The following was sent in response to queries from the ‘Island’ regarding a recent report of the payoff to Irene Khan, when she left Amnesty International
Thanks for the query, and also for characterizing me as ‘one of the few critics of sordid NGO/INGO ops’. I appreciate that since there are lots of critics in Sri Lanka, and I suppose what you mean is that I am one of the few who distinguishes between the appalling things a few NGOs did, and the generally good intentions of the majority. It is for this reason that I have kept trying to get government to go more closely into details, what funds are received and for what purpose, how projects are coordinated with government and how their results are monitored. Recently I was delighted that one of my dedicated parliamentary colleagues, Dr Sudharshani Fernandopulle, also asked relevant questions, though she too did not receive fully satisfactory answers.
If we check on these carefully, ensure accounts are filed with relevant authorities (Directorate of Companies or NGO Secretariat or whatever), reports are submitted and read and discussed, and tax paid, we can also develop more productive relationships with hard-working capable NGOs. Unfortunately our government structures are as loose about accountability as most of their critics.
With regard to Amnesty International, I have long been prejudiced in their favour since Amnesty dates from the days when Human Rights was not fashionable, and was not used deliberately as a political tool. However, though I do not know details of what happened with regard to Irene Khan, I believe that recently it has had divergent approaches. One was what I would call the old Amnesty approach, which I appreciate, and which I felt was represented by its Geneva Representative Peter Splinter, and also Irene Khan. As the article you sent suggests, she was also concerned about economic rights, ie she worried about human beings, not about political arrangements. She was not against Sri Lanka herself and, when we met in Geneva, she expressed appreciation of what Sri Lanka had achieved in this regard, in particular our successful efforts to extend health and education rights to the entire population.
However, during her time, Amnesty began to approximate more to those Human Rights groups that have emerged more recently, and which are heavily funded by countries as well as individuals keen on political interventions. Thus we had the preposterous cricket campaign against Sri Lanka, by a strange individual called Jim McDonald, who was really very stupid indeed, as even his colleagues came to realize. He may have been well intentioned, but when he claimed that Sri Lankans might have stolen cluster bombs from the Tigers and then used them, to justify an assertion he had made which the United Nations repudiated, we realized that we were dealing with a right old loony.
More recently Amnesty International hired a man called Sam Zarifi who had previously worked for Human Rights Watch, and who seems to be one of those Iranian expatriates with a visceral hatred of the current regime in Teheran. I believe he is one of the lead figures in efforts by proponents of Western interference to transform Amnesty International into another political tool. In such a context, I would assume that Irene Khan had to be sidelined.
If she demanded a large price to be got rid of, that is entirely understandable. She will probably find it difficult to get a similar job again, given her apolitical approach, and her refusal to look at things in black and white in terms of particular political agendas. It is understandable therefore that she should have got from Amnesty a package that will compensate her for difficulties about finding similar employment in the future.
Sadly, given increasing sophistication with regard to propaganda and communication tools, organizations like Amnesty will find it difficult to survive without massive funding from sources that will expect conformity to their political agendas. I believe Mrs Khan was not such a conformist, unlike for instance Mr Zarifi, who is sinister, and Mr McDonald, who is foolishly idealistic and therefore can be used by more sophisticated players of the Human Rights card in a much more complex world.
The Island – 7 March 2011: SL calls for probe into NGO funding