Former Foreign Minister and UNP Parliamentarian, Mangala Samaraweera, said the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government’s Madamulana doctrine on foreign policy, acting without maturity or responsibility and the attitude of shooting the messenger, has resulted in the country facing the current crises before the international community. He noted that in order to overcome the crisis, the government needs to do a U-turn, implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations, put forward a suitable political solution, re-establish the independent commissions, and abolish the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. “The government needs to understand that they have to act fast or face the consequences. In such a scenario, the President and the government can blame no one, but themselves,” Samaraweera said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What are your views on special envoy for Human Rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s statement at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva?
A: Mahinda Samarasinghe’s statement was obviously a written document given to him, which he read out. Not only Samarasinghe, but the whole Rajapaksa regime is in complete denial of the actual situation faced by the government. First of all, the floodgates of international scrutiny were opened by the policies of the Rajapaksa regime. It was in 2006 December, as the then Foreign Minister, that I wrote a 13-page confidential letter of matters of concern and also anticipated what is happening today. I said that if the culture of impunity continued where there were the murders of 17 aid workers in Muttur, five students in Trincomalee, white van abductions, and so forth, we are going to face problems internationally. I requested to ensure that there would not be a perception that a culture of impunity existed in the country and to take necessary action. After seven years, I don’t want to say ‘I told you so,’ but that is exactly what has happened. The Madamulana doctrine on foreign policy, acting without maturity or responsibility and the attitude of shooting the messenger has resulted in the country facing this situation. Samarasinghe has now asked for time and space, which is absurd and irrelevant. This government has been given more time and space by the international community than any other country accused of committing crimes against humanity. The government should realize this and start implementing the commitments given by them to the international community. Mahinda Rajapaksa has committed to the UN Secretary General, the Commonwealth and the people of this country to have a thriving democracy. The government needs to understand that they have to act fast or face the consequences. In such a scenario, the President and the government can blame no one, but themselves.
Q: As a former Foreign Minister, do you feel Sri Lanka has successfully addressed concerns raised by the international community at the UNHRC?
A: Not at all. Instead of trying to address commitments made under international agreements, they are actually going back on them. The oldest democracy in Asia is now well on the path to being a fully-fledged dictatorship. Any façade of democracy has gone under the dictatorial agenda of the Rajapaksas, which was amply demonstrated by the witch-trial against the Chief Justice where she was hounded out of office.
Q: Would you agree that unwarranted internationalization of issues would undermine the local reconciliation process?
A: No. Unwarranted internationalization has been brought upon by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is unable to live up to international obligations. We are not living in an isolated world, and very much part of the world order and have to adhere to international laws. When there are violations of such laws or allegations of violations, then the international community intervenes to ensure that it won’t happen again. If the law of the land cannot punish the violators, then the international mechanism has to be put in place. In relation to the reconciliation process, the government has made a mockery of it. There was a wonderful window of opportunity to reconcile all the communities after the end of the war. Instead, the government has added insult to injury by subjugating the people of the North. Lands have been taken away from the people of the North, and their children are disappearing. The situation has got worse; any form of reconciliation has diminished. It is not only the Tamils who are alienated, but now the Muslims as well. This has happened due to the openly chauvinistic attitude of the government. The government must walk the talk. I am glad that even at this late stage, the international community is intervening for the sake of the people of the country.
Q: What do you think of Sri Lanka’s position in the international community going by the references made on Sri Lanka by member countries at the UNHRC?
A: When you look at Sri Lanka’s standing in the international community, it is tragic to see Sri Lanka becoming the new Burma. When Burma is coming out of a dictatorial state, Sri Lanka is moving towards a one-party dictatorship. I think Sri Lanka needs to realize the grave danger of international isolation and join hands to make the changes necessary to become a respected nation within the international community. Sri Lanka had always managed to command the respect of the international community, but now we will even see some leaders subjected to the Magnitsky Act (a new tool to name, shame and actually punish those human rights violators who fall within the class of ‘train drivers to Auschwitz’ – they do not order an atrocity, but it would not have happened without their help – and the likelihood of some leaders being banned from visiting certain countries. All this will have an impact on the country’s image.
Q: Do you feel that the international community has properly assessed the government’s actions?
A: The international community is more aware and more objective. They have been very fair with the government, and given much more time than they should have given. They gave time and space for the government to prove its credentials, but when the government is becoming anti-democratic and violating international laws there is no option, but to invoke some of those laws against the country. As the next Chair of the Commonwealth, the Sri Lankan Ggovernment has violated the Harare Declaration and all Commonwealth values. In such a scenario, even to expect to become the Chair of the Commonwealth is rather high-handed. The Commonwealth will have to take action against Sri Lanka.
Q: How effective is the government’s foreign policy in building Sri Lanka’s relations with the international community?
A: Disastrous. There is no foreign policy in the country – only the Madamulana doctrine on international relations where you shout obscenities at any organisation or country that makes any critical comment. Professional diplomats have been sidelined at the External Affairs Ministry, and friends, relatives and political catchers are running the show.
Q: What do you think the outcome of the new US resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC would be?
A: I don’t want to speculate. Sri Lanka was given the opportunity to implement its own promises. Instead of implementing they went on to show that there was no rule of law in the country. At the 19th Session of the UNHRC, countries supported Sri Lanka or abstained from voting, to give Sri Lanka one more chance. However, this time around, some countries that voted with Sri Lanka or abstained from voting at the 19th Session, will vote for the new resolution.
Q: How can the government overcome the current crises faced before the international community?
A: The government and President can go home. If they really want to overcome the current crisis, they need to do a U-turn on their present path, implement the LLRC recommendations, put forward a suitable political solution, re-establish the independent commissions, and abolish the 18th Amendment. The government needs to show it is serious. But the government does not need time for that. The government did not need time when it brought in the 18th Amendment and the impeachment of the Chief Justice was finalized within 24 hours. If the government has the political will to implement such dictatorial actions, I don’t see why it cannot put in place the democratic agenda. If they are willing, it could be done overnight as well. If the LLRC is implemented, the UNP as a party will extend its support. In short, the government must make a U-turn and start re-democratization or go home.
– The Sundayleader.lk