Interviews

There are legitimate human rights issues in Sri Lanka: Mavai Senathirajah

By Skandha Gunasekara

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) asserted that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should pass a fresh resolution stipulating a timeframe for the Sri Lankan Government to implement the provisions of the already passed Human Rights Council resolutions on the country.

TNA Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah also said that the party was opposed to any move by the Government to backtrack from its commitments to implement the resolutions.

Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning:

There has been a proposal by President Maithripala Sirisena for Sri Lanka to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNRC) in Geneva. Is this something Sri Lanka can afford to do at this point?

The President is opposing the Resolution. We don’t accept the President’s position. In 2015, the President and the Government supported the 2015 34/1 Resolution of the Human Rights Council and pledged to implement it. Now, he is going against it and we don’t support his stance.

We want all provisions of Resolution 31 and 34/1 on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC implemented in Sri Lanka. We urge the President and the Government to support the Resolution again. We urge the Human Rights Council to pressure the Government to implement all Human Rights Council Resolutions on Sri Lanka.

Several NGOs are already in Geneva, pushing for more international intervention on Sri Lanka. What is your opinion on some of these groups exerting pressure on Sri Lanka?

All the NGOs are demanding that the UNHRC urge Sri Lanka to implement the Resolution on Sri Lanka. My position is that a timeframe is necessary to implement these resolutions. The NGOs are also demanding that these resolutions be implemented in a timely manner and we support that. A new resolution should be passed by the UNHRC, setting out a timeframe for the implementation of the resolutions.

Is there a legitimate human rights issue on Sri Lanka at this moment?

Yes there is. The main issue is that 62 lakhs of voters, including the Tamil community, supported the President during his presidential bid, and that support was for him to find a political solution to the national issue and to implement all resolutions passed by the UNHRC; but now the President is going back on his word.

We urge the President and the Government not to backtrack and to implement all provisions of the Resolution and find a solution to the national problem as soon as possible.

The US withdrew from the UNHRC, claiming the Council was biased. Should Sri Lanka consider withdrawing to protect its own interests?

We must consider the interest of all Sri Lankans. The US withdrew from the UNHRC because of its own interests. Likewise, Sri Lanka should think about that too. The interests of the Sri Lankan Government include that of the Tamil community in the land. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Sri Lankan Government to remain with the UNHRC and implement its resolutions.

The Government has taken some steps by setting up institutes like the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) to address concerns related to human rights. Have we done enough to address these concerns?

That is not enough. They must genuinely find a political solution to the national question. There are large swathes of land in the North and East still under government control that have not been returned to their rightful owners. Promises have been made by the country’s leaders but land has not been returned.

In Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, and the Vanni, there is land yet to be given to the people. It’s an important issue in these areas.

Additionally, the families of those who have gone missing are still agitating, demanding answers to what happened to their loved ones.

What about the prisoners? There are so many prisoners still not released despite promises made by the Prime Minister. Some of these prisoners have been incarcerated for over 20 years. All of these are included in the resolutions passed on Sri Lanka by the UNHRC. This is why we urge its implementation.

The issue of human rights seems to be cantered purely on one community, i.e. the Tamils. Do you think that human rights concerns of other communities are being sidelined?

All human rights violations must be inquired into by the Government of Sri Lanka to find a solution. It is the obligation and the duty of the Sri Lankan Government to do so.