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Some UNHRC members on a witch-hunt - Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara


A committed socialist, Vasuís chequered political career has been punctuated by his frequent worker struggles. With his life-long commitment to the socialist utopia, he has reposed his faith in parliamentary democracy. Mellow and mature, National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara today shoulders a national responsibility towards social integration.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the UNHRC is very selective about the members whose guilt is focused on a selective basis.

He said it is not his defence that we have a right to violate human rights or commit crimes or violate the international laws because somebody else is doing it.

We believe wherever it happens it is no defence for us to commit or repeat the same. The UNHRC must, however apply the same yardstick to all countries in an equal way which otherwise would be interpreted as prejudiced on the part of the UNHRC.

The UNHRC is not expected to carry on with vendettas and it is for them to bring up the issues backed by facts that the Governments concerned could address them. That is really the job of the UNHRC. But now we get the impression that the UNHRC is on a witch-hunt.

Socialism is in the future and not in the past, he said. Socialism is yet to emerge in the future in its pristine form. Actually the socialism which was full of Ďdebilities and deformitiesí is getting purified.

We are now gradually becoming democratic socialist States of the future. It is only socialism that can save the future of humanity. Therefore there is only one future and that is the socialist future. In fact, what we are trying to do with the UPFA Government is to develop a social democratic program within the UPFA.

We call upon all other leftist parties who want to see a socialist future to join us to promote social democratic programs with the UPFA as opposed to the right-wing neo-liberal program of the UNP.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: How far has your Ministry progressed in resolving any problems affecting the Tamil community? Could you elaborate on this?

A: The responsibility of our Ministry is to bring about cordial relations between all communities such as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others.

We have promoted the idea of inter-community relations by our numerous programs such as the language societies, cultural festivals, youth camps, mixed youth camps, celebration of different religious and community events and teaching languages to public officers.

These activities together with the implementation of the language policy of requiring Sinhala and Tamil to be used in all state affairs has to some degree given the Tamil and Muslim communities a kind of expectation that the Government is actively involved in promoting solidarity between the communities.

Racist propaganda by whatever parties does not bear fruit as it fails to create mass disturbances since the mood of the people is more favourable to harmonious relations between the communities.

Q: Mounting losses in the public sector and corporations are attributed to frauds, impunity, disregard for financial procedures and non-accountability. Your comments?

A: The Auditor General is responsible to audit all the Government departments and the semi-Government bodies. He brings these audit queries which are answered or unanswered and sufficiently explained, to Committees. One is the Public Accounts Committee and the other is COPE which looks into the semi-State bodies or corporations.

These two bodies go into all specific matters raised by the Auditor General and we ask the responsible officers in departments and corporations to explain and when they fail to explain, we report them to Parliament. The Parliament in turn brings them to the attention of the respective Ministers and it is the Ministers who should take action against those held responsible for fraud, waste or corruption.

The Bribery Commission is also active today. There is the question time in Parliament where you could have oral answers or written answers to questions raised by the Members of Parliament. These are all deterrents in addition to public and social media which exposes corruption, waste and fraud inevitably present in any Government administration.

As was recently reported even in private organisations fraud and corruption is prevalent and some of the big companies have become bankrupt or crashed on account of corruption even in the United States of America.

This is a part of the phenomenon of the present economy and it has become exacerbated due to the neo-liberal attitude towards the world economy.

The Government is subjected to scrutiny by the people and the media whether those responsible for frauds or mismanagement have been brought to book. These can be checked and curtailed. Public interest litigation is a very important aspect where anybody in the interest of public affairs could complain to court that there was corruption, or fraud which deprived the State coffers of large amounts of money as I have done in two cases-the Insurance Corporation case and the Marine Company case where there was the privatization of oil bunkering by the last Government. In both cases, the persons responsible were taken to task. Then the privatisation done on that corrupt, fraudulent agreements have been annulled.

