In conversation with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu: The resolution in Geneva and its discontents

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the institutional anchor of Groundviews. He is today one of three human rights defenders senior government ministers consider traitors and would like to, as in ancient times, kill, and, inter alia, break the limbs of. Though Sri Lanka’s foreign minister distanced himself from these remarks, the President and his brother, the all-powerful Secretary of Defence, have not expressed a single word of condemnation, or distanced themselves from the minister’s comments, who has openly and repeatedly said he derives his legitimacy from the Rajapaksa’s.

Much of this hate and harm directed against Dr. Saravanamuttu and other key human rights defenders of late has been on account of their participation at the recently concluded 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and in particular, supporting a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka. There hasn’t been much informed debate and discussion within Sri Lanka on the contents and genesis of this resolution. Many who joined the protests against the resolution in Sri Lanka, and particularly in Colombo, didn’t even know what they were protesting against. State media launched, and to date, continues with, an incredibly vicious campaign of hate speech not seen since Sri Lanka lost the GSP+ status, which was also due to Sri Lanka’s non-cooperation with, as Dr. Saravanamuttu noted at the time, “what was effectively termed an affront to national sovereignty and pride”. The same ignorance, misplaced patriotism and flawed logic seemingly animated foreign policy and engagement over the US resolution in Geneva.

When Dr. Saravanamuttu is asked as to why anyone should believe his take on, and indeed, support of the US resolution in Geneva, he goes into how the resolution came about and the non-participation of the government in its framing despite an invitation by the US administration. He also flags the history of commissions in Sri Lanka, including a number set up under the present administration, which have failed to result in or influence any meaningful reform of change. We move on to three key questions – the fears of UN interference in domestic affairs as a consequence of the resolution, the perceived hypocrisy of the US in tabling such a resolution against Sri Lanka, when it’s own human rights record is far more blemished and suspect, and why the fullest implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations is championed by those, such as Dr. Saravanamuttu, who when the final report came out, flagged deep flaws and silences over, amongst other issues, the meaningful investigation of allegations of war crimes.

We then talk about how far removed Sri Lanka’s domestic politics and sentiment is from international advocacy and scrutiny of the country’s human rights record, and how whipping up the basest emotions of a largely ill-informed public through propaganda can help Sri Lanka really address outstanding concerns over governance, human rights and accountability into the future. Dr. Saravanamuttu also flags the central challenge of human rights advocacy today, where criticism of government is conflated with, and perceived to be criticism of country.

From this, we move on to address the fall-out of the growing sentiment from government that because the LLRC’s final report has somehow over-stepped its mandate, its implementation will be piecemeal. We also look at what government and some other commentators of late have noted, which is that the US resolution has already led to a hardening of the regime’s stance on reconciliation, and increased the pushback against implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations.

Dr. Saravanamuttu then addresses the question as to why there isn’t greater public agitation and demand for the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations, and why there isn’t even interest in getting to know the contents of the final report, which to date haven’t been distributed by the government in Sinhala or Tamil (Editors note: Read Who really supports reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka?).

Even though the three human rights defenders who in the past couple of weeks have suffered the brunt of the hate speech campaign published a letter clarifying their position (Counter-productive propaganda and human rights in Sri Lanka), the attacks continue. We ask Dr. Saravanamuttu why, in the fact of such a vicious and violent response from government, he continues in his advocacy for human rights.

Towards the end of the interview, Dr. Saravanamuttu looks at the possible implications for Sri Lanka’s political stability and economic growth over the non-implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations. We also pose to him the usual response from government over the insistence of meaningful steps towards reconciliation – that it is being unfair to a government which saw the end to a nearly 30 year old war, that steps and measures are in fact being taken but under-appreciated, and that the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations will take money the government does not have. Finally, Dr. Sarvanamuttu addresses the perception that international advocacy supporting the US resolution in Geneva and the full implementation of the LLRC recommendation is actually a guise for regime change, and ousting the incumbent government from power.

For video of interview along same lines in Sinhala, please click here or view it directly on Vimeo here.

  • http://! Ranjan

    The Dunning-Kruger Effect measures the average American voter as self-delusional. It seems the SInghala voter is just the same.

    How wonderful to hear a sane, balanced, INTELLIGENT voice, when one had given up hope of finding any but the self-delusional in this country.

    DR. P.S., you are a national treasure. Problem is our idiots don’t have the mental equipment to recognise that. All blessings on your endeavours to turn the tide. Hope you have more success than King Canute!

    Cheers,

    Ranjan

    • kadphises

      And I second that! Isnt it pathetic that the only rejoinder the Govt or the Sinhala Nationalists can manage is that Saravanamuttu “gets paid in dollars”? Let us hope he does not meet the same fate as his cousin, Richard de Soyza.

  • Alex Fernando

    message to Rajapakses: change behavior or regime change. watch this space ….

    • Piranha

      Dr Sara should be nominated for an international human rights award. He is a fearless fighter for the rights not just the tamils but of all Sri Lankans. His carefully considered answers in this interview clearly demonstrates his high level of intelligence and conviction in his beliefs.

      As he says the Rajapaksa regime has intentionally kept the sinhala public in the dark by not releasing the LLRC report in sinhala with the clear intention of misleading them into believing that the report was detrimental to the country. Dr Sara and others who are exposing this deception are under attack by the regime and its collaborators.I hope Dr Sara keeps on exposing the misdeeds and anti-people acts of this dastardly regime.

      I agree with Rajan that he is a national treasure and deserves both national and international awards for his services to human rights.

