Rajapaksa Regime spent Rs. 2 Billion on International PR firms to enhance the poor reputation that they created for themselves. Mangala Reply to G.L. Peiris

(Lanka-e-News- 28.June.2015, 11.30PM)   I explained to this House yesterday, in response to questions raised by the Hon. Leader of Opposition, that the US State Department Report titled ‘Country Reports on Terrorism and Patterns of Global Terrorism’ that was released this month is not something new. It has followed other Reports of this nature which the US State Department is bound by law, to submit annually, and has been submitting since 2004.

I also explained that the Report that was issued recently was the Report covering activity in 2014, which fell under the purview of the previous administration. 

This statement was part of a general description of where the LTTE would receive its external funding in the past, and is not an indicator of current activity. But I must also say that the government is not sufficient  blue eyed to claim that such funding activities have ceased completely. 

What the report does say about CURRENT activities, however is that there are still some LTTE supporters, strength unknown, 13 of who were arrested last year, and that their FINANCIAL networks continued to operate throughout 2014.

This information is well known to most Sri Lankans. And further it is very well known to my predecessor, the Hon. Prof. G.L. Peiris who has called for this debate today. He knows very well that the Report pertains to the period under his purview.

He also knows very well, having held the post of Foreign Minister of the previous Government, the concerns that the international community had at the time regarding Sri Lanka – the drifting of this nation towards authoritarianism, the disregard for the grievances of the Tamil population in the North, the breakdown of law and order, the clamping down on any expressions of concern or dissent, the narrowing of space for civil society, the tendency to brand as terrorists even those who merely expressed concern regarding the welfare of the people. 

He knows of the increase of terror and fear of Sri Lankan people under the activities of the state, including the terror created by radical groups like the BBS. Who as I claimed even then, were funded by the Ministry of Defence. He knows all this very well. He also knew that these concerns had given rise to serious concerns among the international community and the local public as well regarding real possibilities of the LTTE regrouping. Not only the LTTE, but even the possibility of sensible, rational and responsible citizens of this country being pushed to contemplate violence as a means of having their concerns addressed.   

Hon. Speaker, 
While creating fear and paranoia among our citizens, and giving the impression of an effective strong man approach to defeating terrorism, the previous government gave pardon to the very man who took control of the LTTE after Prabakharan’s death -  KP. Not only that, but KP was allowed to live in Killinochchi and take charge of an NGO handling refugees and victims, and even the coordination of the diapora. 

This is a man who is believed to possess information on the LTTE’s vast international assets - so why was the government protecting him? And moreover, why was the government protecting him when previous US State Department reports noted that LTTE financial networks continued to function?

Our government on the other hand, banned KP from leaving the country in February and is investigating his activities, so we may freeze once and for all the financial networks of the LTTE. 

Hon. Speaker, 
Our government is continuing to intensify relations with our intelligence networks abroad and has increased access to real time information from these sources about the activities of the LTTE.

State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena has very rightly rejected the statements made by some opposition politicians and former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on the country's national security. He notes that not only are previous security measures being sustained, but that under the present leadership, the tri-forces and intelligence services are active and effective as never before. 

Today, the Government is renewing its relations with the international community. Today, we are engaging with our bilateral partners as opposed to just lecturing them and talking at them which the previous Government used to do. We engage in conversations with them in a rational manner on what our real concerns are and we are able to take steps to build confidence so that we can share information, share intelligence and work together to combat terrorism. 

 Hon Speaker
The Opposition is now keen to benefit from public US intelligence reports about the LTTE, but we are disappointed then that they continue to talk along the lines of “international conspiracies.”

This government has always taken the line that we will not allow an international investigation. However we have always maintained that we will use a credible local mechanism with international technical assistance in keeping with the mandate President received on the 8th of January. If you look at our 100 day manifesto, item 93 clearly states that we will establish a domestic mechanism in order to meet the allegations of human rights violations and even allegations of war crimes. 

Establishing a credible mechanism to deal with the allegation of serious human rights violations during the latter part of the conflict, is something that the previous government failed to do, which opened the doors to international scrutiny, and has prevented the Sri Lankan people from being able to achieve closure and move on from its violent past. 

This only gave the international community an opening to interfere with the domestic affairs of our country. In fact failures of the previous government investigations to achieve credibility and plausibility, prompted the creation of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka in a resolution adopted in March of 2014, and so it is actually the previous government’s failures to establish legitimacy that is responsible. It is the timely entrance of a new government in January this year, with a firm commitment to a credible domestic mechanism, that has enabled us to taper the call for an international investigation imposed on Sri Lanka by the international community.

Defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country is essential to the foreign policy of our nation. 

As this House is aware, sovereignty carries with it great responsibility which involves duties towards the country’s citizens. When a Government fails to discharge such duties, external intervention of an unwelcome nature is difficult to prevent.

The previous Government, regrettably, failed to pursue the path of domestic peace building. By refusing to address issues of concern locally, the Government alienated communities within the country as well as Sri Lanka’s international partners. This is what led to our nation becoming the subject of successive resolutions in Geneva. 

The previous Government, through its failures in fulfilling duties it owed to its people, opened Sri Lanka up to international ignominy and made Sri Lankan vulnerable to intrusive external intervention, placing the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity at risk. 
But let me also respond to Hon G.L. Pieris’ next allegation, that by our domestic mechanism benefitting from international expertise, it effectively becomes an “international investigation.” Let me remind this House that accepting and using international expertise is something even the Rajapaksa government loved to do at great expense at the time to our country. 

