'We don't need outsiders to conduct investigations' - SL President Maithripala
The following interview with the Sri Lanka President Maithreepala Sirisena was conducted by the BBC Sinhala Service during his visit to London. The unofficial full translation of the video interview is done by the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS):
BBC: Thank you very much Mr.President for taking part in this interview. During your visit to UK, you met and discussed with Mr. David Cameron yesterday. We remember earlier Mr.Cameron visited Sri Lanka and criticised the administration of the previous president regarding war crimes, human rights etc. Did you discuss these matters with Mr.Cameron?
Sirisena: The world is looking at us as a new government. Therefore everybody in interested in knowing about the new programmes and plans of a new government. As you said, I met with Prime Minister Cameron and we had a very successful meeting. The British Prime Minister spoke with a profound understanding on the issues related to Sri Lanka's war and post war periods. Before coming to London to participate in the Common Wealth Day events, I appointed a Special Presidential Task Force and even held its first meeting, in order to pursue a policy that would ensure reconciliation and co-existence between the ethnic communities, by studying their problems and gathering necessary information to provide solutions. So, the British Prime Minister had discussions with us on all these matters. Therefore we, as a new government, hope to start a new journey by building unity, brotherhood and friendship among all the ethnic groups through reconciliation while also overcoming the challenges we are facing on the international level. I am happy about the way the British Prime Minister reacted to our plans. I would say the discussions we had, after we were warmly welcomed at the Downing street, is highly effective.
BBC: Mr. President, one of the main promises your government has made nationally as well as internationally, is that you would conduct a national investigation into the alleged war crimes. When do you hope to start this investigation? What is the exact process?
Sirisena: When we say a domestic mechanism, what we mean is a proceeding that would be planned according to the law of the land and our constitution. So we will advise the people who will be appointed for this domestic mechanism to act in an impartial, neutral and independent manner. When we consider the accusations that were made about the alleged human rights violations occurred in the last phase of the war, I think it is a victory that we succeeded in gaining the consent of the international community for a domestic mechanism. Before our government came into power, during the time of the previous government, there wasn't much international consent on this matter. But we succeeded in postponing the proposals that were due in March and to win their consent for a domestic investigation. We have already done the preliminary groundwork for this. Therefore we will be able to start the work within a month or so.
BBC: So what is the exact mechanism? Is it a special investigation council or a presidential commission...?
Sirisena: It will mainly be an investigative committee, that would be appointed according to the law of the country. We will assigned them the responsibilities and clarify their duties in order to implement our programme.
BBC: As you mentioned, in response to the request made by your government, the United Nations have postponed their investigation. If the UN investigators make a request for permission to visit Sri Lanka, will you grant permission?
Sirisena: No, we have made a clear statement requesting them to have faith on our domestic investigation. What we can do is to take UN's opinions in to consideration and strengthen the domestic mechanism accordingly. Therefore I don't think that we need anyone from outside to conduct the investigations. But of course, we can obtain their ideas to make our work more effective.
BBC: We know that Jeyakumari Balenithiran who was in detention was recently bailed out. But she has not been acquitted on all charges yet and still on bail. Also we were told by the Justice Minister Mr.Wijedasa Rajapaksa that there are about 182 to 189 people still held in detention without being prosecuted. What action would you take about these people? What is your government's message to the Tamil people regarding reconciliation?
Sirisena: I have instructed the National Defence Council to submit a full report on the issues pertaining to the people who are held in detention. At the same time, everybody has to take into account that, as a government, we have only been in power for two months. We just had last few weeks to work on these matters. We can continue our work according to the plans we have.
BBC: If these people will be released excluding the ones who are to be prosecuted, can you give them a guarantee that they will get an opportunity to move freely and earn their livelihood as they wish?
Sirisena: If someone is set free, he should have the right to enjoy that freedom. That's the normal situation. In any country where human rights and fundamental rights are respected, a person who is absolved from charges and granted freedom, must live as a free person. Likewise, if someone has committed an offense, the necessary actions need to be taken in accordance with the law of the land and the offender should face punishment. So we have given instructions to relevant officers. Within a week or two, we will get a full report on the situation and we will be able to continue our work accordingly.
BBC: Mr.President, within the Sinhala society, we cannot see that there is any open discussion or debate on war crimes. Instead, what we mostly saw in the recent past was how the dissent was crushed. Can you make a promise that some space will be given for such dissenting discussions?
Sirisena: Well...in a country, not only on war crimes, but even on any other issue, the people must be given the right to express themselves and to debate. Now, for example, we are planning to amend the constitution and the people must be allowed to express their opinion about those amendments. Likewise, as a policy I accept that all the people and all the communities living in the country must be given an opportunity to discuss the matters you mentioned.
BBC: The Sinhala version of the documentary film 'No Fire Zone' was released yesterday in an event held in the British parliament. Speaking to BBC, director Callum Macrae requested the government to allow this film to be aired in Sri Lanka and not to block the websites. What have you got to say?
Sirisena: I think we have to reject those things. I don't believe such things. Because we have questions regarding how they obtained all this information to change the situation in our country and to mislead the international community about the situation. Therefore I cannot comment on the content of the film as I haven't seen this film yet and don't even know what it contains. So I will only be able to comment on this after watching it. Apart from that, when consider what was there earlier, I totally reject such things.
BBC: I am just asking whether you will allow this film to be aired or will you ban it?
Sirisena: No, even to decide whether we must allow it to be shown, we have to watch the film. Because we don't know what it contains. So we have to watch it first.
BBC: If you manage to find anyone who is responsible for committing war crimes, will your government punish them?
Sirisena: That will be done through a domestic mechanism and national judiciary.
Translated by JDS