UN Human Rights chief’s remarks deplorable – Keheliya Rambukwella
Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the final remarks by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay on her departure from Sri Lanka are regrettable. In fact, the Government invited her to visit Sri Lanka in all good faith and see for herself the significant developments that had taken place.
The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said they expected a person of her calibre to be unbiased and experience realistic situations with an open mind. However, we find her statement embedded with all the negative aspects, far from reality.
The Minister said it was regrettable that certain elements are trying to brand Velupillai Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter. We need to distinguish people who are freedom fighters. For example, Keppetipola and Weera Puran Appu were recognised by the country as true freedom fighters of the nation. There was a certain stage when attempts were made to create world opinion through the LTTE diaspora and brand Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter. I don’t know whether the UN Human Rights Chief is also in that category and recognises Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter to be paid tribute to.
Minister Rambukwella said today the word ‘peace’ is becoming a rare commodity in the world. If the UN Human Rights Chief is concerned about human rights, she should visit Afghanistan, Iraq and especially Syria, today. Then she will have ample space to make her judgments and announcements on human rights.
Excerpts of the interview
Q:Do you think the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay’s impression of Sri Lanka will change, following her visit to the country?
A: I think it’s too late to comment on that, because she has already visited the country and gone back. However, the final remarks she has made on her departure are regrettable. We invited her to visit Sri Lanka in all good faith and see for herself the developments that have taken place in the country. We expected a person of her calibre to be unbiased and experience realistic situations with an open mind. Instead, we find her statement embedded with many negative aspects. It is far from the reality.
Q: The UN Human Rights Chief said Sri Lanka is showing signs of heading towards an increasingly authoritarian direction. What led her to make such remarks?
A: It is regrettable to note that she has not taken any ground realities into account. We believe the statement made by her is a predetermined or tailor-made one that had been made outside Sri Lanka by various interested parties. I say so because when somebody talks about an authoritarian government, one of the major areas of such a government is not to have elections. We have had enough and more elections. The complaint by the Opposition is that we have too many elections. Therefore, the people’s franchise has been exercised to the maximum. At the time that the Human Rights Commissioner makes this statement, we are ready to have elections in the North. The people in the North were deprived of choosing their leader or leaders and they had been deprived of their franchise for nearly 30 years. Today, we hear and experience things such as elections which had been Greek to the Northerners. In that backdrop, when Ms Pillay makes a comment of that nature, it is not only a surprise but it leads to a suspicion whether she had been influenced or was predetermined without taking into account what she has seen. It points out that even without touring Sri Lanka, she would have said the same thing. The tour was just to cover up and justify her statement, which is regrettable.
Q: A certain section of the media reported that the Government had turned down a request made by the UNHRC Chief to pay floral tribute to the late LTTE leader Prabhakaran at a location in the North. Is there any truth in these reports?
A: I don’t know whether it is true or false. I cannot comment on it. But had I been there, I would not have allowed her. I don’t believe any law-abiding citizen in this country or anybody who denounces terrorism would wish to pay tribute to a terrorist who killed thousands of people and destroyed a country and its nation. It leads to another question. Certain elements are trying to brand Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter. I think the UNHRC Chief is also one of that belief. We need to distinguish people who are freedom fighters. For example, Keppetipola and Weera Puran Appu were recognised by the country as true freedom fighters of the nation. There was a certain stage when attempts were made to create a world opinion through the LTTE diaspora and brand Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter. I don’t know whether Ms Pillay is also in that category and thinks of Prabhakaran as a freedom fighter.
Q: You had told the media that the Government through the External Affairs Ministry will respond to allegations made by the UNHRC at the end of her recently concluded visit to Sri Lanka. Could you elaborate on this?
A: What I said has already been done by the External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris. The Minister has made an elaborate and comprehensive statement in this regard. He has categorically stated that Pillay is prejudiced and biased. Prof. Peiris said what we find most disturbing is the lack of fairness and balance in the substance of her report.
Q: Is Sri Lanka ready to face the UN Human Rights Council with confidence, this month?
A: Every year, we have had to face it and we have taken up the challenge. We have brought the country forward and established the word called ‘peace’ in the country. Peace is being enshrined by everyone, even those who are not with the Government.
