Govt. briefs foreign envoys on Swiss embassy incident probe, assures protection for alleged victim

Thursday, 5 December 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



  • Heads of missions and their reps briefed on investigation into alleged incident
  • Guarantees protection for Swiss Embassy staffer and urges to make statement
  • Says cooperation vital for investigation to conclude speedily
  • Says CID has little to go on except facts presented by Swiss Ambassador, based on what alleged victim told him
  • Says Govt. committed to upholding diplomatic obligations, but urges respect for domestic processes

 By Chandani Kirinde

The Government yesterday assured security for the employee of the Swiss Embassy in Colombo who is at the centre of a diplomatic row between Sri Lanka and Switzerland, and urged her to make a

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena

statement on her alleged forceful detention by a group of unidentified persons, so that investigations into the matter can be concluded speedily.

“We have conveyed to the Swiss Ambassador that the Government will guarantee her protection as well as of her relatives, but she is not available in any place to be given protection. We have assured her protection, and she must come and make the complaint or a statement, without which it is difficult to fully investigate the alleged incident,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena said.

The Minister briefed the media last evening on the investigations into the incident involving a local staff member of the Swiss Embassy, who was allegedly detained against her will and threated by a group of unidentified persons on the evening of 25 November.

Earlier in the day, the Minister also briefed all Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and their representatives on the investigations into the alleged incident, and assured the foreign envoys on the Government’s commitment to fully investigate the matter.

Gunawardena said that the CID, which is handling the investigation, have had little information to go by except for what was provided by the Swiss Ambassador when he met with him on 27 November. The same evening, the Ambassador also met with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to brief him on the alleged incident.

“We have assured the Ambassador we will abide by all the diplomatic immunities, and the respective processes that have to be adopted in relation to such situations. The moment the Ambassador informed us of this alleged incident, an investigation was started promptly,” he said.

The Minister said while the CID has done its preliminary investigation based on the statement from the Embassy, there were contradictions between what they found, and the movements of the alleged victim on the day of the incident.

“We issued a statement on this and we stand by it,” Gunawardena said.

The statement was in relation to the briefing given to the Swiss Ambassador last Sunday, where he was told that the sequence of events and timeline of the alleged incident, as formally presented by the Swiss Mission on behalf of the alleged victim to the CID, did not in any way correspond with the actual movements of the alleged victim on that date, as borne out by witness interviews and technical evidence, including Uber records, CCTV footage, telephone records, and GPS data.

However, the Swiss Government has rejected this, with the country’s State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDAD) Pascale Baeriswyl, who met with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Switzerland Karunasena Hettiarachchi on Monday, asking him to explain the purported evidence against the sequence of events described by the Embassy, which the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs had alluded to in a press release on Sunday.

Minister Gunawardena said that the Swiss Embassy may have rushed to conclusions on the matter, and hence some of the facts presented by them were contradictory. “The Ambassador has conveyed what was told to him by the so-called victim, but we have yet to hear from her directly. We are told she is medically unfit to make a statement,” he said.

Asked if the Swiss authorities had provided any medical reports on the alleged victim’s condition, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ravinatha Aryasinha said all that was provided was one by a doctor in Switzerland, who had done a visual examination of the person via a video linkup. “We are not aware if she was examined by a local doctor,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gunawardena also confirmed that over the weekend, the Swiss authorities requested permission for an air ambulance to land here to airlift the alleged victim, the assistant to the Immigration officer at the Embassy, and her family members to Switzerland for medical treatment, and were told to follow the normal procedure of obtaining permission from the Civil Aviation Authority for such a procedure.

“The CID had to go to court and ask for a travel ban, as well as a court order for the alleged victim to make a statement, as they are unable to proceed with the investigations into the matter without hearing directly from her,” the Minister said.

He added that there has been a misinformation campaign since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office. “There are some who are working with agendas and this is bad for the image of the country. We also want to know the truth,” he said.

State Minister of International Cooperation Susil Premajayantha said that that it is imperative that the alleged victim make a statement to the Police, even belatedly.

“As a citizen of this country, the first thing to do when there is any such incident is to inform the closest Police station. If this cannot be done, you can call the 119 hotline and lodged a complaint. We are mindful of our diplomatic obligations, and we are also mindful of the need to abide by domestic laws while safeguarding the image of the country,” he said.