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G.L and C4 trade views on video

2014 Mar 18

External Affairs Minister, Professor G L Peiris and Channel 4 television, yesterday exchanged views at a press briefing, on the controversial war video on Sri Lanka aired by the British TV channel.

The views on the video, which has already been rejected by the Government, took place at a press briefing in London following the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting.

While Channel 4 Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller told the Minister that the video showing men in army uniform kill suspected LTTE cadres after they were captured, was authentic, Minister Peiris said there were grounds to say the video is fake.

Callum Macrae, the Director of the controversial video on Sri Lanka titled ‘No-Fire Zone’ also posed a question to the Minister at the same press briefing.

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and Foreign Ministers in CMAG including Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid were also present. (Colombo Gazette)

Transcript of the press briefing:

Callum Macrae (Director, No Fire Zone):

Last year, you said at this press conference that you were engaging in your good offices, and that they were progressing. Now there is supposed to be a limit on the time for which good offices go on, and I understand that limit is long-passed, actually, and that at the end of that you were supposed to recommend some form of action. Now you are telling us again that you are still doing the good offices, and I am just wondering how that continuing effort stands beside what the UN has been saying, which is that things are not getting better, but getting worse.

I do just have one very supplementary question for the honourable professor: in light of the Commonwealth’s commitment to association and freedom of expression, and your responsibility to encourage and promote those core values, I wonder if you’d like to comment on the fact that last night one of the leading campaigners for the disappeared in Sri Lanka, a mother and her 14 years old daughter were arrested?

Kamalesh Sharma:

In engaging good faith with member states, there is no cut of point as far as our engagement in member states is concerned in respect of my good offices. If you look at the history of good offices of the Secretary-General, it is because the Secretary-General is engaged in a difficult terrain that you have to draw a very deep breath when you do good offices.

Of course, my expectation is always that quick progress will be made, which is why I said in my opening statement that progress is uneven. We always try and see through persuasion and through collaboration that this progress is achieved. But I would not say that the progress is not being achieved. You will find that in the nature of the work, the pace at which you can progress that work will vary all the time; it will be different.

You cannot have an artificial cut-off point for your good offices. Very often you find that it is taking a long time to pursue the ends through good offices that you want, but we never give up, we stay the course and we do get the result that we want. Looking back, the lesson that we have learnt is to do it in good faith, do it sincerely and do it with some stamina, shown by the Secretary-General and the Secretariat. Because in the end, if the way is to create national capacity and to have them overcome the difficulties that are very often very difficult and intractable, you need the time to play that out.

So we never say at any one point of time that we have seen enough of time. We always work towards the end that serves our values, and we are prepared to draw a very deep breath. But of course, I must emphasise again that this is not the same as saying we are sanguine about it. Not at all. We always try and introduce some velocity and some momentum in the work that we are doing.

G. L. Peiris:

The second question was addressed to me. It is a great pity that all of the progress accomplished in our country during the last four years, at the end of a devastating conflict that spanned three decades, all of that is ignored. Very difficult challenges, and everything that has happened on the ground with regard to internally displaced people being resettled; ex-combatants reintegrated into society; look at the economy of the North, how it is developing; the holding of elections in the northern province after quarter of a century. All of this is ignored, and it is a great pity that your assessment is totally lacking in fairness and a sense of balance. Of course law and order issues are a different matter; we have to look at the evidence, the reasons why action has been taken in a particular case, but the trajectory forward, all the progress, is by any reasonable standard pretty substantial. Regarding the people arrested yesterday, we have to examine the evidence, the grounds on which it is done; that will happen in due course, against judicial scrutiny. I think it is very wrong to come to a conclusion before the facts are looked at objectively and in depth.

Jonathan Miller:

If I could prevail on the question of Sri Lanka with the Honourable Professor, External Affairs Minister Mr Peiris, I do note that there has been progress and I recognise that some efforts have been made in this regard, and you pointed one of these up, sir, in your recent statement at the UN Human Rights Council. If I could just ask you about that very briefly: you said that for the past year investigation has been in train into potential witnesses involved in footage that my programme, Channel 4 News, broadcast in 2009, which purported to show the summary execution of bound, naked, blindfolded prisoners by Sri Lankan security forces. This has been validated as authentic by the United Nations experts. You are now saying that you are investigating this, but for the past four or five years your government has insisted that this footage is a fake. Could you just explain why you have gone to the effort to identify potential witnesses if indeed this footage is, as you say, a fake?

G. L. Peiris:

We are prepared to look at anything fairly and objectively. But just as you say that your material is authentic, there were very compelling grounds for us to come to the conclusion that this was a fake; that it had been done entirely for political reasons.

I must also mention that this kind of material has a habit of surfacing at a politically critical moment; on the eve of something that is happening that is significant for Sri Lanka. In our own minds we have no doubt that this is an orchestrated political campaign, but if there is new material that you wish to submit, we will always be willing, with an open mind, to look at it.

Jonathan Miller:

But you are investigating it sir.

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