(Text of speech made in Parliament on November 30th 2012)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am glad to be able to say a few words on the Votes of the Ministry of External Affairs. I do want to assure the Hon. Minister, who is a much beleaguered person, that what I do say I do not say in a spirit of confrontation, but I think it is our duty to bring to the notice of the Government various matters which we think are important.
Sir, we are all concerned with Sri Lanka and its international relations as of now and we are all concerned with its present standing within the international community.
I mean, there is so much of controversy pertaining to Sri Lanka and its international relations, largely flowing from the domestic situation in this country which cannot be but a matter of very urgent and important concern to all the people who live in this country and who would like to see a more prosperous Sri Lanka, which is more respected by the international community and a Sri Lanka of which we all can be proud.
If I might say so, the most recent gaffe on the part of the Ministry of External Affairs has been the statement that they have issued recently in response to the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka. What the Ministry of External Affairs had said is that the Report is regrettably unsubstantiated, erroneous and replete with bias.
Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel
Sir, this is a rather serious condemnation of what has been done by a Panel appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General and who have come up with a Report. Largely, they have done a self-criticism of their own activities in Sri Lanka when the UN was functional here particularly during the time that the war was in operation in 2009 and the years prior to that.
ගරු (මහාචාර්ය) ජී. එල්. පීරිස් මහතා (மாண்புமிகு (பேராசிரியர்) ஜீ.எல். பீரிஸ்) (The Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris):
That was one part of the Report but it went far beyond that.
ගරු ආර්. සම්පන්දන් මහතා (மாண்புமிகு ஆர். சம்பந்தன்) (The Hon. R. Sampanthan):
Yes, I know that. I am going to refer to some parts of the Report. The Hon. Minister can respond to what I have to say when he speaks.
The position of Sri Lanka, Sir, was very much the same when there was a Report issued by the Panel of Experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN; that Report was issued in April, 2011. There was a Panel of three Experts appointed by the Secretary-General to advise him on accountability issues. One is inclined to pose the question, Sir, whether such summary rejection of reports prepared and submitted by competent and independent persons at the instance of the United Nations or the Secretary-General of the United Nations is in the best interest of the country.
Is such rejection made after a careful study by competent people of the findings in the said Reports or is such a response based upon an erroneously-structured policy framework of the Government suited to serve only its purposes and not in the interests of the country?
This is a question we have to ask. When you make such criticism about international efforts, particularly from the
UN or from the Secretary-General, I think it has long term consequences, long term impacts, as far as the country is concerned. In fact, I talked about the reports of the two UN Panels: one appointed by the Secretary-General in regard to accountability issues and the one appointed also by the Secretary General in regard to the workings of the UN mechanism in Sri Lanka. We also have the Government’s response to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report, a Commission appointed by the Sri Lankan Government itself and comprising of only Sri Lankan persons.
Now, even with regard to that Report, which was submitted unanimously by a group of Sri Lankan persons appointed by the Government, the Government has spoken with different voices in regard to the contents of that Report. Different people from within the Government have spoken with different voices.
There has been no unequivocal acceptance by the Government of that Report; there has been no unequivocal commitment on the part of the Government that it will implement that Report either. Why? You attack international reports, even your own Commission Report which had been prepared and made public by Sri Lankans appointed by you. You have spoken with different voices and there has been no commitment either that you accept the Report or that you will implement the Report.
A great deal of uncertainty prevails in regard to the genuine implementation of the constructive recommendations contained in that Report. Some of those recommendations were outlined in the Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in March this year. This uncertainty, even in regard to the LLRC Report, falls within that erroneously-structured policy framework of the Government. What that erroneously-structured policy framework of the Government is, I will deal with shortly.
The Government seems to be obsessed with an attitude of indifference to the views of others, however responsible they may be, and one even observes a measure of impunity in regard to the possible consequences of such indifference. The attitude seems to be, “Who cares? You can say what you like. But, we will do what we like and the consequences do not matter”.
Such an attitude on the part of the Government, Sir, may serve its interests domestically for a period of time, but I do not think it can serve the interests of the country and certainly from an international point of view, it can be quite harmful to the long-term interests of the country. The Government’s attitude seems to be, “Well all these things will go away after some time. We do not have to bother about it now because after sometime it will just disappear”. Well, knowledgeable people seem to be of the view that some of these things will not go away, that they will continue to haunt you for a long time to come.
