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The latest Channel 4 film on Sri Lanka dwells on four points, most of them expanded versions of what it claimed previously. Once again, actual evidence in the form of documents dating from the period concerned, indicate how selective it is.

Channel 4, following the Darusman report, talks of bombardments on a UN camp from January 23rd on. Unlike Gordon Weiss, who mentioned the same incident but without a date, attributing information to retired Colonel Harun Khan, from the UN Secutiry Office, Channel 4 now finally mentions its purported informant, an Australian called Peter Mackay.

There was no Peter Mackay in the list of those going on the convoy supplied to the army. Apart from Harun Khan, the only UN officer supposed to be in the convoy was a local employee called Mr Suganthan.

In contradiction it seems of the Channel 4 claim, the UN Security Chief wrote to the Security Forces on January 24th as follows – ‘I would like to thank you and your staff for excellent support in all the UN movements to date’ (it must be noted that Harun Khan had stayed behind without authorization, when the rest of the convoy left on January 20th, in order to persuade the LTTE to let local staff who were working in the Wanni leave).

Another letter of du Toit’s of January 31st, after Harun and his small group had got to safety, joining an ICRC convoy on January 29th as suggested by the army when the LTTE was delaying their escape, reads as follows, with regard to the local staff, ‘My office is keeping the SF HQ regularly updated as events unfurl on the battle field in their immediate vicinity and I can report that we are most pleased with the professional response and cooperation with SF HQ.’

So who was Mackay, where did he come from, and where did he get his footage? He may well have been there, but the fact that his presence was never informed to officials is suspicious in itself, given too his position at UNOPS which had had a number of staff with LTTE sympathies, for whom the UNOPS head had apologized (for instance Benjamin Dix whom Amnesty had taken round Geneva in a show and tell performance during an earlier sessions of the UN Human Rights Council).

It should be added that the deaths of civilians occurred largely because of the strategy of using civilians as human shields, and then fighting from amidst them. We were aware of this from the start, given the evidence of the Bishop of Jaffna who wrote on January 25th that ‘We are also urgently requesting the Tamil Tigers not to station themselves among the people in the safety zone and fir their artillery shells and rockets at the Army’.

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The following letter was sent to the Chief Editor of ‘Ceylon Today’, in response to a misleading article about the draft Reconciliation Policy. The article also seems to have made up things about the Sri Lankan approach to the US sponsored resolution, in its desire to play to what seems the current agenda of the United States.

The letter is followed by the ‘Ceylon Today’ article, and then a more balanced account of the Policy taken from the ‘Sunday Times’.

Lalith Allahakkoon
Ceylon Today

Dear Lalith

I have just seen the article in your paper that refers to the draft policy on reconciliation. I know you may not be responsible for everything in the paper, but it is a pity that your journalist has been so misleading. As you know, I responded promptly to your request for a copy of the paper, which you had been informed about by those I had sent it to for comment. This did not include diplomatic missions in Colombo, and there was no question about trying ‘to give credence to its bona fides about its commitment to reconciliation’ and therefore circulating the draft paper to missions.

As you know perfectly well, I do not play games about trying to convince other people. The idea of such a policy paper was conceived following a seminar on reconciliation organized by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, and our team worked on this purely for the benefit of the country. It was circulated, once the draft was complete, to leaders of political parties as well as a cross party group set up several months ago to discuss issues of national interest. Members of the committees set up by the Reconciliation Unit also received copies of the paper for comment last week, and since then one ambassador requested the paper. I refused then, but sent it this morning, since it had appeared in the press yesterday.

It was sent to our ambassador in Geneva since one member of our team went to Geneva last week, and has been circulated there to those who need further information about the current situation. I do not for a moment suppose that the few who purport to need convincing of our bona fides will be convinced by this draft, indeed I suspect the opposite will happen.

One reason for their intransigence, I have realized, is the desire to do (or rather to be seen to do) everything positive themselves. The example of the former Head of US Aid doing hurriedly what I had told her I would do to promote swift resettlement of the displaced is a case in point – though she subsequently confessed that she had advised against this, which suggested that her superiors had used her to fulfil a political agenda of patronage.

As I told you at the time, in agreeing to your request to send you the paper, it was certainly not intended to be confidential. However, as it was a draft that had been sent to stakeholders (not diplomatic missions) to invite comment, I was worried that those with particular agendas should use it misleadingly.

It is most upsetting if you are amongst them, but I note that your reporter refers to a seven page document, whereas the one I sent you has 12 pages, so perhaps my trust in you was not misplaced, though your staff has different perspectives.

Yours sincerely,
Rajiva Wijesinha

Dhammika Kitulgoda

Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP to felicitate Mr Dhammika Kitulgoda on his retirement as Secretary General of Parliament

Mr Speaker, I am honoured to be able to speak today on behalf of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka to felicitate Mr Dhammika Kitulgoda on his retirement as Secretary General of Parliament, and to thank him for his contribution. As you may be aware, I have a great respect for the office he occupied, a respect that dates back nearly half a century to when it was known simply as the position of Clerk to the House of Representatives. That was in the days of the old dignified Chamber, before we had to cope with this grandiose tinsel structure, but simplicity in those days masked great influence and authority.

