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The full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch as well as the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 are available on the Peace & Reconciliation Website

Over the last few weeks, a number of consultations have been held about measures to improve the Human Rights situation in the country. These started on an initiative of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, working together with my office as Adviser on Reconciliation. Springing from an excellent seminar series which CHA began on Reconciliation, the first of which was addressed by MPs Muralitharan, Wickramaratna and Sumanthiran, in addition to myself, moderated productively by Javid Yusuf, the series of Consultations began with sessions on Prisoners, Women and Children.

We began with these because we felt that these were areas in which there was broad agreement on what needed to be done, and no ideological opposition. The only reasons for failure to move forward on policies on which there was consensus were, on the one hand the lethargy that is endemic in any governmental system worldwide, and on the other the difficulties of achieving concerted action when responsibility is so confusingly divided up between several Ministries.

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I have just been sent a typical distortion by Groundviews of what I said three years ago with regard to an Amnesty claim about cluster bombs. GroundViews declares that –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, in February 2009, called those in Amnesty International “lunatics” and their concern over the use of cluster bombs by the Sri Lankan army “rank idiocy”. ……What new levels of spin, deception, counter-claims, propaganda and hate speech through spokesmen, Ambassadors, advisors and other assorted apologists will the government employ to counter this damning new evidence of what can constitute war crimes by the armed forces?’

This is total distortion of what I said. The term rank idiocy was applied to a man called Jim McDonald who suggested it was possible that some lower ranks ‘used captured LTTE cluster bombs’.

I am grateful to Groundviews however for having, in their careful study of what I write, drawing attention to this article. It makes it clear that even Jim McDonald accepted that the LTTE had used cluster bombs. For him to claim then, in order to justify his determination to condemn the Sri Lankan forces, that what might have happened is that the Sri Lankan forces used captured LTTE cluster bombs is indeed the height of lunacywhich is perhaps even within Amnesty they began to tease Jim McDonald about his strange logic, and called him the ‘cluster bomb’.

It is useful, in the present controversy, to quote at length from my 2009 article. I should note too that several years ago I pointed out individuals who I believe had a destructive agenda. One was Rama Mani, who had to leave, despite the best efforts of the establishment trying to keep her. Sadly the advice I gave about Guy Rhodes and Gordon Weiss was not taken. It was much later that Wikileaks revealed that one of the principal sources of American charges against us was Guy Rhodes, and I suspect this fed into the contributions by Steve Rattner, who began by assuming that we were an apartheid state.

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The concerns raised at the last set of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees I facilitated this week in Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, after a long hiatus given an excess of travel in March, were both reassuring and upsetting. This last was because, though problems aplenty were raised, there was appreciation both of what had been done, and the commitment of the government to do more. They were upsetting because in so many simple areas government is simply not acting, in part because government structures are so archaic that they cannot respond swiftly to modern needs.

I do not refer to subjects such as water and electricity and roads, because there is a clear understanding that much has been done, and the rest is planned. The people I was amongst recognized the great strides that had been taken, and that it was impossible to do everything at once. Though sometimes it might help to make clear why there are priorities, and what the timelines are for what cannot be done straignt away, I believe there is general satisfaction with the infrastructure development programme.

I will discuss the various issues raised at the meetings later, but here I will look simply at one area where we are really serving the people of the North, and I suspect rural children in general, badly. I refer to education, where there is widespread appreciation of the schools that have been constructed, and the fact that uniforms and books are supplied well on time. However the lack of teachers is indeed appalling, and also the organizational structure that permits several tiny schools without sufficient teachers to continue to operate. Unfortunately a dogmatic approach to such problems means that there is no concern about education itself, as opposed to a sausage machine that consumes funds without purpose.

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Last week, I was told, a mysterious lady approached the President while he was at a funeral, knelt at his feet, and came out with a terrifying story. The person who told me the story evidently thought of the lady as she who must not be named, but she was nothing like the fictional character who could not be named. Young and rich and beautiful, I believe she had long raven locks and sparkling dimples.

The story she had to tell was however a sad one, for it was a tale of betrayal. The President was told that the previous night, at the dinner given by the Indian High Commissioner, at least one senior member of his Cabinet had joined with the Indian Parliamentary delegation in criticism against him.

My interlocutor thought this upsetting news, whether it was true or not. If it was true, it would explain why the President has not moved forward in accordance with his Manifesto, since obviously he would be worried about being criticized on all sides if he took steps that were controversial. If it was not true, the matter was more upsetting, because it indicated that there were those he trusted who were deliberately creating doubt about the next tier of leadership in the party. And that of course is how many seemingly solid governments have collapsed.

