Challenges to a rising nation Part–I


Address delivered by Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, at the Defence Seminar - 2014 (Excerpts)

We are not simply basking in the glory of a military victory, that is certainly not the attitude of Mr. Rajapaksa and of this country. On the contrary, we are reflecting deeply on the causes of the conflict, how it was that we were able to accomplish what is seen by the world as a miracle. Nobody believed that it would be possible for this country in the field of battle to vanquish the most relentless terrorist organization that flourished in the world. So all that is behind us, that is water under the bridge, although we are legitimately proud of that achievement. Today we are discussing the challenges to a rising nation, in other words we are focused on the future. We need perceptively to identify the challenges and then to explore pragmatic avenues for confronting and overcoming these challenges.

There are many challenges, but if you ask me to select one, the dominant challenge, without hesitation I would answer that the dominant challenge is the relentless pressure that is being exerted on this country by a segment of the international community, and it seems to us honestly a great pity, that when the country is picking itself up, leaving behind us the pain and the anguish of three decades of terror and we are progressing with regard to economic and social development in the manner that was explained so lucidly to us earlier this morning by Dr. P. B Jayasundara, with all these exhilarating developments, it does seem a matter for profound regret that so much energy, that so much effort not to mention the pecuniary resources that are necessary to be expended every few months, every six months in warding off these challenges with which we are confronted.

At the very outset I want to dispel a particular fallacy. It is indeed a basic misconception; it is not the policy of the government of Sri Lanka to distance ourselves from the world community and to tell the world outside ‘leave us alone! We will manage our affairs’. That is very far from being the approach that we are adopting to the emotive and contentious issues that represent the substance of this very timely seminar.

The best example of this is the stand which Sri Lanka has taken on the Resolution that was adopted by the Human Rights Council in March this year. What we have stated categorically, in terms which cannot possibly be misinterpreted or mistaken, is that we draw a clear distinction, between operative para 2 and operative para 10. Operative Para 2 calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to strengthen in every manner possible the local mechanisms President Rajapaksa has set up to deal with these issues. We have absolutely no problem or reservation with regard to the content of operative para 2. And it is precisely for that reason that H.E the President as recently as the 15th of August took the step of engrafting some of the world’s leading specialists in international law to assist the local commission which we appointed last year, headed by a competent former High Court Judge. So it was the view of the government that there must be transparency and visibility and that is the rationale for taking this step of appointing to an advisory council to the local body persons of impeccable stature, unassailable credentials to give freely of their expertise and thus to fortify and to further invigorate a local mechanism which has already been set up. That is the gist of our approach to operative para 2.

Operative Para 10 is a very different matter, because it is operative para 10 which mandates an international investigation. That is absolutely repugnant to us, and there are no circumstances in which this country will be subjected to an international investigation. I might mention that two large countries, India and Indonesia, while abstaining on the Resolution, voted against operative para 10. Operative para 10 is basically unacceptable. I will tell you why, I will try in this presentation to be as candid as possible and as appropriate. This is no objective investigation at all; it would therefore be a dereliction of public trust on the part of the elected government of this country to acquiesce in what purports to be, but indeed is not, a proper international investigation. I will give you some very compelling reasons for that. We are well aware that anyone who is an adjudicator of facts, anyone whose duty it is to bring his mind to bear upon a set of facts and to come to a considered dispassionate conclusion, is expected to behave in a particular manner.

Look at the public behaviour of some of the people who have been entrusted with this task. One of them has said in public interviews which have been published in the media both here and abroad, the lady concerned said ‘I don’t think this inquiry needs to take much time, the information is all out there in the public domain, it is embedded in reports which have already been compiled and published, so we don’t see why our work should be time consuming’. The same person said ‘if Sri Lanka is not prepared to allow us to come into the country, we will fly people out from Sri Lanka into neighboring countries, and if necessary to Geneva and obtain evidence from them. Furthermore we will protect their identity, nobody will know where this evidence is coming from, what is the probable motivation, nobody will be able to filter this evidence to decide what its probative value is, whether it is inherently credible, whether it could be fabricated or exaggerated, whether there is a clear motive for doing so, and nobody who has even a nodding acquaintance with the basic rudiments of natural justice and procedural fairness could possibly be persuaded that an inquiry that is conducted on the basis of evidence obtained in that manner could contain within it, even the semblance of a fair, impartial, proper inquiry. It is not an inquiry at all; it is a travesty of justice. People lurking in the shadows, having every motive to malign this country, will be given a free opportunity without any restraint or inhibition to undertake precisely that task because their identity, so we are informed by the people conducting the investigation, will never be revealed to the outside world. And if anybody should suggest that the elected leaders of this country must agree to submit this country to an investigation of that sort, then I think the whole concept of public trust would need to be redefined.