But as you know litigation is costly. So it is not everybody who can do this. One must have time and resources. There should be an easier mechanism of administrative tribunals such as Human Rights Commission where one could make complaints about corruption and fraud in public institutions. They can also get facts and figures from Auditor Generalís Department as well as from the COPE and COPA, the two Parliamentary bodies. We need to introduce this mechanism soon.

Q: Sri Lankans visiting South India are apprehensive of physical harassment at the hands of a few extremist elements. How do you view these attacks on foreign nationals?

A: These attacks cannot be justified. As we all know, certain issues give rise to tension in certain countries in relation to certain communities and incidents that take place in other countries. In Tamil Nadu, there is a feeling rightly or wrongly that Tamils have been unjustly dealt with and they have been subjected to denial of human rights. There is such perception in Tamil Nadu, but this is not among the large numbers who are informed, but among some isolated pro-LTTE small groups. Therefore they want to avenge the fact that the LTTE was defeated and also they want to promote a revival of the LTTE. For this reason, they are launching agitations and protests to focus on the question of the Tamil people. But the fact remains that they refuse to be informed of the actual state of affairs in the country in this post-war period.

They would continue agitation based on their imaginations and motivations. However, attacks on those who visit India from Sri Lanka are only in Tamil Nadu and this must be prevented by the Indian Government. Recently there had been no attacks. The pilgrims to Velankani had been stopped and asked to return which should never have happened. I believe the Indian Government and the Tamil Nadu State Government will become more responsible in defending and protecting the rights of the visitors to that country.

Q: Some social and political scientists have attributed the social and political discontent largely to the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions. Is there any truth in this?

A: Social discontent is not due to Constitutions. Basically it is due to economic circumstances combined with the Governance and tensions that prevail in society. Constitutions can contribute to either promoting democracy and democratic governments or impeding democratic governance.

The 1972 Constitution promoted democratic governance while the 1978 Constitution was an erosion of democracy and democratic governance. So the lack of democratic space could result in extra-legal and violent actions by a section of the people.

The 1972 constitution cannot be said to have had any undemocratic features while the 1978 Constitution has all that. If you ask me about the 1983 July riots which were mainly directed against the Tamil community I should say it was partly a result of the denial of General Elections at the appropriate time. The referendum was rigged and the tenure of Parliament was extended.

Then comes about the tension and the reduction of democratic space. This resulted in political upheavals. Therefore, what happened in the aftermath is due partly to the Constitution and reduced democratic space.

Q: Indiaís former UN Ambassador Nirupam Sen has dismissed R2P as a tool for neo-imperialist intervention. It has created chaos in Libya after engineering a regime change. How do you assess the strength and scope of R2P in the context of emerging, third world countries?

A: I entirely agree with Nirupam Sen and I fully endorse what he has said. As we have seen its application or the intervention had brought about no peace at all. It had only worsened the situation in each one of these countries promoting racial hatred, bringing about further dissension and then causing chaos and anarchy. This is the net results of the intervention under the R2P. On the other hand R2P is arbitrary - a big power tool to subjugate regimes which do not toe their line.

Q: Would it not be more judicious for the UNHRC to appreciate post war mega development and help Sri Lanka to resolve any outstanding problems than invoking the bogey of human rights or enacting the notorious Channel 4 theatrics?

A: Yes. The UNHRC should discuss matters regarding the post war situation in Sri Lanka in a rational and informed manner and take up specific matters of concern which require remedying on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. They speak of accountability in a very general way. But they need to raise those matters specifically. I think that would be a better way to deal with than make charges generally without being supported by evidence.

Such cases can be taken up on a specified basis rather than making blanket allegations that there had been extra-legal killings, war crimes or individual killings which need to be supported with facts and figures and evidence to put the Government on the job. The Government is willing to look into matters if they are raised in that concrete way. But they only have a video film which does not produce any evidence. At most it is an incident or an event or a crime. There is nothing more to say about it than that there had been a crime committed against ĎAí. When left it at that, there is nothing more that you can do about it unless you have some more evidence relating to the circumstances. Therefore, the inference is that the ball is in the court of the Government to make an investigation.

