|Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan
Despite rejection, Govt. works out strategy to face UN probe
Pakistani lawyer briefs Govt. leaders on what to do, but non-confluence of thoughts in UPFA – Urgent Bill to protect victims of crime and witnesses as another response to Geneva resolution. The Government is engaged in a number of informal diplomatic initiatives to counter accusations against Sri Lanka, particularly when the UN Human Rights Council’s international investigation into alleged war crimes gets under way.
The move is notwithstanding the official position that no such investigation would be recognised nor would those conducting it be allowed to enter the country.The composition of investigators and their terms of reference will be announced by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay within the next two weeks. Formally it would be identified as an investigation conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as against terminology like a Commission of Inquiry or a probe by a Panel of Experts. The first intimation of the move, according to reports from Geneva, is to be to the Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva. That is for the purpose of formally conveying the message to the Government. A public announcement is to follow.
Just a week ago, the Government held consultations with a Pakistani legal expert. He arrived in Colombo after President Mahinda Rajapaksa made an appeal to Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff. The lawyer, 70 year old Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who studied law at Cambridge University in Britain, was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1967. An active member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz (PML-N), Ahsan defended Premier Shariff in 1999 on charges of hijacking an aircraft, a case in which he was acquitted. The aircraft was the one in which then Pakistan’s Army Commander General Pervaiz Musharaff was returning to his country after a visit to Sri Lanka. Sharif was charged after Musharaff took over power through a military coup that followed.
Ahsan gave his views at a meeting chaired by External AffairsMinister G.L. Peiris. Among those present were External Affairs Ministry Secretary Kshenuka Senewiratne, Attorney General Palitha Fernando and Pakistan’s High Commissioner retired Major General Qasim Qureshi. Ahsan also had separate meetings with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
One of the suggestions he made was for Sri Lanka to initiate a special session of the Human Rights Council after winning the support of more countries. He was of the view that besides the eleven nations that voted in favour of Sri Lanka (or against the United States sponsored resolution) in March, the support of only four more countries was required to call for such a special meeting. At that meeting, he said that Sri Lanka would have to make a strong case of its current position by winning over as many member countries as possible. As for the proposed OHCHR investigation, he said, there was no way it would be called off. He held the view that it was a perfectly legitimate exercise whatever the other factors might be. He was also of the view that it would be useful for Sri Lanka if there were international observers present at domestic inquiries that were under way. That was to lend more credibility to the process.
Minister Wimal Weerawansa offering Atapirikara to the Malwatte Mahanayake when he visited the prelate to explain the 12 point reform proposals of the NFF. Pic by Shane Seneviratne
Of course, heeding such moves now would raise a number of questions. Main among them is why no such action was initiated by the External Affairs Ministry when successive resolutions were introduced by the US in the past three years. Needless to say the Pakistani advisor’s views did not create a welcome mood. Peiris did ruffle feathers when he declared somewhat tersely that the consultation was to determine different legal positions and asserted it was not to obtain views from the visiting legal advisor on what the Government of Sri Lanka should do.
This was clearly the result of what one EAM source described as a “non-confluence” of thoughts. Peiris, who gave face officially to most of the Government’s initiatives, was to say he would at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council in September raise issue concerning Sri Lanka and “sort out matters.” He, however, did not elaborate. Going by what he said, there were three previous occasions when things could have been “sorted out.” How he plans to do it on a fourth occasion was unclear even to those present at the meeting. Quite clearly he was not happy with some of the views expressed by the Pakistani advisor. He did not seem to be seen to be upstaged by Ahsan who made another suggestion to have a panel of “observers” of international standing to monitor investigative proceedings conducted in Geneva. Whenever such proceedings are over, that would enable them to make their own conclusions and go public. Whether UN Human Rights Council procedures would allow such a move and who will be willing to serve in the process is not immediately clear. Of course, in official terms, such “observers,” Government wants to make clear, are not on their own initiative.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa was to explain that the Government did not recognise the international investigation. A domestic process has been in place, he said. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was more pointed. He said issues relating to accountability had already been investigated by military courts of inquiry. He added that a Commission of Inquiry was now probing disappearances. Ahsan was due to report on his meetings in Colombo to Premier Shariff.
From the Political column of the Sunday Times