Radhika Coomaraswamy

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 will deal later with the attempt to whitewash Rama Mani and herself. More important I think is the narrative that Radhika is trying to construct, to use her own jargon, to insinuate that racism is the common feature of all those who support this government – except the chosen few she tries to suborn onto her own side, unsuccessfully I believe, since they have generally faithfully reported to colleagues what she has been up to. This technique is one she and her ilk will probably propagate over the next few months, so we need to be careful since she is highly influential amongst those in the international community she chooses to work with, and seems to participate in meetings of senior advisers to the UN Secretary General.

I have already shown an example of the techniques she uses in describing how she conflated Mr Mahindapala and myself in the minds of the UN Ethics office, so that they characterized what both of us wrote as “frivolous and racist” and advised her to ‘cease all communication’ with us immediately. Radhika claimed that she had forwarded my letter to the New York Times to the Ethics office and it was on the basis of this that they had used the terms ‘frivolous and racist’, but anyone reading the letter (which is attached to this article) would realize that that view is just nonsense.

Radhika claimed previously that she would ask the Ethics office to let me see the relevant documentation, so that she could substantiate her claim that she had done nothing wrong in serving on the R2P Global Centre Board. It is strange therefore that she felt obliged to send them my letter to the Times so as to support her request, but it is just conceivable that she thought such a letter from a government official necessary to make clear the reason for the request.

Mr. Mahindapala

What is completely bizarre – were it not for the result that was achieved – is that she should have also sent Mr Mahindapala’s article. I am not sure myself that it warrants the epithets used but, given Mr Mahindapala’s racy style, and his interest in pottus (understandable in someone married to a Tamil lady who sports one herself), it is possible that the Ethics office did, even without any prodding, respond as Radhika wished. However it is interesting that she ignored my request that she seek clarification from the Ethics office as to why they thought my article was racist, and also that she would not send me the covering letter she had sent the office in forwarding my letter and Mahindapala’s article together.

The conclusion is inescapable that Radhika wishes to suggest to the UN that anyone who acts forcefully on behalf of this government is racist. And there was worse. Not only did she propagate this view, she tried to ensure that the government itself provided evidence for this.

Thus – and of all the insidious things she has done in the last few years, this is perhaps the worst, so I must be grateful that the recent article brought the whole incident back vividly – she tried in 2007, shortly after I had first attended meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, to suggest that I should not be asked for such meetings. She had mentioned this to our then Permanent Representative at the United Nations, and told him that I would only damage the Sri Lankan cause. She had advised that that would be better served by others, for instance that NGOs attacking us should be opposed by NGOs. The suggestion then was that, instead of Dayan providing me with a platform, the government should use people such as Douglas Wickremaratne, who was then engaged in opposing LTTE propaganda in Britain.

Now what was extremely odd about this was that the High Commission in London seemed of the view in those days that Douglas was not the best advocate for Sri Lanka, since he might convey the impression that opposition to the LTTE was in some way racist. I should note that I myself have found Douglas nothing but dedicated and positive, but I know that he called me up once and suggested that he was being sidelined by the High Commission in London. He also wondered why he had not gone to Geneva, since he had been on the Sri Lankan delegation to the Human Rights Council in 2006.

Given that perceptions are so important, I could see why Dayan Jayatilleka had been anxious to have me instead of Douglas. It was extremely suspicious therefore that Radhika should have advised our then Representative in New York, as we were told, that Douglas would do a better job for Sri Lanka. Perhaps she imagined – for she is an adept at trying to split Sri Lankan officials, as her recent article shows, praising some selectively in language that is implicity critical of others – that Prasad Kariyawasam would use her advice to eliminate not just me but also our Representative in Geneva.

Fortunately the Sri Lankan Foreign Service is made of sterner stuff and Prasad Kariyawasam conveyed to Dayan what Radhika had said. It is of course conceivable that either Dayan or Prasad or both misunderstood her, but that seems unlikely. The question then arises as to why Radhika had recommended that someone she could easily characterize as a racist should represent the country instead of me at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Her recent article answers that question. Clearly she expends much effort in suggesting in New York that this government is irredeemably hardline and that all its spokesmen are intrinsically racist. It is obviously easier to do this if those representing Sri Lanka officially make statements that could be used. Hence encouragement to the Foreign Ministry to abandon the policy of positive engagement that Dayan Jayatilleke had developed to a fine art in Geneva, and instead promote confrontation.

