|Tuesday, 13 September 2011 09:46|
Statement by Hon Mahinda Samarasinghe, MP,
It is my privilege to once again address this august body as head of the Sri Lanka delegation. We come here as always, Madam President, to share with the members of this Council and the other representatives of the community of nations, our experiences in overcoming the several challenges we face in the present era – an era that offers a fresh hope of a new Sri Lanka. The dawn of this new era coincided with the end of the armed conflict in 2009 just over 2 years ago. In that time, Sri Lanka, has made considerable – some may call it astounding – progress in addressing the many challenges that nearly 30 years of conflict poses to a nation, her Government and people.
We also come here Madam President to engage in a dialogue with our friends; to hear what their views and concerns are and to respond to them fully with facts and clarifications. We have done so consistently for the past few Sessions of this body and are grateful for the level of understanding demonstrated and the level of support extended to us in what have been, on occasion, difficult times. Our approach is predicated upon the principle of constructive engagement and has never been timorous or diffident. We have been forthright and candid in our exchanges and have never adopted an evasive or equivocal approach. We have been strengthened by the courage of our convictions, secure as we are in our belief that we have always sought to do the best by all Sri Lankan people. Any Government that has this as its guiding principle has no reason to be unduly defensive. It is also our hope that reflection upon the Sri Lankan experience will enable others to deal more effectively with terrorism, separatism and extremism which sadly bedevils many regions of the modern world.
Our constant engagement, Madam President, over the past few years has also been aimed at countering baseless and damaging propaganda which, unfortunately, global events with high visibility invariably seem to attract. None more so than at these Sessions - the preeminent forum for the discussion of and deliberation on human rights issues of global import. We have been vigorous in our defence of the truth as it pertains to Sri Lanka. We have been willing to accept justified criticism and helpful comment where and if it has been tendered in a constructive spirit. However, unjustified repetition of some blatant propaganda by persons or groups with an agenda inimical to that of the new Sri Lanka we are engaged in creating, we will assail with all the energy at our disposal. Any fair minded person will acknowledge that we reported incremental improvements over time and demonstrated our willingness to engage with all our friends in a spirit of openness and mutual self-respect. All we requested in return was evenhanded assessment and the opportunity to prove our bona fides.
Well before the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, we had warned our international friends and partners that the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE’s) international network and other elements are working tirelessly to subject Sri Lanka to unrelenting pressure. The so-called anti-Sri Lanka diaspora is well organized and is using every resource at its command to maintain and magnify this pressure. This is a tangible threat to Sri Lanka finally winning the peace and securing the better future for all her people – a benefit that they richly deserve. There are many motivating factors behind the attacks from various quarters targeting Sri Lanka. We, as a Government, have consistently warned against this trend and have urged our friends to treat these emanations with a level of caution and objectivity. We earnestly asked them to take a holistic view of the Sri Lankan situation and eschew narrow domestic political compulsions and other parochial imperatives. Those who make these statements have, perhaps, lost sight of the very real opportunities for a new Sri Lanka that the defeat of terrorism has brought into being. Through our ongoing efforts to engage, we will seek to convince them of the new reality and, if possible, co-opt them into rebuilding a new nation in which each Sri Lankan, irrespective of language, religion, ethnicity or cultural background, is welcomed and accommodated and given space to develop his/her full potential.
The above is not some idle political platitude but forms the pith and substance of the vision of our President Mahinda Rajapaka and his Government. Only the other day, President Rajapaksa stated -
“Sri Lanka is now in the process of Reconciliation and Reconstruction. We are diverting all our energies to put the tragic years of terror well behind us. We are building a new society, learning from the lessons of the past, and moving towards the promise of future success. We have already shown the world that terrorism can be defeated. That it can be done with a commitment to the humanitarian traditions that are part of our region’s culture and heritage.
Our commitment to human rights is second to none, and with such commitment we seek to transform our society to one of peace, pluralism and equality.”
This, then, is our overall goal and mission. Our immediate, medium and long term goals are a sustainable peace with equality, equity and the guarantee of human dignity.
I would like, Madam President, to briefly dwell upon some of the highlights of our post-armed conflict initiatives and experience. For convenience, I will structure this brief analysis into four interconnected and inherently intertwined aspects.
