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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

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‘...these countries are not PERSONALLY ANGRY WITH US’ – Part III:

Rich, full and meaningful relationship with India

The late H.V. Perera, Queen’s Counsel, who sat on the Rhodes Scholarship Board when I was selected as the Rhodes Scholar of this country said, “You can find authority for any proposition in some part of the world. The authority is not what matters." He always told his juniors, “Argue from first principles, be clear and logical and then you will find that these principles can be supported by authority”.


Minister Professor G.L. Peiris

So, I would like to say that - not in order to humiliate him, but simply as a word of advice - that that is not the best approach to the construction of speeches. He asked me and the government to think out of the box. I would return the compliment and say that he, in organizing his thinking on these matters, must act in a spirit of fidelity to his own advice.

He stressed the principle of non-interference by countries in the internal activities of others. I do not think, the Hon. Sajith Premadasa is aware of the history of the Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council came into being because its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission was thought to be profoundly unsatisfactory. The world community thought that the Human Rights Commission had become unduly politicized. The Human Rights Council is there to uphold and to maintain uniform standards against rich and poor, against big and small across the world, without distinction and without discrimination.

That is the only respect, the only manner in which international law can command the respect of humanity because international law, unlike domestic law or what is called municipal law, is not backed up by force. There are no prisons. There are no police officers. The only thing that it can rely on, the ultima ratio is moral persuasion. So, the world community felt that the Human Rights Commission had become unduly politicized. It all depends on who you were, how powerful you were and their whole attitude depended on their assessment of your clout, your influence. Therefore, the General Assembly of the United Nations took action to do away with the Human Rights Commission and to substitute for it the Human Rights Council, which is today the functioning instrument.

Human Rights Council

It is, however, a matter of empirical experience and a matter for deep regret, that the has become even more politicized than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. Today, it is a matter of politics; it is a matter of countries getting together, groupings of countries, it is a question of who leads them,who has the clout to phone countries and say you vote in this particular way. You have a situation where 27 countries of the European Union vote in one way.

Although privately they tell us that they do not agree but, there is precious little they can do about it. That is the reality of the situation. Of course, we have to work within the framework of that system, but, we have an obligation together with other countries, to try to do something constructive to reform that system. That is why, contrary to all the cynicism which was manifested in such generous measure by speakers from the Opposition, Africa is important; Latin America is important; the CIS countries are important and the Gulf countries are important, because those are our natural allies in bringing about changes in the international order, which will serve in the long run the cause of humanity.

The Hon. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, in the course of his contribution, made a reference to sanctions. On behalf of the government, I would associate myself unreservedly with that point of view. The whole problem about sanctions, - he spoke of sanctions, Sir - is that they can never be accurately targeted. You aim at 'X' and you hit A, B and C. Now, when sanctions are imposed on Iran, the economies of so many other countries are affected adversely. That is not an intended consequence but, it is a foreseeable consequence.

Domestic policy


Parliamentary proceedings. File photo

When sanctions are imposed against a country, it is usually the most vulnerable, the poorest that are affected both within that country and in other countries that have commercial relationships with the country against which sanctions are imposed. For those reasons, Sir, the government fully agrees with the observations on that matter by the Hon. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, President’s Counsel.

The Hon. Ravi Karunanayake spoke of India and presented this as a major disaster - everything has gone wrong with India and that India, which was our friend, ally and our supporter, has suddenly turned against us. I would like to remind him of his own observation, which I think is a correct observation, that domestic policy is the root of foreign policy. Foreign policy, in every substantial sense, is an extension of domestic policy.

We all know that the internal dynamics of the Indian situation at the time dictated a certain course of action. Here is a question of timing - what was happening at that time, the Budget, relationships within India - the Centre and other States - those are the dynamics which dictated a certain course of action. Politicians, Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, understand other politicians. One swallow does not make a summer. How many times has India supported us? In the United Nations and in other multilateral fora, they have tended consistently to support us.

This is the exception and not the rule. We understand the reasons why they acted on this solitary occasion as they did. But, it is a rich and full and meaningful relationship.

The largest number of tourists coming to this country come from India. Indian investment into this island is very substantial. Trade with India has improved by 700 percent since the Free Trade Agreement was entered into with India in 1998 and came into force in the year 2000.

The newly appointed Minister of External Affairs of India, Salman Khurshid, who met me within days of his appointment, in the midst of a particularly heavy schedule, assured me that from his own country’s point of view, the relationship with Sri Lanka is very crucial and that assurance was repeated in exactly the same emphatic terms by Anand Sharma, India’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Trade.

We have an excellent relationship with India. How many Indian Ministers came to this country in a matter of six months? It was unprecedented. We had Kumari Selja; we had Anand Sharma and we had Jairam Ramesh. They all came here because of the value, the inherent and the intrinsic value, they attach to their bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka.

There were many very just compliments that were paid to my distinguished predecessor, the late Hon. Lakshman Kadiragamar. In the picturesque phrase of the late Hon. Lakshman Kadiragamar, the relationship between these two countries goes so far back in time that it is lost in the mists of time. That was the colourful phrase that was used by the Hon. Lakshman Kadiragamar to portray the depth and the quality of the relationship between Sri Lanka and India.

