Q: Sri Lanka achieved what has been called a “significant victory” at the recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGAM). What are the specific reasons for such a positive outlook on the meeting?
A: There was a huge buildup, which was all too evident before the actual meeting, by the inter national media and the Australian media to demonize Sri Lanka. We were told that issues relating to Sri Lanka’s human rights would be taken up, the spokesperson for the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd stated that there was an expectation that these issues would come up at the meetings and there was a great deal of hype about litigation and actions that would be filed against various persons.
However what ultimately happened? Not one country objected to Sri Lanka being a venue for the CHOGAM in 2013.
Q: Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said very clearly that he would not attend the meetings if they were held in Sri Lanka.
A: That is quite wrong, to view this as an objection to the venue. The question of venue was never revisited during any point of the proceedings, because that was a decision that was made in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago, by the heads of governments.
Q: But Canada will still boycott the proceedings?
A: That is a different matter; boycotting is one thing and objecting to the venue is another. Canada did not object to the venue and nor did any other country. At the officials’ meeting there was a reaffir mation of Sri Lanka as the venue—therefore it was never in doubt at all. As the final item on the agenda Prime Minister Julia Gillard called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to wind up the proceedings, by inviting a delegation to come to Sri Lanka. The venue was therefore unanimously accepted.
Prime Minister Harper simply stated that he would not be attending. He did not object to Sri Lanka as a venue nor did he say that Canada will not come or a delegation would not come. He stated that as Prime Minister, he would not attend— that is entirely up to him.
The President made it very clear, the meeting is taking place here and everyone is welcome, if one head of government refuses to come then that is entirely his decision.
Q: So, what you are saying is that it is his personal choice and not representative of Canada as a member state?
A: Look at his words; he said he will not come, he did not say that Canada would not be represented. If he does not want to come there is nothing we can do about it, but the conference will take place in Colombo.
Q: Despite the fact that the government is claiming the CHOGAM and the meetings on the sidelines were a success, the delegation was unable to convince Canada and even to a certain extent Britain—that Sri Lanka is taking proper measures of accountability. Why is this?
A: I don’t think that anyone can seriously question that CHOGAM was an unqualified victory for this country—that is perfectly obvious. Firstly this question of litigation was squashed before it even began. There was an action filed by a private party, who has openly stated that he is an LTTE sympathizer. We made representations to the gover nment of Australia and the Federal Attorney General of Canada and Prime Minister Gillard both stated that this litigation could not go forward— therefore it was dead in the water. Secondly the fact that the venue was never questioned is a diplomatic triumph. Thirdly, the attempt by Canada to put Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record on the agenda was rejected at the very threshold. They attempted to bring it up; I objected and stated that we did not want these proceedings politicized. Thereafter fifteen countries took the stage one after the other to support by position, this was a very humbling and overwhelming experience.
Q: However, the delegation failed at convincing Canada that we are taking serious steps towards accountability and reconciliation?
A: But that is not a test of success or failure. There are 54 countries.
Q: But why is it that we are unable to convince Canada and to a certain extent Britain as well?
A: If one country is clearly adopting that view for political reasons, then there is nothing that we can do about it—i say so without any hesitation. Canada did not persist in the matter; they recognized the fact that the other countries were in agreement with Sri Lanka because they refrained from taking up this matter at the retreat.
Q: What about Britain then, Prime Minister Cameron had called for independent investigations.
A: He has not called for an inter national investigation. A few months ago there was an opposition MP who asked the Prime Minister to support an investigation into Sri Lanka. But PM Cameron did not use the word investigation. He spoke of an independent and credible investigation and deliberately refrained from calling for an inter national investigation. Sri Lanka’s position has been that there is a credible and independent investigation by the work that is being done by the LLRC.
Q: By this call for investigations, by these states, the LLRC report has already been dismissed as insufficient?
A: If that is the case, that is clearly wrong because no one must discredit the report, before the report is available. Once it is in the public domain, if it is found to be deficient or evasive then by all means criticism is welcome. It is surely unfair to criticize a report before it is available, that is a reflection of bias.
Don’t take Perth as an isolated event, in New York and Geneva many found this a compelling argument. Once again it was Canada who wanted to put Sri Lanka on the agenda for the March 2012 UNHRC session and we brought up the argument that a report that did not exist could not be put an agenda.
Q: You were present at the last discussion with the TNA, what progress is being made and are there any definite decision being taken?
A: Let’s look at the context; this is a matter which successive governments have tried to resolve. There was a reason why implementation did not take place and this was because there was an insufficient consensus within the country with regards to implementation. Therefore what is necessary is to come up with a report that is capable of being implemented; we don’t want another report gathering dust on a shelf.
Q: The TNA is clearly unsatisfied with the prog ress of the talks which is why they have now travelled outside of the country to speak to high level officials in the US. Doesn’t that alar m the government, you haven’t been able to convince them that their grievances will be addressed?
A No, why should we be alar med by anything? These are matters which the government and the people of Sri Lanka have to resolve, so there is no need to be alarmed.
Q: But why do they feel that they cannot address their grievances with you?
A: That is not true, they are talking to us and they have stated that they will take part in the select committee as well.
Q: However they have expressed their dissatisfaction.
A: Of course they would have, they are at a maximalist position. At the beginning you ask for as much as you can, that is normal in any negotiation. But in a negotiation they have to give and take and modify the position that they took initially.
However it is not going to be helpful; the TNA going and talking to other governments is going to harden public opinion in this country.
Q: There is a lot of criticism levelled against you, where people feel your perfor mance as a foreign minister has been unsatisfactory.
A: That is for the public to assess. I don’t want to sing my praises, all I wish to say is that there is great deal of jealousy and jealousy is an overpowering motive and undercurrent and that is very obvious in these proceedings.
Q: Jealousy of your position?
A: No jealousy in general is a very strong undercurrent that is all I am saying. But let us look at what has been achieved objectively. I must also say that I am not claiming personal credit for anything this is a team effort.
Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka