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The International Centre for Ethnic Studies invited me recently to a seminar which was essentially on the post-conflict situation, though it had a more philosophical title, as is required to attract funding. I was pleased to attend, since I think one should engage with such organizations. Though I felt that for many years ICES had an essentially destructive agenda as far as this country was concerned, that seems to have changed with the appointment of a new Executive Director, who is certainly critical of government, but with I think no partisan agenda but only a commitment to ethnic pluralism as well as fundamental human rights.
This is Mario Gomes, whom I first knew as a protégé of Richard de Zoysa. I was reminded of this (rather sentimentally, a sure sign of advancing age) at the opening session, which I only managed to get to late since I was driving down from Vavuniya. However I managed to hear almost the whole presentation by Qadri Ismail, who was his usual iconoclastic self, demanding a stop to generalizations about identity. I would describe this as a quintessentially liberal position except that he would probably find the term anathema (I think he still sees himself as a socialist, though I can think of no one less likely to fit into any form of collective).
I have two questions based on the ICG report on women’s insecurity in the North and East:
1. The ICG is critical of the government for not doing enough to address the security concerns of women in the North and East, who face a “desperate lack of security”. How do you view this?
As yet another exampe of the tendentious nature on the ICG’s interventions on Sri Lanka. You may be remember the desperate efforts made by the ICG head, Gareth Evans, his sidekick in Colombo Alan Keenan and the latter’s old mate Rama Mani to suggest that Sri Lanka was a situation ripe for the doctrine of Responsibiity to Protect to be applied. Gareth declared that there had been ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka and, when I asked what he meant he asked Alan Keenan to explain (clearly
he had no idea what was meant by the speech he unthinkingly delivered). Alan said – this was in 2007 – that he was referring to what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990. But the speech would have led one to believe that they were referring to what had happened recently with government responsibility.
I think we have to be very careful about what is happening now given that ICES, which was the chosen instrument for R2P, with Radhika Coomaraswamy and her protege Rama Mani pushing it is now going through yet another upheaval, the purpose of which is to
install another Radhika protege Ambika Satkunanathan in the Director’s chair. Even worse than Rama Mani. Ambika had direct LTTE connections, which I brought up with the UN where she worked. They said she had got over them, it seemed to be seen as simply a youthful love affair with an LTTE representative, but I still thought that it was wrong of the UN to have her in an influential position during the conflict. Now if Radhika – who has fallen out with the guy she claimed was responsible for the financial mess, and she only signed the cheques he put in front of her – succeeds in getting her way, we might have even more problems to face in the future, with ICG again leading the way with misleading claims.
In the long and chequered history of Radhika Coomaraswamy’s relentless interference with Sri Lanka while an official of the United Nations, the most peculiar relates to the manner in which she protected Rama Mani from all criticism during her controversial headship of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
She had indeed to protect her even before she took office. Though she claimed that she ‘asked permission from the UN to be on the Board to hand over power, came to Sri Lanka in July 2006 and handed over power. I resigned only after that with the full knowledge of the UN’, she was still advising as to Rama Mani’s salary in August. She reminded ICES that ‘we must all recognize that Rama is taking a salary cut from $8000 a year to what we are offering’ and they ‘should adjust the contract to make it attractive for her’. Bradman duly trotted out Radhika’s arguments, and it seems they carried the day, for there is no sign during Rama’s tenure of the accountability or the concentration on fundraising that had been suggested by those at ICES who wanted value for the money they were pouring out.
Of the two separate attacks made on me by Radhika Coomaraswamy, I was obviously more hurt personally by her efforts to classify me as a racist. I believe this technique, which she has used on multiple occasions, not only against me but even against Tamils who cross her path, needs to be exposed in its own right. It is part of a demonizing othering that, if not challenged, will leave only Radhika and her friends as possible associates for those who believe in and promote pluralistic values for Sri Lanka.
But there was another peculiar aspect to her attack last week, which also needs clarification if only for the record. This relates to the incident which provoked her ire at the beginning of 2008 (even though it is now obvious that her demonizing of me had begun somewhat earlier, with what seemed the first signs of success for the approach Dayan Jayatilleka had employed in Geneva, and for which he had introduced me as part of the delegation to the Human Rights Council). Radhika came out firing openly as it were only when what was happening at ICES was questioned.