The Hon. Vijitha Herath spoke of the need for a particular identity and focus in the development of a country’s foreign policy. I agree entirely with that point of view.

That is why, Sir, after the President brought the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies under the purview of my Ministry, I have invested a great deal of effort to develop the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies as a think tank which will serve the Ministry of External Affairs presenting policy papers, options; that is material that we need very much to formulate and to apply a foreign policy that is suited to the needs of our time and a foreign policy that will serve the public of Sri Lanka. The Hon. Rauff Hakeem and many other speakers referred to the very happy development in the United Nations with regard to Palestine. I want to say, Sir, every year when President Rajapaksa attended the UN General Assembly sessions in New York, without exception, he put in a paragraph in his speech about Palestine. And he said that Sri Lanka fully supports the United Nations Resolution which goes back to 1948 advocating the two-state solution and the sanctity of the borders of the two States; the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.

When I represented the President in New York this year, he told me specifically "When you speak at the United Nations General Assembly, please remember to mention this point with all the emphasis that is possible." I did that and that was greatly appreciated by President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine.

I want to tell the Hon. Harin Fernando that it is not really in the best taste to make criticisms of public officers who do not have the right of reply here. If you criticize me, I have the right to reply. But, if you criticize Sri Lanka’s Ambassadors or High Commissioners abroad, they do not have the right to reply to you. So, it is not going to be my policy to comment on individuals. They are running a service; a professional service and as their Minister, they have the right to expect my support in situations where they are unjustly criticized.

The Hon. Tissa Attanayake said that there is a great deal of waste; that is not the case. In fact, after discussion with the President, I am about to submit, Sir, a Cabinet Paper which draws attention to the parlous state of the vehicles that are used by many of Sri Lanka’s envoys abroad. Some vehicles, Sir, are 13years old. The Ambassador’s vehicle in Brazil is 13 years old. In almost all countries, it is more than seven years old. It is wrong to say that these persons are having a whale of a time, unlimited money for entertainment and for housing. That is not the case at all.

The Hon. Ruwan Wijayawardhana asked about the situation regarding our premises in Washington. I would like to tell the Hon. Ruwan Wijayawardhana that these are premises that were purchased way back in 1948 when the late Sir Claude Corea was our Permanent Representative in New York. In fact, my father served in that Mission for some time. This was way back in 1948. Now, there are 24 employees of that Mission. Those premises are simply not adequate.

We have now come up with the policy of purchasing premises - if the Treasury has funds, one a year - after discussion with the Hon. (Dr.) Sarath Amunugama, the Secretary to the Treasury and others because it is certainly a wise policy in the long-run instead of paying rent as the rents are exorbitant. It is an investment. We cannot do it all at once. We do not have the resources but one at a time. In Washington there was a considerable reduction in property prices. We made use of that. Some years ago we bought a property in Pretoria in South Africa, again making use of fluctuating market conditions. That is not an irresponsible act; it is not an extravagant act; it is an act that is intended to save money for this country and to serve its interest. Those are the main points that I wanted to make, Sir.

It only remains for me to express my warm appreciation to all those who have made the work of my Ministry, both pleasant and productive. These are not things that any one person can do, whatever his commitment and whatever his ability. This is necessarily team work, Sir. It is work which requires a team spirit. I know myself that sometimes officials of the Ministry are there at 7 o’clock , at 8 o’clock in the evening. If something needs to be done they will be there. This is because of the time differences. When we are sleeping they are getting up on the other side of the Atlantic, on the West Coast. Because of that people do not stick to rigid time lines and I never had to force them to do it. They have done it spontaneously and with great goodwill. The Consular Affairs Section starts work at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Skills development

We work very closely with my Friend, the Hon. Dilan Perera because there has to be a symbiotic relationship between these two Ministries. One of Sri Lanka’s great strengths is our human resources. I would like to tell you Sir, that today, US Dollars 7,000 million comes into the Sri Lankan exchequer from Sri Lankans working abroad. It is one of the largest sources of revenue for Sri Lanka, hardly second to the money that is generated by the export of apparel products. It is a matter of great satisfaction that we have been able to serve these people mainly on the initiative of the Hon. Dilan Perera but with our support and in situations where these people get into difficulties, sometimes very painful situations we have been able to recover US Dollars 184 million last year to help them as a result of direct intervention.

There was also some comment about professionalism. I do not know whether those who made the criticisms are aware that last year no fewer than 16 officers of the Ministry were sent for Masters programmes. Skills development - you have to learn on the job. Nobody comes to a job fully prepared or fully equipped. We have done that. We took a new batch into the Ministry last year and we held an examination this year to take a further batch. So, I would like Sir, as I conclude these remarks to pay my warm tribute to the officials of the Ministry headed by the Secretary Karunatilaka Amunugama and I will not mention other individuals because it would be invidious but they have the warm appreciation of their Minister in carrying forward the foreign policy of this country at a particularly challenging and critical juncture in the country’s history.

I also wish to thank very sincerely, Members on both sides of the House who made very constructive contributions to this Debate.

Concluded

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