What about GSP +
Talking of the present situation, Sir, I am reminded of what happened to the GSP Plus concession sometime ago. We had three Ministers speaking on behalf of the Government. The former Minister of External Affairs, Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama was one of them. The Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe, who was the Minister in charge of Disaster Management and Human Rights, was the second one.
The third one was the Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, who was also concerned with external trade, one of the subjects in his portfolio. We observed that they were speaking with different voices, like what is happening within the Government now, in regard to the LLRC Report.
The Government’s attitude, once again was one of indifference, one of impunity and an attitude of “Who cares. We could not care less with what decision the European Union takes in regard to GSP Plus”. We know what happened. We lost that facility. When this controversy was raging at that point of time, we decided that we should not add fuel to the fire because we were concerned about the employment prospects of perhaps hundreds of thousands of youth in this country. I did not utter one word that GSP Plus must be removed or that facility must be denied to the Sri Lankan Government.
I did not speak in Parliament one word advocating such a position or outside Parliament because we were concerned with the employment prospects of several hundreds of thousands of youth in this country, though we knew that almost the entirety of those youth came from the majority community. But, the fact of the matter was that they were all Sri Lankans and it was no pleasure for us to see several hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans losing their jobs as a result of that facility being removed. The Government was concerned more with, I think, a false sense of prestige.
“Who cares about what these foreigners have to say?” That was their approach. As you know, the GSP Plus was removed and as a result of it being removed, today, I think some considerable difficulties are being experienced in regard to the export of garments to certain parts of the world and this matter is becoming a matter of grave concern to the exporters of garments. Since that facility is not available, prices of Sri Lankan garments have gone up and consequently we have to face very stiff competition. It is my view that the GSP Plus could have been preserved, could have been retained and we need not have lost it at that point of time, if we handled that whole issue more carefully with better judgment, so as to ensure that whatever action we took was not based upon a false sense of prestige but was done in the interests of the country. That was not done. I am afraid that your present attitude in regard to some vital issues seems to display a similar attitude, which can end in much harm to this country.
What does the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka state? As I said before, it is largely a self-criticism of their own functioning, particularly in the Vanni, during the course of war in 2009. But, it also refers to other matters, which I shall refer to shortly. All the UN officials were compelled to leave the Vanni in September 2008. It was not merely they but the INGOs were also compelled to leave; the NGOs were compelled to leave. The media had no access to the Vanni. It was a war being fought without any witnesses. You wanted to get all the independent persons out of the Vanni.
Restriction imposed on UN
I want to deal, Sir, with some aspects of the Report because I think that is important. I will read paragraph 1(4) of page 41 of the Report which gives us some idea of the state of the UN-Sri Lankan relationship during this particular period of time. It states, I quote:
“The UN had a generally difficult relationship with the Government, which used its control of visas, as well as harsh and even defamatory articles in the domestic media, as a means to pressure and intimidate any staff perceived as critical of the State. Several Resident Coordinators (RCs) were declared persona non grata (PNG) and a number of senior staff were withdrawn by the UN before they suffered the same fate. Candidates proposed to replace them were apparently rejected because of past experience in conflict situations.”
It goes on in that way. That is not a very good situation. You seem to have had a very bad relationship with the UN in terms of this Report. According to this Report, the Panel appointed to conduct investigations seemed to have taken the view that relations between the UN staff and the Sri Lankan Government were not cordial at all. That is not a thing that we can be happy about; that is something of grave concern to us, the people of this country.
The UN Report, Sir, also deals with the question of accountability and that is contained on pages 43 and 44 of this Report. I would like to read a part of that Report in regard to accountability. It states, I quote:
“While calling for a human rights monitoring capacity, a second objective of UN strategy was to push for action on impunity for violations. This was given new urgency after the August 2006 execution of 17 staff of the NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in Muttur. As in the past, the Government rejected calls for an international inquiry and instead established, in November 2006, its own ‘Presidential Commission of Inquiry’ to investigate 16 incidents, including the ACF killings.
