Gota’s UNHRC comments: Mangala fires back

In a statement issued in response to remarks made by presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa earlier this week on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera attempted to set the record straight today on the Yahapalana Government’s reconciliation agenda.

Referring to a comment made by Rajapaksa at his inaugural press conference on Tuesday (15 Oct) that the Tamil people have “more important issues” and that the country needs to “move forward”, Samaraweera said the former Defence Ministry Secretary presumed to know what was best for every citizen.

“[Rajapaksa] dismissed Sri Lanka’s commitments to our citizens on human rights, rule of law, and processes for truth-seeking, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence including Resolution 30/1. He also dismissed the need to address the grievances of families from all parts of our country whose loved ones including security forces personnel are missing. With the arrogance of an authoritarian regent, he remarked that the ‘people in the North and East have more important issues: jobs, education, etc, and
we can’t hang on to old things; we have to move forward’.

“By saying this, he claimed that he and he alone knows what is best for each and every individual citizen in this country including how they should think and feel including in the face of personal tragedy,” he said.

The Minister of Finance took it upon himself to remind citizens of the “history of how, during the Rajapaksa-era, we erred in dealing with our conflict-ridden past, isolating our country on the international stage and how we regained our stature following the January 2015 Presidential Election by reasserting our sovereign right to deal with our own issues locally.”

Samaraweera, who as former Minister of Foreign Affairs was directly involved in Sri Lanka’s dealings with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) starting 2015, went on to detail the commitments made to the Council by the government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, many of which he said were ignored.

Recalling the resolution proposed by Sri Lanka on 27 May 2009, Samaraweera said the then Government had failed to address the grievances of citizens of all communities as promised.

“The Government also failed to restore the honour of our security forces and police, by investigating allegations in terms of the due process of the law so that action is taken against those who have committed crimes, and others do not have to suffer in disgrace for years to come,” he said.

Recommendations made by both the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission and the Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the so called Paranagama Commission) which included a foreign advisory council, said Samaraweera, were also ignored.

“Non-implementation of recommendations of the Presidential Commissions appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence, in turn resulting in a series of resolutions in the Human Rights Council on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013, and 2014,” he said.

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“By 2014, the Council had set up an investigation on Sri Lanka called the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). This was the first-ever international investigation on a human rights situation in our country,” added Samaraweera, noting that by December 2014, Sri Lanka had become internationally isolated.

Defending the Yahapalana Government’s reconciliation efforts, the Minister said: “It is as a result of this resolution (30/1) that prospects for international action initiated through resolution 25/1 of March 2014 and the OISL (OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) that was adopted during President Rajapaksa’s regime was effectively halted.

“It is important to remind everyone that it is only if we as a responsible and sovereign nation fail to act that we place our citizens in grave peril by allowing space for others to step in, and international action as well as universal jurisdiction to apply.”

Noting that many of the measures undertaken have already been implemented either fully or partially, Samaraweera said: “These measures include: creating institutions to ensure the rights of victims as well as the future safety, security and wellbeing of all citizens; judicial independence which even Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has since acknowledged and benefitted from; constitutional reform, so that we can all live, work, and prosper together in dignity; and addressing shortcomings so that everyone can enjoy peace in their own lands and houses.”

Samaraweera went on to state that in 2015, Sri Lanka ceased to be a “pariah nation” as the new government took control of the accountability and reconciliation agenda, with the world as a witness.

“We regained our place as a responsible sovereign nation alongside the rest of the world, because we had regained our heart, and our identity as a compassionate, proud, diverse nation, full of hope and inspiration to march forward, holding our heads up high, to be the best that we could be,” he said.

“That, and not the lies and exaggerations, is what will win in the end: our love for our Mother Lanka, our freedom, our wonderful diversity, our faith, our capacity to reconcile, and our capacity to live and work together with unity of purpose – to make our country the developed country it deserves to be with no space for recurrence of conflict, working together in friendship with the international community including the United Nations,” he added.

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