Canada won’t boycott forthcoming CHOGM says Senator Segal

Senator Segal theglobeandmail

An Exclusive interview with Canadian Special envoy to the Commonwealth Senator Hugh Segal who is currently touring Sri Lanka.

Canadian special envoy to the Commonwealth Senator Hugh Segal said Canada will not boycott the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka.

Senator Segal, who will be arriving in Colombo tomorrow morning, on a fact-finding mission, talking exclusively to the Sunday Island in London said that there will be a Canadian delegation in Colombo for CHOGM and "Canada is sorting out as we speak the level of that delegation".

Segal, who was in London, to attend the Commonwealth Day celebrations, however, said that the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend the summit.

"Our Prime Minister said in August 2011 before the CHOGM meeting in Perth that when the UN Expert report indicated there was evidence there were war crimes on both sides at the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009, based on what he has seen to date", he said.

"The premier does not personally plan to be at CHOGM in Colombo", he said.

The Senator said that he will be coming to Colombo as a friend of  Sri Lankan people, Sinhalese, Tamils, Christians and Muslims with an open mind so that he could report back the developments on the ground to his government.

After the impeachment of the former Chief Justice, Canada has requested the Commonwealth Secretary General to take up the matter at the next Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to be held in April in London and he confirmed that any discussions about Sri Lanka at the CMAG would no way hinder the CHOGM meeting being held in Sri Lanka."It’s not my view that a discussion at CMAG has any direct implications whether or not CHOGM meeting would go forward in your country in November as planned", he said.

He said that Canada was amongst the first western countries to place the LTTE on a list of banned terrorist organizations and Tamil people who tried to raise money for terrorist activities have been arrested.

He said that he would like to give credit to Sri Lanka government for eradicating terrorism in the country.  "It is rubbish that the Canadian government go against Sri Lanka due to Tamil vote bank"

 "The government of Canada does not enjoy or has not enjoyed any particular support from the Tamil community," he said.

The following are excerpts of the interview:

 QWhat is your role as the Special Envoy to the Commonwealth?

A: I was appointed by our foreign minister as the special envoy in 2011. My ambition as a member of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) was to work towards modernising the Commonwealth and to support the modernisation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) rules and to support the idea which came from Eminent Persons Group (EPG) for a Commonwealth charter.

Once those were passed in principle, my government appointed me as a special envoy to help with the process of approval working with various governments trying to get that approval process through which of course culminated effectively at some level with her majesty’s signature the other day on the charter. Now the rest of the EPG recommendations and the rest of the CMAG changes now have to be implemented and my role is to focus on that implementation as the special envoy and that is what my remit is as we speak.

 QThat is a very big role for you.

 A: I am a very big fan of the Commonwealth. I am a very big fan of its dynamism, its capacity to be a positive force in all the 54 countries who are all volunteer members and therefore I am delighted to have this opportunity.

 QOn December 12, 2012 addressing the first session of 41st parliament, you said the impeachment of the Chief Justice in Sri Lanka was a violation of the Latimer House principles. But, the Sri Lanka government says the impeachment was done according to the constitutional rules?

 A: Let me just say that judicial independence is a very important premise within all the countries of the Commonwealth. It is one of the core principles now part of the Commonwealth Charter. So we are having difficulties where judges may fall into some measure of disrepute but the way in which that is dealt with has to reflect the principle of judicial independence. That was why I expressed my concern in the Senate of Canada on the day that you mentioned and as you recalled I said as did our foreign minister and as did our prime minister that was important that this matter be considered in a collaborated way by the CMAG and I am still of the view that would be the constructive way to proceed.

As you know I am coming to Sri Lanka to learn about progress on the ground and the steps that the government has been taking. I know there is very substantial investment and infrastructure in the North and I hope to come away with a much better understanding of the circumstances on the ground in your country so I can report back to my government in a detail and a formative way.

 QWho invited you to Sri Lanka?

 A: We requested and received multiple entry visas from the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Ottawa who is very helpful. We very much want to have the opportunity to visit your lovely country, to learn from it and be able to report back on some of the circumstances and undertakings which have been made in a constructive way and your government is aware of my arrival. There has been very constructive work between our High Commission in Colombo and Government Of Sri Lanka (GOSL) about what my programme would be and we are looking forward to having a very constructive visit and learning from many aspects of your remarkable country and many groups and from the government itself so we have a much better and profound understanding of the dynamic, development, growth and the other opportunities which are very much associated with your country these days.