Firstly, with regard to reconstruction, we note that a mere two years and three months after the end of the armed conflict we have achieved tremendous successes in connection with the reconstruction effort. Caring for IDPs in welfare centres alone cost the Government USD 31 million. A further USD 2.1 billion has been mobilized for the Joint Plan for Assistance to the Northern Province – based on a tripartite agreement between Government the UN system and civil society. A vast portion of this funding is debt incurred by the Government. However, the Government has taken upon itself the responsibility of ensuring that there are resources sufficient to rebuild conflict affected areas while it also ensures nationwide economic development. The vast level of investment in rebuilding infrastructure has been universally recognized. To enable and sustain this level of expenditure and activity, the first priority was to ensure security and law and order.
Secondly, resettlement has been achieved at a pace that is perhaps unmatched elsewhere. Given the caseload of over 290,000 internally displaced persons at the end of May 2009, our achievement in bringing down the numbers to a mere 7,000 in this regard is a potential role model for other countries and conflict zones. USD 360 million has been expended by Government on the resettlement programme. Along with resettlement, restoration of livelihoods has been accorded the highest priority. It is enabling people to stand on their own and take charge of their lives that is most important. It is the cornerstone of guaranteeing human dignity – the ultimate aim of all human rights.
Fourthly, reconciliation and political solutions must be found if Sri Lanka is truly to win the peace. We have pointed out that reconciliation and political solutions in other post-conflict societies have taken years, even decades, to evolve into durable systemic responses within a democratic framework. Calls from certain quarters to expedite political reforms must therefore be tempered with an appreciation of the nuances of the Sri Lankan situation. A near 30 year conflict that is multifaceted and complex and had its roots in decades of history, cannot be analyzed and dissected in a space of a few days.
It is noteworthy that even after nearly three decades of armed struggle against terrorism, Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions have survived and endured. Except where the LTTE prevented their functioning, they thrived and continued to serve the people, even at the height of the conflict. In Sri Lanka, we have been fortunate and are therefore able to move forward from a position of relative stability and strength of our institutions.
Next I will touch on two recent developments that we have through our efforts managed to bring to fruition.
During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in May/June 2008, we took stock of what we had achieved, what our challenges were and how we were going to address them. It was an accurate snapshot of the human rights situation in the country at that time. In my then capacity as Minister for Human Rights, I oversaw the drafting of the National Report that was submitted to the Council. Our report was commended by a majority of those who participated in the UPR on Sri Lanka, in particular, the frank and candid manner in which we presented the factual situation and the level of detail the report went into.
Another significant development is the lapsing of the Emergency Regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance in 2005 after the assassination of our Foreign Minister. There are certain points of view now being expressed that we have removed the state of emergency due to external pressure. This could not be further from the truth. As early as May 2010, we reduced the scope of the Emergency Regulations in keeping with the improving ground situation. In March and in June this year we told the community of nations in Geneva that we would consider lifting the Emergency at an appropriate time. We pledged that, as the situation gradually improves, we will make adjustments, refinements and policy changes to reflect a changing environment. This has been our consistent message.
Finally, our efforts are directed towards engagement at the next cycle of the UPR. Any and all questions pertaining to developments after 2008 may be raised there and will be fully and fairly answered. We have as I have noted, engaged in Geneva and at other international fora and briefed the international community about our progress, problems and solutions that we have devised. At the last UPR in 2008, we participated wholeheartedly despite the armed conflict which was still ongoing. We expect to participate in the second cycle of the UPR in 2012 and all our friends and partners are welcome to engage in that dialogue.
I would be remiss in my duty if I fail to draw the attention of this body to a potentially worrying concern of a growing trend to depart from well established principles of procedure in the conduct of the affairs of this Council. In a surprising turn of events, Sri Lanka was confronted with some information in the most peculiar circumstances.
On the 9th of this month at a luncheon briefing, we were given to understand that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had informed a group of countries that a decision had been taken by the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General to transmit the report of his Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka to your office and to hers.
Previous to this communication, in the course of an interaction with you, Madam President, there was no direct reference to any such transmission. It was rather embarrassing that both you and I had to learn of it from a third party at the luncheon meeting in the presence of representatives of 29 Member States of the Council.
