But over the past week, Sajith has been talking more about foreign policy than anything else. He has been saying that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is haphazard, inarticulate, and not cohesive. We used the term ‘alleged silence’ here because it is his detractors who say that he does not deal with national issues. But the present writer has interviewed him on several occasions in the past, and all that we have discussed have been national issues. Over the issue of Geneva, Sajith’s take on the matter is as follows, in his own words -
"The US resolution is a flagrant violation of all international customs and conventions of international law and international relations. The UN Charter prescribes the manner in which states ought to act. Article 2.1 of chapter one the Charter, says that nation states are equal’. This is the sovereign equality principle. Article 2.4 of chapter one says that all states are forbidden to use force or the threat of force. Article 2.7 says that nothing contained in the present charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state, except in the application of enforcement measures under Chapter 7. Chapter 7 says that you can break the 2.7 principle but only for two reasons. The first reason is if there is a threat to international peace and security under Chapter 7 Articles 39, 40, 41 and 42, the Security Council is empowered to take enforcement measures. Under article 51, any nation state has a right to self defence. It is only in terms of self defence under article 51 and if there is a breach of international peace which is determined as such by the UN Security Council, can the non-interference rule in domestic affairs be broken.
``Then we come to the question of what the Human Rights Council is. The HRC was created under Chapter 4 Article 22 which says that the General Assembly may establish such subsidiary organs as it may deem necessary for the performance of its functions. The HRC which was initiated in 2005 through a UN General Assembly resolution, which comes under Chapter 4, is not empowered to break the Article 2.7 (non-intervention) rule. That is why India also initially stated that you cannot have country specific resolutions. So my contention is that those nation states that proposed and voted for this resolution have violated Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, interfered in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka, and blatantly violated the UN charter. This is why I have voiced my opposition to the resolution."
Q. You are an ambitious politician who aspires to lead the UNP and the country one day. Supposing you were in power at this particular moment, would you be inclined to implement the UNHRC resolution given the fact that it has been passed?
A. This is where I differ with the present set up. I would not have waited for the international community to tell me as to what I could do within my country. I would have had a fast track approach to the various issues that have cropped up post 2009. I would have articulated my opposition on the above stated grounds, and secondly, I am very confident that the international community would never have brought Sri Lanka to an international forum because I would have ensured that the LLRC report was implemented in full. At least a road map would have been publicised with specific time tables. And I would have had a credible programme to implement the LLRC, to provide a solution to the north east issue, so that question does not arise as far as I am concerned. I am very strong on this non-intervention in domestic affairs principle; that is not something that can be negotiated.
Q. When you say that you would not have ‘left room’ for the UNHRC to pass such resolutions by fast tracking the implementation of the LLRC recommendations and so on, are you suggesting that the content of the US resolution was justified? That they were bringing the resolution for the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka?
A. I am not going to justify any resolution that is initiated by any party that leads to interference in the internal affairs of any country. But the question is why did this happen? I fault the foreign policy of this country and its practitioners for putting Sri Lanka into trouble. I have evidence to prove that the Sri Lankan government and the foreign ministry by its own actions, have ceded part of our sovereignty to the United Nations and to international actors. One example is the joint statement issued by the UN Secretary General and the government of Sri Lanka in May 2009. It goes as follows – "The secretary general underlined the importance of an accountability process for redressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law." The next sentence is "The government will take measures to address those grievances." So the government through the joint declaration has accepted that there is an accountability problem and that there are violations of humanitarian and human rights laws.
Another example is a letter from Prof G.L.Peiris to Ban Ki-moon. In that latter he has stated "My president firmly believes that that there should be a seamless connectivity between your approach and that of the LLRC." Sri Lankan foreign policy has been bungled and our sovereignty has been sold off to the UN. In May 2011, when Prof Peiris went to New Delhi and had consultations with the political hierarchy, a joint statement was issued in which was stated that a devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for reconciliation. In August 2011, S.M.Krishna went to the Lok Sabha and quoted the joint press statement of May 2011. As recently as January 2012, when Krishna visited Sri Lanka, there was a joint interaction with Prof G.L.Peiris which was open to the media. In this forum, he stated that "The government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions, conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers." And further that "I discussed this matter with the president this morning and the president assured me that he stands by his commitment to pursuing the 13th Amendment plus approach".
He made that statement in Prof G.L.Peiris’s presence and Prof Peries does not contradict it. He basically nods in acquiescence but after Krishna goes off to India, various media reports come out saying that this 13+ idea was never mooted. When that happens Krishna is questioned in the Indian parliament about the reports coming from Colombo that the 13+ was never discussed. So in March 2012 Krishna wrote back to the external affairs minister for a clarification on the commitment to implement the 13th amendment. There is a difference between the declaratory policy of this government and the actual policy. For the consumption of the international community, they say they are willing to go beyond the 13th amendment but for the consumption of the local crowd, they say that they are not willing to implement even the 13th amendment. What I am trying to say is that you cannot have such a disjointed foreign policy. You have to be frank, you have to be truthful, you have to speak your mind. This is why I say that foreign policy in Sri Lanka is very badly mismanaged, it is not cohesive.
