Five years ago, I spent the week of my 55th birthday in Geneva. I had been summoned there urgently, because some Western nations had been trying to get sufficient signatures to hold a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in an attempt to stop our imminent conquest of the Tigers. By the time I got to Geneva though, the danger was over, and there was much to celebrate. The superb diplomacy of Dayan Jayatilleka, our Representative in Geneva, supported admirably by the international coalition he had built up, had ensured that the West did not get the required number of signatures, and the danger passed.
By the time I got back to Colombo, we had registered an even more remarkable victory, in that the Tigers were finally destroyed. The last 100,000 civilians who had been held hostage were rescued, and it was reported too that Prabhakaran had been killed. The terrorism that had held Sri Lanka in thrall for 20 years had finally been destroyed.
But there was a postscript, for the West, or rather its more intransigent elements, did not let up, and they used all their muscle to get the missing signatures. I gathered that Bosnia was told that their bid for EU membership would be in jeopardy if they did not toe the line, and Azerbaijan was pursued with carrots and sticks like Edward Lear’s Snark. They succumbed, and once again I had to head back to Geneva for the Special Session, which took place on May 27th and 28th.
But before that I ,had been asked up to Kandy, for dinner at President’s House where Ban ki Moon was being entertained. When I got there, the great man was deep in discussion with Foreign Ministry officials, and it took some time before they emerged with a joint communique, which was duly signed before dinner.
When I saw the text, I was startled because it seemed to grant the need for an inquiry into our conduct during the war. I was reassured however by the Ministry official to whom I addressed my concerns. Later, when I got to Geneva, I found that Dayan too was alarmed by the actual text, and I realized then that, perhaps because we understood the language better than most, we understood too potential dangers in a way beyond the ken of the usual Ministry official. However, in mitigation, I should note that Palitha Kohona, then our Foreign Secretary, told me that the President had been advised against that particular clause, but had finally got impatient and insisted that the text be finalized.
But in fact no great harm would have ensued had the President lived up immediately to his promise. Dayan found in Geneva that that particular clause helped to win round several countries that had been alarmed by reports of violations of law during the conflict. The most serious allegation related to the so called White Flag case, about some senior LTTE functionaries having negotiated a surrender, but having then been killed when they came out of the jungle bearing White Flags.
The agreement the President had signed, noting that such concerns would be addressed, proved helpful in providing us the overwhelming majority with which the Human Rights Council endorsed the resolution that Dayan and his friends had crafted. I still recall the enthusiasm of the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors, who supported Dayan in his negotiations; the solid support of the Cuban and Egyptian ambassdors who, as heads of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic States, provided invaluable support; the experienced Russian and Chinese ambassadors who gave solid advice whilst advising throughout that it was Indian support that was most important; the charming Brazilian and South African ambassadors who, though after many questions as befitted their reputations as countries of high principle, gave us unqualified assistance; and my old friend from Oxford days, the Japanese ambassador, Shin Nakamura who was able, despite Japan’s general alignment with the West, to make clear the commitment of his government to Sri Lanka.
The proceedings were watched carefully in Sri Lanka, and our victory in Geneva was also much celebrated by those who understood its significance. But I fear Dayan and I destroyed our futures, and perhaps the country too, by performing too well. When we spoke, there was pin drop silence in the Council and, as had become common practice in the preceding two years, our speeches were warmly received by our friends. But this naturally raised hackles, and not only amongst those who did not share our commitment to plurallsm. When the urgency seemed to have passed, animosities and jealousies could be given full rein. Two months later Dayan was removed, and in Sri Lanka the Peace Secretariat was summarily closed down. The President later told me that this was one of his biggest mistakes, but I found that I had had no support in my efforts to turn it into an instrument of Reconciliation. The link on which I had relied turned out, Dayan was told, to have been one of the principal proponents of his removal.
But, as I told Dayan later, this was all his fault. He had won his victory in Geneva so readily, that it was thought in Colombo that any fool could do the same. And so he was removed, and the fools were given their head.