They say that we can peacefully move around. Today, the word peace is becoming a rare commodity in the world. If Ms Pillay wishes to talk about human rights, she should go to Afghanistan, Iraq and especially Syria now. Then she will have ample space to make her judgments and announcements with regard to human rights.
Q: It seems the pro-LTTE diaspora has not changed its mindset and its network still spreads disinformation to tarnish the country’s image. Is the Government forearmed to counter the disinformation campaign launched in the international arena?
A: The Government is working through the diplomatic missions abroad. Our foreign missions are doing the groundwork to counter the disinformation campaign carried out by the pro-LTTE diaspora. But we are surprised that a foreign dignitary and a prominent figure in the UN, in the sphere of justice, who visited Sri Lanka on the Government’s invitation is behaving and acting in this manner.
Q: Do you think that holding the Northern Provincial Council Election would help to boost Sri Lanka’s image on human rights and democracy?
A: Of course it would. One of the most vibrant tools of democracy is the holding of elections. We should remember that there was a period when some people were elected to Parliament from the North with 100 or 200 votes.
At one time Prabhakaran had blocked the entire process of democracy in the North. So, holding elections in the North is something which has to be commended.
Q: The Defence Seminar organised by the Sri Lanka Army under the theme “ post conflict Sri LankA: challenges and regional stability” was held in Colombo for the third consecutive year. What would be its impact on the country?
A: These seminars are important. It is a learning process for some people, where they can verify and convince themselves. Others will not be convinced even if we conduct seminars weekly. They are predetermined and preconceived in whatever they say or do.
Q: The foreign military experts who participated in the Defence Seminar have commended that Sri Lanka has successfully faced the post conflict challenges. What is your comment on these endorsements?
A: We can be proud of our post conflict developments. Under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we could put an end to the three-decade old LTTE terrorism at the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19, 2009, which was considered as the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world. Since then we have been able to maintain terrorist related incidents in the country at zero level. Today, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world. It is a significant achievement as no country in the world which eradicated terrorism has been able to recover at such a speedy level. I don’t think any government can achieve more than this.
Q: It is alleged that some western powers attempt to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny to prevent the country from following an independent foreign policy. What is your view on this?
A: Since the day that President Rajapaksa assumed office, we had to face this experience. Therefore, it is not something new to us. However, amidst the pressure exerted by some Western countries, the President took the bold decision to defeat LTTE terrorism. As a Government we firmly believe in the democratic process. So we are prepared to successfully meet the challenge.
Q: What would be the benefits of CHOGM to Sri Lanka in the social, economic and cultural spheres? What is the role played by the Media Ministry to make this endeavour a success?
A: We are confident that we will make it a success. In terms of making CHOGM a success, I don’t think that a special effort has to be made. The fact that the world leaders have agreed to come to Sri Lanka is a good sign of accepting Sri Lanka as a peaceful country. Five years ago, Sri Lanka was known as a country of terror. Those days travel advisories were issued by various countries.
Q: The Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who made a statement in Parliament on the recent incident faced by a journalist of a private newspaper, attempted to portray that there is a lack of media freedom in the country and there had been continuous threats against journalists. What is your comment on this?
A: I don’t know why the Opposition Leader decided to make that statement. He admitted the fact that the culprits involved in the attack of the journalist have been arrested by the Police.
The law enforcement authorities have fulfilled their duty. This is the normal practice of the Opposition. When an incident takes place, they attempt to get political mileage from it. Other than that, what is the contribution made by the Opposition to safeguard the rights of media personnel?
Q: Certain sections of society and some political parties have described the manifesto introduced by the TNA as another attempt to take the country towards separatism and create racial disharmony among the people. Your comments?
A: The TNA manifesto is a proxy of the LTTE. It is the same idea they raised in Parliament.. The mindset of the TNA has not changed and they still carry out their separatist ideology. I don’t think the majority of the people will endorse such things in the TNA manifesto.
Q: The SLFP celebrated its 62nd anniversary recently. What in your opinion is the pivotal role played by the SLFP in the country’s political arena over the past six decades?
A: I believe the people have found out and voted for a party they believe would benefit the country. They have consecutively done that for nearly 20 years. This is the longest rule of a political party and it will continue.
The people will use their right to vote for a party such as the SLFP which they believe will take the country to the level of a developed country.
By Uditha Kumarasinghe