‘UN using one yardstick for the powerful and
another for the weak’ – Minister G.L. Peiris
The government ‘is taken aback’ by the action that is proposed to be taken by the UN Secretary General in regard to Sri Lanka on current accountability issues, whereas what is needed is a ‘measure of understanding’, on the part of the international community, of Sri Lanka’s point of view on these questions. Besides, considering that the UN is obliged to adhere to the principle of equality of treatment of states, why is the proposed course of action not being followed in other instances where the ‘evidence is a great deal more cogent and compelling than it is in the case of Sri Lanka?’, Export Development and International Trade Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris asked while clarifying the government’s position on a range of current issues, to this newspaper.
‘Has this procedure been adopted in other situations involving human rights violations in other countries? In the case of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, there are violations not by those countries, but by other countries within the territorial boundaries of those nations. Has the UN Secy. General contemplated adopting a similar course of action to appoint experts to advise him in regard to those situations? Why the invidious and discriminatory treatment in respect of Sri Lanka, the Minister asked further.
‘This is hurtful and unacceptable, particularly because the support and the protection of the UN is required not so much by big countries, which have the military muscle, the economic strength and the political influence to look after themselves. The need for the UN machinery is felt by smaller countries, which are vulnerable. It is, therefore, thoroughly unsatisfactory for the UN to have one yardstick for the powerful and another for the small and the weak This is diametrically at variance with the values underpinning the UN system’, the Minister said.
Excerpts of the Minister’s views:
‘There is a very informative report which was published on Feb. 23, by the International Crisis Group, an internationally known think tank. The current president of that is Louise Arbour, until recently the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The Group’s President Emeritus is Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia. It is also served by Lord Christopher Patten and Thomas R. Pickering.
‘The thrust of the argument in this Paper is that there is a very significant contrast between the attitudes of the Tamil Diaspora overseas and the views and aspirations of Tamil leaders and political parties within Sri Lanka. They come to the conclusion that the Diaspora has not given up the concept of Eelam at all. On the contrary, the Diaspora is very strenuously committed to the pursuit of the goal of Eelam and is doing everything possible, including the use of its action network, communication system and its vast financial resources, to pursue that objective. The Diaspora dismisses as irrelevant the views of Tamil leaders and political parties in this country.
‘In that situation there is every reason to believe that groups such as this are seeking to make a significant impact on the domestic politics of Sri Lanka, not only by working closely with political parties but also by funding, very substantially, NGOs. In that context, we find very distressing some of the recent actions of the former Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Mr. Sarath N. Silva, who, in respect of the court martial against Gen. Sarath Fonseka, has argued strongly that those issues should be raised at the international level.
‘Now that is an extremely dangerous course of action because it opens the door to interference by the very forces that the International Crisis Group is talking about and advertently or otherwise you are giving those forces a point of entry into sensitive domestic political issues in Sri Lanka.
‘We also fail to understand what the need for this is because Sri Lanka has a highly developed legal system and institutions which are functioning. The clearest proof of this is that with regard to the court martial proceedings in respect of Gen. Fonseka, the two highest courts in the country are already being activated in regard to these matters. There is a fundamental rights application pending before the Supreme Court and a Habeas Corpus application has been filed in the Court of Appeal and the president of the latter has appointed three judges of that court to hear that case. So, the courts of this country have been activated in this matter and there is no need to take this matter to the international community. That is an affront to the integrity and dignity of Sri Lanka’s courts and tribunals.
‘Neither in Sri Lanka nor in any other country has a former Chief Justice embarked on this kind of criticism on his successors. It is contrary to convention and accepted judicial practice. And there are strong reasons underpinning these conventions. If former Chief Justices are to assail in vitriolic terms the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, there will be an erosion of public confidence in the judiciary and one of the main requirements for the proper functioning of these institutions is the threshold of public confidence.
‘There is also the added consideration that that kind of behaviour will naturally lead to the imputation of political motives to the former CJ. Then the question would arise, was he motivated by political factors in handing down some of his own decisions?. All these matters will generate lively controversy in a manner which will be detrimental to the stature of judicial institutions. This is a pity.
‘Another matter of concern is the comment made by the Leader of the Opposition that in the event of his election to office he will not repay loans which have been obtained by the lawfully constituted government from commercial banks. It is a feature of the party system and indeed of representative democracy that the Opposition will criticize the government. That will be criticism of a government or a political party. That is qualitatively to be distinguished from an onslaught on a country and the well being of its economy.
‘If the Opposition were to tell commercial banks that loans entered into by governments lawfully in power, would not be honoured by a succeeding administration, then you have in that situation a direct attack on the economy. And the fallout from that would involve ordinary citizens. All one could do in practical terms, is to enable the banks to demand higher rates of interest, pointing out that there is some degree of jeopardy to them as a result of the attitude manifested by the Opposition.
‘This is not the first occasion this has happened. At the height of the military action against the LTTE, when a loan was obtained from HSBC, for development, the Opposition Leader, again made this threat. It is for the people to judge, but it is very likely that the electorate would feel that this undermines the economy of the nation.
‘Our delegation which recently had talks with European Commission in Brussels, managed to successfully communicate the contextual factors in which the GSP plus issues arose. It was a promising start to a negotiating process because it does not look as if the perceptions on both sides are widely divergent. The gap is certainly capable of being narrowed down by perceptive dialogue. The EC recognizes that Sri Lanka has a strong legal system. Indeed they were candid in the recognition of our achievements in areas, such as, IDPs, where considerable progress has been made and the question of child soldiers, of whom there are hardly any now.
‘The EC representatives mentioned their concerns. And we were able to explain the context, the progress being made and the trajectory for the future. It would be necessary to identify the specific measures the EC is recommending. It is very important for the government to know what they would like done. We could then look at the total list of measures or the road map, and see how much of it can be done. The idea of a road map is acceptable but the crucial factor would be the content of the road map. Anyway, if there is pragmatism in preparing the scope of this road map, progress would certainly be possible.