Interviews

SOFA will violate country’s sovereignty: Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa

By Skandha Gunasekara

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) protested the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and said that they were totally against Sri Lanka entering the agreement. JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa said that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty would be violated by such an agreement.

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)?

The JVP is against the signing of the SOFA. The signing of the ACSA in 2007, reaffirming the ACSA in 2017, and then going on to SOFA was all done because we have become part of the US military strategy in the region.

The US is rapidly expanding its military role in the Indian Ocean in response to China’s rise as a superpower. Small nations like Sri Lanka should not get tangled in their geopolitics. Therefore, signing agreements such as SOFA only results in more problems for Sri Lanka.

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

Yes, certainly. This agreement gives immunity to all US military servicemen, and any other individual the US Government nominates can freely dwell in Sri Lanka and even bear arms without being penalised by local laws. It is a clear strategy for the US to set up base here for its future ambitions. If we agree to these conditions, it would mean Sri Lanka would have to co-operate or taken part in any US military mission in the region.

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?

The US has different versions of the SOFA for different countries. There will be unique differences in these agreements. Much of the clauses in the agreement will depend on how the host nation responds to the US over the agreement. There are enough examples of where developed countries have entered into the SOFA and later found that the provisions of the agreement were unfair.

Another factor one must take into account is the officials at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs who were involved in this agreement are directly paid by the US Government. So, such officials will be partial towards the US when it comes to the provisions of the agreement.

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

Definitely. The world wants a piece of Sri Lanka because we are in the maritime route that connects the West with the East. So we are a prime naval and military base. At one point, the Indian Army came to Sri Lanka and we were forced to sign the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. Now there’s a power struggle over our country between the US, India, and China, and the US is trying to get a foothold by linking up with India. Now, we are being dragged into this power struggle even further through the SOFA.

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

Actually, from 1977 onwards, we left behind our non-aligned policies when J.R. Jayewardene initiated a US-centric foreign policy. This was at a time when India was aligned with the Soviet Union. However, in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the world’s foreign policies heavily favoured the US and the animosity between India and the US disappeared.

Now, China has emerged as a heavyweight in the region and the US is using its allies such as the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam to tackle China’s growing global influence.

Similarly, China too is using its military resources to protect its investments in the African region. But one thing that must be noted is that China does not use tactics employed by the US where a friendly nation’s sovereignty and independence is directly violated.

So, by entering into SOFA, we are paving the way to become collateral damage in a future power struggle in the region between the superpowers.

If SOFA is brought before Parliament and is taken to a vote, how will the JVP vote?

We are fully against it. We were against the ACSA of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2007 as well as the ACSA extension in 2017 by the current administration. We are against both the ACSA and the SOFA.