QWhy is Canada against the CHOGM being held in Sri Lanka this year?

A: I think it is important not to overstate our position. Our PM has said in August 2011 before the CHOGM meeting in Perth that when the UN Expert report came in and indicated that there was evidence that there were war crimes on both sides at the end of the war in 2009, our PM said that he based on what he has seen to date, he did not personally plan to be at CHOGM in Colombo. There is no Canadian boycott of CHOGM. There will be a Canadian delegation in Colombo for CHOGM. Canada is sorting out as we speak the level of that delegation. British as you know as you are the correspondent here on the ground you know better than I the British are also giving consideration to what the level of the delegation will be. Canada is in a similar circumstance and part of my task when I go to your country next week and travel about and learn and pick up inside information is to report back to my government to assist them of the process of making that determination but at no time did the PM indicate he was against CHOGM taking place in your country; nor did he indicate that Canada would be boycotting.  I think there has been perhaps a misunderstanding on that.

QIt is only Canada, Britain and Australia that are always raising questions against Sri Lanka. Why don’t other Commonwealth countries join hands with you?

A: We are of the view that Sri Lanka which was called Ceylon then was one of the first signatories to the London Agreement of 1949. It is a country that was part of the Commonwealth from the very beginning. It’s not a new arrival. It’s an established leader within the Commonwealth. In Westminster Abbey the other day for the church celebrations of the Commonwealth, the Canadian flag, the Sri Lankan flag, the British flag, the Australian flag and the Indian flag were marching together as the first founding members of the organisation. So we have very great respect for the tradition of democracy in your country.

We have a great respect for the role that Sri Lanka has played as an important force in that part of the world. So, on that basis we are of the view that we can expect the highest standard of behaviour from your country particularly in the context of being the host of CHOGM. We are hopeful that based on the recommendations made by your own LLRC in Sri Lanka that your government will find more ways to try to move quickly on some of those recommendations so as to make people feel that in fact the spirit of the Commonwealth (lives in Sri Lanka).

Core values of the Commonwealth are being respected within the realm of what’s possible and appropriate for the administration of your government. There have been concerns expressed in some circumstances and I am coming with an open mind to learn more about circumstances on the ground in your country, to hear from your government officials, to hear from other officials, to hear from other parts of Sri Lankan societies, so that I can better understand the context and I can report back to my government.

QAs you know CMAG meeting will be held in London in April and do you think that they will discuss about Sri Lanka in that meeting?

A: I don’t think that agenda has been determined yet. Our government has said in the past that we think that with the impeachment of the Chief Justice it would be of great value to have a discussion at the CMAG so that frankly your government gets an opportunity to present its view. So people will understand its view. For an example, I attended a CMAG meeting in New York City adjacent to the UN General Assembly, the matter being discussed about Maldives, the President of the Maldives Mr. Waheed was present to express his point of view so that people understood his perspective, So I think as Commonwealth friends, brothers and sisters we could work together on these issues in a constructive way that respect sovereignty, that respect the independence of Sri Lanka but also tries to work collaboratively to achieve some progress on some of the issues which still may be difficult.

QIf CMAG discuss about Sri Lanka in their meeting in London in April, Can Sri Lanka still hold the CHOGM this year?   

A: I don’t think as we speak there is any contradiction between a discussion at CMAG and what is planned in November for CHOGM. The two issues do not connect formally. We have had as you may know other countries being discussed at CMAG who have addressed some of the issues that came up. It’s not my view that a discussion at CMAG has any direct implications whether or not CHOGM meeting would go forward in your country in November as planned.

QIt is said that CMAG can take up a matter only after exhaustion of the Good Officers Role of the Secretary General. What is your view on that?

A: Well, as you may know, when the new remit and the new rules for CMAG which came from a Task Force of Foreign Ministers on which Foreign Minister of your country was ceded was passed unanimously by the Foreign Ministers in Perth and that unanimity included Minister Peiris. There was a clear definition given to what constitutes the "Good Officers" and how long they would operate. If you look at December the 15th or so thereabout when the impeachment took place by the time we get to the date of April 26th the two months or the three months period of the operation "Good Officers" will in fact four months actually have expired. On that basis CMAG discussion is absolutely possible.

