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Reflections on Hilary Clinton’s Libyan triumph, Chris Stevens, and the price of regime change

Chris Stevens following the attack which resulted in his death.

When I read of the sad death of the American ambassador in Libya, I wondered whether Hilary Clinton, who had reacted with such depressing vulgarity and Caesarian pretension to the death of Colonel Gaddafi, registered the link between this killing and what the Americans had done in Libya. At the very least, she much have realized that, had Gaddafi still been in power in Libya, the American ambassador would not have died.

I presume the lady would assume that the death of her representative was a small price to pay for having got rid of Gaddafi. The fact that American interventions have resembled another less famous line from Julius Caesar – Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war- is probably of little consequence to her in comparison with what seems the enthronement of American capital and the enhancement of American power. Which is more important in her eyes, God alone can tell, if indeed he can cope with the schizophrenia that seems to govern American relations with what they see as lesser breeds without the law. Cunningly, though, now the responsibility for continuing deaths can be seen as lying with other agents, unlike in the days when the chosen instruments of American domination, from Papa Doc to Pinochet, got away with mass murder on the grounds that they were saving their people from godless radicals.

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

Amongst the Ministries and Departments that have contributed most actively to work on the National Human Rights Action Plan are the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reform, and the Department of Prisons. They have explained to us the problems they face, and have made it clear that they would welcome a reduction in the numbers they have to take charge of. Unfortunately that aspect of Prison Reform is not their responsibility, it comes under the Ministry of Justice.

Unfortunately Justice too has some difficulties in this regard, for the Prisons are full beyond measure because people are committed to them by Magistrates. Unfortunately Magistrates do not carry out their duties with the full awareness that the system in fact demands of them, and most of them, as the Commissioner General of Prisons told us, hardly visit the prisons, to see the consequences of the, at best careless, certainly callous, approach they adopt.

We heard this during a visit to the Prisons arranged by the Human Rights Commission. Its active Chairman, and members of his staff, including several Commissioners, had asked the Commissioner General to permit us to look over some of the areas in his charge. This is in fact a right the HRC enjoys, and I believe its officials do exercise this, but sadly they do not have enough staff to maintain the practice at the level of frequency that is needed. However, even if they did so, and were therefore able to prevent the abuses that occur because of individual aberrations, they could not prevent the systemic abuse that results because of overcrowding.

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Text of an inaugural presentation at the Fifth South Asia Economic Summit on Making Growth Inclusive and Sustainable in South Asia.

Islamabad, 11th September 2012

I am grateful to the Sustainable Development Policy Institute of Pakistan for inviting me to this Summit, and giving me an opportunity to discuss its theme in relation to Sri Lanka. As you are aware, Sri Lanka recently came out of decades of conflict which had impaired economic development, and in particular the promotion of equity in such development.

Comparatively speaking Sri Lanka in fact did reasonably well with regard to growth, except when there were grave problems, as in 2001. However that growth was lopsided, with almost all the increase in wealth that has propelled us upward from being a low income country into middle income status occurring in the Western Province. Since it was such lopsided development that contributed to a series of youth insurrections in the last four decades, it is vital that we correct this imbalance if we are not to face further disruptive unrest in the future.

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Presentation at a meeting of the Pakistan Liberal Forum – Islamabad, 11th September 2012

I am grateful to the
Pakistan Liberal Forum for having invited me to speak today at your seminar on Challenges for Democracy in the upcoming Elections. Though you have suggested I present a regional perspective, it would be more practical I think for me to talk about democracy in Sri Lanka and the challenges we have faced, which may perhaps have lessons for you in Pakistan too.

Sri Lanka has been a functioning democracy for 80 years now, with Universal Adult Franchise bestowed on us by the British in 1931. That they gave us a privilege you in the then united subcontinent did not receive for over a decade longer is not a tribute to us, but rather a function of our small size and the perception that, whatever happened, we would not be a threat to the Empire. We were given not only the opportunity to select a legislature, but also an approximation to Cabinet government with seven Ministers chosen from amongst the members of the Legislature. Needless to say, though, there were three appointed Ministers, for Law and Finance and what was termed Chief Secretary, while Defence and External Affairs were kept in the hands of the Governor.

