A six-member Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) delegation representing the UK Parliament visited Sri Lanka last week, on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government. However, they were disappointed that neither President Mahinda Rajapaksa nor Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, could meet them.
According the British High Commission, a meeting with the Defence Secretary was scheduled, but due to a ‘busy diary,’ the meeting had to be called off.
Leader of the CPA delegation, MP Eleanor Laing, told Ceylon Today, human rights, democracy, freedom, the rule of law and unfair court system are extremely important to work on and all that will be emphasized greatly when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is held here in November.
“We hear a lot of negative things about the country. However, first and foremost, we must tell the international community to concentrate on the human rights situation in this country, in the context of an aftermath of the war and not compare human rights conditions in the West,” she added.
The delegation was welcomed by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and several parliamentarians including Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, and External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris.
MP Laing asserted that their trip to Sri Lanka is not political, but they mainly wanted to inspect the preparation for the forthcoming CHOGM.
She said Sri Lanka should be pleased that such an international event is taking place here.
The team had visited the North and were pleased with the physical developments that is taking place, however, had been pained after meeting some widows and mothers whose sons and daughters have disappeared during the conflict.
“We met many persons from the business community, politicians and members of the civil society. We are delighted to see what is going on. We also understand that Sri Lanka has gone through difficult times for the last 30 years and what is needed the most is the reconciliation in the aftermath of the war and rebuilding and in material sense we like to help in whatever possible manner.”
The CPA delegation is of the view that a sophisticated human rights system like the one in the UK, or in the West for that matter, should not be compared with a nation that had been embroiled in a civil war for 30 years.
“We are positive about CHOGM and of course about the human rights issue that all of us are aware of. Yet, a sophisticated human rights situation like in the West should not be compared with a war zone and the international body should understand that,” said MP Laing.
“It is heartbreaking to see the people who lost their homes, families and their possessions. They want to return to the land they once lived in and rebuild from the scratch. It was also pleasing to see although they were very sad they have lots of hopes with the latest developments taking place there.”
Many of the local ministers who had met the delegation had commented on the rebuilding process in the North and East. She said the landmine clearing carried out by the Halo Trust has been commendable.
“A great deal of work is being done and I was able to walk on a landmine field for the first time and watched how they clear the area for the people who once lived there,” she said.
“What matters now for Sri Lanka is to finish building everything after the war. We all know what South Africa went through and how the reconciliation commission conducted itself. We also learned from the Northern Ireland where people who were punished for serious crimes were released from jail as part of reconciliation.
“I will always say as a defender of democracy that human rights and the rule of law and the freedom of individual most important, but in Sri Lanka I also believe that it is very important to bring both communities on to one platform.
“All the work that is now being done should bring the different communities together regardless of their caste, race and religion. I also want the youth to come together not leaving room for calamities that had rocked this country in the past.”
The CPA also welcomed the Northern Provincial Council elections and said it is important to rebuilt democracy, which is part of rebuilding the society. The delegation had also met some of the candidates and welcomed the government’s move to conduct the election, and requested to ensure that it is free and fair.
Free and fair polls
The CPA is also of the view that the Government of Sri Lanka will have a free and fair election with international observers monitoring the polls. “The international observers should monitor the forthcoming elections and even the UK elections are held under the independent international poll observers and I have the confidence after visiting the North and the South that the elections will run well and everyone who is entitled to vote will have the right to vote and a democratic process will be maintained.
“I am not certain if independent international poll observers would be here for the elections, but it would be ‘just’ if they come,” she said.
When asked about President Rajapaksa’s move to investigate the persons disappeared during the conflict she said she is pleased to hear that. “It is part of the reconciliation process to help the distress and if the government is keen on doing that I would be very pleased,” she said. She further said, “A war should be avoided at any cost as a war is a terrible thing for both sides.”
he added, “We did not come here to extract promises from the government but the conversation we had with the governing body fully appreciated the need for reconciliation and bridging the two communities practically and metaphorically. We want to see Sri Lanka succeed.”