Interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs :
Intentions of vested groups exposed - Ambassador Kunanayakam
There is general recognition that Sri Lanka has made significant
progress since the end of the conflict and that the LLRC report is good
and that it contains important recommendations. It is also seen as
exemplary in its engagement with the international community, sending
high level delegations to the Council sessions.
Why then, they ask, is Sri Lanka being singled out so unfairly , said
Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam.
In a wide ranging interview Ambassador and Permanent Representative
to the United Nations – Geneva, Tamara Kunanayakam said, “What, in fact,
is the US trying to tell us with their draft resolution? They are not
saying that our LLRC report is bad. They are not saying that there are
gross and systematic violations of human rights in Sri Lanka. What they
are saying is that they don’t have confidence that we will implement the
She was very critical with her observation : “They are judging our
intentions, not the ground reality! This is unacceptable to most
countries, because it gives a role to the Council that was never
intended. Moreover, there is a general feeling that Sri Lanka is being
punished for cooperating.
”If the reward for cooperation is punishment, then why, they ask,
should anyone cooperate with the Council?”.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: What is the current situation in the Human Rights Council with
regard to the debate on Sri Lanka?
A: The present climate at the Human Rights Council is in Sri Lanka’s
favour, but a lot of work still needs to be done. I have great
confidence in the value of our arguments.
It is true that thus far we have been able to gather around us a
number of developing countries, thanks to the principled stand of
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Government, the support of our
people who have rallied around us, the tireless efforts of our External
Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, whose new Africa policy and his
direct contact with his counterparts and Heads of State in Africa have
brought us a number of allies in that continent, and, of course, thanks
to the work of the staff of our Mission, who have been working
round-the-clock to keep the Missions in Geneva informed about
developments in our country.
As I said, a lot of work still remains to be done to convince Council
Members of the correctness of our position. It is far too early to
venture a prognosis. We have convincing arguments based on principles
and on the results of our policy of reconciliation. For those who know
the UN System, nothing is won until the last minute and we cannot sit
back on our laurels before the vote. Although I’m reasonably optimistic
about the outcome, we must remain vigilant and mobilised, and hard work
on a daily basis is required.
Q: UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne has developed the
argument that Sri Lanka is a ‘failed State’ and has called on UN
institutions to “support change”. In her Report, Navi Pillay, the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, also used language that describes ‘failed
States’. What do you think?
A: Like ‘terrorist States’ or ‘rogue States’, the notion of ‘failed
States’ is part of a repertoire that is used to justify interference in
the internal affairs of sovereign States, but under an angelic and
Anyone with any knowledge of the ground reality will know that this
description does not fit Sri Lanka!
UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne’s reference to Sri Lanka as
a “failed State” is direct. The High Commissioner for Human Rights uses
apparently innocuous language, but punctuates the section dealing with
Sri Lanka with terminology associated with that dangerous concept. She
suggests that Sri Lanka is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens,
that its institutions are incapable of implementing the recommendations
of the LLRC, and that it refuses to engage with UN institutions.
As you know, the West has been developing this argument to justify
and legitimise interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and
now Syria. Their real objective is ‘regime change’! Many ambassadors in
Geneva have been telling me that this is also what they want to achieve
in Sri Lanka, so we take it very seriously.
Over the past 10 years, the US has sought to impose the concept
‘responsibility to protect’ or ‘R2P’ to justify military interventions
in countries where, according to them, the government is unable to
protect its own citizens!
Both the UK Foreign Office Minister and Navi Pillay advocate support
for “change” in Sri Lanka. I wonder what kind of change they have in
mind.Regime change? Their position reflects the singular reasoning of
John Stuart Mills who said that the British invasion of India and China
was “in the service of others” with “no benefit to itself … blameless
and laudable” in everything it did!
Clearly, we cannot accept such intervention in our internal affairs.
That would be tantamount to surrendering our sovereignty and our
independence. The right of peoples and States to protect their own
citizens, without foreign intervention, is entrenched in the Charter of
the United Nations and in every single international instrument that has
been adopted ever since! Article 56 of the UN Charter clearly stipulates
international cooperation as the means by which there is international
engagement in the promotion of human rights.
The motivations and bona fide of those seeking to characterise Sri
Lanka in such terms are questionable! Many of our friends from Africa,
Asia and Latin America are not duped. They are talking of an “Anglo-Saxo
alliance” against a small developing country!
Let’s not forget that countries which are part of this alliance are
also some of the largest contributors to the voluntary fund of the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which pays for the
salaries of the majority of its staff and its human rights program. The
atmosphere in the Human Rights Council is such that our friends in the
developing world are beginning to associate the onslaught against a
small country such as ours with a witch hunt, which has nothing to do
with actual guilt or innocence!
Q: Can we reduce the challenge faced by Sri Lanka at the Human Rights
Council to a problem between Sri Lanka and the US/EU alliance?
A: In my opinion, no!
The real interests of those who want to move a resolution against Sri
Lanka have nothing to do with human rights in Sri Lanka, whether of
Tamils, Sinhalese, or any other community. It lies elsewhere!
There is a lot of hypocrisy and double standards being played out at
the Human Rights Council, and the objective of the big powers is to turn
the Council into yet another weapon at their disposal for use against
With the growing global crises, especially at the centre of their own
economies, they are becoming increasingly aggressive to gain control
over the wealth and resources of their former colonies, in the hope that
they can postpone the political crisis that will inevitably follow the
present multiple economic, financial, environmental and social crises.
That is why we have so much support from the developing countries and
the emerging economies.
There is general recognition that Sri Lanka has made significant
progress since the end of the conflict and that the LLRC report is a
good one and that it contains very important recommendations. It is also
seen as exemplary in its engagement with the international community,
sending high-level delegations to the Council sessions. Why then, they
ask, is Sri Lanka being singled out so unfairly?
