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Sunday, 24 August 2014

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Blending security and development

Jordan's Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al Hussein, a seasoned human rights campaigner, will take over from Navi Pillay as the UN High Commissioner for Human rights from September 1.

It is earnestly hoped that the new United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) chief would act in an impartial and transparent manner while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all UN member countries.

Prince Hussein has a huge responsibility to restore the UNHRC to its pristine glory and protect the original principles of the UN human rights body. It is a pity that the UNHRC sullied its image due to the controversial conduct of the outgoing UNHRC chief Navaneethan Pillay. Her stance on Sri Lanka had been more often than not been questionable, making sweeping statements during and after Sri Lanka's relentless battle against LTTE terrorists.

Her high-handedness had a direct bearing on the UNHRC to take several unfair decisions against Sri Lanka. She not only entertained three US-led resolutions against Sri Lanka but also overstepped her mandate as the UNHRC head to meddle in Sri Lanka's internal affairs.

In this scenario, her successor will face a gigantic task to restore the image of the UNHRC and win the confidence of UN member countries. The UNHRC should no longer dance to the tune of a few powerful nations against which Pillay appeared to be a toothless tiger.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pointed out recently that some leaders of powerful Western countries who talk glibly about human rights violations had today apparently forgotten their violent past and human rights abuses.

The colonial rulers had brazenly violated these basic rights and at times massacred locals who fought for their inalienable rights. These rulers at one time had even imprisoned some local freedom fighters in a cave at the nearby Madulla village and sealed the cave, causing their deaths.

Despite Pillay's attempts to exert undue international pressure on the eve of her retirement, Sri Lanka had shown its unwavering commitment towards national reconciliation by conducting a credible local investigation on alleged war crimes in the final phase of the battle against terrorism.

The President has empowered the eminent panel of experts by adding two new members - Avdash Kaushal and Ahmer Bilal Soofie, who would advise the Presidential Commission on Disappearances. The new appointments, raising the membership of the panel of advisors to five, have been made following a request by the Chairman of the Commission Maxwell Paranagama who said that it would be useful to secure the advice of international experts for the proper functioning of the Commission. The term of the Commission investigating disappearances in the North and the East has been extended until February 15, 2015.

The Commission has already received nearly 20,000 complaints and is perusing them. The President has already made it abundantly clear, that a domestic inquiry and the mandate of the Advisory Committee is to advise the Commission as and when requested. Sri Lanka has rejected Pillay's investigators and the Government would not cooperate with the panel as the controversial probe is questionable.

The President last month named a three-member international advisory panel comprising Sir Desmond de Silva (QC), Sir Geoffrey Nice and Prof. David Crane to advise the Disappearances Commission. The members of the panel Desmond Silva and Geoffrey Nice are from Britain while David Crane is a US national. The Advisory Committee had been broadened as it could get legal advice from the South Asian region as well. Undoubtedly, this is another step to strengthen the domestic inquiry mechanism.

Many serious allegations were levelled against some members of the investigation panel appointed by the UNHRC which had already shown its bias, going by the recent statements by the outgoing High Commissioner Pillay.

External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris had said that the decision not to disclose the names of persons who give evidence before the panel is totally unfair as Sri Lanka would not get an opportunity to cross-examine them. They are judges in their own causes and Sri Lanka does not recognise the jurisdiction or authority of such investigations.

In this context, Sri Lanka could not accept such a prejudiced investigation. The UNHRC is known for its inconsistency and it changed decisions due to political reasons. Many member countries are disillusioned over this situation. By conducting its own investigations outside Sri Lanka, Pillay's controversial panel has proved that its report would be one-sided.

Sri Lanka stands out as a model of how nations could blend security and development to provide a better life for its people. Nevertheless, the UNHRC has failed to understand this stark fact due to Pillay's influence.

After LTTE terror was eradicated a little over five years ago, the Security Forces had made a tangible contribution in national development, thereby strengthening the confidence of people of all ethnicities in Sri Lanka. Army Commander Lt. General Daya Ratnayake told the annual Defence Seminar 2014, that employing the defence sector for additional capacity to national institutions, leading national development, is one of the many areas that could be beneficial to other countries too.

The benefits of urban regeneration were proof when they visited Colombo during the three-day conference. Using the defence sector to further these aspirations, remains Sri Lanka's top priority.

The three-decade LTTE violence had taught Sri Lankans many valuable lessons, among them the value of national security and the will to pursue it at any cost.

The dawn of peace after the successful completion of the humanitarian operation and prosperity within reach, has strengthened security. This does not mean letting down our guard as national security is today stronger than ever before - smarter, more vigilant, and has a greater responsive capability to deal with threats pertaining to national security.

Sri Lanka strongly believes in national security which focuses on the State and human security on the individual. Its battlefield experience should be used as a model for intellectual discourse with development as a dividend of peace and security. It focuses on the interaction between security, development and prosperity and their inseparable partnerships.

Restoring trust among communities, rebuilding Social Capital and thereby enhancing personal and collective productivity to bring lasting peace and prosperity, and improving the quality of life of every citizen is the aim of the Government.

Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga had quite rightly pointed out that positive peace is filled with positive content such as restoration of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict. It is the nation's strong belief that this positive peace would create a conducive environment to further develop Sri Lanka and achieve its cherished goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia.

Economic progress could not be achieved when there is a conflict or a terrorist threat as the resources for economic development will have to be channelled for defence and military purposes.

Those who point an accusing finger at Sri Lanka should realise that the country had recorded remarkable GDP growth even during its 2006-2009 battle against terrorism. No sooner the country was liberated from the clutches of LTTE terror, than it gained a massive eight percent growth.

Sri Lanka's achievements should be taken into account, not merely in monetary terms, but also people's development and growth, strengthening social networks, and as some countries do, even to the extent of developing a Gross National Happiness Index. The essence of the philosophy of this index is the peace and happiness of its people and the nation's security and sovereignty.

 

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