A Timely Intervention from Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister

Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has recently penned a lengthy open letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa, the island nation's previous president. In the letter, Samaraweera pushes back on some of the counterproductive, hypocritical and baseless assertions that Rajapaksa has made lately -- especially as it relates to the current government's reform agenda.

Here's one paragraph:

However, the many statements you have been making lately, especially the recent statement made by you opposing the Human Rights Council resolution, brings me genuine sorrow because it reminds once again that your role as a great human rights defender and upholder of democracy was merely an act done for the sake of political expediency while you were in the Opposition.

Samaraweera then elaborates:

In fact, I realised this bitter truth only after you climbed to the top of the greasy poll of power and became President ten years ago. If you remember, before parting company in 2007, I sent you a thirteen page handwritten letter emphasising my concerns that your policy of dismantling democracy, ignoring reconciliation and violating the basic tenants of good governance would lead to the country's ruin and your own downfall as well. But instead of learning from those mistakes, I fear that stubbornness, hate and greed continue to cloud your judgement, leading you down the very same path of destruction.

It's true that, earlier in his career, Rajapaksa appeared to be a champion of human rights and social justice; he even advocated for these causes at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

The foreign minister also has plenty of thoughts about the coalition government's decision to co-sponsor a resolution on Sri Lanka during the HRC's 30th session.

It is in this context that I find your hypocrisy astounding when you and your acolytes continue to criticise our government for co-sponsoring the Geneva resolution last October. I am sure you know deep within your heart that this Resolution is a victory for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. It was also a victory for Sri Lanka's new foreign policy. In UNHRC sessions under your Government the world was divided over Sri Lanka. Our main export markets, the US and the EU, account for over fifty percent of our exports. They, and our closest neighbours, all expressed their concern at your government's dismantling of democracy and abuse of human rights. In 2015, however, the whole world rallied around our country and supported our resolution including India, China and Russia who spoke-out in support of the resolution.

Samaraweera reiterates that Colombo has not ruled out the possibility of international participation in the country's judicial mechanism (to deal with alleged wartime abuses). "Sri Lanka has always welcomed international participation in areas where we may lack the expertise and the proposed mechanism will also do so to ensure credibility," he asserts.

The letter includes many good points and is worth reading in full. Samaraweera's timely intervention is likely to be well-received in places such as Washington and London. Far more importantly, this is the sort of public messaging that the government has largely avoided up to now. After all, Samaraweera has made constructive statements about transitional justice before, only to have them contradicted by President Maithripala Sirisena or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Unless Colombo clearly explains what's at stake to the public, the government's controversial reforms are unlikely to become less contentious. Let's hope the president and the prime minister realize that now is the time to seize the moment.