Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka Bernard Savage says the EU has concerns over issues related to human rights and accountability in the country. He observed that there is still a lot to be done in terms of the country’s reconciliation process following the end of the war nearly four years ago. “I think as far as time and space is concerned, the international community recognises that it is necessary, but concrete action must be engaged,” Savage noted, adding that the whole ethos of the UNHRC is to work with Sri Lanka to achieve long-term development.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What do you think of the reconciliation process in the country nearly four years after the end of the war?
A: I think there’s a lot to be done. A political settlement has not yet been reached. The root cause of the conflict has to be addressed. A military victory has been won and everyone welcomes the end of the conflict. Now the issues that caused the conflict in the first place need to be looked at and addressed.
Q: What is the EU’s position in relation to the Sri Lankan government’s addressing of issues related to human rights and accountability?
A: The EU has concerns on both issues. Issues of human rights and accountability must be addressed. The EU has made public comments on the matter. That is why the EU supported the US resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year and has expressed support to this year’s resolution as well.
Q: How do you think the government could successfully address concerns raised by the international community?
A: There was a universal periodic review (UPR) recently and there were 200 recommendations made to the government. The government did not accept nearly half the recommendations. More than recommendations, there are questions related to a number of issues that range from enforced disappearances, to many others. The government needs to address these issues.
Q: The Sri Lankan government has told the UNHRC that the reconciliation process is complex. Do you agree with this view?
A: I agree it is a complex process. I don’t think anyone expects it to be resolved in a short space of time, but the government needs to indicate that they have set out to achieve a goal and are striving to achieve it.
Q: Is the Sri Lankan government’s call for more time and space to address concerns a justified one?
A: I think as far as time and space is concerned, the international community recognises that it is necessary, but concrete action must be engaged. There has been progress in issues such as resettlement and demining, but there is no comprehensive package that addresses all the issues.
Q: The EU has expressed support to the new US resolution to be tabled before the UNHRC this month. Do you think the move would bring positive results on the ground in Sri Lanka?
A: Well, I hope so. Beyond that, there are the views of the originators of the resolution, the US that Sri Lanka would respond positively.
Q: Has the Sri Lankan government effectively engaged the international community when dealing with areas of concern like human rights and accountability?
A: There have sometimes been problems of communication. It is not the intention of the international community to promote an anti-Sri Lanka sentiment abroad. There is engagement with the international community in areas like the economy, development, humanitarian assistance, etc. The government needs to get over the attitude that the international community is anti-Sri Lanka; this would help the country move forward.
Q: What impact would the country have to face in the event the government fails to continuously address concerns raised by the international community?
A: In terms of impact, I cannot give a specific comment. The whole ethos of the UNHRC is to work with Sri Lanka to achieve long-term development. If the country can reach a level of cooperation, then there is no list of consequences. The US resolutions are procedural motions. It is not quid pro quo situation.
Q: The Sri Lanka’s government is to reapply for the EU’s GSP Plus facility in 2014. What chances does Sri Lanka have on receiving the facility again?
A: Well, the Sri Lankan government has not yet applied, so I cannot comment on it.
(The Sunday Leader)