UNHRC treatment of Sri Lanka biased and unfair – Dr. Sarath Weerasekara | Daily News

UNHRC treatment of Sri Lanka biased and unfair – Dr. Sarath Weerasekara

The United Nations has made public their report on Sri Lanka which has highlighted many areas of concern and has proposed targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses.

However, in response to these accusations, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd) Dr. Sarath Weerasekara, in an interview with the Daily News, noted that the UNHRC treatment of Sri Lanka is highly biased and unfair as the resolutions against Sri Lanka have been passed without any vote or debate.

Following are excerpts of the interview with Minister Weerasekara:

Q. The current Government has pulled out of the UN Resolution co-sponsored by the previous regime and opted for an inclusive domestic reconciliation process. How does the Government propose to achieve this goal?

A. What happened in the 30/1 Resolution was that we have been charged with war crimes, for violation of humanitarian law and violation of international human rights law. We have accepted all these charges with appreciation and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on behalf of the previous government agreed to co-sponsor it. Therefore, it has been approved in the UNHRC without any vote or without any debate. The first thing that we did when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power was to withdraw from that co-sponsorship. So now we are free and can debate it and other countries too who are supporting us can speak on behalf of us. Earlier that was not the case.

When you talk about this domestic mechanism, we have had domestic mechanisms such as the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission). In the Darusman Report, they had the audacity to say that the LLRC was flawed. But how can they say it was deeply flawed when the LLRC Report was not even out? That official document was promulgated only about seven-and-a-half months later.

Then they had the Paranagama Commission to investigate the missing persons. That too before the report was out, they published the OISL (OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) Report and they wanted us to do away with the Paranagama Commission.

They do not have the right to tell us not to have a domestic mechanism and we will conduct our inquiry in the manner in which we want. That is the present government’s stand on the matter.

Q. While the Sri Lankan military has been accused of genocide during the final stage of the war, Sri Lanka claims that nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians were rescued in one of the largest humanitarian operations. Why has this not been highlighted at the UNHRC?

A. This is my point. During the previous regime, they never did that. One of the charges against us was that we had deliberately prevented aid from reaching the North. During the war, if the government had prevented food and medicines from reaching the war-stricken areas, that constitutes a war crime. When we were accused of this charge, Mangala Samaraweera accepted that. But I went to Geneva and I forwarded certain documents because during the last stages of the war there was a committee called the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance and present President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and several Secretaries of Ministries were on that committee. In addition, there was some representation from the UN office in Sri Lanka too.

In one of the minutes, Neil Boone who was the Residential Coordinator to the UN in Sri Lanka had said that for the manner in which our Forces had sent supplies to the North, we should be given a gold medal. The Representative for Refugees had said that Sri Lanka is a role model for the entire world, referring to the mammoth humanitarian operation. Also the Mullaitivu Government Agent at the time, Imelda Sukumar had stated at that time that they had three months stocks of food at any given time.

Therefore, with all this evidence to prove how we acted to save the Tamils caught up in the North and the East, there are still such bogus charges levelled against us. Moreover, we carried out the world’s largest hostage rescue mission and won the war by rescuing 295,000 people who were being kept as a human shield by the LTTE.

Even after the end of the war, we have risked the lives of our soldiers and carried out demining of all the war-stricken areas. So, it is very unfair for them to be levelling these charges against us.

Q. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had appointed a special committee to handle the UNHRC issues and this committee met recently. You are also a member of this committee. What was the outcome of this meeting?

A. The UNHRC had sent a report and in that they had found fault with us for not adhering to Resolution 30/1 and for appointing ex-military personnel to key positions, etc. So we have responded to that and I too am a part of that committee. We have also told them in no uncertain words that this is a sovereign country and no one has the right to poke their fingers into our affairs.

Q. I believe that even your appointment was questioned?

A. Yes. But we responded to that. Even though I am an ex-Navy officer, I was elected by the people in a democratic election. I obtained the highest number of votes in Colombo and polled the second highest number of votes in the whole country. The people wanted me in office and only MPs are elected as ministers. So, this has nothing to do with the military.

