Storm over UUP peer's praise for Sri Lankan president and alleged war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa
A UUP peer has been criticised over remarks praising Sri Lankan president and alleged war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Lord Dennis Rogan lauded the regime of President Rajapaksa – who is alleged to have been responsible for the massacre of thousands of Tamils in 2009 – saying that his government had brought “harmony” to the troubled island.
He made the comments following a seven-day fact-finding mission to the country, which suffered a bloody 26-year civil war claiming around 70,000 lives.
His visit included a private meeting with the president.
Amnesty International said Lord’s Rogan’s “fawning” praise for President Rajapaksa was misplaced.
Speaking after his visit, Lord Rogan had said Sri Lanka needs to be recognised as a country coming out of a conflict situation, but spoke in warm terms about the progress made by President Rajapaksa’s government.
“Since 2009 much has been achieved in Sri Lanka – the government has policies to achieve more. I was happy to note that there is a religious and ethnic harmony,” he said.
“I found that peace has descended on this pleasant land and that development and prosperity are continuing to grow at a pace.
“Having lived in Northern Ireland during our troubles, I know how easy and wrong it is for outside commentators to make snap judgments, often on poor and wrong information, on the situation in our two countries.
“We suffered because of this – as you are doing today.
“Commentators from the outside world should realise it takes time, energy and commitment to achieve the ideals set out by the Sri Lankan government.”
The comments are posted on the official website of the Sri Lankan president.
However, his remarks will be seen as controversial given President Rajapaksa’s dubious human rights record.
Last week Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper branded the president a serial abuser of human rights.
Mr Harper said he would not attend next month’s summit of the Commonwealth in Sri Lanka because of the country’s abuses.
In 2010 a cable published by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks reported that US diplomats believed President Rajapaksa was responsible for a massacre in 2009.
Thousands of Tamils died in a few days when a large concentration of Tamil Tiger guerrillas and civilians, crammed in a small coastal strip, came under heavy bombardment from Sri Lankan government forces.
The US ambassador in the country’s capital Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible.
Patrick Corrigan from human rights campaign group Amnesty International said Lord Rogan’s comments were at odds with his view of the Sri Lankan regime.
“Lord Rogan’s fawning comments which describe Sri Lanka as a country at ‘harmony’ where ‘peace has descended’ are grossly at odds with the findings of Amnesty International and the United Nations,” he said.
“President Rajapaksa, Lord Rogan’s host, is the very same president who presided over the final bloody months of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in 2009, when as many as 40,000 civilians were killed – corralled into alleged ‘no fire zones’ on beaches in the north of the country only to be brutally shelled, with hospitals deliberately targeted.
“Rajapaksa has aggressively resisted any sort of independent inquiry into those events and has moved to consolidate his power, whilst silencing opposition.
“Lord Rogan’s misplaced praise does a disservice to the Sri Lankans living under that government.
“Rather than indulging in platitudes to a regime with blood on its hands, Lord Rogan should publicly condemn Sri Lanka’s human rights record and continuing reprisals against civil society and join Amnesty in calling for an independent, international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
In response Lord Rogan said: "I spoke purely on what I observed during my visit to Sri Lanka which is a country coming out of a prolonged conflict."
Dennis Rogan is a UUP peer who served as president of the party and as its chairman. He was made a life peer in 1999. He is founder and managing director of Dennis Rogan & Associates – Carpet Yarn Brokers, founder and chairman of Associated Processors Ltd – Jute Processors, and holds several other high-profile board positions.