Lies, fronts and ruins

[TamilNet, Friday, 02 November 2001, 11:24 GMT]
((News Feature) Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga Tuesday accused Human Rights Watch, which has criticised excesses by the Sri Lankan security forces, of “telling lies” and dismissed the largest human rights organization based in the United States as a front for the Liberation Tigers. President Kumaratunga however praised the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) as “totally independent” and whom she said were “very appreciative” of her government. Kumaratunga’s comments were made in an interview to CNN conducted by Zain Verjee during which the President continued her bitter attack on her main opposition, denied she had conducted a ‘war for peace’ (“we called it a battle for peace. we wanted peace through peace”), and denied there was an economic embargo on Tamil areas – even though Verjee didn’t actually raise the matter.

President Kumaratunga’s gaffe-prone public relations exercise continued as she appeared on CNN’s Q&A program, following the embarrassing interview with the BBC’s Hard Talk program. When Kumaratunga was pressed by Verjee on her government’s human rights record, just as by Tim Sebastian of the BBC, the President reacted angrily, again.

Verjee: “…Human Rights Watch's report for 2001 has criticized your government for the way you treat Tamil civilians in the north and the east of the country. The reports are that they've been discriminated against, there are restrictions on the freedom of the movement, arbitrary arrests, abuse at the hands of government, and army and police imposing forced labor. Could you give me a brief response to that?”

Kumaratunga: “Lot of it is lies. What is that report? By whom is it written?”

Verjee: “It's written by Human Rights Watch. It's the 2001 Country Report for Sri Lanka.”

Kumaratunga: “The Human Rights Watch, what is that? I don't know, because the Geneva Convention on Human Rights is the UN Convention, which looks after the human right situations in countries all over the world. And various complaints are made to it by the Tiger organizations, by various organizations that are working for the Tigers. And they have the widest possible supervision, monitoring of what goes on in our country, as in many others. And their reports do not say this. I don't know what this Human Rights Watch is.”

Verjee: “It's a London-based organization...”

Kumaratunga: “It could be a Tiger organization. I don't know what it is.”

Human Rights Watch is the largest human rights organization based in the United States. started in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, to monitor the compliance of Soviet bloc countries with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords. In the 1980's, Americas Watch was set up during the Central American conflict. The organization grew to cover other regions of the world, until all the "Watch" committees were united in 1988 to form Human Rights Watch.

President Kumaratunga went on to say: “Yes. These kind of mushroom organizations have all kinds of reports. I am not willing to reply to those, but I would like to refer you to the reports of the Geneva Human Rights Conference to the University Teachers on Human Rights, most of whom are Tamil teachers who had to flee Jaffna because the Tigers were trying to kill them. They're a totally independent nongovernmental organization.”

President Kumaratunga was enthusiastic about the UTHR, a Colombo-based group of three former lecturers whose reports, which focus primarily on criticism of and allegations against the LTTE, have been handed out to correspondents by the Sri Lankan Army. “They bring out reports every month or every two months, and they're very appreciative of the fact that my government has been able to completely control the human rights violations, which were massively done under the last government,” Kumaratunga said.

Further exploiting the opportunity to slate her political opposition, Kumaratunga said: “But I must say there are the exceptions too, because we have in the forces and in the police, people who were trained under the last government where human rights violations were abundant during 17 years of that government's rule.”

On being asked why she had failed to deliver the peace she had promised on coming to power, Kumaratunga took another swing at the opposition, but the President seemed embarrassed when reminded of her slogan “war for peace” under which military operations against the Tamil Tigers were conducted from1995-1998.

Kumaratunga: “We have tried very hard to deliver that peace. We lifted the economic embargoes which were placed by the previous government. We stopped attacks on innocent Tamil people by government-organized mafia, which happened every year under the last government during their 17-year rule. We have brought in all kinds of institutions and arrangements to guarantee safety of person and property to the Tamil people. We have brought in various laws, practices, committees, commissions, which ensure this. We have prevented...”

Verjee, interrupting: “And Madam, all those laws and practices and commissions and all the institutions that you pointed out right now have all been working toward one of your strategies, where you have termed it as being "peace through war"; but you've not been able to defeat the Tamil Tigers militarily, and your constitutional efforts have failed. So, what can people expect from you?”

Kumaratunga: "No, we did not talk about peace through war. We called it a battle for peace. We wanted peace through peace…”

Kumaratunga also launched a bitter attack on the Liberation Tigers, accusing the movement of refusing to come for talks or discuss a solution. When Verjee interrupted, asking if the government had not stopped the Norwegian peace process, Kumaratunga reacted angrily again.

Verjee: "But President Kumaratunga, you're painting a picture that the Tamil Tigers are completely to blame here, and you and your government really is not to blame at all. But some of your critics will say that really it was your government that was impeding the efforts by Norway, for instance, to broker some sort of peace, and you really put a stop on that process. Your response?"

Kumaratunga: "I don't know who has informed you of that, but I would have expected you to brief yourself slightly more factually correct. It is my government and I who invited the Norwegian government to come in..."

When Verjee asked Kumaratunga about “some very autocratic steps in your country -- suspending parliament, when you knew you couldn't win a confidence motion -- that's been the criticism. Why did you do it?” the President demanded what was autocratic about dissolving Parliament to “go to the people and ask their opinion.”

When asked as to why she had not abolished the office of the presidency, Kumaratunga launched a lengthy and bitter attack on the opposition.

“…But we are not being allowed to do this by the opposition, which thereafter keeps screaming their heads off that I am autocratic. Yes, I would like to say one little thing here please, that it is beginning to be very tiresome to hear people telling us that we're being autocratic, that we are violating human rights, when my government has stopped -- the last government killed 50,000 Sinhalese democratic youths simply because they did not agree with them. They killed over 20,000 Tamil youth. They burnt them alive; they poured petrol on them, and burnt them alive in pogroms against the Tamil people….We promised the country that we would stop this. We have stopped this; the reign of state terror has been definitely stopped under my government seven years ago, and you do not talk about the violation of human rights by the LTTE….”

Verjee: “Madam president, I would like to focus here, though, on your actions in government.”

Kumaratunga: “... on one side of the story.”

Verjee: “No, no. I want to ask you this question. I mean you're blaming the opposition and saying they are screaming their heads off, but what about your actions?” Verjee raised the defections from the ruling party. Kumaratunga accused the ministers who left of being corrupt and of leaving because of impending investigations and vowed to indict them in the courts.”

Towards the end of the interview, Verjee raised the matter of Sri Lanka’s economy which he said was “in ruins.”

Kumaratunga: “No, that is not true. The economy is not in ruins. I don't know what you mean by the word "ruins," whether you have a new definition for that word...”


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