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I was quite saddened by some of the responses to my article entitled ‘Letting down the President’, which recorded instances in which I thought the President’s instructions had been completely ignored, to the detriment of the country. I had been prepared for those who believe this government is appalling to claim either that I was being hypocritical, or else that I was naïve to have thought that progress towards pluralism was possible. But what upset me was the view of someone who I believe appreciates what this government has done, who suggested that the body tasked to work out an Action Plan for implementation of the LLRC Report had perhaps ‘been warned not to go ahead with the meetings’. The response went on to claim that ‘the LLRC was an opportunist ploy so as to meet the widespread criticisms’.

When I asked for evidence for this view however I got none, except for the suggestion that I did not really understand politics, and in particular what was described as Palace Politics. That is possible, though sometimes I feel the study of literature is a better preparation for politics than more obviously relevant subjects, because it is personalities that govern politics and particularly so in Sri Lanka (which, in this respect as in others I studied for my doctorate, is more like Victorian England than most Western societies are now).  Indeed recent events concerning the abduction of the mysterious Mr Mudalige make me wonder whether my comments on the dysfunctionality of government did not err on the side of caution.

But, to get back to the President’s instructions and expectations, I believe the evidence suggests that he is the victim, rather than the fountainhead, of a wholly impractical system. In a Presidential system, and increasingly so now even in Westminster style systems, the Head of Government must have functionaries who ensure by working behind the scenes that the policies he has spelled out are implemented. That used to be the function of the President’s Secretary, but unfortunately the present incumbent has been snowed under with an excess of work that has prevented him from carrying out his primary function. As can be seen from his presence on political platforms as well as television chat shows, he is expected to do much more than his predecessors, and in the field of politics as well as administration.

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In considering again the extraordinary attack on Dayan Jayatilleka by the destructive elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, being indeed forced to do so by their gratuitous inclusion of me therein, it occurred to me that one reason for the ongoing dysfunctionality of government at present is the contradictory motivations of some of those who exercise influence with regard to not just international relations but also those subjects that are of close concern to the international community.

I refer to those who believe that they are best equipped to deal with the West, and in particular those in the Ministry who believe that Dayan and I have been too tough and that, had things been left to them, the West would be very happy with the situation in Sri Lanka. According to the incisive commentary about divisions in the delegation in Geneva, they had been engaging in discussions with the West, as it seems they had been doing for many years before.

While I am not sure that that commentary is right in seeing such individuals as traitorous, I believe that their approach was wrong on two counts. One was the belief that the West would be happy with assurances without any action with regard to matters on which they could build up feeling against us. The second was the assumption that the West was concerned only about such matters, and that what has been going on over the last few years need not be studied, but can be dealt with by hasty reactions.

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The recent intrigues by the nastier elements in the Ministry of External Affairs have prompted some thought about the confused and confusing nature of the diverse elements that make up the current government. The need to examine this in greater detail has been made clearer by the strange affair of Mr Gunaratnam. The implications of what occurred there have been explored carefully in a thoughtful article by Laksiri Fernando, through analysis of the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs. I believe that article should be studied carefully by all those concerned with the continuity and success of this government, which is I believe the perspective from which Prof Fernando has written.

There are some related considerations that I think should be explored further, given the statement by the Ministry, which in fact exposes its complete incompetence in this regard. Prof Fernando suggests that the statement indicates that ‘the “security establishment” has encroached into other ministries and in this case the Ministry of External Affairs’ but I think what it also indicates is that that Ministry has completely abandoned its responsibilities in dealing with international issues.

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One of the most preposterous charges laid against Dayan Jayatilleka in the Ceylon Today diatribe is that he writes too much. It is of course understandable that this comes from the Mandarins of the Ministry of External Affairs – I am assuming that Ms Bastians who wrote the article was fed by that Ministry, given that her husband Gehan Indragupta is a member of the fraternity – since their distinguishing feature is that they cannot or do not write at all.

I am assuming that Ms Bastians who wrote the article was fed by that Ministry, given that her husband Gehan Indragupta is a member of the fraternity – since their distinguishing feature is that they cannot or do not write at all.

I was made vividly aware of this when I was in Lebanon, where our ambassador is one of the brightest thinkers in the Ministry, though doubtless looked down upon by the Mandarins as someone who does not write perfect English. I was told by someone in authority that this was one of the problems with many staff, but obviously nothing has been done to improve the situation, if indeed it is a problem (given the general quality of English anyway, and the actual excellent content of those the Mandarins look down on). When indeed the Minister asked me to help draft statements I said I could easily help, but would it not make more sense for me to train people in writing? I heard nothing more, and I suspect the reason the President gave me in his shrewd fashion means that I will not be permitted to assist in that regard, or indeed any other.

To get back to our ambassador in Lebanon, he has edited a collection of essays on directions for Sri Lanka foreign policy, but it seems that the Mandarins had not contributed. He himself had written an essay, and one had been promised by Ravinatha Ariyasinha, our man in Brussels, but apart from those two, I believe that all contributions come from outsiders. In such a context, the Ministry should be delighted that it has at least some people working for it whose writings are highly respected internationally – but instead we are beset by petty jealousies that will strive to destroy one of our few diplomats who is regularly called upon by his peers to speak for them in public forums.

