Minister Peiris calls on the international community to distinguish political agendas from genuine expressions of concern in the propaganda campaign carried out against Sri Lanka
The recent spate of unsubstantiated allegations on the last few days of the conflict levelled at the Government of Sri Lanka, need to be examined in terms of the political agenda behind such propaganda and distinguished from the genuine expressions of concern on humanitarian issues, observed External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris in his keynote address at the launch of the publication by the Ministry of Defence entitled “Humanitarian Operation: Factual Analysis – July 2006-May 2009” on 1st August. Elaborating he stated that the task of analysing where the political agendas end and norms of human rights begin has now become more crucial and this issue deserves to be judged dispassionately, without prejudice and bias. The External Affairs Minister recalled an observation made by the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson on the Goldstone Report on the Gaza issue, that it was guided “not by human rights but by politics”.
The Minister stated that Sri Lanka needs and its people demand objectivity in the assessment of material being put out in the public domain that this be without prejudice and bias. Drawing on the example of the recently concluded local government elections, prior to which a vigorous campaign was carried out that there was no prospect of a free and fair election being held, the Minister called upon critics to analyse its outcome. He pointed out there was a healthy voter turnout, including in the North where the first ever local government elections were held in those areas after a long interval. The fact that a number of candidates outside the ruling party were elected in the North demonstrated the free and fair nature of the polls.
Minister Peiris recalled that Sri Lanka has emerged from thirty years of conflict, where the terrorist group was fighting the legitimate Government of the country and this group lived by the ethos of “I kill, therefore I am”. This, he said, is the reality that seems to be ignored and the brutality of the LTTE over thirty years forgotten, with sole and exclusive focus on the last fourteen days of this conflict. The Minister pointed out the very different reactions that the Goldstone Report drew, in contrast to the Darusman report. The Minister referred to the US Secretary of State’s comments and the BBC’s observations on the Goldstone report, on the difficulty faced by legitimate governments fighting insurgent or terrorist groups that hide among civilians. He said that this consideration applies with even greater force to the Sri Lankan situation.
Referring to the latest Channel 4 video, the Minister called into question the shadowy figures claiming to be “eye witnesses” casting aspersions on the Security Forces and claiming to be privy to a conversation that purportedly took place between the Defence Secretary and the Commander of the 58 Division. He pointed out that the substance of this alleged conversation would not possibly have been within the knowledge of the persons claiming to make these revelations. He said that the suggestion relating to a meeting convened by Shavindra Silva with his soldiers on the beach is inherently incredible.
Minister Peiris called into question the timing pattern of the release of the four videos released by Channel 4 to coincide with major meetings and events with significance to Sri Lanka that were taking place in Western capitals: namely on the eve of the European Commission’s decision on the extension of GSP+ trade concession to Sri Lanka, the External Affairs Minister’s bilateral meeting with his British counterpart, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to London late last year, and most recently during the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association sessions in London. He said it can be clearly seen that an overt political agenda was behind the timing in the airing of these videos by Channel 4.
The External Affairs Minister stated that the recent allegations against the Government were drawn from testimonies shrouded in secrecy. In this context he questioned their credibility considering that such testimony could not be effectively challenged by Sri Lanka because of the fog of anonymity. Sri Lanka is similarly hampered in refuting the allegations made in the Darusman Report due to the 20-year confidentiality granted to those who had given testimony in flagrant violation of natural justice. He perceived this exercise as a pursuit of a naked political agenda and not a struggle for human rights.
He referred to an article by another former High Commissioner for Human Rights and present Head of the International Crisis Group, Louis Arbour, published in the ‘Johannesburg Times’ which was characterized by deep resentment against the family of the President and in effect, called for regime change. He reminded the audience that the successive election results demonstrated the increasing popularity of President Rajapaksa and his government in contrast with the phenomenon of diminishing returns ordinarily applicable to incumbent governments.
Minister Peiris further stated that the anti-Government propaganda was not in line with what had been said by international civil servants who were on ground at the time the conflict ended, as well as visitors to the combat areas in the North who saw first hand the developments taking place; whereas, those who made unsubstantiated allegations have never been to Sri Lanka or were not in the country at the relevant time. The Minister referred to the former Resident Representative of the UN in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne who had commended the Government for the speedy and professional action taken to alleviate the dire conditions surrounding the large number of displaced persons following the end of the conflict, which is in sharp contrast with the substance of critical reports.
The Minister said the Government is committed to doing many things for its people, not because of external pressure, but in the interest of the country. There is no need for pressure from external sources, he said. As an example, the Minister said the Government is moving rapidly on taking a decision to further relax Emergency Regulations. He further referred to the restrictions on foreign journalists’ travel to the North and fishing in that region being lifted, but regretted that there was no acknowledgement of these developments. He warned that there is no need to threaten the GoSL with economic sanctions and other punitive measures. Sri Lanka is a proud nation with a rich history and the necessary measures are being taken spontaneously and in a balanced way at the appropriate time.
He elaborated the main areas of the Government’s achievements after the conflict are visible: progress on humanitarian issues, achieved within the short span of two years since the conflict was brought to an end; economic and social development and the resuscitation of the economy in the North; and political developments in the North, with the democratic structure coming into place with the recent local government elections showing enthusiastic participation of the people in the democratic process: this was after a lapse of over thirty years where democracy had almost died in the North with the terrorist group annihilating nearly all the moderate Tamil political leadership that dared to go against its separatist ideology.
Professor Peiris said that the Government is at present engaged in substantive negotiations with the Tamil political parties, towards finding a political consensus. He stated that the Government is committed to holding all the remaining local government elections in the next few months, and the provincial council elections in the Northern Province thereafter.
He further drew attention to the fact that all these developments in former conflict areas, were taking place with a large investment of pecuniary resources on a scale not seen in development for over thirty years. The emotive hostile propaganda, he said, is the work of a section of the diaspora which has dedicated itself to the objective of stultifying the accelerated economic and social development on which the country has embarked. As far as this segment of the diaspora is concerned, the war which was earlier fought with weapons now assumes the form of an economic onslaught directed against the revival of our economy and upliftment of the livelihoods of our people.
Professor Peiris emphatically called on the international community not to be judgemental but to extend the hand of friendship and goodwill to take forward Sri Lanka at a decisive stage in its post-conflict phase.
A documentary produced by the Defence Ministry was shown on the humanitarian operation, providing visual evidence to show the misinformation being spread by the LTTE rump in western countries especially through Channel 4 UK. A large number of the Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, Senior Government officials, Security Force personnel, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society and NGO representatives and media were present at this launching ceremony.
Ministry of External Affairs
02nd August 2011