Q. Going back to my earlier question, given the fact that the UNHRC resolution is in violation of the UN charter itself, would you be inclined to implement it if you were running the country?
A. If I was instrumental in appointing the LLRC, I am duty bound, to carry out its recommendations. Whether international resolutions are passed or not is irrelevant.
Q. But the LLRC does not represent anybody. It is only a body of experts. You can’t cede executive and legislative power to them and make them the decision makers in the country. I would find that quite appalling. Even I can see that some of the premises that they have based their arguments on are flawed. When talking about devolution and other topics, the LLRC was basing themselves on conventional wisdom, without an in depth study of the issue. Intellectuals and experts are well known to go in intellectual balu rela’s – when dogs are in heat, you see about ten dogs running sniffing behind one bitch and that is how the intellectual world also operates. When an idea is mooted, you find about ten intellectuals and experts running sniffing behind it. I see that process taking place even in the LLRC especially with regard to devolution. We must not rush into implementing anything in the LLRC report.
A. The LLRC report may have its drawbacks, but when you look at issues like good governance, restoring independent commissions, respect for human rights, eradication of armed gangs, upholding media freedom, etcetera, I am in agreement with the LLRC report.
Q. As a journalist, I would be very worried if a report submitted by a few experts is taken as the basis for decision making in the country. You can’t entrust the future of a country to just a few people. Look at what is happening in the UNP and that committee headed by Srinath Perera to look into the December 2011 attack on Sirikotha. Even people like us can see that his report is fundamentally flawed. If that is acted upon, that will weaken the UNP even more and it will give the government a legal precedent and a handle to penalise members of the UNP if any public property is damaged in the course of a UNP demonstration.
A. It’s one thing to look at the composition of the LLRC, and it’s another thing to look at the composition of that particular group of personnel who wrote the report on the Sirikotha issue. The LLRC was composed of eminent people like C.R.de Silva, Rohan Perera and Mr Palihakkara.
Q. Correct. Even I have spoken on the public state on one aspect of the LLRC report which had a lot of merit to it. That was their exposition of the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law applicable to Sri Lanka. That was the first time anybody in Sri Lanka went into the question as to what laws were applicable to Sri Lanka. But when it comes to changing things like the very nature of the state, you can’t go by what a committee says and there has to be a wider input into the debate.
A. By and large I believe the LLRC report is a just report. And I believe that its implementation will only have a beneficial impact on our country.
Q. Going back to that question of the joint statement between Ban Ki-moon and the president, are you saying that you would never have signed such a statement.
A. Signing that document was an acceptance that international humanitarian law was violated. How can you admit that there are accountability issues when the government says that zero civilian casualty rates was their approach? The government by its own admission is basically stating that there were violations of international law.
Q. Wasn’t that a sign that the government was trying to talk to these people without taking an abrasive and confrontational stand?
A. I think the government was very naive to use that language.
Q. When Ban Ki-moon started his advisory committee process, would you have simply refused to cooperate?
A. With the war victory, I would not have subjugated my country to the UN or the US or to any other country. I would have embarked on a programme of good governance, of upholding human rights.
Q. Your basic instinct would be to flatly refuse to implement the UNHRC resolution, never sign anything with Ban Ki-moon at the hour of victory, or to write letters to him when he was doing something outside the UN procedure, but you will not say so in this interview because it will benefit the government .
A. (Laughing) No, I would have had a very clear cut strategy to address local issues. I would never have left room for anyone to question my conduct as far as the peace and reconciliation process is concerned.
Q. By saying that you would not have left any room for anybody to raise questions you seem to be implying that the West was genuinely interested in good governance in this country. Is this a quest for good governance or is this a question of the West trying to claw back their lost influence in this country?
A. It is very difficult to impute motives. It may be a combination of both. I can’t give you blanket answers. In 2009, a resolution was brought against Sri Lanka but we managed to turn the tables on them. Why could we not maintain that? This time in Geneva the delegation comprised of Douglas Devananda who is accused of leading armed gangs in the north. Whose vote was he supposed to gain in Geneva? I think Ms. Kunanayagam should have been given the centre stage, not some of these crackpot politicians. She made some submissions, and actually she performed really well.
Q. In May 2009, the USA was not the sponsor of the resolution and also the member states on the HRC were not coerced like they were this time. The US brought all its might to play to achieve this result. My question is, what can you do when such raw power is applied outside the individual merits of the resolution itself?
A. You have to understand that power politics is a reality in today’s international politics. And we know how so called great powers conduct themselves. We have to recognise that and leave no opportunity for these various actors to find some reason to intervene in domestic politics. In the middle of the Geneva issue some people in a white van abducted the Kolonnawa UC Chairman. It seems as if someone is doing things to promote international intervention in Sri Lanka.