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Ironically it was well after I had begun this series on threats to national sovereignty that I was given the news that Bradman Weerakoon had once again been elevated to the Board of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Naturally he was seeking re-election to that Board at the meeting of members to be held on May 25th. Equally naturally, the membership had been packed with more of his acolytes, including reportedly the gentleman responsible for some of the ICG excesses.
Bradman, as noted in an earlier article, had been the central figure on that Board who had fought, using every trick he knew of, to keep Rama Mani on, when she was engaged in her bid to apply R2P to Sri Lanka. Given Bradman’s patronage also of other Civil Society Organizations, even while being tied inextricably to the UNP, he could well claim to be the great spider that sat at the heart of the several interlocking webs that nearly succeeded in entrapping the Sri Lankan state. I suspect that towards the end of his series of machinations, he was not sure whether he wanted that emasculated state delivered to the UNP or the LTTE or what he saw as his allies in the West, or whether he saw them all as an indissoluble whole, with no distinctions that mattered amongst them.
His tentacles, it should be noted, extended even to the Government Peace Secretariat, in the last days of the ill-fated UNP government that lasted just over two years from the very end of 2001. I wrote about some of this in 2007, well before I knew what Rama Mani and ICES were up to, and followed it up with another piece early in 2008, when I began to understand more fully the sheer genius of the man in ensuring for institutions he influenced or ran lavish sums of money that were supposedly intended to benefit the Sri Lankan people.
Within a couple of decades after the Second World War ended, there was hardly any celebration of novelists of the inter-war period. As mentioned before, there was a sense that D H Lawrence and James Joyce had made seminal contributions, but otherwise those who had been widely read at the time were treated largely as period pieces.
I should note that this applies only to British fiction, because it was certainly felt that on the continent several writers had transformed fiction during those two decades. This applied most obviously to Kafka, but also to less obviously revolutionary figures such as Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. Unfortunately I cannot hope to do justice to them in what must be a limited series focusing on English Literature.
I will therefore, at the risk of seeming parochial, devote a couple of columns to English writers of that period. At the same time, though the novelists I will talk about are not in the league of the great Europeans I have mentioned, I feel that they are at least as interesting as Lawrence and Joyce, perhaps even more so.
My own favourite amongst them is Evelyn Waugh, who was incidentally brought vividly to life in the collection of Graham Greene’s letters which sparked off this series of columns. Waugh was also a Catholic convert, and aggressively traditional about it, unlike his more revolutionary friend. But he was also extremely funny, and well aware of his own foibles. In a sense then he seems never to have moved too far, despite appearances to the contrary, from the Oxford undergraduate who is perhaps the most evocative celebrant of that city of aquatint, as he described Oxford as once having been.
In considering the individuals within the UN system who have tried to undermine the Sri Lankan government, and in the process also contributed to undermining the good work that the UN in general tries to do, we should look carefully at the various examples of what might be termed pernicious excess.
Most obviously we have those who have gone out on a limb, and been found out, so that even the usually complacent UN system had to deal with them with relative if still inadequate firmness. Prominent amongst these in the last couple of years were John Campbell and Bernard Dix. The latter in fact behaved badly openly only after he had left the services of the UN in Colombo, but then he turned up in Geneva where he was escorted round to various missions by Amnesty International. He did a sort of magic lantern show with slides, which were obviously not very revealing since we did not hear of them later. What gave them, and his critical narrative, substance was his status as an employee of the United Nations, which most regrettably Amnesty was selling for all it was worth.