QHas any Commonwealth country complained about Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth Secretary General? If so what action has he taken so far?  

A: I don’t know the answer to that. Countries, if they offer a complaint or concern to the Secretary General direct that is not something he would generally report to the other countries. I know that His Excellency after a visit to your country did make a report to Foreign Ministers about what he saw, what is under way, what the government is attempting to do what are the benefits of continued engagement. If there is a CMAG discussion about your country I expect that report would be a very important part of the discussion.

QHas Canada reported Sri Lanka to the Secretary General?

A: Canada has requested that there be a discussion at CMAG on the impeachment and other related issues in your country. That is just a request that gone forward from Canada to the Secretary General, we do not yet know what would transpire.

QThere is an accusation that former Tamil Tiger Terrorists are using Canada as a safe haven?

A: Let me be perfectly clear. Canada was amongst the first western countries to put the LTTE on a list of banned terrorist organisations. We did that many many years ago. Canada has done serious investigations and arrest people who try to raise money in Canada for terrorist activities because that’s a violation of the criminal code in Canada.  Canada considers itself to be a zero tolerance country on terrorism and we will not nor have ever we supported any organisation that plans to use violence to advance its purposes. As you may or may not know our High Commissioner back in the period of time around 2005, a very distinguish woman by the name of Ruth Archibald sent back a very stern message to the government of Canada. She was the High Commissioner in Colombo, she asked that Canadian politicians not in any way attend certain events sponsored by sections of the Tamil community because those events were deemed by the GOSL to be supportive of negative forces in your country.

Canada takes its opposition to terrorism including the LTTE extremely seriously and we would be of the view that the end of terrorism is a huge step ahead for your country and we give your government credit for having fought that battle and won. We are not of the view that there’s any Diaspora pressure on Canada with respect to the positions we are taking. There is a strong Tamil and Sri Lankan Sinhalese Diaspora in our country and they have the right to participate in our politics and to demonstrate their views but it has no influence what ever on Canada’s policy towards the Commonwealth. Let me be as frank as I can. I do not have any view as to what the internal decisions are or should be of the GOSL. That’s for the people of Sri Lanka and the government to determine on their own. I do have views about the rules for membership of the Commonwealth and what our core values are and that is my remit. I don’t have a remit with respect to bilateral relations with the Sri Lanka; my remit is exclusively with respect to the commonwealth and Canada’s responsibilities as a member of the Commonwealth that reflects its values and core principles.

QSome people say that western countries do not give credit where it is due. Are you aware that Sri Lankan government forces rescued thousands of Tamil civilians from the LTTE where they were used as a human shield? They were fed and looked-after by the government until they were resettled.   

A: Well let me not get in to that as I am coming to your country to learn about these things. I don’t purport to have any expertise on those issues. I will say this that you know there will be a pretty robust debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council in the next week or so in Geneva where some of these issues will be addressed. If you reflect for a moment the LLRC of your own country from your own parliament made some very constructive recommendations. You may know that the government of Canada provided financial support to your government so that report could be translated into Tamil so that all Sri Lankans could read it. We remain hopeful that your government will be able to move on with those recommendations at a speed and a pace which make good sense in terms of both accountability and in terms of reconciliations.

QSenator, I interviewed our Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris in London recently. I would like to quote one thing he said. He said,

"The motivation to punish Sri Lanka is diaspora pressure. It is wrong for some countries to be held hostage to the political fortunes of personalities in other countries. That is entirely contrary to the spirit of the Commonwealth."
What have you got to say to that?

A: First of all, I have a very high regard for your Minister of Foreign Affairs. I think he is a very confident, able minister who does a very good job on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka around the world. There is no diaspora pressure of any kind on the government of Canada. In fact if you look at communities where the Tamil diaspora lives, they always voted for other political parties not the political party which I am a member, not the political party that forms the present government.

QThe Sri Lanka government says since the war they have done a lot to improve the quality of life of the people. They say, Western countries should allow more time and space to improve the human rights record?

A: That is what I am going to Colombo to learn and to find out more about. I do have many people who tell me on an ongoing basis that the economic and social progress on mortality, social mobility and all those things are very compelling.. The progress is noteworthy.

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