We followed the classic Westminster model which, as you know, does not separate the Executive from the Legislature. All members of the Cabinet were chosen from the Legislature, but unlike in Britain this soon turned into membership of the Legislature being seen as the main qualification for becoming a Minister.  Ability was not considered important, and seniority seemed a sufficient claim.

There were a few exceptions, and I can also think of one case where a man of recognized ability was brought into a safe seat, a practice that the British had, so as to bring in people of talent. More importantly they also had a House of Lords to which proven talent could be introduced, which India for instance still continues with, in the form of the Rajya Sabha. As you know, several of the most distinguished Ministers in the Indian cabinet have not faced the hustings, but are in effect appointed.

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Text of a presentation by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP, at the Kotelawala Defence University seminar on August 22, 2012

I intend in this paper to look at the different areas in which social integration can be promoted in Sri Lanka, and in particular the manner in which institutions such as the Kotelawala Defence University can contribute to this process. I do so because, in the first place, it is clear that Reconciliation in Sri Lanka requires better social integration than we have at present. Secondly, while those who, in my view, do not have Sri Lanka’s better interests at heart criticize additional responsibilities being entrusted to military personnel, I have no doubt that better and more systematic use of the capabilities the military have evinced in the last several years will in fact contribute to better integration.

Unquestioned, even by the hostile, in this regard is the need for greater minority participation in the armed forces and the police. Though it has been argued that the minorities were deliberately excluded from the forces, this has not been the case, except in the period immediately following the abortive coup of 1962 when there were suspicions, not against the minorities, but against Sinhalese Christians. Tamils and Muslims continued to be recruited, and Christians too though in smaller numbers.

In the nineties the situation changed, more because the LTTE discouraged applications, though it is true that, following the desertion of a Tamil army officer, the military was more cautious about recruiting Tamils. Those who were in service however continued to be deployed in vital positions, though not ones that exposed them to LTTE violence. I have myself worked with two Tamil officers in senior positions in the Military Academy, which is obviously considered a plum posting, given the other distinguished personnel, such as the Vice-Chancellor and the Commander and Chief of Staff of the army now, who were there when Sabaragamuwa University ran the academic component of the new degree programme.

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Text of a presentation at the Seminar on Changing Social Dynamics in South Asia:  Prospects and Challenges for India and Sri Lanka, conducted by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies and the observatory research Foundation.

August 17th 2012


I am grateful to the Bandaranaike Centre and the Observatory Foundation for this opportunity to speak on governance. I was not sure initially what the topic entailed, nor how it fitted into the theme of this Seminar, but in the last few months I have understood how desperately we need better principles of governance if we are to benefit from the victory over terrorism that we managed to achieve three years ago.

I realize too that I am perhaps uniquely qualified to talk on this subject, given the wide range of experience I have enjoyed. I say this because sometimes seminars such as this are criticized on the grounds that they present only theoretical frameworks. In my case however, in addition to having studied political philosophy, and also political and social history, I have been Secretary to a Ministry with particular responsibility for coordinating the work of other Ministries, as well as now being a Parliamentarian. I have written from a theoretical perspective on principles of governance, in ‘Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka’ (CUP, India), while more recently I have been advising District and Divisional Secretaries, and the Grama Niladharis under them who provide the first interface with governance to the people, on systems that better fulfil basic principles of governance.

What are these principles? I was thinking that they could be summed up, in an acronym I just invented, as a CART to take us in the right direction, but I then decided that TRACKS would be better, and more thorough. What we need is Transparency, Responsibility, Accountability, Coherence and Knowledge, and of course also Skills to fulfil these principles. These last however do not require explication, though we need to understand that continuous training is required to develop these to sufficient levels, together with practical experience that is both supervised and on occasion analysed to improve performance.

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Grim though the subject can sometimes be, one of the pleasures of convening the Task Force on expediting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan has been the excellent cooperation evinced by so many institutions. These include governmental and non-governmental institutions, though involving the latter has had to be through the consultations initiated at the Reconciliation Office at the beginning of this year at the instigation of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

Last week we had two very useful discussions, on the issues of women and of children respectively. Presentations were made by a range of institutions, including the Human Rights Commission, the Probation Department, the National Child Protection Authority and the Consultant on children’s issues to the Attorney General’s Department. Equally helpful however was the analysis of Methsevana done by the Institute of Human Rights.

Much of what will appear here is copied from that, which noted that Methsevana in Gangodawila is the only state owned detention centre for women in Sri Lanka. It is maintained by the Dept. of Social Services, and serves as a prison, vocational training centre and rehabilitation centre.

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‘The nuns we studied under were tough and they disciplined us, but I am here because of them.’

US Ambassador – Patricia Butenis

The quotation is from a fascinating article by an employee of the US government which provided interesting insights into the legacy that the departing American ambassador seems to want to leave. She is advising the girls of Uduvil College in terms of her own education. It is a touching article, that places Ms Butenis in a charming light, at a time when, as the article states,  ‘the US Government played out its most controversial engagement so far in Sri Lankan affairs in the history of US-Sri Lanka relations.’

The article however immediately issues a sort of disclaimer, in that the ambassador is cited as saying that ‘I think it is a mistake if people think that we can dictate to this Government’. It seems that the impression sought to be created is of a country resisting calls by Tamils for intervention in a context in which ‘We can’t trust India. Karunanindhi and Jayalalithaa are only looking after their interests. Only the US can dictate.’

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Now that the LLRC Action Plan is out, it has drawn the usual reactions. Those who find good things in it claim that these have been forced on government. Others claim that it does not go far enough. Kusal Perera does both. Interestingly we do not yet find criticism that it goes too far, though I suspect this viewpoint too will be expressed in time, for the usual reason. Meanwhile, predictably, we do not find credit given to government, and we certainly do not find expressions of regret that the government has indeed produced a plan, when the claims of the critics were that nothing would be done.

I can think of several instances of such failure to admit to unwarranted suspicions. Firstly, when the war ended, there were claims that we planned to use the army to occupy the North, that we would keep the displaced in camps for several years, and that we would incarcerate the former LTTE combatants. None of these things happened, but no one has granted that their predictions were wrong. Indeed hardly any credit has been given by the usual critics of government – though I should note that Mr Sumanthiran is an honourable exception with regard to the former combatants, for he has publicly granted that the government did well in that instance.

As part of this programme of predictions of doom, when the LLRC was appointed, it was claimed that they would produce nothing of consequence. I should note though that, when the Report appeared, we found some sort of exception to the rule, in that most critics of government welcomed it. I was at the farewell given by the then Australian High Commissioner on the evening of the Report being issued, and found general satisfaction, in some cases accompanied by disbelief, by most members of the diplomatic community present. Surprisingly, though the statements issued thereafter were more grudging than the immediate reactions, by and large they were very positive.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
At the Defence Seminar 2012 – Towards Lasting Peace and Stability
August 10th 2012

I will begin with what might seem a paradox in the current context. I believe that much more must be done by the armed forces to promote reconciliation. I know that much fuss is now being made about the role of the armed forces in the North, but while I can understand opposition to what might be termed militarization, which must be avoided, I sometimes feel that the formulaic approach of those opposed to the work of the armed forces is calculated almost to prevent reconciliation.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in the almost hysterical approach to the rehabilitation programme conducted by government. Whilst trenchant but honourable critics of government such as the TNA National List Member of Parliament, Mr Sumanthiran, have gone on record as praising the rehabilitation programme, the diehards in the international community were adamant that there should be no support for the process. Indeed even the UN Country Team, which used generally to understand the need to work with government, whilst continuing to remind us of our obligations (as far as its senior leadership was concerned, in the days when I had governmental responsibilities, so can testify to the excellent cooperation we enjoyed), seems later to have tried to prevent any of its members entering into the centres where rehabilitation was conducted.

Thankfully, the International Organization for Migration was made of sterner stuff, and worked effectively with the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, whilst always, it should be noted, giving the CGR and his team credit for their achievements and acknowledging the need for programmes to be driven by government. But the contrast between them and others was so marked, that I sometimes wondered whether those extreme elements in the international community, who have made so much of the running in the last couple of years, were not deliberately trying to provide a rationale for the oft proclaimed criticism of the LTTE oriented diaspora, that the former combatants were held incommunicado.

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Rajiva Wijesinha


September 2012
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