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Over the last few years I have been astonished at the manner in which very clear instructions from the President are simply ignored. For instance, there are two extremely visionary recommendations in last year’s budget, but it seems no one has done anything about them. One is the suggestion, which indeed harks back to his 2005 manifesto, that we move to a school based system of teacher recruitment. Another, vital in the context of our efforts to implement the National Human Rights Action Plan, is the suggestion that we move towards greater use of non-custodial sentencing, and indeed reduce the number of persons held in remand.

In trying to understand what has gone wrong, I realize that there is no mechanism for follow up in this country. Given the proliferation of Ministries, no one is quite sure who should initiate action, and very often excellent ideas fall to the ground because of a failure to allocate responsibility and ensure monitoring. Sadly, this failure to take policy and policy implementation seriously was underlined by the abolishment of the Ministry of Planning and Policy Implementation, which was just getting other Ministries used to regular reporting of achievements and keeping close track of financial accountability.

This seemed so silly a step, that I wonder whether we have not now reached a stage where a few bureaucrats, who would like to have charge of more than they can handle without clear responsibilities, advised against continuing with institutional responsibility for urgent matters, and promoted the getting rid of that Ministry and the Ministry of Human Rights. Sadly, they have failed completely to deliver swiftly the results that the President may have anticipated in allowing such confusion.

Unfortunately, this contributes to the impression that the President does not want action on such matters. I believe such a view is nonsense, and I know of several instances in which the President had allocated responsibilities, had believed that work was being done, and had been grossly misled. The latest is the preparation of a Road Map for implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had indeed suggested this be taken to Geneva, but was then told it should not be publicized. When I asked for a copy, having seen what a positive impact my own draft Reconciliation Policy document had had – which goes beyond the LLRC and presents a national perspective on reconciliation that avoids the undue emphasis the more politically motivated place on particular aspects of reconciliation – I was told by one of those entrusted with preparing the Road Map that I should check with the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister, bless his honest soul, made it clear the document was very far from being ready.

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I was delighted to have also been attacked in an article in ‘Ceylon Today’ that basically attempted to say that what it termed the monumental loss at Geneva was largely due to Dayan Jayatilleka (and, in parenthesis as it were, to me). It is suggested that what the writer, Ms Bastians, calls a Rottweiller approach, alienated the West, and that is why we have been persecuted by the US and other countries. But, since much of the article is a personal attack on Dr Jayatilleka, building up the case that was set in motion with a missive from the Ministry of External Affairs alleging corruption etc, it is obvious that this is part of the brilliant technique of the fellow travelers in the Ministry to ignore the real problems about Geneva and get on with their task of getting rid of all our able emissaries.

Ms Bastians, I gather, is the wife of Gehan Indragupta who is in the Ministry, in Colombo at present, a batchmate of George Cooke, one of the principal plotters against Dr Jayatilleka.

Ms Bastians, I gather, is the wife of Gehan Indragupta who is in the Ministry, in Colombo at present, a batchmate of George Cooke, one of the principal plotters against Dr Jayatilleka. George, who is unmarried, was permitted to move into an unfurnished apartment at a monthly rental of Euro 3280/-. One of the charges against Dayan is that he permitted Mr Razee, also a Second Secretary at the Mission like George, to stay for a long time in a hotel. The reason for this is that he was given a much lower rent ceiling and, even when this was subsequently increased to Euro 2500/-, finding a furnished apartment, which was specified, was not easy.

George however is a lucky soul, one of those plump Burgher boys whom motherly teachers at nursery school adored. Though not very bright, they would win prizes for elocution, and I recall George acting as Master of Ceremonies at various functions during Mr Bogollagama’s tenure. I suspect he was the person who advised Mr Bogollagama that the G15 was not of the slightest importance, for when the President was offered the Chairmanship of this body, he said that the Foreign Minister had told him not to take it up because it did not contain countries of importance. I should note though that, when I told the Foreign Minister that it included countries such as India and Brazil, he ignored the advice of the Ministry professionals and persuaded the President to take up the position. That it was not made use of subsequently is well known by diplomats in Geneva, and also the reasons for this – as one Indian journalist told me, the problem was that, after Dayan left, instead of asking friends for advice and assistance, we would only ask them for their votes.

So much for the professionalism of the Foreign Office. That, doubtless, is why they – as exemplified by Ms Bastians – are also attacking Tamara Kunanayagam, who was grossly ill-treated in Geneva. I was asked why this was so by two Westerners, who appreciated the forthrightness with which she spoke, and her sheer professionalism. They could not understand why she had been sidelined, but the mandarins who ill-treated her will claim to the President that it was all her fault.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2012
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