British envoy James Dauris on what lies ahead in
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
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
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 Why have you withdrawn the military attaché?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
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
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
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
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
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.