Q: Have not the UNHRC and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay exceeded their mandate in trying to penalize Sri Lanka when human lives and human rights are openly violated by some powerful countries?

A: Yes. The UNHRC is very selective about the members whose guilt is focused on a selective basis. Well, it is not my defence that we have a right to violate human rights or commit crimes or violate the international laws because somebody else is doing it.

We believe wherever it happens there is no defence for us to commit or repeat the same. But the UNHRC must apply the same yardstick to all countries in an equal manner which otherwise would be interpreted as a prejudiced action on the part of the UNHRC.

It is not expected of the UNHRC to carry on with vendettas and it is for them to bring up the issues backed by facts in order that governments can address them. That is really the job of the UNHRC. But now one gets the impression that the UNHRC is on a witch-hunt.

Q: Education and Health are beset with problems affecting the community life and much criticism has been levelled against these Ministries. What is the solution for this from a socialist angle?

A: Those are two areas in which the Government spending has to be increased. In both areas teachers and the health employees need to be involved in a meaningful way to frame the policies and to oversee the implementation of such policies that will be adopted. On the one hand, we need to increase the spending on that. We also need to involve the employees in formulating policies of those institutions in their own advisory capacity. Their experience can be very enriching for the more fruitful implementation of the policies.

They have their grievances. These are the two major areas of the social service we rendered to the country. Social development that this country had seen as its unique achievement includes free health and free education. So as we go on expanding health and education we need more inputs. On the other hand, a large number of schools is under the Provincial Councils. Only a minority of schools come under the Central Government. These are areas which have huge numbers of beneficiaries and servers.

The problems are also very complex. There is a need to remedy the major deficiencies which arise due to the inadequacies on the part of administration. We need to involve the beneficiaries and the servers to work out solutions.

Q: The Soviet Union and its Socialist Block collapsed in 1991. The non-alignment is toothless today with some of its founding countries either disintegrated or aligned with the capitalist block. As a socialist do you see any prospects for socialism or will it die a natural death?

A: In my view, socialism is in the future and not in the past. What we have seen are only certain States which were run by those who had a sympathy for the working class and the masses.

They were, however bureaucratic and didnít permit the participation of elected members of the workers or the masses in running their governments. More mistakes had been made and such mistakes had been so bad that the Soviet Union collapsed. So it is more due to the distortion of the kind of regime that came into being than the philosophy of socialism or the vision of socialism. Socialism is yet to emerge in the future in its pristine form as we had.

Actually the socialism as you called it was full of debilities and deformities and now they are getting it purified. We are now gradually reaching towards democratic socialism. I think it is only socialism that can save the future of humanity. If you look at the environmental degradation, huge crisis in the financial sector, economic downturn coming one after another and long periods of recession, there is no alternative, but the destruction of humanity.

In this backdrop of perishing human race-continuing recessions, cut backs, the kind of austerity posterity measures and the reduction of social development will contribute to more poverty and starvation. Each recession brings millions of people back into starvation. So the environment plus the crisis of capitalism is the recipe for the destruction of humanity. Therefore, there is only one future, that is socialist future.

Q: The working class would have achieved more, had not the left split into atoms and promoted their separate agendas? Your comments?

A: Certainly. I think if the working class and ordinary masses who are farmers, self-employees and small-holders could have merged their political groupings together to develop a social democratic formation which could be acceptable to everybody without asking for the moon like revolutionary socialism, we would have gone a long way. In fact, what we are trying to do with the UPFA is to develop a social democratic program within the UPFA.

We call upon all other leftist parties who want to see a socialist future to join us to promote social democratic programs with the UPFA as opposed to the right-wing neo-liberal program of the UNP.

Q: You have been a committed socialist upholding the dignity of the working class and its inherent rights. Have you not groomed a successor to carry forward your life-long mission?

A: No. History never permits such grooming in my understanding. History has a way of calling upon the individuals selected for more than one reason, to undertake the responsibilities from time to time. So there is no question of anybody grooming. History selects individuals to carry out the task of the time.

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