Meanwhile it was easy for her to confuse UN officials in any case sympathetic to her about my views and those of Mr Mahindapala. And now, since doubtless she thinks I may have a longer time at the crease, and am not just a Twenty20 batsman as those who love cricketing metaphors once suggested, she needs to work seriously at creating an image of me as racist and a votary of Sinhala nationalism (as opposed to Sri Lankan nationalism, which may be something she prefers not to recognize, with her view that our victory at the Special Session in Geneva last May meant total ‘disaster’).

 In a sense, Radhika’s technique is similar to that of Mr Prabhakaran, which is to destroy those who represent pluralism and ensure confrontation based on polarization. Thus moderate Tamil politicians were ruthlessly killed, including Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lakshman Kadirgamar. Radhika of course is not so nasty, but she uses the weapons at her disposal for character assassination, not just of me but of those researchers at ICES, predominantly Tamil, who were models of financial integrity and academic propriety.

The technique is really very clever. As we saw, Mr Prabhakaran nearly succeeded in destroying moderate Tamil opinion. Similarly, unless we are careful, Radhika will succeed in destroying the effectiveness of those who stand up for Sri Lanka without engaging in racism, and she will do her best to persuade decision makers that compromise means compromise only on her terms (as the West tried to do to Dayan in Geneva, when the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors together urged him to stand firm).

My initial surprise then at Radhika’s diatribe, the crude language, the blanket attribution of motives, the sleight of hand that introduced a sanctimonious account of her own human impulses instead of a reasoned defence of what she and Rama Mani were up to, was misplaced. We have been here before, in what she did with the UN Ethics office and her so gracious advice to Prasad Kariyawasam, reiterated with less charm to Dayan Jayatilleka. The effort to paint us all as racists is serious, and Radhika will promote and publicize any possibly racist interventions so as to strengthen her own position. We need therefore to be profoundly vigilant.

Letter to the New York Times – 2008

The Editor

New York Times

Dear Sir

My attention has been drawn to a recent article by Warren Hoge which, in talking about the R2P concept, asserts that

Next month, a research and advocacy center dedicated to moving the principle of responsibility to protect into practice is being inaugurated at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Similar offices are being set up in Australia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

As Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat, I was accordingly asked by a concerned citizen ‘what action you contemplate in this regard, if the UN actually intends to establish such an office in our country.’

I pointed out that this was not a UN initiative. However, the article is also in error in claiming that an office dedicated to moving the principle into practice is being set up in Sri Lanka.

There was an attempt to make the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo an Associated Centre of the New York Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. This was an initiative (perhaps not entirely unilateral, but certainly not official) of Dr Rama Mani, the former Executive Director of ICES-C. Earlier this month she was dismissed, mainly for a lack of transparency and accountability with regard to a financial crisis that has affected the office, and for a contentious relationship with many senior researches at ICES-C.

It was only after her dismissal, and the surreptitious removal of material from the office, that the ICES Chairman realized that ICES-C appeared on the website of the Global Centre, with the objective indicated in your article. Dr Mani had only officially referred to the matter previously in a paragraph in her report on ICES activities in which she mentioned that ‘we have been requested to serve as a Southern affiliated centre’. It was decided last week that ICES should be immediately disassociated from involvement with the Global Centre. This was intimated to all members of the Board on January 24th and, as if by magic, the following morning the Global Centre had removed reference to ICES from its website.

I am concerned about this because I have been asked by the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, with which ICES has a Memorandum of Understanding, to assist in monitoring of a Project for which ICES has secured funding from the World Bank. The Ministry had no idea that ICES was contemplating an association with the Global Centre, nor that it had led to action which misled Mr Hoge amongst others.

Meanwhile it transpires that Dr Mani, and her predecessor Radhika Coomaraswamy, currently an Under Secretary General at the United Nations, are both on the Advisory Board of the Global Centre, which is headed by Gareth Evans. Last year Dr Mani invited Dr Evans to deliver a lecture in Colombo to create what she termed much needed waves. She succeeded, because the lecture was full of inaccuracies, which Dr Evans was unable to defend in discussion with me at this office, following which he alleged that Sri Lanka was heading for a situation in which R2P should be invoked. Though he suggested I send him further details as to what he had got wrong, he has not as yet responded.

