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Reconciliation, an internal issue Ė Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva

* Pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora, and INGOs in US exaggerate without evidence
* Domestic mechanism the need
* Broad Human Rights Action Plan prepared
* Human rights record could be defended at next UNHRC sessions

The Leader of the House and Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said the Government reiterated that the reconciliation process is entirely a domestic issue. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that nobody could dictate to us as to how we should initiate the reconciliation process. The Government firmly believes in a homegrown solution. If outside forces try to point their finger at us and meddle in our internal affairs, the issues would get more complicated.

The Minister said that even under international law, issues relating to good governance, norms in democracy and international relations, are internal matters which should be settled internally through a domestic mechanism and not by external forces. External forces fail to realise the ground realities of a situation and it will further complicate the issue. Therefore, the Government firmly believes that it must be left to the Sri Lankans themselves to sort out problems.

He said a broad Human Rights Action Plan has been prepared both at policy and implementation levels and the Government is in the process of implementing it. At the same time, the Government is ready for the upcoming UNHRC Universal Periodic Review in October. Sri Lanka will certainly present to the Human Rights Council what the Government has done so far to ensure human rights.

Compared to many countries where indiscriminate killings and various human rights violations are taking place, Sri Lanka could be proud of its human rights record. However,to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka, the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora, various other organisations and INGOs in US and some other countries exaggerate certain things which are not based on any evidence. The Government is quite confident that its human rights record could be defended at the next UNHRC sessions.

Q: What is the Governmentís stance on the LLRC Report? Some ministers have said it has exceeded the mandate and not all recommendations can be implemented. Some others call for its implementation in its entirety. What is the Governmentís position?

A: The Government has already implemented some of the recommendations of the LLRC report. For example, the release of detainees. The Government has released over 10,000 hardcore LTTE cadres after rehabilitation and integrated them into civil society. Nowhere in the world such a thing has been done after a three decades of terrorism within a space of few years.

Hence the Government has done its best in the area of rehabilitation. The 290,000 civilians taken hostage by the LTTE were liberated from their clutches and only 5,000 - 6,000 are in camps. All others have been resettled in their own villages.

The remaining numbers could also be resettled. But the obstacle, is the landmine issue. In terms of the international humanitarian law, we are not permitted to resettle the displaced people till the landmines are cleared. We are in the process of clearing the landmines.

When it is over, they will be resettled. In countries where conflicts and disasters had occurred, it had taken so many years to resettle the displaced people. Sri Lanka could be proud that we had resettled them within a very short period of time.

In fact the Indian Parliamentary delegation which met me in Parliament on Tuesday praised the rehabilitation and resettlement process carried out by the Government. They also endorsed the economic empowerment and development drive in the North and the East.

They said they are fully satisfied with this process initiated by the Government. Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa also briefed them on the rehabilitation and resettlement program launched by the Government. The delegation toured the Northern area on Wednesday and they had witnessed themselves the rapid development in the North. Those in the detention camps and prisons are hardcore LTTErs pending investigations and trial.

Moreover, the Government trilingual policy was inaugurated by Indian President Abdul Kalam in concurrence with the Sri Lankan Government on his visit to Sri lanka.

We are living in a civilised society. In a civil society, we have our own penal code and legal systems. As in a barbarian society, we canít arrest people and hang them or burnt them. We have to ensure that charges are framed evidence produced and trial fixed. The accused should be given an opportunity to defend themselves. So the process is long and one canít act in haste.

Therefore, I should say that the Government has embarked upon the implementation of the LLRC report. It has to be phased out since there are practical problems in gathering evidence. I mean nowhere in the world that the recommendations of a report have been fully implemented. We are making every endeavour to ensure that these recommendations are implemented.

Q: The UNHRC Universal Periodic Review is in the offing and our HR record will be reviewed at its sessions. What is the government plan to brief the international community on our HR commitments?

A: Throughout history, Sri Lanka briefed the UNHRC on human rights. We had no problem of going before the UNHRC and placing our case before it. There had been an attempt earlier also to discredit Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has represented matters very well. I remember Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe placing the Cabinet approved Human Rights Action Plan before the UNHRC. The Human Rights Action Plan has been prepared at policy and implementation level and we are in the process of implementing.

