Sunday, March 1, 2015

No compromise on 100 Days Program – Ajith P Perera

Ajith P Perera is a United National Party Member of Parliament from Kalutara District. He was a foremost critic of the former government and after the election of Maithripala Sirisena as President, he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. In an exclusive interview, he spoke on the future of the government and the mechanism of a domestic inquiry on alleged war crimes during the war. Excerpts:

Q: Certain matters pertaining to the 100 Days Program are getting delayed. What are your thoughts on this? What are the practical difficulties, if any, that the government is facing?

A: The 100 Day Program is being coming out as planned. The only significant delay taking place is the constitutional amendment process which is due to the debate that has arisen on the electoral reform. There is a debate if 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: Why has this debate arisen?

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 such 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: If this is complex, why can’t the government take perhaps a few more weeks, change the electoral system and then call for the election?

A: That could not be done. We are committed to holding elections after the completion of the 100 Days Program. If we take a few weeks for this and a few weeks for that, we will keep on procrastinating on tasks we have to complete. We promised an election after 100 days and we have to carry out our promise. We will not compromise on the 100 Days Program.

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?

A: Yes. The government has an idea. Our position is that any criminal case pertaining to such a 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. For example, an expert team from South Africa will arrive here on February 23 and will hold a workshop, and they will share their experiences. However, our mechanism will be completely local, as our experience was different.

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, such assistance 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: South Africans came here even during the tenure of the former government and held talks and workshops. Did not we get enough technical assistance from them then?

A: No. They were invited but they were not given the feeling of being welcome here. Their knowledge was not used properly in reconciliation process.

Q: According to what you said, I get the feeling that there is a lot to be done before a real mechanism can be instituted?

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.

Q: The UNHRC has deferred the report on Sri Lanka for six months. However, it will be out by September. Can we institute a domestic mechanism within the six months? What will happen then?

A: The UNHRC will have its report. We will take in to consideration and look at any incidents that are raised and inquire them locally. We are ready to do that.

Q: The Tamil National Alliance has passed a resolution in the Northern Province saying that ‘Genocide’ took place against the Tamil people. What is your idea on this?

A: The government cannot be responsible for what the TNA is doing. However, we regret that they have done it at this juncture.

Q: What will be the scope of the domestic inquiry? Will it cover only a few years, or will it cover incidents, say for example, from the 1980s?

A: War crimes involve serious crimes such as murder for which there are no statutory limitations. So, this question will not arise in such cases.

Originally published in 'The Nation' on February 22, 2015.

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