(Translated by Akitha Wijayasinghe)
Minister of State for Regional Cooperation, Tharaka Balasuriya stated that he believes that human rights should be further advanced and methods should be explored to achieve that.
He also said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is interfering in the internal affairs of countries beyond her powers.
Joining with an interview, the minister said that it is not appropriate for outsiders to talk about the internal affairs of a country and when looking at the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights this time, it is convincing that the report was prepared reaching beyond their authorities.
“We focused on determining the powers of the Human Rights Council. For example, the report submitted by the Commissioner mentions the 20th Amendment. The 19th Amendment created two centers of power and created a threatening situation. That is why we told the people that if we came to power 19 would be removed, when we were in the Opposition. 20A was brought forth to dispel 19th amendment. People embraced it.
If people approve our doing, if Parliament approves it, if it is within the legal frame, then it is not appropriate for outside parties to talk about the internal affairs of a country. This time the report of the Commissioner of the Human Rights Council has been prepared on a level that surpasses their limits.
Also, Resolution 30/1 states that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be appointed. The Office on Missing Persons has been established. Such things can be implemented for a certain period of time. Speaking of the Office on Missing Persons, there was a time of war. People disappeared there. Such a committee is important for the relatives of the missing to resolve their legal issues. But that is not valid forever.”
The Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 30/1 in 2015. Later resolutions 34/1 and 40/1 were added. At present, even a report has been issued regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. What do you think of this?
34/1, and 40/1 are related with 30/1. Therefore, we have to think about the main proposal 30/1. Although the 30/1 resolution was passed, Minister Mangala Samaraweera had agreed to it on an invalid basis. He did not get the parliamentary approval. Also, the Cabinet did not seek permission to agree to such an agreement. Also, the then President said that he too was not aware of this.
We question whether a foreign minister has the power to change the country’s constitution or agree to change the country’s laws. We believe that Resolution 30/1 has been agreed upon without any legal basis.
The government says that Sri Lanka will withdraw from such a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council. Is it practicable?
We have informed that we are withdrawing from that proposal. As a member of the United Nations, Universal Periodic Reviews are done. Therefore, we believe that it is better to discuss with other countries and resolve such issues.
Also, the President has appointed a Commission of Inquiry. In particular, there are various facts mentioned in the Human Rights Council reports. Also, this commission has been appointed to compare all the reports such as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report and the Paranagama Report to find out the truth.
What is your view on the functioning of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka?
I have not studied the role of the Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka. So it is difficult to give a clear answer.
You said when you took over the ministry that human rights are a foreign tactic. Are you still of the same opinion?
I believe we must further develop human rights. Even countries with the highest levels of human rights in particular never claim to have fully implemented their human rights. It is an endless process. Therefore, we need to look at how to further develop our human rights. I have never underestimated the concept of human rights.
I was talking about the Human Rights Council that day. I further believe that there is a politicization in the Human Rights Council. If we look at the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights, it is further confirmed.
We see that not only the Human Rights Council but also other institutions are being used to fulfill geopolitical needs. Under Trump, the United States withdrew from the World Health Organization. He also resigned from the Human Rights Council. Withdrew from UNESCO. Inevitably powerful nations have used these to expand their geopolitical interests.
How important do you think the implementation of human rights is in Sri Lanka?
Human rights are not something that will ever have a stop. If you look at the United Nations Human Rights Council, it is Europe-centric. They hope to extend the human rights record in Europe to other countries as well as third world countries. We do not have to be Western.
China, for example, has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty over the past 20 years. Isn’t that a human right? When the United Nations was formed, there were two political views. While the West was talking about civil political rights, the Soviet camp was talking about economic and social rights. In Asia, we have a separate culture. I am of the opinion that our culture does not need to be European-centric.
What is the policy of the present government in dealing with agencies, including the United Nations?
We focus on multilateral engagement, not only with the United Nations Human Rights Council but also with other organizations. But it is important to have legal-based international relations. We believe that it is better to discuss and decide on the needs of all, rather than on individual interests of different countries.
At the same time, every country needs to respect its sovereignty. Neither the Human Rights Council nor other countries have the right to interfere in our people’s sovereignty. We also hope to strengthen the existing institutions for the promotion of human rights in Sri Lanka.
At this point, Covid epidemic has emerged as a crises. When such an epidemic occurs, certain restrictions have to be set. For example, traffic restrictions have to be set. But everyone has rights. Those rights are rights that cannot be restricted by a government or anyone else. We work to protect them.