Despite that lowly title, I was convinced at the time that the Clerk to the House was the most important position in the House, save only that of the Speaker, and of course the Deputy Speaker, a position held then by the Hon Member for Beliatta. That was in the days before the grandiose but pernicious concept of representing a whole District was imposed on us, with a corresponding lack of effectiveness. I should add that, seeing Mr Kitulgoda in action, while now being a Member of Parliament instead of just a spectator in the Gallery, I feel again that the Secretary General is indeed the second most person in Parliament, a far more respectable and respected individual than the rest of us.

Others have spoken of his extremely distinguished career, in the judiciary, where he was the youngest person to be appointed a Magistrate, and then in his administrative roles as Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission, the Constitutional Council and Parliament as its Secretary General. He actually occupied the latter position twice, succeeding and being succeeded by individuals already in service in Parliament. He was therefore unique in coming in from outside, which should not be a regular practice, but which can be a healthy corrective when a service becomes too insular.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the Rotary South Asia Conference on Literacy, Kathmandu, March 2nd 2012

Mr Chairman, my distinguished fellow speakers Dr Shantha Sinha, Chair of the Indian National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and Mr Qamar Zaman, Secretary of the Pakistan Ministry of Training, Rotarians, I hope I will be excused a small anecdote on relations between our countries before I begin my presentation. It arises from the impressive use at yesterday’s opening ceremony, graced by His Excellency the President of Nepal, of Hindi and Urdu quotations which so many of you seemed to understand; and then from the announcement this morning of the approval by Pakistan of Most Favoured Nation status to India to promote commercial links. I hope this will be the precursor to even greater friendship between the countries of the region, and a greater role for SAARC in promoting common initiatives in fields such as education.

My anecdote dates back to 2009, when Sri Lanka faced hostility at the Human Rights Council in Geneva from some Western nations, and our ambassador there found tremendous support from Asian countries and in particular from both India and Pakistan. The ambassadors from those two countries were his advisers in negotiations, and once it seemed, when he was under some pressure, I think it was from the Germans, and was inclined to yield, the Indian and Pakistani started talking in a language that no one else understood. Then they turned to him together and told him to stand firm. They were talking in Urdu, the language of the heart, as we heard yesterday, but also useful in less romantic contexts.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha with Nepal’s Minister for Education Dinanath Sharma, RI President Kalyan Bannerjee, President of Nepal Dr Ram Baran Yadav, RI District Governor Basu Dev Golyan

To return to education, Sri Lanka has had an extremely good record as to literacy for well over half a century. Not only have we been consistently at over 90% during this time, but female literacy has also been commensurate with that of males. Coincidentally, the comparative excellence of Sri Lanka figured yesterday in some of the Indian newspapers that were discussing the UNICEF report released earlier in the week on the ‘State of the World’s Children’, and brought home to me again that we have much to be proud of, even though I have long argued that we can also do much better.

The reason for this exception – apart from the Maldives – as far as South Asia is concerned, as was noted in several speeches at your opening session last evening, is that we had a visionary Minister of Education from the time Sri Lankans were given executive responsibility through the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931. He built on the existing system which had begun with Christian missionary schools in the early to mid 19th century, and been expanded on when Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim societies realized the advantages education conferred. By 1931 there were excellent schools in almost all big towns in the country, often a Catholic and a Protestant school together with a Buddhist or Hindu one (and twice over, since these schools were segregated by sex). They were not segregated by religion, and it was indeed because many Buddhist and Hindu parents had had to send children to Christian schools that their religious organizations decided they had to develop their own initiatives.

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The above observation, which Minister Dilan Perera made at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Liberal Party, was exemplified recently following an interview I did in Delhi with IANS, the agency that one associates with distinguished journalist Narayan Swamy. This time it was a younger man who interviewed me, for a very long time, though what was ultimately sent out was a relatively short piece, reproduced below.

I found out about it from the BBC, and thought it basically fair when I read it, except for a couple of misrepresentations. I inquired about the main one from the journalist, as follows – ‘The BBC rang about your piece, which had appeared in the Daily Mirror in Colombo.  Generally fair, but I was wondering about the headline – Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, India told – – which was not at all what I said (my point was that India and China never had, and the concept of exclusivity is a Western notion based on oppositions, whereas India was ok with our connections with Pakistan etc over the years, and the same goes for China). I wondered then if the headline was a Mirror idea, since the article itself did not give the idea of the headline. The only other point to make is that the micro-credit idea is mine, and I don’t think government will approach India in this regard, given all the other projects that are in train.’

Dr Dass responded immediately as follows – ‘It was wonderful interacting with you ysty. The headline was given by a very senior colleague who liked your interview. As far as the story goes, it is really nice of you to consider it to be generally fair.’

I did not think the point needed to be labored, except that I thought an opportunity had been missed, given the very different point raised by the BBC – ‘Thanks – though I fear (do tell your colleague) that the headline was misleading. Entertainingly, the BBC Sinhala Service rang about it, but wondered why I did not worry about India, given that the JVP thought India was hegemonic.  I do not blame the JVP which has to try to gain votes by whatever policy pronouncements come to hand, but can you imagine the BBC employing people still stuck in that mindset? In that regard I would have liked some reference to my point that exclusivity was a Western desire, as exemplified in Cold War days, might have got the BBC to think in a way more suited to the current context!’

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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2012
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