I am most grateful to Radhika Coomaraswamy for her little attack on me earlier this week, for it provides me with an opportunity to clarify matters about both her conduct and what went on at ICES in 2007. This is the more urgent in that, in what purports to be a justification of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, she launches two sideswipes, both deliberately targeting me.
The first is the claim that what was happening at ICES in 2007 was entirely innocent, and that I had engaged in ‘rantings and ravings about ICES and the responsibility to protect’ as well as ‘near racist constructions of Tamil “mata haris” even today’, all of this in terms of creating a ‘narrative for Sinhala nationalist consumption’. The language she uses is the substance of the second attack, designed to insinuate that I am racist, or near enough to racist.
I was fascinated by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s long essay on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, which is I believe her first public attempt to defend her conduct in the whole sorry Rama Mani episode. Characteristically, there is no discussion of what she did then, she has instead engaged in a discussion of the R2P doctrine, which in itself is unexceptionable, as originally agreed by the United Nations.
That however was not the point of the Rama Mani episode, which occurred at a time when, as Gareth Evans himself has granted, he was trying to extend its application beyond what was agreed by the UN General Assembly. Understandably enough Radhika has completely glided over her own conduct at the time, though I suppose now that I have ample justification for going into that in detail. Meanwhile, as will be clear from recent information received about the manoeuvers of some individuals involved in ICES international partnerships, information that I had incorporated in a parallel article that deals with continuing threats to our Sovereignty, there is need of continuing vigilance.
The effort by Gareth Evans to focus attention on Sri Lanka as a situation ripe for invocation of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect was not an isolated phenomenon. To paraphrase Lakshman Kadirgamar, if this particular frosting on the cake was prepared in London or in Brussels, from where the International Crisis Group functions, the cake was one that had been baked at home.
The guiding spirit behind the exercise was Rama Mani, who had been virtually imposed by Radhika Coomaraswamy as Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Radhika’s contradictory pronouncements about the suitability of capable Sri Lankan researchers at ICES, such as Pradeep Jeganathan, suggested a determination to keep ICES functioning in terms of her own vision even after she had resigned to take up her current influential position at the United Nations.
Underlying the various efforts to interfere in Sri Lanka is a doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect. In what might be termed its pure form this was accepted by the United Nations some years back, and certainly, given the excesses that seem to have occurred in some countries, such a doctrine is understandable.
What it amounts to is that, when crimes against humanity are being committed, the United Nations has a responsibility to intervene, to protect those who might be victims of such crimes. The doctrine was formulated after the massacres in Rwanda, with references too to what had occurred in Bosnia. However, mindful perhaps of the manner in which particular countries had interfered with others, without ensuring a broad consensus through the United Nations, R2P was formulated so as to ensure thorough consultation and clear broadbased agreement. Thus, while it represented a shift from the doctrine of national sovereignty, which is the foundation of the UN system, there are safeguards to ensure that any violation of such sovereignty occurs only in cases of obvious breakdown of internal responsibility.
Perhaps the least insidious of the agencies which worked in Sri Lanka to substitute itself for National Sovereignty was OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance. This has been functioning in the country for just a few years now, having come in I believe after the tsunami, but it had soon converted itself into a central clearing house for much of the humanitarian assistance the country received.
It did this through a mechanism termed the Common Humanitarian Action Plan, a phenomenon I first came across a couple of years ago, when I took over as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The CHAP was supposed to be coordinated by our Ministry, but it turned out that we were largely ignored in its formulation. The procedure that had been followed previously was that OCHA held what it termed consultations with local stakeholders, presented us with a draft, and asked for our approval within a ludicrously short time.
As Head of the Peace Secretariat I had received some information about projects under the plan, but I found that nothing was forthcoming when I asked for further details. Some international organizations for instance, which seemed to have given rather a lot of money to strange entities in the North, claimed that these were recognized agencies, but these claims could not be substantiated. Of course our own mechanisms were shaky, with no clear procedures laid down about how local organizations should be registered and monitored, but it was sad to find out that OCHA was equally if not more incompetent about keeping records.