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'We are a vibrant democracy'

Published on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 15:25
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ChrisNonis 310px 13 12 01On the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Britain Dr. Chris Nonis spoke to CNN’s Fred Pleitgen for the “Amanpour” show. He blamed criticism of his country’s human rights record on a proxy propaganda war being carried out by those who funded terrorist conflict for 28 years.

Q: Excellency, thank you for joining the program tonight. The first question is obviously, are you surprised at the amount of criticism of you country holding this Commonwealth Summit that we are hearing internationally?

I think that what you have to understand is the context. We’ve had a 28 year conflict with terrorists, and finally after 28 years we achieved peace in the country under the leadership of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa and finally are free of the autocracy and the hegemony of terrorism. But what we have to understand that there is a tremendous influence from those who funded the terrorist conflict, who are now carrying out really, proxy propaganda war. So, no, it is not surprising at all that the proxy propaganda war is continuing. Certainly, what we realize is that over the years, as people realize the wonderful reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction process that we are carrying out in Sri Lanka, gradually the proxy propaganda war will lose its currency.

Q: Of course the big concern remains in the fact that there still is a long way to go as far as reconciliation is concerned and of course the biggest concern is the allegations that there have been alleged war crimes in the dying hours of the campaign to oust the Tamil Tigers. There is talk of indiscriminate shelling of no-fire zone, there is talk of executions. Why not address all of that? Why not put all that to rest by starting an independent international investigation to everything?

Because we respect the independence and sovereignty of your country and we expect you to respect ours. We don’t need an international investigation when we have had a vibrant civilization for two and a half thousand years. We have perfectly educated people and I think we are perfectly capable of carrying out a domestic inquiry, and that is precisely what we are doing. If you look at the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), it’s a very holistic, very comprehensive, very impartial report. Actually, if you do come to Sri Lanka, you’ll find that we’ve made enormous progress. Look how we’ve been after the end of the conflict in May 2009. You know, the A-9 Road was opened, we removed the emergency regulations, we have 297,000 internally displaced people who have been rehabilitated and who have now found jobs…..

Q: [interjects] But Sir, there is no doubt that there has been enormous progress from the end of the civil war. But, there is still a lot of reconciliation that needs to be done and certainly there can’t be full reconciliation if there is not justice. There are many people among the Tamil community in your country who say that justice has not been done, that their rights are still been fundamentally infringed upon. There is the need for broader investigation into what happened in 2009 and there is a lot of video out there and a lot of evidence out there. Why are you not looking into that more? Especially in the light of the fact that you have the summit there right now where you could adopt further measures

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission-it is important for you to understand-is not based on the principles of punitive justice where you punish people. It is based on the principle of restorative justice where each one gets an opportunity to be able to hear what went on-whether the victims or perpetrators-and that the essence of the LLRC. It is a similar report, and a similar principle as the TRC of South Africa.

Q: It is also important to bring all the facts on the table and look at exactly what happened during the end of that conflict, isn’t it. I mean, you will agree that it is fundamentally important for the people who were affected by this, for the community who were affected by all this to understand what exactly happened there?

It is very important. But as I say, the whole fundamental principle of the LLRC is restorative as opposed to punitive justice. That’s number one. The second point that I’d like to take you up on-which you mentioned earlier-is when you said that a substantial number of people who have been affected still say that there is the issue of justice. That is manifestly untrue. It is important to realize that the majority of the opprobrium, the vitriolic diatribe that we have encountered the last four years comes from a small group of people. But it happens to be the same group, the same institutions. And if you really look at who they are they are the people behind them who funded terrorism, who made it funding of terrorism as a business. That business has now ended. So, this issue, it is very important to understand, that the very vitriolic diatribe that we sometimes hear is predominantly coming from a small segment of the diaspora communities, and a small segment of people-funded institutions-who have their own collateral agendas.

Q: So, you say that the people criticizing you are a small minority of the diaspora. But there are heads of government who are simply not attending the summit because it is in your country. You have the Prime Minister of India; you have the Prime Minister of Canada. You have the Prime Minister of Britain who is very critical, who has said that in a bilateral meeting that he’s going to bring out all the issues up. You have William Hague, who says that clearly there were crimes committed in 2009 and all of this has to be dealt with.

Well, the three countires you mentioned-curiously-if you look at where our diaspora is largest, wealthiest and strongest; the three countries you mention are among the top five. There is your answer. Just look at it. Each country, each leader, has their own domestic political considerations. We understand that. After all they are politicians. We understand that each country has its electoral compulsions. We are a vibrant democracy and we cherish the principles of democracy and development, the twin pillars of the Commonwealth.

Q: If you are telling me that you cherish the principle of democracy and development, I’m sure that you also cherish the principles of free speech. Why is it that journalists that are coming to your country have been heckled when they tried to visit, for instance, the North. You have a team from the British broadcaster ITN who was prevented from going to the North on a train because of demonstrators that show up. Apparently demonstrators showing up everywhere where this crew goes. You have Sri Lankan journalists that are also running into issues. You are saying that people need to visit the country to check out how great things really are, why are they being held back?

I don’t think anyone is holding anyone back. The point you are trying to make is that people are protesting against other people. That is precisely what happens when different people go to your country. Even some of our leaders have been heckled time and time again. Why? The response we are given, the response you gave, is that you are a vibrant democracy. And that’s the response I’m giving back to you. It is because we are a vibrant democracy, it is precisely because we believe in free speech, that we encourage divergent opinion. I think you should respect that.

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 15:27