In October 2006 an OHCHR internal report said ‘There are several serious problems in the domestic legal system that will hamper the effectiveness of this CoI [including]…. the lack of witness protection programs, and prohibition in the military law in utilizing the concept of command responsibility…. it is difficult to see how this CoI could be effective in leading to prosecution’. The internal report of a second OHCHR mission to Sri Lanka, in February 2007, confirmed the steady deterioration in the human rights situation, and the limited impact that was to be expected of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
In a compromise, the Government accepted that the commission’s work be monitored for conformity with international standards by an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), established in February 2007. One year later, on 6 March 2008, in a public statement on the Presidential Commission’s work, the IIGEP said ‘[T]he proceedings of inquiry and investigation have fallen far short of the transparency and compliance with basic international norms and standards’, and regretted flaws such as ‘restrictions on the operation of the Commission refusal of the State authorities at the highest level to fully cooperate with the investigations and inquiries. a climate of threat, direct and indirect, to the lives of anyone who might identify persons responsible for human rights violations….’ [T]here has been and continues to be a lack of political and institutional will to investigate and inquire into the cases before the Commission.”
This is what they say on the question of accountability. This is not a happy state for us to be in. This is in regard to the 17 aid workers in Mutur. Another matter being inquired at that point of time was the massacre of the five students in Trincomalee which took place in January, 2006. You made certain commitments at the last Human Rights Council Meeting in March, 2012 in regard to these investigations. You said that certain action would be taken in regard to these two particular matters: the 17 aid workers being killed in Mutur and the five students being killed in Trincomalee. What have you done? Has anything been done? Have you addressed the question of accountability in regard to those issues? These are not matters that will go away.
What is happening now on the question of accountability? The UN Human Rights Council Resolution in March, 2012 talks in terms of Government’s responsibility, Government’s obligation to conduct independent, transparent investigations on the question of accountability. What has happened? Have you done anything?
Anything whatever? We know you appointed some military officials to conduct investigations into certain matters and their reports are to be submitted to the Army Commander. All these investigations are in respect of service personnel. But, everything is being done within the same orbit; within the same area. You have not appointed any independent domestic mechanism which can be regarded as being impartial, trustworthy, credible and legitimate, to conduct any investigation on the question of accountability. What have you done to satisfy anyone that you are moving in regard to these matters with a commitment towards ascertaining the truth?
Population in Vanni; where does 290,000 appeared?
I want to also refer, Sir, to the Report of the Internal Review Committee on the question of food. It appears on Page 55, Paragraph 45 of the Report, which states, I quote:
“The Government continued to insist that there were no more than 70,000 people in the Wanni. According to the most credible information available, the actual number was at least 360,000 (see Annex II). The UN believed there to be about 350,000, but did much of its assistance planning on the basis of a figure of 200,000 beneficiaries. Using WFP calculations of nutritional measurements per person, the total food needed for the period October to December alone was 10,350 metric tons for the beneficiary planning figure of 200,000, and 18,630 metric tons for the actual population of 360,000. Between 2 October 2008 and 15 December 2008 a combined 4,120 metric tons of food were dispatched to the Wanni by the UN, about 40% of the requirements for the planning figure and just under 20% of the requirements for the actual population numbers.”
The food sent to the Vanni during this period comprised of less than 20 per cent of the actual requirement by the number of people who were there at that point of time. How can you get away with this? Why did you put the figure at 70,000? According to our own figures, there was, in the Vannni at that time, a population of around 400,000.
The UN says 350,000 or 360,000. Eventually, over 290,000 people came out of this area. How were you able to put the figure at 70,000 when eventually 290,000 people came out of the area? Did they fall from the sky? Did you underestimate the figure and keep it at 70,000 because you wanted to reduce the number of casualties? Did your underestimation of the figure at 70,000 have anything to do with the number of civilians eventually killed? These are the questions that have to be addressed, Sir; these are not questions that can go away.
The Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General comprising of three persons said that tens of thousands of civilians had been killed, that up to about 40,000 people had been killed. Based upon the number of persons who eventually came out of the Vanni and the number of persons who were admittedly in the Vanni, the UN says the figure was 350,000 or 360,000 and other figures put it at 400,000, there is an estimation that well-nigh over 70,000 civilians were killed in the Vanni. So, the question is very legitimately posed: did the Government say that there were only 70,000 people in the Vanni because it wanted to obscure the actual number of casualties that happened in the Vanni as a result of the war being prosecuted in that particular way?
Then, Sir, I want to deal with the amount of medicine that was available in the Vanni at this point of time.
