Govt. To Work On Lessons Learnt
- Govt. gets extended deadline to send UPR Report
- Dayasiri travels overseas amidst much controversy
The government has been granted an extended deadline by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to submit its report for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights in November.
The deadline to submit Sri Lanka’s report, which was initially July 23rd, was extended to August 9th by the UNHRC in order to allow Sri Lanka to include its progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
Sri Lanka’s report for the UPR was prepared by a committee headed by Special Envoy for Human Rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for approval. Copies were also handed over to Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet and former Attorney General Mohan Peiris.
The President decided to direct Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga who heads the task force to implement the LLRC recommendations to include the progress made on the front.
After all, the Rajapaksa administration is well aware that the international community, following the adoption of the Resolution in March, would be focused on the progress made in implementing the LLRC recommendations. The government is therefore aware that efforts made to divert the attention of the international community towards other issues might not be successful. The 20th UNHRC sessions scheduled to commence this October would be the halfway mark for the 21st sessions next March when the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka would be taken up for review.
The Presidential Secretariat was assigned the task of making the necessary amendments/ additions to the UPR report to include the progress made in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. However, the President decided that it would be wiser to publicize the National Action Plan on implementing the recommendations prepared by Weeratunga’s task force.
Weeratunga in July publicized the document and together with Peiris and Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera briefed the foreign diplomatic community in Colombo about the LLRC Action Plan.
It is learnt that the government has included the latest statistics in areas like resettlement and demining while also highlighting the progress made in implementing the LLRC recommendations.
Due to the word limit for the UPR report, which is 10,700 words, most areas in the LLRC Action Plan has not been included. However, a link for the Action Plan on the Presidential website has been included in the report.
The report is to now be submitted to the UNHRC in Geneva by the Sri Lankan Mission in Geneva.
The Mission however had not received the report via e-mail from the External Affairs Ministry even on Friday (3). Government sources said the report was likely to be sent in the next few days and that Sri Lanka was preparing to “tackle” the UPR effectively come November.
Gearing for the UPR
The Rajapaksa after its experience in Geneva in March seems to have learnt a lesson or two.
The key lesson being to follow the non-aligned foreign policy the country has followed in the past.
The other is to learn and adopt real diplomacy without unnecessarily antagonizing the international community.
The government is now determined to make right the diplomatic faux pas during the March sessions.
It is learnt that the newly appointed Ambassador to the Sri Lankan Mission in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha is currently meeting with the permanent representatives in Geneva in order to build relations.
Aryasinha is now meeting with representatives from countries that supported and opposed Sri Lanka. He is expected to continue discussions during this month.
One of the strategies adopted by Sri Lanka in the international sphere is to focus attention on other areas apart from human rights.
Post war resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction are to be focused on in this respect.
A diplomat said that Sri Lanka is consciously making an effort to diversify its interests from being limited to a single-issue country.
Geneva therefore would be a focal point where Sri Lanka’s foreign policy would be put to practice.
Meanwhile, the Rajapaksa government is also trying to get India’s support at the UPR proceedings.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa is initiating the process of re-building relations with India after the March vote on the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka.
Basil together with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga are to travel to India on August 24th to meet Indian government officials.
The government after engaging in several tit-for-tat actions following the March vote had a reality check after hearing that India was a member of the troika along with Spain and Benin selected to oversee the proceedings of Sri Lanka’s UPR in November.
India has grievances with the Rajapaksa government that have accumulated since 2005 and is aware of the ground situation in the country better than any other member of the international community.
Basil, who remained silent during the 19th UNHRC sessions when a Resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted, has once again come forward to carry out the task he is best known for. He is known to maintain good relations with India and even played a key role in getting India to remain silent during the government’s war against the LTTE in 2009.
The Rajapaksa government does not seem to want to leave any stone unturned when it goes before the UNHRC for the UPR in November.
In the midst of strengthening relations between India and Sri Lanka, the controversial Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) retuned to the discussion table on Friday.
The discussion about CEPA took place between Indian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles Anand Sharma who arrived in Sri Lanka last week and Ministers Basil Rajapaksa and Rishard Bathiudeen.
Indian Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao and officials of the Indian Department of Commerce joined Sharma.
Following his discussion, the Indian minister said, “Secretaries of the Departments of Commerce of both sides will sit down and attend at first after which we can move to discussion levels”.
Sharma has refrained from elaborating further on the matter.
It is learnt that when India broached the subject of resurrecting CEPA, the Sri Lankan representatives had placed emphasis on several shortcomings in the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement.
