation and dignity to all communities. Separatism has no place in Sri Lanka. Tamils in Sri Lanka have very clearly rejected the idea. Before the 22nd Session of the HRC, we will present our HR situation report at the Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review in October. We are looking forward to that. What happened during the war situation has to be viewed very carefully. We need to avoid fantastic and unrealistic explanations and speculative details.