It is not the business of a research organization to create dissension in a country, and the whole business suggests that Dr Mani was involved in an agenda that she did not share with her employers. More worryingly, it would seem that Ms Coomaraswamy, whilst an employee of the United Nations, has also been furthering this agenda. Though she was required to resign from Board positions in Sri Lanka when she took up the UN appointment, she has continued to attempt to influence matters at ICES, in particular with threatening and cajoling e-mails as to the reinstatement of Dr Mani. It seems that she also attended the Board meeting at which Dr Mani was appointed.

Though she had resigned by then, this was as a substitute for Bradman Weerakoon, Secretary to the former Prime Minister, with whom Ms Coomaraswamy has sadly allowed herself to be associated. Ms Coomaraswamy was responsible for advancing Mr Weerakoon into a position of authority at ICES and, though she claims that this was purely for administrative purposes, Mr Weerakoon has countermanded the order of his Chairman and sent a letter formally reinstating Dr Mani.

Since there is little doubt that there has been much financial mismanagement – Ms Coomaraswamy has confessed that she signed anything put in front of her by the Financial Controller who she now says was not competent – the excesses engaged in by her and Mr Weerakoon to have Dr Mani reinstated suggest improprieties that need thorough investigation. Dr Mani complained to the Indian High Commission, and following a press conference it was alleged in a website connected to the opposition that a police raid had been prevented by the Indian High Commission contacting the Inspector General of Police, and the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs. This is not true, and the Indian High Commission has assured me that Dr Mani is not an Indian citizen.

The episode seems designed to obfuscate where Dr Mani’s allegiances lie. She is currently a French national, but it seems unlikely that she serves French interests. Certainly she has not acted on behalf of ICES, and the list of those with whom she shared her correspondence with Gareth Evans suggests a very different perspective.

Similarly, there is no doubt that Ms Coomaraswamy is not acting on behalf of the United Nations, and the Secretary General may need to investigate as to whether there has been a conflict of interests. While she is certainly not acting in the interests of Sri Lanka, her continuing association with the opposition may lead the UN to decide that she is not fit to exercise her current responsibilities. She has suggested that Dr Mani needed protection from a leading opposition lawyer and propagandist when questioned by the police, an action she has described as performed by the ‘strong arm of the state – the police, SCOPP’ (ie, this Secretariat). Meanwhile there is evidence that, while claiming she encouraged Sri Lankan staff at ICES to apply for the position of Executive Director, she had in fact decided that they were not fit, and assiduously promoted the cause of Dr Mani.

What I had initially thought was simply a Valentine’s Day gift to the leader of the Sri Lankan opposition, the unveiling of ICES as a partner of the Global Centre when it was launched on February 14th now seems part of a deeper design. The undiplomatic intervention of the Canadian High Commissioner, highlighted in a newspaper yesterday (www.nation.lk – under news features), drawing in as it did other Heads of Mission in Colombo, indicates that further investigation is required. Meanwhile I would be grateful if you published this letter to explain the strange circumstances under which your columnist and his readers were misled.

Yours sincerely,

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

Secretary General

Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process


My dear Rajiva,

I would like you to read through this article if you have not already done so and inform me on what action you contemplate in this regard, if the UN actually intends to establish such an office in our country.

 Yours sincerely,


Diplomatic Memo

Intervention, Hailed as a Concept, Is Shunned in Practice


Published: January 20, 2008

UNITED NATIONS — Three years after the United Nations adopted a groundbreaking resolution to help it intervene to stop genocide, even longtime supporters of the rule acknowledge that it has not helped the organization end the violence in Darfur.

The General Assembly resolution, approved in 2005, held nations responsible for shielding their citizens from mass atrocities and established the right of international forces to step in if nations did not fulfill this new “responsibility to protect.”

“It was the high-water mark when the General Assembly endorsed the concept; it was an incredible leap forward from the whole crippling debate over whether humanitarian intervention wasn’t just a Trojan horse for neo-imperialism,” said John Prendergast, co-chairman of the Enough Project, a Washington-based group dedicated to preventing genocide.

“When it happened in 2005,” he said, “you believed that potentially things could be different. But in the daily slugfest of international policy making, it hasn’t survived the first test: Darfur.”

