Sri Lanka’s foreign minister lashed out at the United Nations and decried the “double standards” and “threats” that were coming Colombo’s way, in an interview published by the Daily Mirror this week.
G L Peiris, who has twice previously held the top foreign ministry job under Mahinda Rajapaksa, denounced what he deemed “coercion through resolutions” and “threats” that Sri Lanka had reportedly received over its human rights record and lack of action on accountability for mass atrocities.
“There must not be mechanisms that are specifically targeting Sri Lanka, which we find particularly unacceptable,” he responded when asked about the regime’s relationship with the United States. He went on to slam the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, particularly “the statement… to the effect that she has collected one 120,000 items of evidence against Sri Lanka”.
“That kind of approach is fundamentally unacceptable because the question arises where is this evidence coming from? Is it consistent with the basic rules of fairness and due process? We must know who is giving evidence against us. They cannot hide in the shadows and give evidence, which is entirely unlisted. There are principles of law which are used to determine the quality of evidence.”
“And so that is what we object to and we are telling the United States and other countries.”
‘All too obvious’
Peiris continued his tirade against the United Nations, stating that “I also think that the time has come for some serious thought to be given to the reform of the system”.
“Some countries can get away with anything because they cannot be challenged,” he claimed. “Small countries which do not have that kind of might are picked on and pursued relentlessly. Is that what the United Nations system is all about?”
“Double standards,” he added. “That is all too obvious.”
The foreign minister went on to call for a reform of the UN system with “perhaps a greater emphasis on… the economic side of things”. “We contribute to the United Nations system and therefore we are entitled to dignity and self-respect,” he continued, though admitting “the amount we contribute is not large”.
“Is Sri Lanka the most troublesome country in the world at this time?” he continued. “Look at situations elsewhere. So the degree of attention that is being given to Sri Lanka, is it reasonable or proportionate?”
A hidden agenda?
Sri Lanka’s foreign minister went on to accuse the United Nations and other international actors of being influenced by the Tamil diaspora over their interest in justice and accountability.
“We have to ask ourselves a question what is the reason behind this agenda?” said Peiris.
“Is it to do with the well-being of people in Sri Lanka or has it to do with the agendas of other actors, politics of other countries, the fortunes of politicians of other countries, the influence of the diaspora, their influence at elections, the resources at their command, the organizational capability. So are those the factors that are driving this agenda?”
When pressed on whether Sri Lanka would engage with the diaspora, Peiris responded by stating that “be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora… We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”.
Yet he swiftly clarified that this would not apply to a range of Tamil diaspora groups that the Sri Lankan government had proscribed as terrorist organisations, claiming “that is not possible because that would be a violation of our law”. The wide-ranging proscription of hundreds of individuals and several Tamil diaspora organisations, was expanded earlier this year.
He went on to slam Yasmin Sooka a leading human rights lawyer who has held several prestigious posts including the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, a trustee of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and is the current Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lankan (ITJP).
“She has always been a vigorous and relentless activist against Sri Lanka,” Peiris claimed. “She has a point of view. She is a propagandist. So on every occasion, and she has been very vituperative against Sri Lanka. And she herself has links with other organizations.”
China and the USA
When questioned on China, Peiris said that Beijing “is a friend” to Sri Lanka,
“China has stood by us in times good and bad,” he continued. “China has made a very significant contribution to the economic development of Sri Lanka, particularly infrastructure development, highways, ports and harbours. This is greatly appreciated, and we have also stood by China in matters that are of critical importance to that country, like the one China policy, the Belt and Road Initiative. We have very strongly supported. We are part of that initiative.”
“But at the same time, I want to emphasize that we do not have exclusive relations with one country shutting out all other countries,” he continued. “We are very clear that we do not permit one country to do anything in Sri Lanka that is detrimental to the interests of another friendly country.”
He went on to note that “many of our exports, particularly our apparel exports, find their way into the markets in the United States”.
“Companies like BRANDIX, MAS Holdings export a large quantity of their products into the markets of the United States,” he added. “Victoria’s Secret in the US is one of our principal buyers… the markets of North America are very important for us."
See the full text of his interview with the Daily Mirror here.