Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 31 January 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Great expectations

British envoy James Dauris on what lies ahead in SL-UK relations:

James Dauris

Though bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom are strong with more links being forged and great opportunities to work together, the roadmap Sri Lanka is taking towards the fulfillment of the mandate with regard to commitments made to the United Nations Human rights Council (UNHRC) remains unclear, James Dauris, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the British envoy spoke about UK’s ongoing assistance for Sri Lanka’s fight against corruption and defence cooperation and the reality of strengthening old bonds with a friendly nation state. Excerpts:

Q: Relations between Sri Lanka and Great Britain were strained during the Rajapaksa regime. Is there any improvement now?

A: We could all agree that now is a time of significant opportunities for us to work together. We saw that reflected in President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to visit London in March last year. The early prioritisation he gave, demonstrated the importance that he wanted to attach to these relations, quite early on in his presidency.

Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Hugo Swire, was on an official visit to Sri Lanka two weeks ago. His visit lasted more than three days. He held a wide range of meetings. He went home with a sense of the opportunities for Sri Lanka and Britain to work together.

Q: Has the British Government renewed military ties with Sri Lanka? From what we know, the first batch of Sri Lankan Army Cadets was trained in Sandhurst as far back as 1949.

A: Your question refers to the first cadets. They were sent almost immediately after Ceylon became independent.

There have been long histories since then of Sri Lankan military officers training in the UK with the Army, Air Force and Navy. I wish to correct one word in your questions. The term renewed ties means that they were broken up. We didn’t break off ties with the military.

Q: The British Government had a military attaché in Colombo until 2010. Why have you withdrawn the military attaché? Are you planning on restoring this post?

A: In 2009, we had a review of our defence advisers network around the world.

A number of changes were made and one was to stop having a resident defence advisor in Colombo.

I have no doubt that it was decided on account of the prevailing political situation in Sri Lanka. Following a discussion with your Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta, our Prime Minister said we are in the process of appointing a new non-resident defence advisor who will function from New Delhi. We’re doing this because we feel our defence relations with Sri Lanka matters.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are important and the role that they can and need to play will move Sri Lanka forward.

Q: What about military training?

A: Initially there might be training opportunities organised by us here in Sri Lanka. We also wish to think in terms of sending Sri Lankans to Sandhurst and Dartmouth.

Q: What about the appointment of a non-resident defence attaché?

A: He is in New Delhi and will be in Colombo by the time your newspaper comes out, which is purely by chance. The plan is, while he remains non-resident, he will come to Sri Lanka regularly, because the key part of his work will involve him developing relationships. Then, regular contact is an essential part of it.

The role of defence advisors is principally to maintain relationships between services. So, there is more emphasis on these roles and the development of understanding on a service level. If required, he will meet the President in the presence of the Head of the Mission.

Q: The international community commended the change of government on January 8 2015 as a politically significant change and acknowledged the island’s human rights record has improved. With these changes, can the Sri Lankan Government expect British assistance to secure the GSP Plus facility?

A: Sri Lanka used to be a beneficiary of the GSP Plus.

There was a delegation of the European Member States last week and they had a set of meetings with Sri Lankan authorities to discuss restarting the GSP Plus and to make an assessment of progress made towards fulfilling GSP Plus conditions. Britain is keen to see that GSP Plus is extended to Sri Lanka not least because of its extension would be a reflection of improvements in human rights.

My sense from them was one of optimising of progress made here. The GSP Plus is a changed model since Sri Lanka last had it. Earlier you would get it and the country kept it without review.

Under the new system, it allows the EU to extend the benefits of GSP Plus to countries that may not meet all criteria. But it brings with it also a system of review rather than a renewal.

One area that I am proud of the work that we’ve done over the past six months is the sharing and providing of skills to authorities to help with their fight against corruption. We’ve had a member of the Serious Frauds Office (SFO) here and he has been working closely with Sri Lankan authorities sharing our experiences about best practices.

Q: Is that an ongoing process?

A: He left last week. We have another person here from the Serious Frauds Office here. This is a good area for us to be working on.

Q: In the past, your government offered political asylum to Sri Lankan Tamils and fleeing journalists on the basis of political persecution. Does the UK Government still entertain such applications, and if so, why?

A: We are proud of our history on providing asylum to people who need our protection. All claims are carefully considered. Where people establish a genuine need of protection, then we will grant them asylum.

Q: Is the British Government clear about the implementation of the recommendations stemming from the UNHRC resolution last September? Are things clear to the international community?

A: We and many other members of the international community were delighted when Sri Lanka took the decision to co-sponsor the resolution. We felt it was a principled decision. The first review provides for the high commissioner to provide an oral briefing in June and a formal review, two sessions later.

Prince Zeid is coming here in February and his visit will be an important part as he thinks through the process. I think the resolution is very clear. The road map is one which I regularly hear about from the Sri Lankan Government.

It’s not yet entirely clear what this roadmap is going to look like. The key for us was and still is that the government seeing it through and taking concrete action.

Q: President Sirisena told the BBC recently that there won’t be a need to import specialists and spoke of an internal war crimes court. That deviates from what had been discussed in Geneva? What are your thoughts?

A: I saw that, but rather than commenting on it, I would rather refer to the HRC document which is what we stand by.

I think that a key to the thinking and acceptance of the idea of the importance of international participation is this idea of credibility. A process here does need to be credible for the benefit of all communities. I think it will help the country to move forward with confidence in a way that can make future generations here to live in peace.

The Council notes the importance of the participation of international judges. The view is that such participation is important.

Q: Is the British Government monitoring the political developments in the South or has the government abdicated its role as an influencer of governments and the Commonwealth agenda, in particualr?

A: We take a real interest in Sri Lankan politics. There’s no surprise about that. I came from Peru and both Sri Lanka and Peru have gone through a lot of internal conflict. Because a conflict is divisive, it brings us back to the accountability aspect which is an important part of healing wounds.

We in the UK understand our role as an important international actor. It’s something we are very conscious of as a nation. We are a member of the unique groups such as the Commonwealth, the G8 and therefore the G20 and the NATO.

We are a member of a whole range of organizations which in different ways are committed to promoting values that are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter. The British Government has not abdicated its role as a political power.

Q: The former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed is known to have met with the British and American envoys in Colombo. What is the role of the British Government in influencing Maldives to embrace political reforms?

A: Like Sri Lanka, Maldives is a good friend of the UK. We also enjoy a long shared history. The importance of that relationship and affection is reflected in a lot of things.

We were pleased as many when former president Abdul Gayoom in 2008 helped to see through this transition to a democratic election through which President Mohamed Nasheed was elected.

We’ve made it clear that we are concerned for the sake of Maldivians about steps that have been taken that move the Maldives away from the democratic path. We are hopeful and keen to encourage the Maldives to act in ways which are democratic.


eMobile Adz

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | World | Obituaries | Junior |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2016 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor