Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, was challenged about Sri Lanka by FRANCE 24 jounalist Philippe Bolopion. Here are the highlights of the interview.
PB: We’ve talked to a few people about how you are handling your job and here is what Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said. He said, and I quote him, that you were “so eager to meet with tyrants that you give up all leverage and get nothing in return.” Is that fair?
BKM: I think there is quite a misunderstanding and misconceptions in such kind of assessment. I have been meeting almost all the leaders, including those quite difficult leadership people. I have been very straight and direct to all those in… When it comes to universally accepted principles, human rights, and basic rights of many vulnerable people, whose rights and whose wellbeing must be protected by the leaders, the first and primary responsibility rests with the leaders of that country. That is why I have been urging them to take necessary action. I have been vocal and there should be no misunderstanding on my commitment.
PB: Let’s look into it, actually. For example, you went to Sri Lanka right after the war, when the Tamil Tigers’ rebellion was defeated by the government, and many people felt that your trip, in a way, was used by the Sri Lankan regime, that they saw it as part of a victory dance.. And it’s true that, several months after you went there, you still have something like 300,000 people, Tamils, who are still in what people call ‘detention camps’. Most of what the president told you at the time has not come true. Do you feel that he played you, in a way?
BKM: I was the first leader in Sri Lanka . I was the first leader to visit Myanmar , the two places nobody visited or nobody could visit. I made a strong case, first, on internally displaced persons. Those 300,000 people must be returned to their homes without further delay.. And their human rights… And humanitarian assistance should be given without any delay or any conditions and restrictions. That’s what I am doing. I have despatched my Undersecretary General Lynn Pascoe. He got assurance from President Rajapaksa, just recently, that all 300,000 displaced persons will be returned to their homes by the end of January next year. This is a great encouragement. Now I got his commitment and it is a matter of his integrity. And his trust is at stake if he doesn’t keep his promise. Now, on the case…
PB: I’m sorry to interrupt you but, do you feel that President Rajapaksa is stringing you along, saying he is going to do all these things and never delivering on them?
BKM: In Sharm El Sheikh, on the margins of a non-allied summit meeting last July, I made a very strong case to President Rajapaksa: “You must keep your promise”. Last week, I spoke over the telephone, I wrote my letter. That is why I have sent my envoy…
PB: Are you not starting to wonder though, Sir, whether the quiet diplomatic roads – whether your approach – is really working? Because these people are making promises but they seem to almost never deliver. Don’t you need to start speaking out against them?
BKM: What you describe as my diplomatic style, as “quiet diplomacy”, is just one part, one aspect, of my whole diplomatic capacity. It is necessary… In some cases, you have to have a very direct, open diplomacy, but sometimes there’s a quiet diplomacy. Behind the scenes diplomacy can be more effective. I am combining all these aspects of diplomacy. This is what I have been doing during the last four decades. So there should be no misconception…
The UN Secretary General may be reassured by these new promises and this new timetable but the monsoon will happen in less than two weeks and that’s the only deadline that matters to the people in the camps. That’s why this Campaign, Amnesty International and many others want the UN SG to give one simple message to the Government: Unlock the camps! NOW!