By Together Against Genocide (TAG, formerly Tamils Against Genocide), Friday, March 21 2014
[Opening statement by Mrs Kelebone D Skelemani, Former Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Health, Trade, Home Affairs in Botswana]
Ladies and Gentlemen! I greet you from the Republic of Botswana in Southern Africa.
When I received an invitation from the organisers of this event, I welcomed it with open arms because I view this meeting as a golden opportunity for all concerned parties to get to the table to openly discuss problems that have been bedevilling their society.
I should have arrived in Geneva in the evening of Sunday the 16th March, but a minor freak accident forced me to abandon the journey in Johannesburg and to return to my country on Sunday evening. I therefore wish to start my brief remarks by apologising most sincerely, to the organisers, for my inability to be with you this afternoon. I also wish to thank, upfront, Tamils Against Genocide and The Society for Threatened People for their kind invitation.
The topic for today’s debate “ SRI LANKA, TORTURE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN A CONTEXT OF ETHNICITY AND FAILED DOMESTIC PROCESSES “comes at an opportune time as it complements the United Nations’ efforts in finding permanent solutions to problems facing society in Sri Lanka.
The objective of this meeting, to me, is not to out-argue the opponent or to show the world how weak, how unreasonable or how bad the other party is. To me this meeting provides a forum where disagreeing parties can come together to establish facts and to seek the truth about those issues that divide them or generate conflict, in order to find common ground that will, in turn, assist in finding permanent solutions.
Very often we hear people saying there are two sides to a story or a dispute. I have always maintained that, often, there are at least three sides to any argument: my version, the other person’s version and the truth. It is therefore imperative that when you discuss this sensitive subject you do so with honesty and sincerity in order to establish the truth. I am particularly encouraged to
note that The Government of Sri Lanka has been invited to take part in this meeting. Their comments/input will create a more balanced atmosphere for the discussions and will assist, in no small measure, efforts to find solutions to the problems in Sri Lanka
The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights dated the 24th February concludes, among others, that human rights violations in Sri Lanka continue unabated. The report also shows that the Government of Sri Lanka has, in general, failed to implement many of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The same report also concludes that even where the Government has launched initiatives and established mechanisms such as military courts of enquiry, the initiatives lack independence to be effective and to inspire confidence.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my view is that this report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should form the basis for your discussions. Try to establish why initiatives put in place to find peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka have thus far failed and what else could be done to resolve this impasse. Your views and conclusions should be submitted to the Human Rights Council when it sits, from the 24th of this month.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you go into the discussions, I urge you to observe the following basic rules: openness, tolerance, respect for each other’s views no matter how strongly you disagree, respect for the moderator and most importantly, truthfulness in your deliberations. Failure to abide by these simple rules will relegate the debate to useless but very expensive waste of time.
It is my honest and fervent hope that when you leave this hall, you will have managed to come up with recommendations that will enable all parties to chart a new and better path for the people of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or social status.
I wish you all an honest and fruitful deliberations and once again, my apologies for not being with you.
18th March, 2014