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Imperious US tactics to command member support:

Lanka on reconciliation track

The imperious US tactics to command member support for the resolution against Sri Lanka resulted in the loss of two votes than in the 2013 resolution against Sri Lanka, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe in an interview with the Sunday Observer said.

"They were negotiating and finalising the text until March 25.Whatever they attempted, has obviously not been that effective," he added referring to the adoption of the US's third resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC's 25th session which concluded in Geneva last Friday.

"Those who harbour separatist dreams and fuel the fires of their propaganda machines will not cease in their efforts but if we show clear progress over time the call to target Sri Lanka will have less and less resonance", he said.

The Minister said Resolution 2014 built on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay's Reports and feeds off them and it also calls for two further Reports from the High Commissioner in September 2014 and March 2015.

"These documents are interlinked. They are part and parcel of one agenda."

Excerpts of interview

Q:You were in Geneva for two weeks with Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to lobby key members and regional groups in the UN Human Rights Council. How would you describe their general feeling about the latest resolution by US against Sri Lanka?

A:Well as I have stated on several previous occasions, opinion on the Resolution in the Council is sharply divided. The result of the final vote bears this out; 23 in favour 12 against and 12 abstentions. Therefore 24 Member countries of the 47 either opposed it or found that they could not support it and abstained accordingly. During our briefings and interactions in Geneva we stated our opposition to the Resolution on a matter of principle. We also warned that selective measures such as this could be used against any country in the future and that a negative precedent was being established by the proponents of the Resolution.


Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe

Q:. Do they have satisfactory knowledge of the developments in post-conflict Sri Lanka? Do you think you have convinced moderate member states to take up a supporting role?

A:When I have led the Sri Lankan delegation to the Human Rights Council, my delegation and I together with successive Permanent Representatives have tried our utmost to portray a realistic picture of the situation in Sri Lanka. This goes back to 2006 when Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Council. Especially since 2009, we have taken steps to inform the Council of incremental progress on the ground; the gradual advances made in the face of considerable challenges Sri Lanka has had to face after ending 30 years of conflict against terrorism.

However, I think those that have pre-judged the post-conflict situation for their own ends and based on selective evidence will not be convinced however strong, forceful and effective our arguments are. However, we are cognizant of this and can only put our case frankly and transparently before these forums. I think the 24 countries that did not support the resolution appreciate our efforts. Others do so as well but had to face pressure from powerful quarters to support the Resolution.

Q:You were quoted in the newspapers as saying member states are under political pressure to side with the proponents of the Resolution. Is this true with regard to India as well?

A:The Indian Permanent Representative in Geneva made it crystal clear in the Council as to why they did not support the Resolution. They explained their position in detail. Remember that the Indians voted with Sri Lanka on the two procedural votes (a no-action motion postponing consideration and on the removal/retention of paragraph 10) before abstaining on the vote on the Resolution in its entirety. As a matter of strategy, when the Indian Ambassador made the statement that they will be abstaining, the better option, in my view, would have been to call a vote on the main Resolution.

The three successive votes resulted in an erosion of our support. For example the votes received for the no-action motion were 16, the second on paragraph 10 was 14 in our favour and the vote on the entirety of the resolution was 12 in support of Sri Lanka. We should strengthen our bilateral relations with India as well as cooperating with other countries to ensure a better level of understanding and closer collaboration on key issues. That said, considerable pressure was brought to bear on a number of other countries and that is reflected in the outcome of the vote.

Q: If the members are under political pressure by powerful nations, then whatever the efforts by Sri Lanka to defeat the resolution are futile. What is the rationale behind Sri Lanka's intense lobbying for support then?

A;Our request has never been for blind support. We have laid the facts fairly and squarely before the Council and observer nations. We have highlighted the achievements and identified the challenges faced by us including our proposed measures to tackle those challenges. We have consistently asked for time and space to achieve all that we have to in moving forward toward comprehensive reconciliation and a lasting peace. These obstacles we have to overcome are the results of 30 years of combating terrorism. These challenges will not go away overnight. We have done an incredible amount in a short span of five years. There is still much to do and we are doing it. Interference by way of politically motivated Resolutions can only hamper our progress. We asked the international community to understand our position and to constructively engage with us. Naming and shaming is not the best way forward.

Q:If these Resolutions have no connection with the achievements or failures in Sri Lanka and if it's only a witch hunt by the US and UK, due to political reasons and actions of the LTTE rump and other interested groups, can Sri Lanka ever find a way out to save its skin?