I told the normally scrupulous Peter Splinter, head of Amnesty in Geneva, that it was really very naughty of him to make use of an emotionally overwrought individual who was in breach of his contract. Peter however seemed to think such conduct was not reprehensible. Fortunately the UN system disagreed, and the UN head in Colombo made sure that Mr Dix stopped using his position to advance criticisms that were fraudulent and proving an embarrassment to the UN as well as to Sri Lanka. Sadly the UN did not see fit on this occasion to issue a statement making its position public, but the system seems to have worked, for that was the last we heard about Mr Dix and his tale of woe. Doubtless he will be recycled elsewhere at some stage, not least because he had been taken into the UN system after a stint with Solidar, which was at the height of its influence at the time. Read the rest of this entry »
The recent rapid progress with regard to resettlement of the displaced from Welfare Centres is immensely welcome. It is also indicative of a coherent planning process that was carried out without concern for disruptive pressures that took no account of national needs.
Thus until May 2009 it was obvious that government had to be extremely careful about the possibility of an LTTE resurgence in the Vanni. With the destruction of the main LTTE leadership that danger seemed less intense, but there was continuing need for vigilance, particularly in the context of some countries trying to privilege the rump of the LTTE that remained abroad. Though that danger too seemed less with the arrest of Mr Pathmanathan, the determination of that rump to resurrect separatism, and therefore the further risk of terrorism, meant that care was still necessary. We had to keep checking as to whether there were enough hardcore experienced activists amongst the displaced to promote an LTTE resurgence.
Though the checking seemed slow, it was obviously absurd for anyone not involved in security matters to second guess those in authority in this regard. But whilst the checks were being conducted, planning for resettlement was proceeding apace, with even the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi District Secretariats working on selecting and readying sites from as early as June 2009. In any case the deadline the government had set itself remained steady, except only that the initial assumption that the bulk would be done by December shifted to January.
On August 12th last year an appalling incident took place in Angulana, when two young men were arrested, and subsequently killed. Even if one refrained from drawing any conclusions about who was responsible, one could say definitely that this was a clear case of extra-judicial or summary or arbitrary execution.
The case was not however of great interest to Prof Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial or Summary or Arbitary Executions. Perhaps he did not understand the gravity of the incident, though that would be surprising, given the intense interest he has evinced in Sri Lanka of late, and the flood of information concerning this country that he evidently receives. Most recently issued a press release about a video, while earlier in May he was party to a press release that was, not entirely coincidentally, issued at the time when some Western countries were desperately seeking signatures for a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council before the LTTE fighting force in Sri Lanka was destroyed.
One of the most disappointing aspects of some international criticism of recent events in Sri Lanka was blatant recourse to double standards. When anyone connected to government did anything that seemed inappropriate, the whole of government was promptly condemned. Entertainingly enough, given recent Western affection for Sarath Fonseka, his conduct provides perhaps the most obvious examples of this tendency – though I will confine myself here only to his pronouncements, which are clear enough and do not need further investigation.
Several of his more idiosyncratic comments, about Sri Lanka belonging essentially to the majority community, about the politicians of Tamil Nadu being jokers, about the need to expand the army wholesale, had to be placed at a remove from government policy, even while not letting him down by suggesting that he was shooting his mouth off. Such explanations however failed to convince those who were determined to declare that the whole government suffered from chauvinistic majoritarian paranoia. The fact that the army was not expanded, that the concerns of Indian politicians were treated with respect (even while obviously they could not all be indulged), that anxious efforts were made to persuade all Tamil politicians to talk, in between the various luncheon appointments Mr Sambandan was making with Western diplomats, meant nothing in comparison with the pronouncements of the Army commander.
Conversely, when UN staff members launched attacks on the Sri Lankan government, they were supposed to be acting on their own. Even when the media cited them as though they had the full authority of the UN behind them, those in charge at the UN seemed to feel no need to repudiate their pronouncements. Gordon Weiss thus continued to perform as the UN’s principal contact point with the media even when it was crystal clear that he was conducting a crusade against the government. He was assisted in this, I am told, by a fellow Australian called James Elder.
At the height of campaigning for the Sri Lankan Presidential election, Prof Philip Alston issued a missive regarding the Channel 4 video which I read with great interest. He reported there that he had finallly engaged three experts to check on the authenticity of the video he saw on Channel 4. This was something he should have done a very long time ago, well before he rushed publicly into the matter. Indeed I noted in my initial response to him that, almost as soon as we got the letter, we were also ‘sent a press release which you had had dispatched to our Mission in Geneva at 15.37 on that same Friday afternoon, a release which seems to make your letter redundant.’
