GL Peiris is Sri Lanka’s foreign minister who is concerned about an upcoming report on his country by UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. Speaking with Sachin Parashar, Peiris remarked he felt the Tamil-origin Pillay could be biased, why Sri Lanka faces pressure over its war history and present record – and what India can do in these circumstances:
The UN high commissioner for human rights has accused Sri Lanka of moving towards authoritarianism – is that true?
I think her observations are biased and do not reflect reality. She did not take into account compelling evidence provided to her during her visit, including a report by UN agencies prepared by talking to 917 people in the Northern Province – a vast majority of these people described the army as a source of comfort.
She also did not take note of how army presence in the region has been cut down. Or that the same province is growing by 22% as against the national average of 6.2%. Also, Pillay wanted to visit Mullivaikal, the place where Prabhakaran died, in a clandestine manner. She said she wanted to go there to pay a floral tribute to all the people who died in the war but did not inform us, even though we’d provided her access to all places. The local UN office too was not informed about the proposed visit. She later called it off only after a furore.
Then she said a new ministry for law and order should be under civilian control, implying that President Rajapaksa is not a civilian authority, which is completely wrong.
Does Sri Lanka really believe that this has something to do with her Tamil origin?
I don’t want to make any accusation of that kind but this is a situation where perception is as important as reality. If the background suggests a sense of bias, it is desirable that nothing should be done to encourage that perception.
Just a week after the end of the war, she called for international investigations. What was the evidence on the basis of which she said that? Her proposed visit to Mullivaikal last month has given a lot of credence to that perception of bias and pre-judgment which is strong in Sri Lanka. This country has 65,000 sq km. She could have gone anywhere to pay tribute – why go where Prabhakaran died?
Also, what about the feelings of people living in the south?
Do you believe Sri Lanka is being unfairly targeted?
Whether it was Yugoslavia or Cambodia, no other country was subjected to such pressure. Why is this degree of intensity not seen in other countries dealing with post-conflict situations? The answer is the diaspora which has influence and access to a vast amount of financial resources LTTE had accumulated.
What are your expectations from India in the present circumstances?
We want an understanding of our situation on the part of the Indian government with regard to what we have accomplished so far in terms of implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report.
This country is entitled to time and space to continue with this sensitive process – it is not unreasonable to expect goodwill from India. We hope India is represented at the highest level in the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting summit in Sri Lanka. The summit is a good opportunity for the world to see what has been accomplished in the past four years – and how difficult it has been.