‘SL must speak with one voice’
SANASA’s visionary leader, Dr. P. A. Kiriwandeniya is a man whose
commitment to public causes is legendary within the country. He is a
perceptive observer of new international developments and their impact
on Sri Lanka. Over the years he has earned an unsullied reputation as a
spokesperson for the full range of Sri Lankan society. Few leaders in
the history of successful social movements possess such diverse skills
Here, in an interview with Daily News he shares his views on a wide
range of topics, including the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, and
other political and economic challenges faced by the country.
Q: Why are some countries so
determined to pursue a resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations
Human Rights Council?
A: I don’t believe there
are many countries. It seems to be the US and a few others. I believe
that most of the latter too are not that enthusiastic. However to
understand this move, we need to understand the historical roots behind
Dr. P. A. Kiriwandeniya. Pic. by Sumanachandra Ariyawansa
The foundations of the world order has been changing dramatically and
fundamentally during the last few decades. Since the end of Cold War, a
single military power began to dominate the international scene with the
aid of several other powerful countries. This transformation in global
politics, aided the rise of some nations and generated conflicts among
certain others. This power bloc expected other countries to seek their
guidance in all matters whether they be security, economy etc. Those who
went against were considered as ones hostile to the system.
Since the present administration led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa
came to power, many changes took place in the country. A new thinking
began to emerge, especially with regard to the conflict which was
ravaging the country for 30 long years. Finally, we were able to win the
war which was described as an un-winnable one by this Western bloc. We
were able to win it without their help and guidance. Also for the first
time we did not heed to their influences, which influences were the main
reason why the conflict dragged on for so long. This and several other
factors, including our friendly ties with certain other nations, led
them to categorise us as one which was hostile to the so-called system.
They needed a reason to pressurize us and it has come in the form of
Q: Is there any justification for
them to come up with such a resolution?
A: None; whatsoever. What
they say is that the government has not done enough to address many
issues including reconciliation, alleged human rights abuses,
implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and
Reconciliation Commission etc.
However I must say that it is unreasonable for the international
community to expect a complete remedy for all issues in the short span
of two and a half years since the Lankan conflict ended.
Certain other countries which have faced similar situations have
taken a number of years to come up with lasting solutions to major
issues. How many years did Germany take to achieve normalcy since the
end of World War Two? Look at Cambodia and Bangladesh, where in the
latter it took nearly 25 years to achieve expected standards after a
series of assassinations caused political turmoil.
The LLRC report is only a few months old. The government has already
taken measures to lay the groundwork to implement some of its
In this context, the international community should understand the
magnitude of the task at hand and give time, space and support to
complete the task, instead of exerting undue pressure.
Q: What are your thoughts on the LLRC
A: They have come up with
some viable recommendations, when implemented could help the country in
the long run. However, the countries proposing a resolution against Sri
Lanka should understand that it is a domestic mechanism.
Their recommendations should be implemented in accordance with our
own time table and not according to whims and fancies of outside forces.
Also I believe that there should be clarity with regard to procedures
by international bodies when dealing with related issues. This in turn
would ensure cohesion and stability to the global system.
Justice, fair play and morality should be embedded in international
law and it should not be the subject of political interference. The UN
should take a fair stand on the issue without succumbing to pressure
exerted by power players.
Q: Why this big interest in Sri
Lanka, a country small in size?
A: Some say Sri Lanka is a
small country. However, Sri Lanka is a giant when it comes to potential
and its strategic location. Historically we have had proud roots, we
have multi-faceted resources and an intelligent and skilled labour
Also there is wide belief that Sri Lanka possesses commercially
viable and substantially large offshore oil resources. Since the end of
the conflict, excavations have begun to find the above.
The main reason we could not reap the harvest of this enormous
potential was due to the war. If we can harness these resources to its
full potential we could become an economically and strategically
powerful country in the not too distant future.
Some of these powerful Western nations are on the rapid decline
economically and otherwise. A new world order is emerging where Asian
giants, India and China, are coming up as powerful economic entities. In
this backdrop, it is important for these countries to have a foothold in
Sri Lanka, so that they can use our strategic value to have better
control of the region. So without exposing their real objectives they
come carrying flags such as human rights, good governance etc. to
Q: What are your views on the
approach taken by Sri Lanka in confronting such challenges?
A: We must acknowledge the
need for the spirit of openness and adaptability today, more than at any
other time. In these changing times, the need to protect and advance our
interests vigorously is felt more than ever.
Sri Lanka was plagued by an internal problem for nearly three
decades. All throughout there has been pressures from outside,
especially from certain powerful Western countries. They interpreted the
national question in their own way and tried to impose conditions on us
based on these assumptions.
Earlier every time a bomb went off killing innocent civilians, these
outside forces asked us to go to the negotiating table. However, they
did not practice the same in their countries.
In this backdrop we needed a strong leadership who could understand
this duplicity and withstand these forces. The present leadership
clearly understood what was behind it and had the wisdom and courage to
reject the interpretations made by these Western nations.
Q: Can you explain further?
A: It is important that we
cherish the values and traditions, and deeply held religious convictions
we have nurtured over centuries. These cannot be diluted or distorted,
by the imposition of attitudes or approaches which are characteristics
of alien cultures.
For a large part we have followed the Western system, in education,
banking, administration, legal etc.
However, for the first time we saw a leader coming up and saying that
we have our own policy and our own model. That policy was the 'Mahinda
There was a tendency in this country where politicians forgot their
policies and manifestos when the elections were over. However, President
Rajapaksa has been repeating and following this policy steadfastly,
which is refreshing. This is the path we should follow in all sectors to
establish our own unique model.
We need to change attitudes, economic and social policies to suit our
own unique style.
Also I feel that this is a golden opportunity for authorities to take
these issues to the grassroots, educate the people and change their way
of thinking. We need to propagate a new Sri Lankan ideology. And
encourage all to speak with one voice, which is uniquely Sri Lankan.
Q: How do you view Sri Lanka's
economic progress, since the end of the conflict?
A: Since the emergence of
a new world order there have been fundamental injustices in the global
trading system. Poor countries have been bullied into complete
liberalization of their markets, undermining local producers, while rich
countries flout the very rules they claim to uphold.
They impose their economic model on our countries in the name of
In recent times we have taken a lot of commendable approaches to rid
the country from the above tentacles.
On the other hand, since the end of the conflict we have made much
progress. The development of infrastructure has been impressive.
However, I feel that we still lack a long term and committed national
plan. I feel that the level of participation of the grassroots in the
overall economic process is still not sufficient.
The vast benefits of economic progress has not yet reached the
grassroots in an even manner. To overcome this anomaly it is very
important to give the responsibility of ownership to the people, to make
If correct policies are identified and pursued vigorously it could
produce tangible results.
We also should look to strike a balance between international trade
and domestic economic interests.
Q: In your view what lies ahead for
the country, both on the political and economic fronts?
A: There are multiple
challenges, but importantly we have the correct leadership to withstand
them and we are on the right path.
It is important that the whole country rallies around the leadership
irrespective of differences and speak with one voice in these troubled
times. On the other hand the political leadership today should ensure
that there is no discrimination and all suggestions and ideas are taken
aboard when finding solutions to difficult issues.
Putting an end to wastage and corruption, ensuring law and order and
making people from the grassroots onwards, partners of development are
essential components in our progress.
On the international front we should engage the global community in a
very constructive and friendly manner.
We should explain our policies and strategies to our international
partners in a very efficient and coordinated manner.
In this regards our international ambassadors should speak with one