At the same time, we have to be conscious about the upcoming UNHRC Universal Periodic Review to be held in October. We are fully ready for it. Sri Lanka will certainly present to the Human Rights Council what it has done to ensure human rights. Our Constitution itself safeguards human rights. How many fundamental rights applications are being argued before the Supreme Court every month? The Human Rights Commission is the forum for human rights compared to other countiries where indiscriminate killings and other crimes committed. I think Sri Lanka can be very proud of its human rights record.

The pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora, various other organisations and INGOs in US and other countries exaggerate things not based on evidence to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka. We are quite confident that our human rights record could be defended at the next UNHRC sessions.

Q: Several politicians and civil society figures have made anti-US and anti-West statements following the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. Will there be any change in our relationship with, and policies towards, these nations that voted against us? And are there any plans or actions to win over these countries and convince them of our commitment to human rights ?

A: Sri Lanka is a free democratic country. Every citizen has a right to express what he feels about a situation on any a problem whether it is against the US or any other country. We canít stop that. This is the freedom which the people enjoy themselves. The West also says that you must permit the people to express their views.

The people are exercising that right and this proves that there is media freedom and also the freedom of expression in our country. As far as our relations with the West, India, China and other countries are concerned, we have a very coherent foreign policy.

Though India voted against us at the UNHRC session in Geneva, we have not abandoned India. Our relations with India are strong. We have to make it stronger. We have to adopt the same attitude towards the West as well, since we canít live in isolation. So we can debate, argue, agree or disagree which means that we are not enemies. We canít have enemies round the world.

We may not however agree with certain policies and actions on the part of US, UK or France. There are double standards practised by the Western countries. Our relations with those countries are strong.

We condone the mistakes and the crimes they commit. We could criticise them and say that we donít agree with them. We will maintain cordial relations with those countries.

Q: India too voted against us due to various reasons including domestic compulsions. Will there be any effect on our long-standing relationship with India?

A: I say it should not have any impact on our long-term relations. Of course, we donít agree with the Indian action. Sri Lanka does not believe what India did was correct. That is a separate issue which does not mean it hampers the good relations with India. India is our closet neighbour. It has immensely helped us during the time of war to eradicate terrorism. India has also helped us a lot in the areas of development and rehabilitation.

We should not forget that. Since India voted for the US-sponsored resolution, we should not distance ourselves from India. But we donít approve Indiaís voting for the resolution.

Q: Is there a rationale behind the decision to open more embassies and consulates in Africa and Latin America?

A: Certainly. Africa is an emerging market and an industrial zone. Lots of natural resources are found in Africa. So the purchasing power of the African people will be enhanced in time to come.

For example we are looking at Europe and US for our garments. In another ten years, we have to look at Africa for the number of gold and diamond mines and other natural resources are being exploited. I visited Uganda recently where I witnessed development taking place at a rapid pace. It was not only for political reasons, but also for trade.

The Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) which is under my Ministry is conducting a consultancy service in Uganda for power projects extended to some other countries in the African continent. Likewise there are lots of Indian professionals working in Africa.

We can send trained professionals to Africa rather than housemaids, masons and workers. I think African countries will welcome them most.

That should be the nature of business and economic connections we have to establishing in Africa. Consequently we need to have more embassies in Africa which is a very large continent.

At the same time, we have to further strengthen our relations with Latin American countries as well. Brazil is becoming an economic giant in Latin America. Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil to have become very important.

Africa and Latin America are also emerging as new economic giants like Asia overtaking the West and the US. So we cannot forget Latin America or Africa. We should have closer relations with that part of the globe as well.

Q: What actions could be taken to ward off any external threat to our sovereignty and reconciliation process?

A: We believe the sovereignty and reconciliation process is a domestic issue. Nobody can dictate to us how we should reconcile and how our process should take place. Because we believe in a homegrown solution. Therefore we can sort out these issues.

If outsiders try to point fingers and meddle, these issues would get more complicated. This is an internal issue. Even under international law as well as good governance norms in democracy and international relationship, an internal problem of a country should be settled internally through a domestic mechanism, not by external forces, because external forces will not realise the ground realities and it will complicate the issue. We believe that it must be left for Sri Lankans to sort out this issue.

