Speaking on BBC’s HardTalk program Tuesday, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, advisor to the Sri Lankan President on reconciliation, claimed the UN panel of experts’ report on Sri Lanka’s war crimes had “taken stuff, some of it verbatim” from former UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss’s recently published book, and from Channel 4’s recent documentary. When asked why the Sri Lankan government wasn’t agreeing to demands by the British government, US government and the EU for a thorough, independent, investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, Prof. Wijesinghe said: “Because we are not here to keep your electorate happy.”
Speaking about the UN expert panel’s report Prof. Wijesinghe asserted:
“If you go through the [UN] report, a lot of it is based on two sources, one is the Channel 4 material – because a lot of what they [UN experts] say, without saying where it came from, is precisely what was on the Channel 4 stuff; the second is a lot of stuff is taken, some of it verbatim from a book by a man called Gordon Weiss who worked for the UN in a rather junior capacity in Sri Lanka, and who tends to corroborate what they say.”
When it was pointed out that the reports’ authors were “all highly credible people,” Prof. Wijesinghe retorted “Well I’m not so sure.”
Asked if he was calling into question the authors’ integrity, Prof. Wijesinghe smugly said no, he was calling into question their ‘judgment’, but then went on to suggest former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who led the expert panel, was serving his own career ambitions in the United Nations.
“Mr Darusman was the head of the Indonesian human rights commission and at that stage he didn’t actually allow many investigations into many things, but he has since then taken up a very, I think, remarkably .. let’s say, active career working for the UN,” Prof. Wijesinghe said.
“But let us assume that they are sincere people, I think what you also have to recognise there is a human rights industry and that seems to look at things from a particular perspective and not the political issues.”
In a tense and often fractious interview, characteristic of the hardhitting Hardtalk program, conducted by Steven Sackur, Prof. Wijesinghe was combative and belligerent.
At one stage, having admitted “shells from our side may have fallen on hospitals,” and being followed up on this by Sackur, Prof. Wijesinghe (erroneously) corrected him, claiming he’d actually said shells fell “in”, and not “on” hospitals.
When a perplexed Saucher asked “what is the difference?,” Prof. Wijesinghe confusingly opined this related to whether the attack was deliberate (as stated by the UN report) or not.
Later, when asked if Sri Lanka had identified the Sri Lankan soldiers whose faces were visible in video of summary executions of bound prisoners, Prof. Wijesinghe snapped at Sackur: “an identity parade for 100,000 people? Are you sort of serious?”
When asked why tens of thousands of Sri Lankan troops were still occupying the north of Sri Lanka despite the war being over, Prof. Wijesinghe said “because there are fears there are people trying to revive the LTTE and terrorism.”
When asked if, as advisor on reconciliation, he knew how many Tamil houses were being occupied by the military, Prof. Wijesinghe said he did not.
Referring to the British government concerns in 2009 that Sri Lanka was holding hundreds of thousands of people in internment camps, Prof. Wijesinghe complained “we’ve had not a word of thanks [from Britain] for the fact we have returned [them].”
HardTalk’s interview can be seen here.