It is referred to in this Report. I refer to page 75, paragraph 111 of the Report, which states, I quote:
“111. On 16 March, the Regional Directors of Health Services of Mullaitivu and Killinochchi addressed an open letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Health saying ‘… less than 5 percent of the combined quota of drugs and dressings that are meant for the last quarter of last year and for the first quarter of this year have been sent to us, so far. You are well aware of the fate of the remaining bulk – to be kept in Vavuniya awaiting security clearance from the Ministry of Defence, despite our repeated requests and reminders made to you. Since January 2009, more than 500 civilian deaths, either on or after admission, have been registered at hospitals and thousands of civilian deaths could have gone unrecorded as they were not brought to the hospitals. Most of the hospital deaths could have been prevented if basic infrastructure facilities and essential medicines were made available. We have been supplied with no antibiotics, no anesthetics and not a single bottle of IV fluid’. A separate source described deaths related to the lack of medicines as being from war related injuries” and other causes.
It goes on to state, I quote:
“The source referred to ships under ICRC flags that could have brought in medicines, but which experienced heavy shelling in their immediate vicinity, forcing them to withdraw. ‘Badly wounded civilians on the beach, who needed urgent transport to a full medical facility in Trincomalee or Pulmoddai, would often die when the security forces attacked preventing the ships from being able to pick them up or causing the ships to leave early”
We know you were fighting a war. We know you were fighting an enemy who was a dangerous enemy. There is no question about it. We do not mince our words in regard to that matter. But, did you show any concern whatever for the poor civilians who lived there in their hundreds of thousands? You not merely reduced their numbers, but did you make food available to them? Did you make medicine available to them? They lived under trees. Did you make shelter available to them? They were subjected to aerial bombardment; they were subjected to heavy artillery fire.
This is your problem. You know what happened. Why did such things have to happen? I must say, Sir, that many of these matters that I have referred to have been referred to by us in Parliament as and when they occurred without any demur from the Government benches. What is the use of a bald denial saying, “It is unsubstantiated; it is replete with bias”? Nice phrases! One does not have to look for phrases when you have somebody like the Hon. (Prof.) Peiris as your Minister. It comes to him quite easily. But, what are the hard facts? Are you answering the hard facts? Sir, I might, at this point, briefly refer to the editorial written in “The Hindu” newspaper on 17th November, 2012 in regard to this Report that has been published by the Committee appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General.
What does it say ? I quote:
In the report, Sri Lanka emerges none the purer, as it contains cogent evidence of how Colombo worked to stave off international scrutiny and brazenly hounded U.N. and aid agencies out of the conflict zone so that there were no witnesses to its undoubted excesses.
It further states:
“The government deliberately underestimated the population trapped in the Vanni region and issued patently false denials about targeting no-fire zones and hospitals. It carried on a campaign of intimidation and calumny against U.N. officials, detained its national staff and shelled convoys carrying essentials for the trapped population.”
That is what a respected newspaper like “The Hindu” had to say about the situation that prevailed in the Vanni. Sir, I think you need to do much more than merely engage in a bald denial of this position.
Now, I want to say a few words, Sir, in regard to the question of a political solution. I do no want to dwell much about it; I have dealt with it at some length in the course of previous debates. But, I want to tell you this very frankly and with much candour; you cannot deny that you have been fibbing and fudging, I repeat those words, you have been fibbing and fudging on the question of a political solution.
It is all part of the same mindset: concealment of the truth in regard to the violations of human rights, in regard to your excesses, in regard to what happened during the course of war to Tamil civilians, it is the same mindset that makes you fib and fudge in regard to a political solution.
The 13 A promise
I want to however, Sir, – I dealt with this at some length in the past – refer to some aspects in regard to this matter because it is very important. I want to refer to the National Report of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review in 2008, presented by the Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. I will read the second point of para E. 98. from page 21, what is the commitment you made? It states, I quote
“Full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Constitution”
What you told the Universal Periodic Review in 2008, four years ago, was the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Have you implemented the Thirteenth Amendment? What is happening now?
Then, I want to read something else, Sir, appearing in para 87 on page 19 of the same report, when the Minister said, and I quote
“One important initial step in the implementation of police powers, under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, was the recent induction of 175 persons of Tamil linguistic origin (including 50 women) into the police force in the Eastern Province.”