Also, how can the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet tell the President who he should appoint to his Government? Even the current US President has appointed so many generals as secretaries. Will she question him? This is a conspiracy and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is blatantly violating the Charter of the UN and she cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a country, but she is doing that.

Q. The UN report had highlighted the issue of appointing military personnel to key government positions addressing it as accelerating militarization of civilian governmental functions. What is your response?

A. When terrorism was rife in the country and innocent people were attacked by terrorists, then it was good for the military forces to come forward and rescue the country. In the process, 29,000 military personnel were killed and 14,000 critically injured. Also when the tsunami struck it was the Forces that were called to assist the people. Similarly, during natural disasters such as floods and droughts too it is the Security Forces who are called to the rescue. Even during the Covid pandemic, it is the Forces that are in the forefront risking their lives to serve the people. Then the forces are good. But only when the Forces personnel are appointed into administrative positions, they are not good. So in their view, the Forces are only there to serve them, but when their work is done they should then be discarded. If anyone finds fault with military officers being appointed into secretary positions, that is utter hypocrisy. Why should being a military officer be a disqualification to hold a government secretary’s position? As for me, I voluntarily joined the Navy, served and retired and why must I be deprived of holding a ministerial portfolio simply because I am an ex-Navy officer?

Q. The LTTE is still a banned outfit, but in some Western countries, they openly stage marches, protests and commemorations. What is Sri Lanka’s response to such events?

A. The LTTE is a banned organization but they are allowed to exhibit the LTTE flag openly and hold commemorations which is very wrong. A prominent LTTE supporter who was in charge of recruiting child soldiers is Adele Balasingham (wife of the chief political strategist and chief negotiator for the LTTE Anton Balasingham) but the UK is still protecting her. She trained the child soldiers of the LTTE, so these are double standards. They are just playing into the hands of the Tamil Diaspora because of their votes. This is nothing but politics.

Q. Although the LTTE has been militarily defeated, now the country faces a new threat from extremist Muslim terror outfits and the Easter Sunday attacks were the most recent. The investigations have still not been completed. As the Public Security Minister, are you confident that such attacks could be prevented in the future?

A. The reason the Easter Sunday happened was due to the weakening of the intelligence services. The Good Governance regime remanded intelligence officers without any evidence. They harassed them and confined them to barracks which affected the entire intelligence network.

But now we have strengthened the intelligence services such as the State Intelligence Service (SIS), National Intelligence and intelligence services of all three Forces and Police. We meet on a regular basis and compare intelligence information and analyse them and we are very much on top of things. We are also confident that before something happens we will get prior information and we will be ready. Hence, the public can also be confident that such incidents would not be allowed to take place.

Q. The Tamil Diaspora are the main groups which put pressure internationally against Sri Lanka. But they too are accused of collecting funds in the name of ‘Tamil causes’ and using these funds for their own benefit while nothing is done for the Tamil people in the war-affected areas. What is your response?

A. According to the Defence Weekly, the annual income of the Tamil Diaspora is US$ 400 million. They still have their fuel stations, supermarkets and drug operations which generate lots of money. The factor for concern is that some of this money is being sent to Sri Lanka to fund terror activities.

This falls under the area of money laundering and we are taking action and monitoring this closely together with Interpol and intelligence services of other countries and when such information is gathered we immediately take steps to freeze the accounts of these parties. The safety measures are put in place but they still manage to creep through the gaps in the systems. But we are doing our best to stop these activities.

Q. The issue of political prisoners has been raised continuously by the UNHRC and also other Tamil groups. What is the government’s stand on these Tamil political prisoners?

A. There are no political prisoners in our country, there are only terrorist suspects. Political prisoners are those who try to topple the government. I have spoken with the Justice Minister and the Attorney General about this matter and I was told that it is the lawyers representing these Tamil suspects who are dragging these cases and wanting them postponed. That is why these cases are dragging on because they keep postponing these cases. So, now we have taken a decision to expedite these cases and either acquit or charge those found guilty.