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The meeting at the House of Commons to screen ‘Lies Agreed Upon’, the refutation of several falsehoods propagated by Channel 4, provided many interesting insights into the manner in which the whole case against Sri Lanka is being built up.

The screening was intended primarily for politicians, so that discussion could be of issues germane to the ongoing political discussion, but the High Commission also realized there was interest in other quarters, and it had intended to have other screenings of the film too. One was being planned for the media on Saturday 15th, while I was still in London, since I too had had an expression of interest from the ‘Guardian’ when they rang me about the Liam Fox issue. They also told us that Tamil groups were upset at not being invited, which seemed strange because the type of person who had complained had not previously attended events that the High Commission had organized. Still, since some Sinhalese who had attended such events were also upset, at the restrictions that had had to be imposed given the limited numbers possible, it obviously made sense to have more events.

We needn’t have worried. Those who wanted to get in to attack the Sri Lankan government did so, which was all to the good because they were told by several Tamils as well as Britishers present that it was necessary now to move forward.

Siobhain McDonagh MP

Amongst the politicians who turned up was one who had come to disrupt, but after one attempt to divert the discussion to British media problems, she left and did not come back. This was Siobhain McDonagh, who it was revealed had been in touch with Channel 4 over the making of their film. She also brought with her two people who she claimed were her researchers. One was a young man who had  signed himself into the meeting as Daran who told me however that he was a freelance journalist called Canaa. He claimed to have been in touch with Dr Shanmugarajah while the latter was in Mullivaikkal, and promised to send me photographs that he claimed he had got from him dating to that period.

When the promised pictures did not come, I called him up, to be told now that he actually worked for the Bank of Scotland, and he would definitely send me the pictures soon. He was a strange boy, obviously deeply commited to the cause the LTTE had upheld, though I suspect that, were it not for people like Siobhain McDonagh who have no scruples whatsoever in their thrust for electoral popularity, his energies could be channeled into support for the Tamil people rather than the rump terrorist movement.

It will be necessary however to persuade him to look at facts rather than to regurgitate falsehoods. When I was discussing the inconsistencies in the Channel 4 film, and in particular the fact that it was finally admitted that it had been edited, by the so-called UN experts, he denied this and said that it had been certified that it had not been edited. When I asked him by whom, he said that Channel 4 had said so. I then quoted to him the extract from the UN expert report that mentioned that the editing had been upside down as it were for three segments, and that the experts noted the fifth segment had been taken at a different time or in a different place, but he thought this could be dismissed in comparison with what Channel 4 had claimed. Later, when I spoke to him outside, where he was engaged in what I assumed was journalistic communication with whoever he worked for, he informed me that it was ‘The American Institute of Technology’ [author note: this is the only institute of that name to be found, clarifications would be welcome] that had asserted the video had not been edited. Read the rest of this entry »

I was deeply shocked by various pronouncements in the recent debate in the House of Commons on what was termed the issue of Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent. Much of the debate was about Kashmir, and several MPs weighed in against India in what seemed a very unfair and biased fashion. But India is large enough to look after itself, and even to cope with the indignation the Britishers expressed when it was reported that India had reacted strongly to the British parliamentary debate on Kashmir. After all, as a lady called Joan Walley put it so expressively, ‘There are many people in Stoke-on-Trent from Kashmir who feel strongly…’

What shocked me, sympathetic as I am to the feelings of anyone from Stoke-on-Trent, was that these British MPs simply had no regard for truth. They made things up as and how they liked. I had previously been used to Siobhain McDonagh, but what was astonishing was that two Conservatives had jumped on the bandwagon as far as Sri Lanka was concerned.

I will confine myself here only to matters where blunders were egregious. There were several matters about which looking at evidence would suggest these sanctimonious creatures were wrong. But to be totally wrong, with no concern for evidence, struck me as very sad indeed.

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The link Wikileaks has established between the Norwegian NGO FORUT and Solidar, the umbrella organization of European NGOs that benefited from so much funding in Sri Lanka in the period before the LTTE’s military wing was destroyed, prompted further research which has proved most enlightening. To be precise I should note that the link brought to our notice was between the erstwhile heads of those two organizations in Sri Lanka, but the continuation of their campaign against this country suggests that the congruence of their attitudes while they were here was not entirely accidental.

I venture to suggest now that there was even more to their plotting. In August 2008 there was a claymore explosion that damaged a car belonging to an NGO working in the Vanni, and injured its driver. This was used to criticize the Sri Lankan government and what was alleged were its Deep Penetration Units, but at the time I wrote that we needed to look at the incident in the light of the use being made of it at the time.

I noted that, ‘several NGOs, most of them international ones, are functioning in the Wanni, along with UN agencies. Most of them work primarily through local staff, whom they acknowledge are under tremendous pressure from the LTTE. This is one reason why they want more foreign staff there, though as it turns out such staff seem even more ineffective in dealing with the LTTE. Thus, while it was argued that the takeover of NPA vehicles was due to the absence of foreign staff, it turned out that foreign staff had been present, and had signally failed to inform anyone in authority, until the cat was out of the bag anyway, that the vehicles, 38 of them, had been taken over.’