An issue that has been affecting Sri Lanka was the fact that the quantity of Sri Lankan exports to India did not match the quantity of Indian products flowing into the Sri Lankan market.
Bathiudeen highlighted the fact that India’s Exports to Sri Lanka in 2011 has registered an annual growth of over 70% (from US$ 2.5 million to US$ 4,350 million) while Sri Lanka’s exports to India had registered an annual growth of only 16.8% (from US$ 466 million to US$ 521 million).
He observed that it has created a US$ 3,828 million Balance of Trade in favor of India with an annual increase of 84% over 2010.
Finally, the two parties agreed to appoint two committees to closely study the FTA and the CEPA to look into the areas of concern.
The two committees are to meet in another three months after closely studying the issues to look at ways of addressing areas of concern.
UNP looking weak
While the government is engaged in mending its foreign relations and addressing inter-government issues, the main opposition UNP is looking weaker than ever.
The government as well as UNPers targeted UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last week.
SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena was the first to make an anti-Wickremesinghe statement when he told a public rally that the UNP leader had in 1994 helped then Presidential candidate of the SLFP led PA, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Sirisena said that Wickremesinghe had revealed details of the UNP Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake’s election campaign to Kumaratunga.
Sirisena when questioned about this statement by the media at a SLFP press conference last week confirmed the details.
A few days later, the movement to protect the UNP headed by Lal Perera, who is the spokesperson for UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and the rest of the pro-reformist group, charged that Wickremesinghe had worked for the defeat of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka at the last Presidential election in 2010.
However, Wickremesinghe undeterred by all these statements is continuing with his agenda to asecure his post as party leader.
Reports earlier in the week stated that there was an attempt to convert next month’s anniversary celebrations of the UNP into a special convention in order to get approval for the proposed amendments to the party Constitution.
The UNP is to celebrate its 66th anniversary on September 6th.
However, it was later learnt that the amendments to the party Constitution would be taken up at the party convention scheduled for the end of the year while the September event would be limited to a commemoration.
Given the current situation of the party, the amendments are likely to be passed without any hindrance.
The pro-reformists group led by Premadasa now seems defunct giving a carte blanche to Wickremesinghe to bulldoze his way through in party affairs.
Even the controversial amendment to the party Constitution that extends the term of the party leader to six years was passed unanimously by the Working Committee.
Premadasa was a no-show without even giving an excuse and later saying he was sick.
Premadasa’s actions have recently come under scrutiny by the pro-reformists who feel defeated in the face of Wickremesinghe’s maneuverings in the party.
Wickremesinghe’s latest move has pushed many UNPers off the edge with reports of UNP Kurunegala District parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera planning to cross over to the government taking center stage last week.
Jayasekera travels overseas
Jayasekera for the past two weeks has been the center of controversy with talk of crossing over to the government. He continuously denied any move to cross over to the government albeit slamming the party leader for the move to amend the UNP Constitution aimed solely at safeguarding his position.
He charged that the leadership needed to re-consider this move and even laid down several conditions to UNP MP Kabir Hashim, Malik Samarawickrema and Sagala Ratnayake who tried to mediate a truce between Jayasekera and Wickremesinghe.
Samarawickrema requested Jayasekera not to make any hasty decisions and assured him that he would discuss a compromise with Wickremesinghe.
Jayasekera however hinted at the time that he would be forced to make a political decision if the party hierarchy failed to address his conditions. “If the issues raised by me are not addressed, there will not be a UNP in a few years time. We will never be able to defeat the government,” he said.
Jayasekera nevertheless managed to add fuel to the cross over talk after he left for Thailand on August 1st. He is scheduled to return to the country tomorrow in time to attend parliamentary sessions on Tuesday.
Jayasekera after traveling overseas had managed to cut all means of communication in order to refrain from speaking to anyone.
Unconfirmed reports last week stated that Jayasekera would cross over to the government during parliamentary sessions on either the 8th or 9th.
The UNP seniors who had heard of the reports decided that there was “nothing that could be done” since Jayasekera’s move they believed was motivated mainly due to financial and other personal gains.
“Regardless of who crosses over, the UNP will go on,” a UNP senior said. However, he failed to say as to where the UNP was heading.
However, President Rajapaksa had last week given a hint to a few of his ministers by saying that Jayasekera was not to be given a Cabinet portfolio even if he joined the government.
He had said that the portfolio likely to be given would be that of Deputizing in the Highway Ministry that was under his purview.