Alston is therefore disingenuous in claiming that he was going public with his latest effusion in early January because of ‘the very public nature of the comments already exchanged on this matter’. He it was who had showed a determination to go public from the very start, for reasons that even he must realize are obvious, just as the January salvo seemed intended to have maximum effect at a time of election.
That original letter had not been at all clear about what was to be investigated, as I noted, viz ‘Your letter refers to reports you have received “concerning the alleged summary execution of a significant number of men by the Sri Lankan army”. Have you received reports of such an alleged incident, or are they simply reports of video footage allegedly documenting this alleged incident? Any independent report should be conveyed to us at once but, if your report is only of the video footage, it would be best if you first sought further details about this, to help to establish whether an investigation of the alleged incident would serve any purpose.’
It was entirely appropriate that the first adjournment motion brought by government, in this new era of peace, was on Education. Many problems, and therefore much animosity, arose because of a lack of opportunity for advancement. In particular wide regional disparities gave rise to resentment that expressed itself through ethnic as well as political tensions.
Since the country has now embarked on a new era of development, with concentration on infrastructure throughout the country, we need to make sure that human resource development keeps pace with this. We need therefore to review the current educational system, build on the strengths it undoubtedly has, and make up for the inadequacies that are increasingly becoming obvious in the context of rapid social change.
For this we need to make sure that we understand the role of the state in education, in terms of what it needs to supply as well as how it should monitor. This last is important because the state cannot supply all needs. This has always been true, but it is understandable that some believed in the past that the state could, and should, have a monopoly on basic education. It was stretching credulity however to believe that this monopoly could extend to education at all levels and in all fields. Today, certainly, with increasing demands on the system, any form of monopoly is unthinkable.
When I suggested this Adjournment Motion a couple of weeks back, I was worried about the state of Education in this country. I feel more optimistic now, after hearing the forceful suggestions of the Ministers of Education and Higher Education yesterday, and in particular the determination to ensure greater access to quality tertiary level education to all our people. My one regret is that we did not yesterday also pay attention to the role of the Ministry of Youth Affairs in ensuring that we develop a modern Education system. We have to recognize that Education means not just academic learning, but also the development of professional and vocational skills, and the soft skills that will allow these too to be used productively.
We need to promote variety in Education, Mr Speaker, recognizing that the role of the State is to ensure that no one is deprived of quality education because of a lack of resources, but that the State should also encourage other initiatives. As the Honourable Minister of Higher Education pointed out yesterday, the State should monitor such initiatives to prevent exploitation, and also take advantage of the benefits they provide for those who need support.
I am not very familiar with Colombo restaurants, but some months back I was taken in rapid succession to a couple of them that I have been told were the regular haunt of the city’s bright young things. First a visiting British journalist took me to the Cricket Club, and then I was given lunch by a British company at the Paradise Gallery Café. I have no idea what dinner cost at the former, but I found that lunch for three at the latter, two courses each with a glass of wine for one lady and fruit juice for the other, came to nearly 10,000 rupees.
In terms of British standards this is nothing, and less than 20 pounds a head for excellent food in a beautiful location (Geoffrey Bawa’s former office) is superb value. However for people on Sri Lankan salaries, certainly those in the public sector, this is not readily affordable.
It was thus not surprising that the vast majority of guests in both places were foreigners. And perhaps it was not surprising too that several of them were those who would describe themselves as belonging to the international humanitarian community. The salaries commanded by these individuals, not only at senior level, but for fairly simple jobs, are massive by our standards. The argument is that they need to be compensated on an international scale, having obligations in their home countries too, but certainly, for the young ladies who pronounce so sanctimoniously on suffering, it is not a bad deal to dine and wine frequently at levels they could not dream of at home.