What, in fact, is the US trying to tell us with their draft
resolution? They are not saying that our LLRC report is bad. They are
not saying that there are gross and systematic violations of human
rights in Sri Lanka. What they are saying is that they don’t have
confidence that we will implement the recommendations. They are judging
our intentions, not the ground reality!
This is unacceptable to most countries, because it gives a role to
the Council that was never intended. Moreover, there is a general
feeling that Sri Lanka is being punished for cooperating. If the reward
for cooperation is punishment, then why, they ask, should anyone
cooperate with the Council?
Not only developing countries, but also European countries feel that
Sri Lanka is being unfairly targeted.
Many say that the outcome of the battle at this Session will be a
litmus test, the real issue being the survival of the multilateral
system. Whereas the US seeks to convert the system into an instrument in
the service of its foreign policy goals, based on confrontation rather
than cooperation, developing countries and other emerging economies are
fighting to maintain its multilateral character. A resolution on Sri
Lanka will, many feel, be the ultimate test of the Council’s
politicisation. It will make it or break it.
In her statement to the Human Rights Council, the US Under Secretary
of State, Maria Otero, unilaterally outlined the values which, she said,
would guide their work within the Council, totally disregarding the
principles that the UN General Assembly has determined and which the US
accepted when taking its oath as a member of the Council! ‘Cooperation’,
which is embedded in the UN Charter and a duty incumbent on all States,
is replaced with ‘dialogue’; ‘impartiality’ and ‘non-selectivity’
replaced with the vague and subjective values, “principle” and “truth”!
It is common knowledge that certain Western countries never really
digested their 2009 defeat, when, for the first time in its history, a
Special Session of the Council adopted a resolution that was contrary to
their objectives! The West never forgave us for that! By “us” I mean Sri
Lanka and like-minded countries, which, together, succeeded in defeating
the might of the West! That victory also won us the admiration of other
developing countries that realised that a small country can, if united
on principles, defeat even the most powerful!
Let us also not forget that the US is vying for re-election to the
Human Rights Council in May this year. The problem is that the Western
Group has fielded five candidates for only three seats. It is believed
that by revising the 2009 Council resolution that is favourable to Sri
Lanka, adopted when the US was not a member, it is trying to show its
allies that the Council cannot function without it.
Developing countries fear that such a decision would set a precedent
giving an historic character to the Council permiting a powerful
country, for reasons of its own, to reopen a dossier that has been
closed to examine past violations.
Many countries are also concerned that the US is trying to undermine
the internationally recognised principle of “exhaustion of domestic
remedies.” The International Criminal Court has focused exclusively on
Africa, even filing cases against individuals from countries that have
not signed the Rome Statute, when they have their own legal systems.
In addition to what I’ve already said, the West also has a problem
with our example that a small developing country, with the political
will, can defeat even the most ruthless terrorist group alone and
without their help, when the West itself has failed to do so, despite
its modern weapons and the combined might of NATO!. That is a strong
message we have sent to the developing world! Moreover, the geostrategic
importance of our country is well known. Certain countries also appear
concerned about the quality of our relations with our Asian neighbours
and our ability to mobilise support of countries in Africa, Asia and
even Latin America, which are our natural allies.
Many people have difficulties understanding US impatience for
accountability on the part of Sri Lanka, not even three years after the
end of the conflict. They point out that there has been no
accountability on the part of the US authorities for abuses in the
Guantanamo detention centre, Abu Ghraib, conditions under which Fallujah
was captured, the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and double
standards in its treatment of Palestine and Israel.
The selective targeting of Sri Lanka does not augur well for the
future of the Council. The US think-tank Fund for Peace, which is an
organisation that serves as a reference for the US Secretary of State
and the US Secretary of Defence, has placed Sri Lanka on the Alert List
of its Failed States Index. Thirty-five of the 47 Member States of the
Council are also on its Alert List or its Warning List; all 35 are
developing countries or emerging economies. The divine surprise is that
the 12 Council members that are not on the list are all from the West!
It is certainly true to say that much may have changed since the days
of Adam Smith. But, the standard he called “the vile maxim of the
masters of mankind: all for ourselves, and nothing for other people”,
continues to flourish!
Q: What are your plans now? How will you proceed?
A: There’s still a lot of work to be done! We must be lucid! We must
not underestimate or overestimate our capacity! To claim victory at this
stage would be a grave error. First of all, we cannot speak on behalf of
sovereign States. Each State will take a sovereign decision, and it will
not have spoken until it casts its vote.
States can change their position at any time, even at the last hour,
depending on national interests. Therefore, the battle will have to be
fought to the very last minute. Nobody has the right to anticipate the
vote of another country. It is a matter of respect, respect for the
sovereignty of other nations and peoples.
Q: Do you think that it will be important for Sri Lanka to seek a
A: It is not a question of seeking compromises. We are defending
principles and nothing justifies compromising on principles! If we do
that, we will lose our allies. This battle is not over, we can foresee
others in the near future. Whether or not we compromise, they will
return in June, then in September, with another and stronger resolution.
Look at the example of Yemen. In June last year, when the West had a
draft resolution against Yemen, developing countries were ready to
support it, but then Yemen decided to accept a compromise, because the
US promised that there would be no outcome. In September, the West broke
its promise and returned with a stronger resolution, but this time the
developing countries refused to come to the aid of Yemen.
The other day, immediately after my right of reply to US Under
Secretary Maria Otero, when I exposed the real intentions of the US to
unilaterally replace the values on which the Human Rights Council was
set up, a number of developing country delegates came up to me and
thanked me for speaking up for all developing countries. They were
grateful that we were not only defending Sri Lanka, but our collective
Courtesy: Asian Tribune