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Amnesty International can't dictate terms to us, says Lankan minister

By Aziz Haniffa
May 27, 2010 12:25 IST
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Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris, who is visiting Washington for meetings with senior Obama Administration officials and US lawmakers, has slammed the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other such groups--that have accused Sri Lanka of war crimes during its conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and called for an international tribunal to investigate these alleged rights violations--saying these groups don't constitute the "international community," and hence don't have the moral authority "to tell us what to do."

Peiris said, "Everybody talks of the international community--what is the international community? There are 196 countries in the United Nations. Now these matters have been taken up in appropriate fora in the United Nations. The Human Rights Council debated this matter for three long days. There were representatives from all six continents and 29 people thought there was no need to take any action, 11 countries thought otherwise, with six abstentions. A couple of NGOs do not constitute the international community," he argued.

Peiris asserted that "the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council (of the United Nations), yes. Now we are prepared to take these matters there…but other avenues, no."

Peiris, taking on Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, said it had said in its most recent report released at Chatham House in London that "tens of thousands of civilians were killed or harmed. What is tens of thousands--10,000, 20,000, 90,000--they are all tens of thousands. So, the language is vague, it's nebulous, it is lacking in a kind of precision and specificity that we would expect in a report of that kind, which is said to have been written by somebody who was a distinguished Canadian judge."

Peiris, an erstwhile law professor and a Rhodes Scholar, who was before he entered politics over two decades ago dean of the faculty of law at the University of Sri Lanka in Colombo, argued, "What is more, although there are vivid descriptions of atrocities that are said to have occurred--shelling of hospitals and other things--what is striking about these allegations is that there is no source to which any of this is attributed. There are graphic descriptions, we do not know where these descriptions are coming from. There is absolutely no possibility of verification. How do you verify materials, which is coming from somebody unnamed, working in the shadows, wearing a mask, impenetrable. How does any government deal with that situation."

Thus, Peiris said, "The west has also recognized the necessity to deal with unusual situations having recourse to measures, which may be considered draconian. But these are necessary at particular times for particular purposes."

"In Sri Lanka, don't forget how many thousands of people were killed by the LTTE. How many were slaughtered by them. So, governments are there, principally to safeguard life and limb and we make no apologies whatsoever for laws that were enacted in Sri Lanka at that time to protect the lives of our people--and by lives I mean Tamil lives as well. I am not talking just of Sinhala lives."

Peiris asked, "Is (former Foreign Minister, Lakshman) Kadirgamar a Sinhala? What happened to (another prominent Tamil leader, Dr Neelan) Thiruchelvam? Do not forget that the LTTE killed as many Tamils as they killed Sinhalese. Anybody who resisted them…summary execution, torture, and the Government of Sri Lanka makes no apology to anybody, anywhere in the world for putting in place the laws that enable us to get rid of that menace. Once we got rid of that menace, we don't need those laws and we did away with those laws."

When the sustained questions continued and an Amnesty International representative called for an independent, international body, alleging that the credibility of various government appointed human rights and investigative commissions were suspect, Peiris shot back, "Don't forget that only one year has elapsed since the end of the war."

"Look at the experience of other countries in similar situations. How long have they taken? I won't mention countries—(but) some of them have taken 30 years. So, why are you applying double standards? Why isn't Amnesty International in a mood to apply these same standards universally? Why single out Sri Lanka. Is it because Sri Lanka is a poor country, Sri Lanka can be pushed around--kicked around like a football? Certainly not! We won't allow that by Amnesty International or anybody else."

Peiris said, "If you believe in a set of values, at the very least, apply those values across the board. Do not be selective. Do not be discriminatory," and continuing to pillory Amnesty International and the other human rights groups, asked, "Are those values applied with any iota of consistency. What about the performance of other countries in comparable situations? I think we have done a great deal within a very short period."

Peiris reiterated, "We don't want Amnesty International telling us what to do. We will take it from the Security Council, (but) we will certainly not take it from Amnesty International. What is the moral authority of Amnesty International? We will read the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International's reports, we will listen to them. But we do not think that they have any coercive moral authority to tell us what to do."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC