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.

Significantly, even after Elder left, someone in UNICEF took up his brief and publicized a damaging statement about landmine casualties just at about the time the UN seemed to want to slow down the resettlement process. Fortunately, sharp questioning made it clear they were talking without any relation to facts and, after some desperate attempts to attribute responsibility to government, UNICEF backtracked pretty smartly and said the statement had been meant only for private circulation anyway.

To get back to the more sustained performance of Weiss and Elder, two sides of the same coin as even a UN official granted, it was other Australians of their ilk who contributed heavily to damaging relations between the government and the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons. Some of these characters, I was informed, turned out to be on very good terms (having schooled with them, it seemed) with members of the LTTE delegation to the peace talks. It should however be noted that there was never any suggestion that the Australian Foreign Ministry was involved in any of the antics of these Australians, and certainly under the present High Commissioner Australia has been extremely helpful to us in its condemnation of terrorism – even if its Courts do not quite understand the gravity of the offences terrorists and their supporters perpetrate.

It was on their own then, it seems, that the Assistants to the IIGEP functioned as a law unto themselves, releasing statements with monotonous regularity just as the Human Rights Council was due to meet in Geneva. The game began at just about the time the British were preparing to revive the anti-Sri Lanka Resolution they had tabled the previous year, and reached a climax with the Deputy Dutch Ambassador in Geneva announcing in December 2007 that the IIGEP had resigned.

I was not aware of this myself, and we checked, to find that indeed the IIGEP had sent a letter to indicate that they would not be prepared to extend their term beyond the following March, till when they had been initially appointed. Why they thought it necessary to make this announcement in December, in time for the Dutch Deputy to make a misleading statement to the Human Rights Council, can only be explained by their assistants, who seem to have drafted everything that they assiduously published every quarter, in time for Western ambassadors to cite these in Geneva.

Indeed the assistants assumed from the start, with perhaps a little help from the first Human Rights Senior Adviser in Colombo (again an Australian, though half British too, which may explain his approach and his rapid rise in the system), that they were in fact the IIGEP. Thus, though they were supposed to issue statements only after they had received responses from government authorities, they ignored this stipulation, most obviously in September 2007 when the British had got the EU to declare that Sri Lanka would be on the table in Geneva. It turned out that the authorities had indeed responded, to the IIGEP, but the assistants failed to check on this. Not having received anything themselves, they declared that government had failed to respond, so they had every right to issue their tendentious statement on their own.

The UN Adviser meanwhile delayed on permitting the appointment of an assistant to Justice Bhagwathi. The dominant ethos amongst the assistants who wined and dined in the hotspots of Colombo was white and male, and they resented any challenge to their controls, as when they complained about my (female) staff at the Peace Secretariat who were concerned about Witness Protection and were trying to fast forward training in this connection. Since it was my staff who had kept safe the two girls who had survived the bombing of the Tiger training camp at Sencholai (the third had died after the UN had taken them back from Kandy to Vavuniya, which led government to quickly rescue the others from such a risky situation), I was horrified at this blatant attempt, apparently in order to claim later that government was not concerned about the issue, to attack those who were working productively.

The absurdities that the assistants brought upon the IIGEP concluded with the use they made of Sir Nigel Rodley, for whom a Press Conference was arranged in Colombo in April 2008 to announce the departure of the IIGEP. Subsequently Justice Bhagawathi wrote to indicate that some of the more strident criticisms made of the Sri Lankan government and the Commission of Inquiry were not the position of the IIGEP. This led to an interview in which Sir Nigel cast doubt on what Justice Bhagwathi was supposed to have said, and insinuated that statements by the Sri Lankan government could not be trusted.

At this point Human Rights Watch got into the act and decided to arrange a meeting in the British House of Commons, at which Sir Nigel would be put on show. Our Foreign Minister asked me to attend but, when I agreed, Sir Nigel withdrew. I suspect that he had not been briefed properly earlier about what Justice Bhagwathi had in fact said, but realized afterwards that the position he had taken up in the interview was untenable. Sadly, HRW then cancelled the meeting, and indicated to our High Commission in London that they were fearful that I would rubbish them, a practice that has not been difficult, given the false and falsifying nature of their public pronouncements.

They however survive financially by such strategies. What is sad is to find elements in the UN system, and amongst respectable authorities such as the members of the IIGEP, giving licence to their underlings to lie and cheat, underlings who will stick at nothing to fulfil their own parochial if ostensibly idealistic agendas.

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