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After the Wikileaks revelation about Guy Rhodes, I went back to the various assessments I had made in 2008 and 2009. What I found was fascinating, and suggests that what we are going through now was carefully prepared by just a few members of what calls itself the international community. Sadly the many decent members of the international community who work here stand by their own kind, and will refuse to look at the evidence of shady dealing. But I suppose one cannot blame them, given the manner in which government too ignored the evidence placed before them.

The long history of the network that continues to hinder efforts at progress in Sri Lanka can be seen in the minutes of what was termed the UN Protection Group. This indicated that ‘In a daily meeting of Security Operations Information Centre comprising UNDSS, UNOCHA, SOLIDAR and UNOPS analysis of satellite imagery and other information is being used to try to identify numbers and locations of IDPs in the Vanni and in particular in the no-fire/safe area. The number of civilians in safe area is thought to be between 70,000 to 100,000 individuals.’

I wrote about this in March 2009, in an essay entitled ‘The Great NGO Game’, that ‘ I was not sure whether it was appropriate that the UN should be dealing in satellite imagery of conflict areas on a daily basis, but I could see that permission might have been given for this by the Ministry of Defence, given our continuing cooperation with the UN. But what was SOLIDAR doing as a member of the Security Operations Information Centre?

Incidentally it should be noted that this bunch of security experts, with access to satellite imagery, thought that there were between 70,000 and 100,000 civilians in the safe area. I thought then that ‘this particular bit of information had not been shared elsewhere in the UN system, so that the poor High Commissioner for Human Rights was still claiming that ‘According to UN estimates, a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an ever shrinking area’. The significant point in the current context though is that the Darusman panelists are clearly bonkers to claim that we deliberately underestimated figures for the Wanni, since it would seem the UN too made similar errors to our own.

For my current analysis however what is vital is something I missed then, namely the components of this exclusive UN club of which Solidar was so unusual a member. In wondering what an NGO was doing in this Security Operations Information Centre, I did not focus on the involvement also of UNOPS. This last, I should note, is a strange entity that does not function like other UN agencies we are used to, which receive funding to fulfil particular purposes. UNOPS on the contrary brings no money to the countries in which it operates, but rather picks up contracts from other segments of the UN as well as donor countries.

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Recent reports have dwelt on a Wikileaks revelation about a meeting the US ambassador in Norway had with NGO representatives. This occurred on August 24th 2009 ‘to discuss the recent conflict in Sri Lanka, specifically in relation to a Congressional reporting requirement in recent supplemental funding legislation.’

Ranveig Tveitnes of FORUT ...succeeded in teaching Sri Lankans to boil water before drinking it.

The salient meeting on that day was with Ranveig Tveitnes former country director for Forut. I recall her as a particularly silly young woman, who had claimed, when told that NGOs had spent millions on what was termed capacity building to no purpose, that they had succeeded in teaching Sri Lankans to boil water before drinking it. Harsha Nawaratne, the Head of  Sewalanka, said he pointed out that he had known about the need for this long before NGOs descended on Sri Lanka.

Tveitnes however turned out to be vicious as well, and fell out with her local staff. This led to her being ‘expelled from Sri Lanka without an explanation’ according to Wikileaks. I am told that in fact she had to leave because her visa was not renewed but, given her performance in the short time she was here, that was not entirely surprising. She continued however to fulfil the aim with which it seemed she had originally come to Sri Lanka, in that she told the American ambassador ‘that Forut, and a number of other international NGOs, had local staff on the ground with satellite phones who were able to provide brief but consistent text message situation reports. Tveitnes also would text specific questions to her contact and receive responses.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Mahinda Pathirana

Remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the launch, August 26th 2011

I am honoured to have been asked to speak today at the launch of this book written by a colleague at Sabaragamuwa University. It is an inadequacy in our university system that few academics feel the need to write and share their knowledge with the world. In the Faculty of Social Sciences at Sabaragamuwa we did quite well on this, and I am happy to see here Manoj Ariyaratne and Saman Handaragama and Sunil Senevi who have written so well, in addition to Mahinda Pathirana, whose fourth book this is.

I should note however that I have some points of disagreement with Mahinda as to the content. In the first place I object to his dismissive use of the term Neo-Liberalism – just as I was disappointed when Sunil Senevi spoke of the dichotomy between Liberal Capitalism and Marxism, as though these were the only two political philosophies that obtained. This is to ignore the importance of Liberalism, the most apt philosophy for today’ world but one which is sadly ignored in Sri Lanka – perhaps in part because the Liberal Party is not very effective in propagating its philosophy. Even His Excellency referred in Parliament yesterday to the gamut of political ideas represented in Parliament, ranging from Liberal to Progressive, whereas Liberalism – as opposed to what is termed Neo-Liberalism – is the most progressive doctrine there is, since it promotes development as well as equity. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2011
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