The United Nations has tried to take the lead in Darfur, the crisis-ridden region in western Sudan. But it has been stymied by the failure of major member states to fulfill promises to support action and by the intransigence of the Sudanese government.

Sudan begrudgingly agreed last year to permit United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur but only as part of a joint mission with the African Union, whose own 7,000-member force had proved inadequate.

Since then, the government has thrown up so many bureaucratic and operational roadblocks that the force that took over on Jan. 1 is only a third of its planned strength of 26,000, and Sudanese authorities are still blocking United Nations’ efforts to include specialized non-African troops considered essential to making the mission effective.

In addition, countries with advanced militaries have not come forward to answer United Nations appeals for the sophisticated aviation and logistics assistance that the force needs.

Darfur, in short, has shown that there is a great difference between gaining acceptance for a working theory and making the theory work.

The 2005 resolution was meant to break the impasse between those who believe the outside world has the power to intercede in countries where mass atrocities are occurring and those who believe that the sovereignty of the state, a concept created in the 17th century and recognized in the United Nations Charter, precludes any outside intervention.

The phrasing of the resolution sought to square the two long-antagonistic positions by saying that the world could step in, but only after the state had shown unwillingness to act itself.

The longstanding debate over when countries should intervene took on urgency after the United Nations and its principal member states on the Security Council did nothing to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Despite desperate calls for reinforcements from the United Nations commander, Gen. Roméo Dallaire of Canada, the Security Council cut the number of peacekeepers to 450 from 2,500.

Donald Steinberg, the New York director of the International Crisis Group, remembers his despair that year when, as President Clinton’s special assistant for Africa, he was unable to marshal international support for taking action to stop the killing.

Among the available options, he recalled, were jamming the radio station broadcasting tribal hate messages, reinforcing United Nations peacekeeping forces or immediately declaring the situation to be genocide.

“But each time some of us pushed for these steps,” he said, “others would ask, ‘Where’s the legal basis for these actions, where’s the public outcry, the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus of support? Where’s the evidence to show that these actions will end the killings?’ ”

With the world facing in Darfur a situation that many have identified as genocide, the advocates of international intervention should, in theory, have answered those questions.

First, there is Security Council approval for the largest peacekeeping force in history, which, at full strength, should have the capacity to halt the killing.

Second, there is a vocal, organized and worldwide campaign backing intervention.

As for the legal basis, there is the 2005 General Assembly resolution embodying the concept of a state’s “responsibility to protect,” which has become so much a part of the United Nations vocabulary of resolving conflict that it even has its own abbreviation, R2P.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has put so much faith in it that he uncharacteristically upbraided an under secretary general at a high-level policy committee meeting in October who disputed the high priority being placed on the concept of intervention.

“The S.G. said he utterly disagreed and felt that this was fundamental to the future of the U.N. and that after elevating the principle so high, we had the obligation to put it into effect,” said a participant in the meeting who witnessed the exchange and agreed to talk about it in exchange for anonymity.

Mr. Ban has upgraded and broadened the post of special adviser for the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities and created a new assistant secretary general position specifically on the responsibility to protect.

But many of the developing-world countries that supported the resolution three years ago have backed off out of suspicion that they could become targets of intervention.

“There has been a tremendous amount of buyer’s remorse,” Mr. Steinberg said.

Samantha Power, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said, “We have more than 150 countries on the books saying they believe this responsibility exists, but what advocates have begun to understand is that governments will never exercise this responsibility naturally or eagerly, they will only exercise it if they feel they are going to pay a price for not exercising it.”

At the same time, advocates of intervention say the resolution has already shown at least some value.

“I think it’s the best tool we’ve come up with for educating; it just remains to be seen if it will be as good at converting theory to action,” said Mr. Prendergast, of the Enough Project.

Mr. Steinberg said, “It’s a way of telling people that sovereignty is not an excuse to facilitate mass killings in your own country, and people get that.”

Ruth W. Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service and a co-founder of the Save Darfur Coalition, said, “I think it’s a critically important phrase, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Next month, a research and advocacy center dedicated to moving the principle of responsibility to protect into practice is being inaugurated at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Similar offices are being set up in Australia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Recalling passage of the declaration in 2005, Mr. Steinberg said, “We decided then that this was the most the market would bear, but we haven’t gotten what we need out of it, and unless we can apply it to a situation like Darfur, then the promise will be lost.”