Admiral Columbage’s Interview in his capacity as Secretary for Foreign Affairs has drawn a Sharp Critique from Daya Gamage and an Interpretative ‘Dogfight’ between Gamage and Chandre Dharmawardena ….. so this presentation of the FULL COLUMBAGE INTERVIEW is food for thought ….and perhaps more sabre rattling. .… Editor, Thuppahi
Core-group working on SL seeks consensual resolution at UNHRC – Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will have its 46th session between February 22 and March 19. Sri Lanka is on the agenda this time and will come under review based on the resolutions 30/1 adopted in 2015 and two other subsequent rollover resolutions. Sri Lanka co-sponsored these resolutions under the previous government. However, the new government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew from co-sponsorship in March, last year. Against the backdrop, Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage shares his views with Daily Mirror on the preparation for it. Excerpts of the interview with him:
| Q How do you brace for the upcoming 46th session of the UNHRC between February 22 and March 19?
Sri Lanka is under scrutiny. The resolution which Sri Lanka cosponsored in 2015 and the subsequent rollover resolutions are coming up for annual review during the session. We have been sincerely, genuinely working to meet whatever the pledges we made in Geneva, and the commitments made to the international community after the end of the war with the LTTE. However, we feel that the UNHRC is not talking much about what happened during the war, but what happened during the past year. We feel this is unfair and unjust. Therefore, we want to make our representations. We want to make our case at the UNHRC and with the like-minded countries that such country-specific resolutions are not very good. Through the UN system, some powerful countries may try to coax smaller countries to toe their line using human rights as a tool. If you take 2021, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful countries in the world. We know what is happening in the highly developed countries – vandalism, attacks against the institutions, seats of democracies and fellow citizens. In such a context, Sri Lanka is a very peaceful country. We fought the war 12 years ago. It should be considered a just war. Sri Lanka had to engage in battle with LTTE terrorism for 30 years. During that period, the LTTE grew from a small group of fighters to a large conventional military force with a small navy and a mini –airforce. It evolved into the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world in 2008 by the Federal Bureau of Investigations of the United States. In the same document, the LTTE was identified with pioneering suicide terrorism, suicide jackets, using suicide woman cadres and killing two world leaders – Sri Lankan President and the Indian Prime Minister. The LTTE is accused of large scale child soldiering and ethnic cleansing.
– “This is very important because the Indian Ocean has become the key ocean in maritime trade, security and economic prosperity. Sri Lanka is positioned in an important location geo-strategically. To stay away from this competition, we have indicated that we want to maintain a neutral policy while technically being a non-aligned country. Many countries do not like to see Sri Lanka as a neutral country”
– They asked Muslims to leave the north within 24 hours. There were a large number of Sinhalese living in the north and it became zero soon after the war. That means ethnic cleansing. They have attacked every possible target in the country, mostly civilian targets. Then, successive governments starting from 1985 tried to find a solution to the Tamil militancy. There were several peace initiatives, and every time, the LTTE misused, abused and exploited ceasefire agreements to regroup, retrain and re-equip and to launch fights more devastatingly. The government that came to power in 2005 also went to negotiate with the LTTE under the ceasefire agreement which was monitored by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission comprising Scandinavian monitors. They had recorded a large number of violations by the LTTE and the military. The government honoured the ceasefire agreement but the LTTE continued with its atrocities. Finally, when the LTTE closed Mavilaru sluice gates depriving water for 25,000 villages, the government was compelled to launch a counter-attack. The LTTE used civilians as a human shield.
Q — How do you assess the strength of the Tamil diaspora groups?
-The LTTE diaspora is a numerically large group in the Western capitals. They have lots of money because they were part of terrorist- financing, money-laundering and criminal syndicates. Now, they use such moment and their population to lobby political parties in those countries to become a constituency-based buildup. Last November, we saw large scale events were conducted in Canada, America, the United Kingdom and Europe. They were glorifying terrorism, suicide attacks, child-soldiers, woman suicide cadres. They were collecting money. They were showing the pictures of Tamil Eelam and depicting the flag of Tamil Eelam which is nothing but a picture of a tiger head with two guns and bullets. That is the symbol of the deadliest terrorist outfit of the world. These were displayed in Western capitals abusing liberties given to them. They even projected the deadly Niyagala flower, the LTTE symbol, at the British Parliamentary building without taking any approval. This is the campaign which the diaspora is carrying out. They are trying to influence the international bodies to target Sri Lanka.”
