GL takes wind off Burt’s sails at Kadirgamar Institute

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris won a round of warm applause at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute on Friday when he presided over an event where the visiting British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia, Alistair Burt, made a speech that began on a complimentary tone and ended in a critical note.

Peiris took the opportunity to reply and took the wind off Burt’s sails, particularly on dual standards adopted by the West towards those countries like Sri Lanka that engage with institutions like the Geneva-based UNHRC and its Universal Periodic Reviews such as that coming up in March while ignoring other countries that refuse to be present in Geneva at all and subject themselves to interrogation and criticism.

The minister did not mention which country he was talking about. But it was clear to the packed hall which included many of the country former senior diplomats that the reference was to Israel.

``Professor Peiris was as always very polite,’’ a member of the audience later commented. ``In his customary manner he engaged in no abrasive rhetoric. But with a few well chosen words he more than exposed the hypocrisy.’’ (See Political Watch for details)

The run up to Geneva has now begun with the Colombo foreign office having a surfeit of overseas visitors last week including three Assistant Secretaries from the US and Burt. Though Peiris had earlier gone on record when the president had his meeting with editors last month that these visits were ``routine,’’ his ministry was kept very busy last week.

He told the Americans that while constructive criticism was welcome, it must be objective. Colombo was disappointed that US spokesperson Victoria Newland had condemned the impeachment even before the charges were in the public domain. ``Condemning without knowing the facts is hardly fair. Such pre-judgment is not helpful,’’ he has said.

The minister had made the same point he later made at the Kadirgamar Institute about taking on those countries engaging with UNHRC and its UPR’s and ignoring those refusing to submit to such processes. He said that for matters of moral concern, the same yardstick should be applied across the board.

In his meetings with the US officials, the minister had made the further point that foreign countries commenting on domestic issues of sovereign states must exercise self-restraint and there was a need for balance.

Peiris said that given the magnitude of the challenge of restoring normalcy in the war-torn areas, an assessment of the progress made in three and a half years would demonstrate substantial achievement.

In his meeting with Burt, the minister expressed Sri Lanka’s desire to work with the UK with whom there’s been a historical long-standing relationship. Sri Lanka saw the Commonwealth as a 54-member grouping of countries with a diversity of cultures and it is necessary to ensure that it was not politicized.

A previous attempt to appoint a Commonwealth Commissioner of Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law had been shot down by 90 percent of the membership as ``unduly intrusive’’ and inconsistent with the culture of the Commonwealth.

However the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has been expanded. Earlier only matters such as unlawful overthrow of a government had been taken at that level. It was important see that the mechanism was not used to interfere in the domestic affairs of a member country or for two or three countries to impose their will making political footballs of targeted countries.

Colombo was very happy about bipartisan support from Australia for the CHOGM Summit in Sri Lanka in November which will take place after the Australian election in September. Canberra has assured valuable logistical support drawing on the experience of the last Summit in Perth.

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