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Country Progressing In The Right Direction – Ajith P. Perera

By  Ifham Nizam

The country is progressing and it is in the right direction. The government will be able to fulfill all its promises as pledged. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, the United National Party (UNP) Kalutara District Parliamentarian and Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P. Perera, who is a lawyer by profession, says that there are some economic issues – people have grievances – and the government will take steps to fulfill the aspirations of the people as promised.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: What’s the present situation of the war crimes report to be submitted in Geneva shortly?

A: Though I have no idea about the latest situation, I believe that the process will take some time with former judges and local system to deal with it. I believe it would answer the Human Rights Violations.

Our position is that any criminal case pertaining to such an alleged incident should be tried within this country, in Sri Lankan courts, according to Sri Lankan laws. There can be no doubt on that.

Furthermore, we will focus on both accountability and reconciliation. We will learn from the experience of other countries, including South Africa. We will share South Africa’s experiences. However, our mechanism is completely local, as our experience was different.

 

Q: The government is of the view that the problem should be tackled locally and not by foreigners. What is your view in this regard?

A: As I said that would be the best. Of course, you could follow and study similar foreign experience. Our position is that any criminal case pertaining to such an alleged incident should be tried within this country, in Sri Lankan courts, according to Sri Lankan laws. There can be no doubt on that.

When it comes to accountability, if there has been any crime, if there is evidence, the perpetrators should be punished, according to Sri Lankan laws and in Sri Lankan courts. We might need external technical assistance on matters in which we may need help, such as training lawyers and judges. However, it will be purely technical assistance and nothing more. Foreigners will never come as facilitators.

Furthermore, we will also take the opinion of civil society and political parties into consideration in designing our mechanism.

 

Q: Did we get enough expertise from South Africans who were here during the tenure of the former government?

A: They were invited, but they were not given the feeling of being welcome here. Their knowledge was not used properly in the reconciliation process.

 

Q: You are vastly experienced when it comes to laws and related issues. Have you put that into good use especially with the present government?

A: No. I did play a part as the Deputy External Affairs Minister. Now, I am handling a powerful ministry – Power and Renewable Energy – which has number of areas to be dealt with.

 

Q: Recently a government-appointed judge alleged that the Army committed war crimes. What’s the outcome of it? Did the government investigate further in this regard?

A: I am not aware of it.

 

Q: President Sirisena is keen on truth and reconciliation commission and on further investigations. Has the government progressed in this regard?

A: The country is progressing and is in the right direction. We will be able to fulfill promises. I know there are some issues economically -people have grievances. We will take steps to full the aspirations of the people as promised.

 

Q: What do you consider as the biggest achievement of the government?

A: Right to the Information Bill would cover many aspects, not only media freedom but human rights as well.

We have taken measures to strengthen diplomatic ties with other countries. Relations with India, European Union and USA are significant in this move. As a result of the enhanced diplomatic ties with the West, Sri Lanka may entertain the GSP Plus concession shortly.

The previous government maintained a poor human rights record and that mainly led to lose the GSP Plus concession. However, resumption of the concession will help to increase the income through the apparel export sector by 20 per cent.

Sri Lankan fisheries products will also have wider market opportunities in Europe. USA has also taken measures to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka.

The country has also built up a strong relationship with Russia.

There will be no immediate domestic probe on war crimes as the government will only submit a report on the modalities on how such a domestic inquiry would be conducted.

The government achieved a great diplomatic victory last year and stressed to the UN authorities that Colombo was confident of conducting an impartial internal inquiry into alleged war crimes and human rights violations.

We made it clear to the UN that there was no need for an international inquiry and told that we have an independent judiciary and independent public service.

The UN mechanism asked us to ensure the independence of the Judiciary, police and other institutions so that we carry out a credible domestic inquiry instead of an international inquiry.

When we were ready to conduct an impartial internal inquiry the issue becomes a domestic problem and there will be no room for any international intervention.

When it comes to government initiatives, the only significant delay is the constitutional amendment process which is due to the debate that has arisen on the electoral reform. There is a debate on whether a new electoral process should be introduced before the next general election or if an exception is to be made in the case of that election.

 

Q: What was the problem there?

A: The main issue is the need to reconsider the electoral map. The current system of 160 electorates came up in the 1960s. Population distribution and densities have changed drastically in certain areas since then.

There are some electorates with less than 100,000 registered voters while there are electorates with much larger populations. Are we going to introduce multiple member constituencies or are we going to redraw the map so that the populations are balanced? How are we to rectify the differences? This issue is delaying the process. The Delimitation Commission is currently inactive. Therefore we have to reactivate it and work on this.

 

Q: The government has promised that there will be a domestic inquiry on the alleged war crimes. However, there seems to be a lack of clarity on what this inquiry will be. Does the government have an idea on what kind of an inquiry or a mechanism it wants to introduce?

A: Yes. We do have an idea. Our position is that any criminal case pertaining to such an alleged incident should be tried within this country, in Sri Lankan courts, according to Sri Lankan laws. There can be no doubt on that.

When it comes to accountability, if there has been any crime, if there is evidence, the perpetrators should be punished, according to Sri Lankan laws and in Sri Lankan courts. We might need external technical assistance on matters in which we may need help, such as training of lawyers and judges.

However, it will be purely technical assistance and nothing more. Foreigners will never come as facilitators.

Furthermore, we will also take the opinion of civil society and political parties into consideration in designing our mechanism.

 

Q: In other words, you are saying there are laws to be made?

A: Yes. There are laws to be made too. Perhaps training of lawyers and judges, and other aspects should be considered too. The newly introduced Victims of Crimes and Witness Protection Act is one landmark in instituting new laws that are needed. Under this we are welcoming witnesses and are giving them protection.

This is not only related to the alleged ‘war crimes’. Even in a case of a rape for example, the victim might not be able to live in her village anymore. She might need a new identity, a job and so on. We have to take care of such matters.

In such instances, we will need technical assistance and even financial help. The UN can help us in these matters.

 

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