Written by Lahiru Fernando
06 Apr, 2015 | 8:56 pm
During an exclusive interview with News 1st’s Shameer Rasooldeen, Dr. Palitha Kohona, the senior diplomat who served as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York until recently, said that warmer relations with the West should not come at the expense of relations with the East.
Q: Dr. Kohona, you were attached with international relations for over ten years and then you served as a diplomat in the United Nations for nearly five and a half years. However, the thinking of the United Nations changed after the 8th of January, in 2015. Agreed or disagreed?
A: I don’t think it changed. I think there was a certain warmth in the attitude, when the government changed and the foreign minister visited the United Nations. There was a noticeable warmth in the attitude – and I am saying this without denigrating in any way the attitude towards the representatives – of the previous regime.
Q: Did the united nations dislike the former administration?
A: I wouldn’t say so, no. I could categorically say that there was no such dislike.
Q: However, after the 8th of January, the United Nations changed its policy towards Sri Lanka. You saw, a report of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva postponed the report as well, the publication of this particular report in question. Can the United Nations change its policies based on a different government?
A: I think we are mixing up two things here. You know there are different angles to this. One is that, by delaying the release, now the report could be further strengthened. Because there is more time to obtain other information, which they have – may have missed – earlier. On the other hand, Sri Lanka also has the opportunity, now, to deliver on some of the commitments that we have made: on human rights violations, on accountability.
Q: Is it an advantage or a disadvantage?
A: I think it is both.
Q: Is Sri Lanka on the right track in terms of human rights because now the country is engulfed in the 100-day programme, the 19th amendment, so and so forth. This is the core question of the international community, human rights, accountability issues. Do you think Sri Lanka is on the right track?
A: One is that, the international community as a whole, has never really put Sri Lanka on the dot. The international community consists of 193 members of the United Nations. It’s only a small percentage of countries, especially western countries, who were posing these questions to Sri Lanka. The international community’s relationship with Sri Lanka, should not be limited to a perception that we had to deal with only those few countries, in the west.
Q: Dr. Kohona, one of the allegations levelled at the previous regime is the fact that the previous regime did not have a foreign policy. You were part of the previous regime, was appointed by the previous regime, as Ambassador to New York, was also the Foreign Secretary for some time. How do you view this?
A: I think that is a little bit of an exaggeration. It was based on the concept of non-alignment, we tried to develop relations with both the east and the west.
Q: Do you think we are moving away from the east and getting closer to the west?
A: My hope is that, that this is not true. It is very important to consolidate that relationship with the countries in the west and I think that that is a very important thing for us, having good relations with the east and the west. We should develop those relationships but not at the expense of the solid relationships we already have.
Q: The UN resolution clearly states that the intervention of international community is needed, when formulating other domestic mechanisms and domestic process, in which the Sri Lankan government has promised special mandate holders should arrive in Sri Lanka and assist if the need be.
How do you view this? Will this in any way affect the sovereignty of the country in the long run?
A: I think Sri Lanka has come under a lot of pressure over the recent years. There are many other countries in the world who are probably in a worse situation than us. But they don’t come under direct pressure. But as a country we need to deal with it. We can’t avoid it. We can’t escape from it. So we can’t blame the international community. we ourselves need to respond to it, we need to deal with it.
Q: If you are invited to take up a post in the foreign service, by the present regime, what would be your response?
A: In 2006 I left this job and came back to Sri Lanka because I had the opportunity to serve the country. and if I am given that opportunity to serve the country, I will do it again.
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