By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, December 22: The Switzerland-Sri Lanka row over the alleged abduction of a local staffer in the Swiss embassy in Colombo on November 25, might be taken up at the March session of the UN Human Rights Council ((UNHRC) because it is unlikely to be resolved by then.
Both sides say that they want to settle the issue amicably and without upsetting bilateral relations. But neither side has given up its stand yet and searched for common ground.
While the Sri Lankan side (from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa downwards) keeps saying publicly that the abduction was fabricated or enacted by interested parties to malign the President and his newly established government, the Swiss Ambassador and the FDFA in Berne have been saying that due process is not being followed and the human rights of the alleged victim (Garnier Banister Francis) is being flouted.
The Sri Lankan President Gotabaya has rejected this saying that some facilities not given to other Sri Lankans (like the assistance of a lawyer during CID interrogation) were given to her. All possible facilities under the law have been extended to her in detention.
However, despite this, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has been consistently saying that due process are not being followed. It points out that questioning was done under harsh conditions, that Ms. Francis is being detained despite the fact that her health condition is not good and that the principle of presuming innocence until proved otherwise, is not been followed.
And on top of all this, the FDFA sent a senior diplomat Jorg Frieden to carry forward discussions with the Sri Lankan leaders to find common ground and prevent a further deterioration of Swiss-Lanka ties.
A press release of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said on December 19 that Swiss ambassadors Jorg Frieden and Hanspeter Mock met the Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and “stressed that in the present case, the principle of the presumption of innocence applies, and that the health and safety of its embassy staff take priority.”
The press release further said that during his telephone conversation with Gunawardena, Ignazio Cassis had pointed out that the “high level of media coverage, lack of privacy safeguards and public statements prejudging the outcome of the proceedings in this case not only endangered Swiss embassy staff but also eroded the trust and confidence required to jointly clarify the incident.”
Cassis was making a veiled reference to the fact that both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena stated publicly that the victim of the alleged abduction, Mrs.Garnier Banister Francis, is guilty of fabricating a story of abduction with the ulterior motive of discrediting the President and the government of Sri Lanka.
The media too has been putting out stories portraying Mrs. Francis as being part of an opposition party’s plot to discredit the President and the new government formed after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory in the November 16 Presidential election. Some said that the abduction drama had been enacted to secure for Mrs.Francis, asylum in Switzerland.
Federal Councilor (Foreign Minister) Ignazio Cassis phoned his Sri Lankan counterpart, Foreign Minister Gunawardena, on 18 December 2019 to inform him that Switzerland was sending former ambassador Jörg Frieden to Sri Lanka. Under the lead of this experienced diplomat, possibilities for clarifying the security incident at the Swiss embassy in Colombo are to be explored, the FDFA release said.
Cassis also emphasized that the (FDFA) considers the health and safety of its staff to be paramount, and that it is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that these are protected in the further proceedings.
Victim Should Be Moved to Hospital
The press release went on to say that “Mr.Cassis also expressed his regret at the decision by the examining magistrate to place the local employee concerned in pre-trial detention, where the conditions do not take into account her state of health in any way. He therefore asked Mr Gunawardena to transfer her to a more appropriate location, such as a hospital, on humanitarian grounds. Switzerland considers the Sri Lankan authorities to be responsible for the health and safety of all its embassy staff.”
Cassis emphasized that Switzerland is keen to clarify the incident together with the Sri Lankan authorities, which is why an experienced diplomat, former ambassador Jörg Frieden, had been sent to Colombo.
Lanka’s Reputation At Stake
The release further said: “The Swiss ambassador in Colombo, Hanspeter Mock, had already underlined at a meeting on Tuesday with the Sri Lankan Attorney General that in this high-profile case, Sri Lanka’s reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law was at stake.”
Currently, there is silence over the talks between Jorg Friendten and Dinesh Gunawardena, indicating a stalemate. However, since the Swiss feel slighted as Sri Lanka has not fallen in line, they are bound to seek the support of other European nations to unfairly brand Sri Lanka as a country where the Rule of Law is not followed.
This issue will be brought up especially because Sri Lanka is now saying that will seek to amend, if not entirely reject the co-sponsored UNHRC resolution against it. President Gotabaya has said that a country cannot pass a resolution against itself.
However, a Colombo-based diplomat said that Sri Lanka cannot grandstand on such issues because it is an economically weak country. It needs the European and the US markets for its garments and other exports, which are now entering EU with GSP Plus concessions. Additionally, Sri Lanka is now a middle income country which means that it has to borrow in the international market at non-concessional rates.
Switzerland and the other Western countries also cannot grandstand and be seen to be punishing and shaming Sri Lanka. That will certainly alienate the Sri Lankan masses who will begin to support extremely nationalistic regimes, which, in turn, will reject the democratic West and embrace China, the West’s bugbear.