සභාපතිතුමා (தவிசாளர் அவர்கள்) (The Chairman):
Hon. Member, you have another three minutes to wind up.
ගරු ආර්. සම්පන්දන් මහතා (மாண்புமிகு ஆர். சம்பந்தன்) (The Hon. R. Sampanthan):
No, Sir. I have got more time from the UNP. They have given me 45 minutes, but actually they have increased it to 50 minutes.
සභාපතිතුමා (தவிசாளர் அவர்கள்) (The Chairman):
You have already taken 44 minutes.
ගරු ආර්. සම්පන්දන් මහතා (மாண்புமிகு ஆர். சம்பந்தன்) (The Hon. R. Sampanthan):
I will stick to 50 minutes. The Hon. John Amaratunga agreed to that.
That is the position, Sir. They say that they are going to implement the Thirteenth Amendment fully, that is a national priority that will be done, and in fact they go further and say that they have commenced the implementation of the police powers.
Is that happening? Can you answer me? Was the Minister being very economical with the truth or was the Minister being very uneconomical with the reverse of the truth when he said that this is a national priority four years ago and they are going to implement the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and it will happen. What does all this show?
I want to also refer at this point of time, it is important that I refer to it, to the statement made by the Indian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva at the last Universal Periodical Review that took place on the 1st November this year. The “Ceylon Today” of 3rd November, 2012 states, I quote:
“We recall the commitments made by Sri Lanka on the implementation of the 13th Amendment and building on it to achieve a meaningful devolution package. We urge expeditious action to take forward the political process for early political settlement.” the Ambassador said.”
So, this is the position that India has stated at the Geneva Sessions of the Universal Periodic Review held in November this year. You talked of implementing the Thirteenth Amendment four years ago. You have now made a commitment to India not really to implement the Thirteenth Amendment, but to build upon the Thirteenth Amendment first to bring about a meaningful devolution, and there was a reference to it by the Indian Ambassador at the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva in November this year.
So, what is your position? Our position is made public. We are for a reasonable, acceptable, workable and durable political solution within a united, undivided Sri Lanka. We are committed to that position. What is your commitment? Are you prepared to put aside your selfish interests and are you prepared to work towards a political solution?
Is there any indication on your part that you are prepared to do it? What does the International Crisis Group say in their Report which has been released just a short time ago? This is what the International Crisis Group says. The Report of the International Crisis Group dated 20th November, 2012, states, I quote
“The Sri Lankan Government’s refusal to negotiate seriously with Tamil leaders or otherwise address legitimate Tamil and Muslim grievances is increasing ethnic tensions and damaging prospects for lasting peace. The administration, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party of Mahinda Rajapaksa, has refused to honour agreements with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), broken promises to world leaders and not implemented constitutional provisions for minimal devolution of power to Tamil-speaking areas of the north and east. Militarization and discriminatory economic development in Tamil and Muslim areas are breeding anger and increasing pressure on moderate Tamil leaders.”
This is what the International Crisis Group says in regard to your performance. What is your answer? I said a while ago, Mr. Chairman, that the Sri Lankan Government has a particular policy framework within a given mindset, a policy framework that is not merely skewed, it is fatally flawed, a policy framework that has as its foundation, majoritarianism, the entrenchment of majoritarianism and the rejection of the much-honoured principle of unity in diversity.
You will sink more and more
That is your problem. Your problem is that you are obsessed with the idea that any solution must be on the foundation of majoritarianism and that you will not accede to the much-honoured concept of unity in diversity, equality and justice in a country that is essentially pluralistic in character. You have to make the choice.
Until you do make the choice you will sink more and more into the mire until a point where you will be beyond redemption. That is what the future holds for you. There is no purpose in furiously opening missions all over the world.
There is no purpose in giving money to other countries and trying to win them over. You will not succeed in winning them over. The Hon. Lakshman Kiriella referred to some of these matters in the morning today. Do the right thing; address the question of accountability. Carry on proper investigations in regard to the five students killed in Trincomalee and the 17 aid workers killed in Mutur. Bring about a political solution. You do not have to fret so much. You do not have to sink into the mire more and more.
You will be automatically redeemed. The choice is yours. We leave it in your hands. But, I want to assure you on the Floor of this House on behalf of myself and my Party and the Tamil people that if you will take the right steps, you will have our complete and unstinted support.
Thank you, Sir.
– Courtesy DBS