A:Sri Lanka, I believe, should continue on its path to reconciliation undeterred by external pressures. If we show clear progress over time and continue with our policy of open and transparent engagement with our international partners and friends, the call to target Sri Lanka will have less and less resonance. Those who harbour separatist dreams and continue to fuel the fires of their propaganda machines will not cease in their efforts. They have had five years to see the truth for themselves. If they still do not believe that Sri Lanka has opened a new chapter in its history and is proceeding to eradicate poverty, decrease inequality, foster balanced development and ensure prosperity, it is unlikely that they will see the light of day. Of course there are political motivations too - domestically and geopolitically - that impact on this issue. I reiterate that we must do our best by our people and show our progress to all who are willing to view our situation impartially.

Q:US extended the deadline to submit the final draft of the resolution, allegedly because they needed to fine tune it to garner majority votes. Why were they so anxious about the numbers and was there a rationale behind it?

A:Well they obtained two less positive votes than they managed in 2013. Whatever they attempted has obviously not been that effective. They were negotiating and finalizing the text until March 25. On our part we reached out to all those who would give us a fair hearing and explained our case. This too had an impact at voting time.

Q: According to the draft 'Third Resolution' they are still insisting on a 'credible' domestic investigation. It says if this is lacking in the coming months they will call for an international probe. What are they insinuating ? Can they initiate an investigation before the next UN HRC session?

A:According to the resolution that was adopted, there is a clear element of pre-judgement of domestic processes that is implicit in the text of the Resolution. That is abundantly clear. On the one hand they are calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to do "X". A few paragraphs later they are predicting that "X" will be ineffective and want it to be superseded by "Y". This anomaly was commented on on the floor of the Council. I do not want to speculate on what they may or may not do. We have stated our position on an international inquiry mechanism, even in the guise of a High Commissioner's so called "investigation".

Q: Why haven't we been able to convince the West that Sri Lanka is working on a credible domestic investigation?

A:Well we must be certain that the evidence elicited through investigations meets with some standard that can stand up before a judicial forum. Don't forget that investigations must be aimed at obtaining evidence that can support a prosecution before Courts of Law. There are several processes going on right now - the latest of which is the Commission on Disappearances. There are many points to be inquired into and investigated before definite conclusions can be reached.

It was relatively easy for the so-called Secretary-General's panel of experts to gather any and all pieces of information and state that it required investigation. That evidence was gathered in secret with guarantees of anonymity for decades for witnesses. The panel itself admits the weaknesses of its evidence gathering process. We do not have the luxury of gleaning bits of rumour and supposition and calling it credible evidence. We have a well-established legal and judicial system and our investigations should conform to those standards.

Q;Since the previous two resolutions were adopted, it was likely that the present one also would be approved (the interview with the Minister was planned before the resolution was adopted). In this scenario, why would we resort to a vote knowing well the odds?

A:As I said, the vote goes to show that there is no unanimity in dealing with Sri Lanka. The Human Rights Council itself is divided down the middle. It also exposes how different interest groups look at the Resolution and the clear political motivation of its proponents. Many countries appreciated Sri Lanka's progress and our open engagement in explaining our position. These are not actions that should be rewarded with targeting by Resolution.

Q:As the Resolution is passed, what's in store for Sri Lanka - short term and long term effects ?

A:As I said, Sri Lanka's path to reconciliation and development is laid out in the National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC taken in conjunction with and under the overall aegis of the Mahinda Chinthana development plan. We will continue to do the best we can for our people - North, South, East and West, regardless of any resolution that is adopted in international forums. That is our prime responsibility. We are determined to move forward as we have been doing. All other challenges (external and internal) we will take in our stride.

Q: What are the key changes in the revised resolution. Why, in your opinion, were they accommodated?

A:Well, there is a reference to unidentified experts to take part in the purported investigation which gives rise to concern since we do not know who these experts are and how they be identified, their mandate and so on. A time-frame has been fixed that corresponds to the initial period of the LLRC's mandate. There is also mention of all Provincial Councils including the Northern Provincial Council which replaced a reference to only the Northern Provincial Council. There is a reference included which refers to alleged "ongoing human rights violations" supposedly referred to in the High Commissioner's report. There is a salutary reference to consultation and concurrence of the Government in obtaining technical assistance from the High Commissioner and Special Procedures Mandate Holders. The versions of the draft Resolutions tabled on March3 respectively have several other changes. Some of these changes came about as a result of informal consultations on the text convened by the sponsors.

Q:What type of relationship do the two documents - the Report by the Human Rights High Commissioner and Resolution have? How do they complement each other?

A:Well the two documents are clearly related. The 2013 Resolution called for reports from the High Commissioner in September 2013 and March 2014. The Resolution of 2014 builds upon the High Commissioner's Reports and feeds off them. This Resolution also calls for two further Reports from the HC in September 2014 and March 2015. So these documents are closely interlinked.

They are part and parcel of one agenda. This is why we protested when our response to the High Commissioner's Report was not given the same visibility as the Report itself. This shows an effort to stifle our attempt to set the record straight.

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