I would also like to address candidly to you some remarks on a matter which is of interest not only to Sri Lanka but also many other countries in this region and beyond. Today we have a situation where evidence is being compiled for transmission to Geneva in a clandestine manner, people are being brought, their evidence is being recorded, there is talk of financial inducement, the people coming are not even aware what they are coming for, all of this is happening against the backdrop of some other developments which are profoundly distressing. The foreign minister of another Asian country told me quite recently, what you are seeing in Sri Lanka is not peculiar to your own country, we find that on the eve of major elections there are very large sums of money, that come into our country from overseas. These fill the coffers of Non-Governmental Organizations, and when they are asked what this money is intended for, the answer is this money is going to be used for capacity building. Nebulous phrases which have no real meaning. And this money can be used for any purpose whatsoever, and the practical reality of the matter is that it is in fact used for direct intervention in the domestic politics of the country concerned.

Some other countries in this region have a detailed regulatory framework, there is a compulsory duty of disclosure, what is the source of the funds? What is the quantum? What is the purpose for which the funds are intended? There must be proper audit procedures. In the case of some of these organizations, there has been no audit procedure for more than a decade. In Sri Lanka regrettably the regulatory framework is very weak, I would say almost non-existent, in sharp contrast with the detailed legal provisions which are operative in some other jurisdictions of South Asia.

It is the deep conviction of the government of Sri Lanka that there cannot be any meaningful reconciliation without economic development. If all that you are sharing is human misery, disenchantment and bitterness, there cannot be reconciliation. But we certainly do not believe that economic development is the only component of reconciliation, it is a necessary condition but it is not a sufficient condition. On the subject of reconciliation which is certainly one of the challenges that the rising nation of Sri Lanka is confronting today, I want to say this, that nobody has a monopoly of wisdom with regard to reconciliation. To pretend otherwise is nothing short of unabashed and unacceptable arrogance.

In the Buddha Dhamma there is inspiring material with regard to reconciliation, the Dhammapadha in particular. And the last sermon which Gautama the Buddha delivered before his demise, the Maha Parinibbana Suthra, this seminal idea contained, in the Buddhist scriptures with regard to reconciliation, is that when something painful happens in the life of an individual, in the life of a family, in the life of a society we need to handle it with finesse and sensitivity, and the fundamental objective is to ensure that you confine these painful experiences to the past and you do not permit them to spill over into the present and the future.

On the subject of external intervention on the purported ground of reconciliation, I want to tell you this: as the country’s external affairs minister, it is obviously not appropriate for me to refer to particular instances, but I just want to make this general observation. If you look at what is happening in the world around us, this much can be stated without fear of contradiction, because indeed it is self-evident: external intervention can bring about a change of regime, an overthrow of an established government. But external intervention cannot handle the fallout from that change. The loss of human life, the devastation of the economy, the total chaos that is set in motion, is beyond the capability of any power, however exalted, to deal with adequately. You can change the situation, you can get rid of leaders, you can even assassinate them as has been the fate of several. But what happens next? If you look at the consequences which have been triggered by external intervention, we need to ask ourselves in all earnest the question whether there is reason for satisfaction with the consequences that have emanated from that kind of intervention. Have there been stability, prosperity and wellbeing? On the contrary, have there been devastation, anarchy, and the disintegration of societies which have been founded upon certain practices and traditions and principles? After all, every country has a social fabric, a social structure. If you annihilate it then the consequences we are seeing, the very distressing consequences we are seeing in many parts of the world, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, are not surprising.

Mr. Rajapaksa is certainly to be congratulated not only on starting good things but being able to maintain them. Many good things are started with lots of benign intentions but they fall by the wayside, but this Defence Seminar is being held for the fourth year and that is an achievement, not to mention the 54 countries that are participating in it.

To be continued tomorrow

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