Q: There is a perception in some quarters that if we had ensured good governance, rule of law and demilitarisation following the end of terrorism in May 2009, other countries would not have had means to make inroads to our country. What is your comment?

A: What do you mean by militarisation? It has been reduced now. But we canít reduce it to zero. The presence of the military is not only there in the North and the East, there are several military contingents in my district Badulla as well. Whenever there is a disaster, the military takes care.

I must thank the Security Forces for their assistance during the floods. When some of the tanks were damaged, it was the Security Forces who repaired the tanks with the help of villagers.

The military has an important role to play in development and rehabilitation. We are trying to recruit more Tamil speaking Policemen. More people should come from Tamil speaking areas and join the police, it cannot be done overnight.

Q: The Government rightly opposes any international mechanism to probe any wartime abuses. But is it open to an internal independent accountability process?

A: As I said earlier, Sri Lanka believes in a domestic process. With regard to accountability, anybody can complain about alleged war crimes. When the LLRC was sitting, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were invited by the LLRC to come and place before the LLRC any evidence of abuse of human rights and war crimes, but they did not come.

Even British Channel-4 was invited to come and place their original video clip before the LLRC. They too did not come. Without taking part in the process, they try to strangle decisions, this is not fair. We canít allow that. We will not be subject to such external tactics.

Q: What was your mission to Uganda, which supported us at the recent UNHRC sessions? Is there any possibility of venturing into the Ugandan market to support our products?

A: Uganda is a country with 35 million people. They are in a process of democratisation.

They have an agricultural economy, industries and area of hydro power. There is development even in tourism. Despite various pressures, Uganda supported us at the UNHRC resolution. So we have to be grateful to them. I had the opportunity to meet the Ugandan President and the Foreign Minister and thank them on behalf of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the people of Sri Lanka.

An invitation was extended to the President of Uganda to come to Sri Lanka to strengthen bilateral relations.

I am sure even in trade, tourism and investment, we would have a good opportunity. It would be a two-way traffic to help Ugandans as well as Sri Lankans.

Q: Considering Sri Lankaís bitter experience will not Police and land powers to the North and the East be a catalyst for future secession?

A: The issue of whether we are devolving police and land powers is a matter that has to be decided through consensus. That is why we have invited everybody to come before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). Then some may say devolving police and land powers will be a catalyst for separation. Some may argue otherwise.

Let us see what the consensus at the PSC is and we have also to find out the consensus among the people. This is an issue for all political parties to get together and resolve. That is why we are asking political parties to come to the PSC debate and analyse and reach a consensus.

Q: There are press reports that the Indian all-party delegation has insisted on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Why canít we have our own solution without outside interference in our internal affairs?

A: There is no such pressure. We exchanged views when we met the Indian delegation. I mean some other country canít say tell us what to do. We interacted and explained certain issues and they also explained some of their concerns. That is all and it was only a discussion. There is no compulsion. It is up to Sri Lanka to decide what has to be done.

Q: the Kumar Gunarathnam, Dimuthu Attygala, Lalith and Kugan alleged abductions made headlines recently. The Opposition and Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) are pointing fingers at the Government. What have you got to say about this and the alleged disappearances?

A: I am not an investigator into disappearances. We see all these things from police reports. It is up to the Police and the law enforcement authorities to go into these disappearances and find out whether allegations levelled against the Government are true or not. But now this has become a common phenomenon.

Whenever there is an abduction, they put it onto the Governmentís account. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that the Government had a hand in any of these abductions.

The people can just say and the newspapers can print headlines, and people can give comments to various channels. But where is the evidence? There must be evidence. What about over 60,000 people who disappeared and were murdered during the period 1988-1989 UNP regime.

The people have to be conscious when they level these allegations. This Government will not condone abduction or indiscriminate killing. But in every country various abductions and indiscriminate killings happen from time to time because of underworld elements.

How many people and children are being abducted? Can we hold the Government responsible? This is only an innuendo that they are playing. They say the Government did this and nobody else can do it. But they must have reasons to prove such incidents. Because some can make allegations, but as I said it has to be proved.

That does not mean the Government is approving abductions. The Government wants to find the truth. Some day the truth will be revealed. Then they will say that this is false propaganda.

 

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