The failure on the part of the High Commissioner to inform the concerned state – Sri Lanka – was wholly inappropriate to say the very least. This, regrettably, may lead to a loss of confidence in the Office of the High Commissioner. We believe that she should abide by the same principles that govern the work of the Human Rights Council, such as universality, transparency, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights in a fair and equal manner while recognizing the importance of the elimination of double standards and politicization.
This incident raises serious concerns regarding the impartiality of the High Commissioner. Madam President, this practice must be discouraged by this Council. Today it may be Sri Lanka but tomorrow it could be any other Member State faced with this predicament.
Madam President, what needs to be borne in mind by all Members of this august Assembly is that this report never had the sanction of any inter-governmental body. It was purely an exercise of the prerogative of the Secretary-General to advise himself on issues concerning a Member State. How then, I ask, could such a report be brought to the attention of this Council in this unconventional and improper manner?
Madam President, I am simply on a question of principle. If this kind of circumvention of procedure is allowed, it would eventually make a mockery of this august body. We strongly urge that such practice be resisted.
In conclusion Madam President, Sri Lanka, like many post conflict societies, is going through a process of renewal and rebuilding. Our aim is a people who are economically empowered by the vast development initiatives, active in the democratic process and free to articulate grievances, hopes and dreams without fear of conflict and strife. The Government has paved the way for this by defeating terrorism and systematically laying foundations for democracy, peace and prosperity. It is neither apt nor useful to prematurely speculate on what the final outcome or resolution can or will consist of. There is a realistic hope of regaining of democratic space, healing and unity. This perhaps is our greatest victory.
You must note, however unpalatable it may be to some, that terrorism has not been allowed to rear its ugly head since 2009, in Sri Lanka. We, like many other like-minded nations, are not willing to create nurseries for terrorists wherever they may be.
The partiality of the High Commissioner has once again been manifestly demonstrated in the Council today.
You would recall that in April this year, following the extraordinary public release of the Darusman Report, which was compiled purely for the advisory purposes of the UN Secretary General, the High Commissioner referred to Sri Lanka’s successful humanitarian operation as being one carried out “under the guise of fighting terrorism”. Sri Lanka, at the June session of the Council, was quick to remind the High Commissioner of the gross inaccuracy of that statement. In this context, it may be recalled that in the wake of the 11th September tragedy, the UN invoked the right of self defence and called upon the international community to neutralize or combat such terrorism by non-state actors by its resolution 1368 and 1373 of September 2001. The humanitarian operation was part of an act of the sovereign State and its people in the wake of terrorist aggression. It is equally undeniable that Sri Lanka has taken definite steps, at great cost, to resettle and rebuild the lives of the people in the conflict affected areas. It is apparent to all that the military capability of the terrorists to launch offensives against the people and Government of Sri Lanka has been completely degraded.
The High Commissioner’s characterization is wholly misplaced as the community of nations was well aware that Sri Lanka was combating one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world. We find this distorted position once again reiterated by the reference to Sri Lanka in the present context, in crass disregard to contextual developments.
Therefore, I categorically dispute the assertion of the High Commissioner that the combat of terrorism was designed with insufficient regard to human rights, more particularly, having regard to the giant strides that Sri Lanka has taken in the reconciliation process, and the numerous measures that the leader of our delegation has referred to this morning in his statement.
I must also observe that it appears that the High Commissioner does not have the will to even acknowledge a paradigm shift in the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka. In her statement, she treats the lifting of emergency regulations so lightly and fails to acknowledge that they are withdrawn in their entirety. Sri Lanka observes that the High Commissioner’s position on the withdrawal of emergency misleads the Council with regard to the true legal position.
In conclusion, Madam President, it has to be appreciated that each Member State of this Council does recognize the need to have a security related legislation, and it has to be noted that Sri Lanka’s only existing legislation as it stands today is less stringent than the modern legislations of some other countries, which provide for the most stringent of measures in the treatment of terrorism.
The amorphous statement about the undermining of independence of institutions, human rights and rule of law, I reiterate is strenuously denied, and I must place on record that all national institutions today function with due regard to established principles of international law, administrative governance and with respect to the rule of law as prescribed in the fundamental rights and directive principles of state policies, as enshrined in the constitution of the Republic. We remain dedicated to building a country based on all-pervading unity, equity and justice.