Response to Shanie of the ‘Island’ dated June 14th, 2008 - 23 June 2008
I am replying again to Shanie's last column, though this one is so different in tone from the last that I feel we are at last reaching common ground. Since however one of the purposes of this exchange might be to identify areas in which progress could be made, I write again, hoping that next week her column might, without necessitating a rejoinder, be an active response to this letter.
In particular, could I suggest that she contact Manique Mendis or Pushpi Weerakoon at the Business for Peace Alliance, to find out more about their ground breaking project, and use her column to seek further funding for this? In recent interactions with members of the Tamil diaspora, in Geneva and elsewhere, I have suggested support for such initiatives instead of for destructive opposition, and they have at least agreed to look at this seriously. I hope very much for instance that Raj Rajaratnam, an idealist who many years ago contributed generously to a project I ran to bring Sinhala and Tamil speaking students together for Third Language Camps, but was then hijacked as it were by the TRO, who took ruthless advantage of his generosity, would work with such institutions that promote pluralism and mutual understanding.
But to get back to the main point, I still do not understand why Shanie insists on claiming that I refuse to accept that there have been unjustified extra-judicial killings. As we have explained again and again, we recognize that human rights abuses do occur in Sri Lanka, and that is why we engage so actively with for instance Special Rapporteurs who help us by drawing attention to them and suggesting ways in which the situation can be improved. Walter Kalin is of course the outstanding example of this in recent times, and though we may not agree with some points in his report, his professionalism and integrity and willingness to work are beyond question. Interestingly, when I have been discussing our relations with many UN visitors, with various UN officials in different places and institutions, it is interesting that to note - while they do not criticize others - they all comment on Prof Kalin's professionalism.
I should add that we are also working well with Manfred Novak, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has also advised us on how we can perhaps deal with claims of impunity, i.e. by reducing the mandatory sentence for torture. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka does indict officials on charges of torture, but there have been fewer convictions than perhaps evidence would warrant. This is of course a matter for the courts, and it is absurd to assume that the paucity of convictions means connivance between courts and prosecution to ensure impunity. Rather, as Prof Novak pointed out, what seems a high mandatory sentence leads to some judges being disinclined to convict.
Finally, I should point out that my attempts to engage with Prof Alston, the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, makes it clear that I believe we do have problems, and his assistance would help us to overcome them. His initial recommendations seemed to me very useful and we are in any case proceeding with measures accordingly. However he failed to answer my last letter, and though he explained that this was because he had no time, I feel this is an area in which we will have to work on our own. The massive criticism he has received from NATO over his recent work may suggest the man is under pressure, but I am sorry he seems to have withdrawn from us because he too is indubitably an idealist, albeit prone to extreme not always justified statements as the spate of criticism he received recently in Geneva indicated.
I have gone on at length because it seemed necessary to make it clear to Shanie and your readers that we are not in a state of denial about facts, and that we are indeed trying to work positively to remedy matters than need remedying. But I stand by what I have always said, that indiscriminate criticism of our forces in action is totally unacceptable, and it is precisely the confusion about what exactly is wrong that has led to sometimes confrontational approaches that do not help to remedy the situation. We must try to stop or limit abuses, but we must not confuse the abuses in ways that might be taken advantage of by terrorists or even by poor power-hungry politicians who believe that condemning our forces is the surest way to return to responsibilities they failed to live up to in the past. Unthinking criticism by idealists such as Shanie add grist to the mill of more insidious rent-seeking critics, and thereby to more destructive forces.
Finally, I am not sure why Shanie brings what she terms the new Geneva style diplomacy into her article, but let me assure her that, if she is talking about the articulate, intellectually incisive, principle based energetic approach of Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, I am deeply disappointed that she thinks I merely acquiesce in this. Certainly less public expressions of these qualities my be more appropriate in other missions, and I personally have been impressed by the professionalism of diplomats who have facilitated my visits in capitals such as London and Brussels and the Hague and Oslo, but there is little doubt, from my interactions with diplomats from many other countries in Geneva, that is it is Dr Jayatilleka who saved Sri Lanka from the critical motions prepared two years ago and raised again last year, and who has made clear to the international community at large the achievements of our country in all respects under the most difficult conditions.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process