“We have compiled a dossier containing details about the atrocities committed by the LTTE and given copies of it to the relevant countries. We have given the copies to every country where celebrations were done by them. We shared it with the embassies here and with our embassies in their capitals. Some of the countries admitted that what the Diaspora activists did was illegal”
Q — You mentioned that they had gained political clout in those countries. What are the countermeasures Sri Lanka has taken?
In the democratic political system, votes matter- no matter what we say. A politician is not in power as long as he or she does not get enough number of votes. The vote is the most important thing. We have compiled a dossier containing details about the atrocities committed by the LTTE and given copies of it to the relevant countries. We have given the copies to every country where celebrations were done by them. We shared it with the embassies here and with our embassies in their capitals. Some of the countries admitted that what the Diaspora activists did was illegal. The projection of Niyagala flower on the Westminster Parliamentary building was an illegal act.
–Q — At the UNHRC, the vote of each member State matters. What is the plan in this regard?
It has 47 members. When you look at the composition of it, it is global Political North dominated. We belong to the Political South. We have the north-south divide of the world. We fear whether they will hijack the agenda of the UNHRC to target Sri Lanka this time. This is very important because the Indian Ocean has become the key ocean in maritime trade, security and economic prosperity. Sri Lanka is positioned in an important location geo-strategically. To stay away from this competition, we have indicated that we want to maintain a neutral policy while technically being a non-aligned country. Many countries do not like to see Sri Lanka as a neutral country. They expect Sri Lanka to bandwagon with them, to be allied with them, to partner with them militarily. We want to consciously avoid that. We don’t want to have a strategic military alliance with any country. We need strategic autonomy for us to make decisions based on what is best for our country. In this case, international bodies could be used as a platform to pressurize Sri Lanka.
Q — What are the measures that the government has taken to face it?
We have appointed a core-group consisting of senior officials. We keep briefing the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister. We take guidance from them. We are in touch with our Permanent Secretary in Geneva, the Permanent Secretary in New York and our embassies. We are discussing what we should do now.
“We have not decided on our course of action this time yet. Right now what we know is that the core group in Geneva- the UK, Canada, Macedonia, Germany and Montenegro- is working on a consensual resolution. We are awaiting the draft. This is the only thing on the table at the moment. We agreed that the text of such a consensual resolution will be decided by both sides- the core group and Sri Lanka”
Q — What are the ministries involved here?
They are the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Chief of National Intelligence, the Presidential Secretariat, the Presidential Media Division, the Attorney General’s Department and the Treasury. We have been studying this. We have been getting a lot of feedback from many people, likeminded people.
Q — What about the support from the like-minded countries?
We are going to canvass for it. We want to tell them our narrative. We want to tell you that today it is us and it will be them tomorrow. Therefore, we need to have a unified stand against this bullying tactic of supranational organizations.
Q — You mentioned that there is a discussion in the international arena on what happened during the last one year. What do they say as you noticed?
They say there is a dangerous trend in Sri Lanka. We don’t understand any dangerous trend. We see this as a peaceful country struggling to overcome the impact of Covid-19 and the resultant economic downturn. There is no violence in this country. It is unfair to paint Sri Lanka as a dangerous country. They talk about a majoritarian discourse.
Q — Today, we notice Muslim organizations tying up with the Tamil groups internationally to lobby for support against Sri Lanka. They are against the government over the burial issue. How do you view this situation?
It is an unfortunate thing as far as the Muslim burial issue is concerned. It is a matter based on scientific and health regulations. It is not a political issue. It is not an ethnic issue. I see the LTTE Diaspora group trying to use this to see that there is discrimination in the country.
Q — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to submit a report this time. Are we planning to move a counter resolution?
We have not decided on our course of action this time yet. Right now what we know is that the core group in Geneva- the UK, Canada, Macedonia, Germany and Montenegro- is working on a consensual resolution. We are awaiting the draft. This is the only thing on the table at the moment. We agreed that the text of such a consensual resolution will be decided by both sides- the core group and Sri Lanka.
“They expect Sri Lanka to bandwagon with them, to be allied with them, to partner with them militarily. We want to consciously avoid that. We don’t want to have a strategic military alliance with any country. We need strategic autonomy for us to make decisions based on what is best for our country. In this case, international bodies could be used as a platform to pressurize Sri Lanka”
Q — How do you see the political change in the United States on this matter?
Right now, I don’t think any bearing on Sri Lanka. The US is not a member state of the UNHRC. It left the UNHRC calling it a cesspool of political bias. Yet, they influence through their proxies. I guess the US needs a lot of time to rebuild its image of America, to rebuild the democratic institutions, to bring back law and order and to battle Covid-19. I think they will be focusing on making corrections and things better for America.