It was finally announced recently that Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had been asked definitely to lead the team that would represent Sri Lanka at the Universal Periodic Review scheduled for November. This followed a number of news items indicating that the Ministry of External Affairs had claimed the team would consist only of officials, which I suppose was only to be expected, given the particular genius of at least some individuals in that institution – which is the incapacity to do anything, combined with an unwillingness to let anyone else try.

I was pleased that Minister Samarasinghe had been asked, but I told him, when he kindly asked me to be on the delegation, that I could not accede to his request. Two years ago, when he was finally asked to take on responsibility for Human Rights, or at least some aspects of it, he held a meeting at which he tried to recreate the old team that had dealt so successfully with attacks on us in Geneva between 2007 and 2009, while also taking the cause of Human Rights further. We had engaged actively with the Office of the High Commissioner, and hosted two productive visits by holders of special mandates; we had responded immediately to any communication from the High Commissioner’s Office, so much so that the Working Group on Disappearances had mentioned this positively, and our efforts to deal with the backlog of cases they had been maintaining for a couple of decades.

None of that had happened in the intervening period. Though the Ministry had taken over some of our staff, they had not given them any real responsibility, and indeed the only thing they had taken forward, albeit too slowly for my liking, was the Human Rights Action Plan, and that only because the then Attorney General found time in the midst of everything he was loaded with to promote it. I remember at the time the Minister of External Affairs telling me that the Attorney General should not take on more than he could handle – this was after his abortive trip to New York to meet the Secretary General about the Darusman Panel – to which my response was that the same was true of him. I suppose that is one reason why I am said to be disliked too much to be entrusted with formal responsibilities, but I would prefer to say what needs to be said rather than restrain myself in the hope of promotion. Sadly, though, I have to recognize that what is said has as much effect as water off a duck’s back.

I told Minister Samarasinghe in 2010 that the old team could not be recreated because, instead of Ambassador Jayatilleka in Geneva, we had someone with no understanding of international relations, and thought that obsequiousness and drama when that did not work would save us from attack. A year later the situation had changed, but given how Ambassador Kunanayagam was treated, I was wary. Earlier this year, when Minister Samarasinghe first mentioned the UPR, I said that I would not go to Geneva on the delegation if she had been sacked.

I will stand by this decision, not only because of loyalty, but because the manner in which she has been treated makes it clear that the Ministry of External Affairs does not understand how support must be won and maintained. I have high respect for the present ambassador, but he is not an independent agent, and what seem efforts to alienate our traditional friends can only lead to disaster.