Interviews

Foreign agreements becoming more detrimental now: Dayasiri Jayasekara

By Skandha Gunasekara

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) categorically denounced the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekara vehemently criticised the SOFA, stating that US military personnel cannot be allowed to have immunity from Sri Lankan laws while in Sri Lanka.

Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning:

Does Sri Lanka need to enter into an agreement such as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)?

No, we need not enter into such an agreement. From 1995, similar agreements have been signed; each one progressively becoming more detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. This SOFA is an agreement with many negative impacts on the country. We should not sign it.

Will Sri Lanka’s sovereignty be violated through this agreement which has clauses giving diplomatic immunity to all US personnel based in the island?

Yes, I believe so. It is not possible to give such immunity. This is a bad clause. That is why I said from the outset that this is a bad deal and we should not sign it.

Many developed nations, such as Japan and South Korea, who host foreign military personnel under SOFA have repeatedly raised concerns over the agreement, particularly about the immunity of foreign servicemen from local laws. How can Sri Lanka avoid such problems?

By not signing this agreement, we can avoid all these problems. There is no need to give immunity enjoyed by diplomats to all US personnel entering Sri Lanka under this agreement. So the best thing is to refrain from signing it.

But isn’t the US benefiting from the SOFA, especially when one considers the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the US?

Yes. The US will reap the benefits. Now they have lost their hold over Diego Garcia. Now they want to move to another location in the region where they can come and go as they please. They have chosen Sri Lanka for this purpose.

China has already established a foothold in Sri Lanka through their loans and investments. The Americans are worried about the Chinese influence in the region so they too are now getting involved in our affairs. We are now caught between a tug-o-war between these two super powers. Our leaders should have taken such factors into account when going for bilateral agreements.

Wouldn’t entering into agreements such as the SOFA further entangle Sri Lanka in the geopolitics of superpowers such as China and the US?

Sri Lanka used to follow a non-aligned foreign policy where we remained neutral. But when Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power, his Government aligned itself with China for their investments and loans. As a result, China has a lot of influence over us.

After the 2015 elections and the new Government came into power, they followed a US and western-centric foreign policy. This SOFA will only make things worse. So it is crucial that the next president is someone who can balance the influences of all super powers in the region. This is vital for the country’s future.