I am writing in response to the article in your columns today by Dr Saravanamuttu. This is devoted entirely to me, as opposed to his previous practice of taking running pot shots. I shall reply in brief, since I am out of Colombo, but this is perhaps just as well, since it does not seem necessary to deal with each and every specific charge, passing innuendo and vigorous if imprecise self-defence in which he indulges.

With regard to the charges there seem to be just two of consequence. The first relates to his claim that I should have taken action on the note passed on to me at the British High Commission regarding Sarath Fonseka.  I have explained at length why it would have been inappropriate to take formal cognizance of something given to me in the course of a visit made for quite different purposes. Taking official action was the business of the British High Commission if they believed their source was serious and credible.

He may recall the manner in which Vijaya Kumaranatunga was arrested in 1982, and kept in jail during the 1982 referendum because, as the police report finally put it, someone had told someone else who mentioned it at a dinner party that Mr Kumaranatunga had claimed there would be blood in President’s House if Mr Kobbekaduwa won the 1982 Presidential election.

Dr Saravanamuttu claims that the British High Commission is not to be blamed for taking action because they replied to a journalist that they did not know what note I was talking about. Since I have now made clear the date on which the incident took place, it is surprising that no journalist has approached them again. If Dr Saravanamuttu believes that I have made up the incident, there is nothing I can do to convince him, but perhaps he could check with his friends in the High Commission again, and then confirm that they have no recollection at all of receiving such a note in January 2009.

As for the question of why the matter was mentioned now, I have already responded to that in explaining that my point was the double standards with regard to Sarath Fonseka that the West seemed to me to have adopted.  My answer was in relation to questions on the 2010 US Human Rights Report, which seemed to me very different in tone from previous Reports, such as for instance the Report presented to government towards the end of 2009.

His second main criticism is that my concern with Reconciliation is new. This is absurd. He will remember that, when I took over the Peace Secretariat in 2007, I was worried at the lack of communication between government and NGOs, which I then thought were largely genuine in their concerns. I had meetings to encourage discussion and ideas for implementation, and one reason for my continuing high regard for Jehan Perera is that he always attended. I was very sorry that Dr Saravanamuttu refrained from coming, even though I asked him personally more than once, only to be told, ‘We’ll see’.  Amongst the consequences of those meetings were measures to increase Tamils and Tamil speakers in the police, and I am happy to say that those years saw dedicated advertisements for the purpose. These bore some fruit, though much more after the end of the LTTE.

Dr Saravanamuttu’s defences are equally vague. Some of the funds CPA receives have been documented, and he can surely provide a declaration of his assets and income as is required from public officials if he wishes to claim that he enjoys only a modest income and a modest lifestyle.  I believe government should check on whether the employees of institutions such as CPA pay income tax, but sadly government does not seem able to follow up on such matters, nor indeed to ensure that foreign funded projects are duly registered and approved as required by law. I should add that sometimes strange methods of accounting take place, as was obvious when the answer in the British Parliament to a question from the Hon Liam Fox, about British aid, omitted agencies such as CPA which the then High Commissioner told me had been a principal recipient of British funding. I think Dr Saravanamuttu’s obsession with money and payment for whatever one does is obvious not only from his previous articles but this particular one too.

He also claims, in his defence for not having contributed positively at Ambassador Ruth Flint’s efforts to produce a joint statement requesting the LTTE to free civilians, that I was too occupied doing other things and did not take heed of what human rights organizations ‘were saying in respect of the LTTE treatment of civilians’. This is again typical, in that he ignores the particular charge. With regard to general statements, which I was not talking about, I have elsewhere made the point that some (the so-called humanitarian agencies) kept sedulously quiet , while others were equivocal, attributing blame to both sides, when the need of the hour was a straightforward demand to let the civilians go.

In this regard, again, it would be helpful if Dr Saravanamuttu reproduced any statement in which he made without hedging a demand that the civilians be freed. Similarly, if he objects to my characterization of his relationship with Dr Carter, he has only to deny that the meeting at the American Ambassador’s house was initiated by him with Dr Carter’s assistance.

Innuendo is of course his best suit, and this ranges from attacks on my decision to go along with the Liberal Party decision to support President Premadasa (I was not present at the meeting where that decision was taken, though previously I had held the balance between Chanaka and Asitha Perera on the one hand, and Dr Saravanamuttu and Rohan Edrisinha on the other) to references to ascetic practices on the part of myself and a diplomat friend that defy photographic record.  That last must surely be the best effort to date to justify Rama Mani’s characterization of him as Sri Lanka’s leading wordsmith.

The most serious innuendo however has to do with his claim that I was making a case about zero civilian casualties and castigating local human rights organizations as LTTE sympathizers. This is outrageous. Had he read what I wrote without preconceptions, he would have realized that I have accepted that there were civilian casualties, and have indeed mentioned the different ways in which civilians fell victim to the conflict, ranging from forced conscription to deliberate firing at close range by the LTTE to deliberate endangering by the LTTE to collateral damage. What I have contested is the claim that the Sri Lankan forces deliberately targeted civilians. Indeed, I have been criticized by otherwise well balanced supporters of government for the position I took up, on the grounds that it might be used by those who want to hold government guilty of deliberate killing of civilians.

Secondly, I challenge him to produce one document in which I have castigated local human rights organizations as LTTE sympathizers.  I have certainly pointed out that some things they said have been used by the LTTE, but I have objected to claims that they support the LTTE.  I made it very clear for instance, when some in government seemed to think the poor doctors working under the LTTE were traitors, that they were nothing of the sort, only dedicated workers doing their best under pressure. I said as much on the radio in spite of efforts during the interview to get me to criticize them. Similarly, I recall once in a meeting strenuously defending Radhika Coomaraswamy and asserting that she was definitely not pro-LTTE, which met with the riposte of one of my colleagues that she was only pro-Radhika. I suspect the same is true of Dr Saravanamuttu.

There is a difference between those who have given up position and public favour for their commitment to ideals, and those who consistently benefit, financially and in terms of prestige, through their criticism of government from what seems an idealistic standpoint. That perspective which I continue to believe a useful tool explains my continuing publicly expressed admiration for institutions such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights.

Daily Mirror 12 May 2011

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