  • Sinnan

    I also wiling to second it.
    The rulers must have heart rather than intelligent for a stable honourable moralistic governance especially in a multi ethnic nation.
    But in the name of LORD Bhuda who renounced his kingdom,govt robb tamils lands because there is no defenders.
    Now deffenders of democracy,who pronounce any word against the govt can be speared. So DR. also must be either shut up his mouth or int. society protect him for the sake of future nations security.

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

    In the comments section of groundviews, Dr. Dayran is the first to congratulate Kalana Senaratne on his article, “The Geneva II debacle.”
    I am wondering if Dr.Dayarn will also congratulate groundviews for the interview with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamutt, and his well though out answers regarding the debacle that the Rajapaksa government faced in Geneva?:D

  • rita

    We’ve good fortune ahead – Dayan is transforming into a great person now:
    http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/10421

  • Velu Balendran

    Hats off for taking the issues to the Sinhalese public in their own language.

    http://youngasia.tv/category/3d-thrimana/

    Given the space, this man could well be the saviour a progressive Sri Lanka has been yearning for.

  • N. Ethirveerasingam

    Sanjana’s interviews are always an intellectual exercise on vital and emotional issues of the day. It is informative, challenging and is a joy to listen and think about. Excellent questions pushing Sara to explain his thoughts, positions and where his commitment to human rights come from. Sara’s response were precise, compassionate, logical, true and just. Sara will not win elections in Sri Lanka, not that he is any way inclined towards such occupations. Politicians, if they wanted to be elected again, need to please those who vote them into office.

    Sanjana pushed Sara to answer the question that the people (who voted for Rajapaksas) and supporters do not accept most of the LLRC recommendations. I don’t think such supporters will accept Sara’s approach even if it is translated in the language they speak and widely distributed. May be if the Buddhist priests are convinced first, they can then discus it with the people who come to the Temples. Rajapaksas, their party, voters and financiers do not have the Will to accept the recommendations of the LLRC. If they accept it, it will be “political suicide.”

    The best that can be hoped for is for the President to put the LLRC recommendations to a referendum, or
    groups of recommendations to multiple referenda. I am sure the UN will provide the funds and “Technical Assistance” “in consultation and concurrence”, for that exercise as the first step. Some constitutional luminaries may argue that any constitutional issues cannot be put to referendum without it receiving two-third votes in Parliament. For such issues those recommendations can be put to the Parliament to get a two-third majority. Other recommendations can be put to the people on a non-binding referendum. Such an approach will show which of the parties or Members are for or against the LLRC recommendations instead of playing political “Panthu” with it. I can almost predict that in the opposition parties there will be chaos and defections. If the referendum fails, the President can accept the verdict of the people and send the LLRC report to the Archives like Chandrika did to the 2000 PSC proposal. If it passes the President can carry out the will of the people. In either outcome he does not have to report to the UNHRC in March 2013. But could boast, at that meeting, of the enlightened democratic process. The requirement to present the report to UNHRC will then be a non-issue.

    Those who feel that the parliament will vote against the recommendation, or the referendum will not pass would say such a process is what the separatist and the “LTTE RUMP” wants. They may be right. Such a referendum will be a referendum to separate or unite.

    The “Panthu” is in the Rajapaksa government’s court. In reality it is with the people to score a goal with the ball or to deflate it.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Thanks GV for the publication of the interview.

    It is refreshing to hear a rational, intelligent, and wise human being talking.

    Dr. PS’s way of reasoning shows that an intelligent person does not have to rely on quotations from myriad other sources to justify his claims.

    He (and his collegues) should be really brave to come back to SL after what they had done in Geneva.

    Thanks very much Dr. PS for risking your life for the oppressed in Sri Lanka.

  • andre

    This is a very good interview with his well explained answers.

    Asked why it takes long for them to implement he clearly points out that there are some recommendations that would not even take 24hrs or little longer to get passed.-Very correct here bringing 18th amd as a good instance. And he further says, if you honestly want to implement them, you can also do so. This is very true. Ruling politicians including the president seem to be only half hearted with these recommendations.

    Dr. Sara is one of the honest voices that we have in SL today – and all others like for e.g Dr.DJ and his articles though bring some facts and good arguments can not help the regime whose HR violations re becoming routine upto now – all latter sort of interllectuals should rather make clear the danger before us- than continuing to work for their supper.

    My question is – If Dr. Sara can see all these why the other intellectuals of the country cant do so…

    Why do they all keep quiet- when for example a foul mouth (Mervin Silva)is repeating his filthy statements- that could have a huge impact on SRILANKA from now onwards- statments like breaking limbs of any journalists go against MR regime… this I happened to read in BBC.

  • Ravi

    Sorry I only watched the interview today, I myself, too, believe that pointing out the implementation of the 18th amendment as a good example. But I am also looking at some good strong positive move by the regime. Why does this regime not reform itself on some of the things Dr Sara has listed? is a myth. I think as I earlier commented when it comes to Tamils issues this country become a one party state. Electoral reforms, 13a amendment are something to think about.

  • Rienzie Perera

    I personally know Dr. Sara in my official capacity and thereafter as a friend. He used to talk the truth for the people who had to face for social injustices. One of his officials used to visit me very frequently to get various assistances. I too visited his office at few occasions and had a chance to have dialogues with him. I went through several write-ups of him. I don’t believe the accusation leveled against him stating that he is a traitor. I too standby the version of translating the LLRC report in Sinhala. This must be translated in to Tamil also. Then anybody can go through it and understand what it is and if anybody wishes to make any reasonable comment; they can do so for the betterment of the situation, in good faith.

    I wish you all the very best Sara. Good luck.