04 May 2011
Q: Will the Government respond to the UN Panel report? If so, what will be contained in this response?
No, the government has no intention of responding to the report.
Because the report has been prepared and submitted to the Secretary General by three persons he has nominated on his own personal initiative, therefore to describe the report as a UN Panel report is a misnomer—it is not a formal UN document at all.
We have no intention to respond to the report at all—but there is a very clear distinction to be drawn between the Panel and the UN system. We will of course work with the UN system and we will thereby inform the Secretary General of the steps that have been taken since the end of hostilities to accomplish the task of reconciliation and rehabilitation—we have achieved a great deal within the span of two years and have continued on this path, not due to pressure from any external agency but rather in our own national interest.
When the Secretary General made the report public he issued a statement where he declared that he is not taking any further steps at this time because there is no request by the government of Sri Lanka or member states of the UN, through UN organs, for any such action.
As far as the future course of action is concerned, as the government of Sri Lanka, we will keep the Secretary General informed—it has nothing to do with the Panel report.
Q:Some document will be presented by the Government or the External Affairs Ministry to the Secretary General?
This document will keep the Secretary General informed of the significant, positive achievements of the government and our trajectory for the future.
Q:There is still a suggestion that the UN Advisory panel was set up based on the discussions between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he visited the island in May 2009, a particular clause which called for accountabilit.
That is completely wrong, there was nothing in that discussion that refereed to the appointment of a panel—there was reference to a domestic accountability mechanism.
Sri Lanka never agreed to an international mechanism and we have already put in place a local mechanism to address these issues—the LLRC. It must be noted that when the LLRC was appointed, governments across the world welcomed it. Soon after my meeting with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton she said “The Sri Lankan mechanism holds promise.” It has always been our stance that the terms of the mandate are wide enough to address accountability issues.
Many of the governments that have commented on the report have refrained from referring to an international investigation. When David Cameron was asked about the report, by a member of the opposition, whether he would demand the appointment of an international investigative mechanism, in reply he did not use the word “international”—he used the words “credible and effective.” That is true of many of the other governments that have talked about the report.
Q:The Report points out that the LLRC fails to satisfy “key international standards of accountability and impartiality”—some would say that the refusal of Human Rights Watch and other rights groups to participate in the LLRC session would be reinforcement of this accusation.
That is an invalid argument. The
refusal of these groups, you
mentioned, to testify at the LLRC does not invalidate it in any way.
These organizations have consistently expressed their views and the government has consistently countered their allegations. Now, here was an opportunity for them to present the information they had to a legitimate body—an opportunity they refused to make use of. I think it is very unfair to condemn a commission, in a cavalier fashion, even before its report is published.
There has been unreserved agreement that there cannot be any prejudgment of the report, we must wait for the report, and we can’t denounce it before it has seen the light of day.
We have the panel brushing the commission aside even before it has been published. Within two months it had released an interim report and the government has demonstrated its seriousness at implementation by appointing an Inter Agency Advisory Committee, headed by the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Seven Ministries, to accelerate the implementation of the recommendations. In this light it is disappointing, irrational and irresponsible for the Panel to dismiss the report.
Further some of the claims by the Panel are factually incorrect, for example they say that sufficient information was not given about the time and the place of the hearings in the Wanni district, which dissuaded people from giving evidence. There are also allegations that there was only one woman and one representative of the Tamil community, but these were not legitimate concerns at all.
Q:By your assessment and claims the LLRC has been accepted and “welcomed” by the international community. And it is only these three individuals on this Panel that seem to dismiss its legitimacy and function?
No one has declined to recognize it. They (the UN Panel) have
The Secretary General himself, in his statement, recognized the primacy of the domestic process. It is the invariable approach of the UN to encourage countries to deal with their problems. We don’t see why Sri Lanka should be treated as an exception.
Q:If the entirety of the international community, including the Secretary General has accepted it—then it is only these three individuals who don’t accept the LLRC?
The Panel’s comments on the LLRC are unacceptable and unfounded and they cannot be regarded as an international body or part of the UN—they are only a personal advisory for the Secretary General.
The report by the Panel is flawed because the information was collected in a flawed manner and their sources are unverifiable. For instance sources are not disclosed indeed they say sources will be protected for the next 20 years. They say they are not a fact finding body but end up with the conclusion that there are credible allegations relating some of the gravest offences know to international law. They are not vouching for the accuracy of the facts that are contained in their narrative they themselves admit that it is speculative and unsubstantiated. In such circumstance we fail to see how their recommendations can attract any confidence.
Q:The Panel says that its sources will be protected for the next 20 years. Along these lines is another allegation by the Panel that those who gave evidence to the LLRC were not offered adequate protection, there was no witness protection mechanism in place?
No we don’t agree with that at all.
There is one case that is referred to by the Panel where one witness was intimidated but thereafter a complaint was made by the Secretary to the Commission to the Police and all steps were taken to rectify the situation, so every step has been taken to ensure candour.
With regards to witness protection, we don’t agree that a system that is appropriate for a country at a different stage of development will be appropriate for us. We are better compared culturally and socially with other countries in the region.
Q:There is still confusion over whether members of the government met with the Advisory Panel; what really happened?
They met with the Panel to inform them of the work of the LLRC.
However meeting with them was not recognition of their legality of validity of the panel.
The then Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and the Attorney General were sent to New York to brief the secretary General about the work of the LLRC. After this meeting they met with Under Secretary General of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe along with the Panel and briefed them on the workings of the LLRC, because if we had not done this then another accusation would have been leveled against us saying that they were unaware of the process or we had not informed them of the domestic mechanism in place. However I must add that meeting with them for this purpose is not recognition of their mandate.
Q:One of the recommendations of the report is that the “Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances” be allowed to visit the country because there are still a number of ex-combatants being held in custody without proper information about them being released. What has the government’s progress been on this front?
Out of the 11,000 ex-combatants only the hardcore is being
retained. The others have been
reintegrated into society; two child soldiers are now in the medical colleges.
But you have to acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made in the past two years. We started with more than 297,000 and that figure is now down to 10,000 of which many of them are not permanent residents of the camps they visit relatives etc. The only thing that has kept us from moving them to their homes as fast as we would like is the risk of mines.
Q:On the lines of ex-combatants, is the government still engaging with K. Padmanadan?
Whether it is K. Padmanadan or anyone else it is not our intention to isolate the Diaspora and still less to demonize them.
The Secretary of Defence and I have met a number of persons from the Diaspora, and it is important to understand that the Diaspora is no longer a monolith—it was during the time of Prahbakaran, through sheer intimidation. Today there are varying views in the Diaspora and these views have to be engaged and we have to work together with them.
Q:K.Padmanadan is the best means of engaging the Diaspora?
Yes of course. Why not? We see no reason to exclude him
People who were outside the democratic process have been brought into it; Karuna and Pillayan are good examples. It is an achievement to bring those outside the democratic process into engaging with the government.