Under the Rajapaksa Regime, the Central Bank and the other government institutions spent Rs. 2 Billion on International PR firms to enhance the poor reputation that they created for themselves. This included firms such as Thompson Advisory Group, Beltway Government Strategies, and Liberty International Group all I believe hired on the whims and fancies, the member of Parliament who monitored even your (Hon. G.L. Pieris) activities. Sometimes your conversations were taped and sent to his room for him to listen to. 

And further, in July 17 2014, President Rajapaksa announced that the panel of international legal experts who were to advise his Commission on Disappearances, would also investigate abuses committed during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. He  therefore publically noted that international experts would be advising him on violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law

International legal advisors and a former international judge were appointed by President Rajapaksa for the purposes of soliciting “international expertise.” Documents note that for just seven months, more than Rs. 135 million of tax payer money had been paid out to them as well as others who were connected with this exercise. In fact some were even paid nearly 55,000 pounds per month, for this service.

The Rajapaksa government “hired” international expertise at the expense of the tax payer, instead of receiving it out of good will of our friends. Our close partners and friends in the international community who helped us fight the LTTE, drifted away from us after May 2009. It is important to ask the previous Government why this was allowed to happen.

Why is it that the very countries that helped us fight the LTTE, later initiated action against Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council in Geneva? Why did the previous Government allow such a situation to develop and allow the country’s image to sink to the lowest depths imaginable? Even if my predecessor cannot answer the question now, even for his own he must search his conscience as to why he allowed such things to happen.  

In my earlier incarnation as Foreign Minister, I expended great effort in 2006 to have the European Union list the LTTE as a terrorist organization. That was not achieved alone. The unanimity needed to arrive at such a decision was achieved with some help from our friends in the US State department then. Friendly and responsible foreign governments, who stood with us to combat terrorism, assisted us. They investigated the LTTE and shared that information with the members of the European Union. 

We must, in the interest of national security, raise the question as to why the Government in which Prof. Peiris was Foreign Minister, allow that listing which was achieved with such effort, with the support of the international community, to be annulled last year on the 16th of October, by the General Court of the European Union. It is pertinent to have an inquiry on why such an important matter with serious implications for national security, was not taken seriously. Why was there no timely intervention by the Government at the time, to prevent the de-listing? 

There were remarks relating High Commissioner for Human Rights at the opening of the currently ongoing 29th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The High Commissioner did something on the 15th of June this year, which the Council had not seen done in a long time with reference to Sri Lanka. Hon. Speaker, he reflected in his remarks the opportunity that has opened up in Sri Lanka – the renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law – with the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution.  This is something which this House can take pride in collectively and work together to give effect to the provisions of that amendment. 

Having informed the Human Rights Council of the renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka, what the High Commissioner for Human Rights went on to say is that his office will remain engaged in discussions with Sri Lankan authorities on “the need for transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation, ahead of my report to the September session”.  

The High Commissioner is merely reflecting our consensual approach for broad consultations with all political parties, civil society, and above all victims and their families, to take place in the lead up to September before establishing a domestic mechanism. We will conduct consultations to ensure full national support and ownership of processes. This Government fully recognises the importance of consultations and transparency. 

I wish to point out here that it was the complete lack of any form of consultations with civil society groups or political parties or victims by the previous regime that resulted in the setting up of flawed processes and programmes that contributed in large measure to the loss of credibility in whatever the previous Government undertook to do, both in the eyes of the local public as well as the international community. Not even the views of public officials were given any consideration at the time except for the views of those who said that all that the previous Government was doing was well and good and wise. Not only that, even the wise counsel of the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation, a Commission appointed by President Rajapaksa, itself was ignored. 

All this contributed to Sri Lanka losing the best opportunities it had after the end of 30 years of conflict to rebuild its institutions, restore democracy, rule of law and good governance practices, heal hearts and minds, enhance the capacities and skills of its human resources – the administrative and other services including the foreign and judicial services.

Prof. Peiris has selectively singled out the remarks of Senator Leahy pertaining to the establishment of a domestic mechanism. I would like to ask the Honourable Member of Parliament whether he recalls the nature of statements that were made with reference to Sri Lanka by foreign policy experts during the time he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and ask whether there was anything complimentary being said. Senator Leahy compliments Sri Lanka for its recent achievements, some of which are – the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, the inclusion of the Right to Information in the Constitution, as a fundamental right, the revival of relations with the United Nations, the decision to revive accountability for human rights violations, the decision to pursue the twin agenda of reconciliation and development, the return of land to its original owners, reaffirmation of media freedom, reestablishment of judicial independence, commitment to fighting corruption.
 
In the recent 2015 elections, which had the highest ever turnout and was an overwhelming victory, the President made very clear the need to establish a national independent judicial mechanism. This is expressed clearly in his 100-day manifesto, under item 93, which states:

‘Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Statute regarding international jurudistiction with regard to war crimes, ensuring justice with regard to such matters will be the business of national independent judicial mechanisms”

With the election victory, it has been mandated not only by this government but also the people of Sri Lanka.

Hon. Speaker, 
Sri Lanka has had a long tradition of respect for the rule of law and accountability at all levels and in relation to all matters of public life – including administrative and financial matters. We saw a general deterioration of these practices in the years of conflict. It is in our country’s long-term interest and in the interest of future generations that we must restore these practices of accountability and not take cover behind imagined threats to national security. 

If we continue the practice of the last Government of conjuring up threats to national security and clamping down on civil liberties for short-term electoral gain without actually engaging with the public and our international partners to address real threats as opposed to imagined threats, then we will surely jeopardise national security and place this country’s future in peril. 

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by     (2015-06-28 19:52:17)

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