Mahinda Samarasinghe was appointed by Cabinet to chair an Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Human Rights Action Plan, and wanted me to serve on it as well as on a smaller Task Force that would push things forward. Nishan told me the Minister had wanted to appoint Mohan to chair the Task Force but I told him, and the Minister too, that I would only serve on the Task Force if I were in charge. I added to the Minister, without mentioning names, that I had had enough of being appointed to committees that never met.
The Minister did not commit himself, but at the first meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee he announced that he had asked me to convene a Task Force to take things forward. He did say that even though I could be difficult – a bloody nuisance, added Mohan, in a loud whisper – he knew I would get things done. It was obvious from this that they had discussed the matter and Mohan had not been pleased. But I was able to go ahead, and we managed to move swiftly with regard to many matters, with excellent cooperation from most Ministries.
I was wary about Mohan by this stage because of my experience with regard to the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had been appointed to chair this when the recommendations came out late in 2010, but there was no sign of any progress at the time the Darusman Committee issued its report in April 2011. I told the President this and, when he claimed that the Committee had made much progress, I said I thought it had never met.
At my suggestion he then told his Secretary to appoint me to that committee as well as to the team negotiating with the TNA. He also authorized me to collect from the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs details of the Committee’s work, which he thought was being reported on a regular basis.
The Secretary sent me the file which contained only the first report that had been given to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. This said a committee that had been appointed to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC, and government had used that to argue that the Darusman report was unnecessary. But there were no minutes of meetings, and the Foreign Secretary said he had been told that minutes were not kept.
Meanwhile, the President’s Secretary had rung me shortly after the President instructed him about the appointments, to say the letter with regard to the negotiating team would be sent, and that Mohan had made no objection to my being put on the other committee. It was only after I put the phone down that I wondered about Mohan having been consulted. While obviously it was a courtesy to keep him informed, I wondered about his views being sought after the President had given an order.
Sure enough, I was told by Lalith Weeratunge a few days later that it was thought I should not be on the committee since I was a Member of Parliament, and that it consisted only of officials. I asked the President about this, and he confirmed that he had been told it would not be proper. I then suggested that monitoring the work of the committee and reporting to him about it should be one of my duties as his Advisor on Reconciliation, to which he agreed.
Armed with that clause in my letter of appointment, I saw Mohan who was as charming as always. He confessed – this was in May 2011, nine months after it had been appointed – that the committee had never met. I suggested that perhaps I should attend its first meeting and he agreed and said he was waiting to get a date from the Secretary of Defence. This was a story he repeated over the next few months, until he finally confessed that the Secretary did not want the committee to meet.
I was astounded at Mohan’s acquiescence in this determination. I had long realized how much in awe he was of the Secretary, and I could also understand the Secretary not wanting to discuss sensitive matters in a committee of many public officials. But what Mohan should have done was had meetings of the other officials to discuss the other recommendations, and worked privately with the Secretary to address matters concerning his Ministry. Thus the most important recommendations as they affected the people of the North, those regarding swift settlement of problems with regard to land ownership, were largely ignored. In time a circular was issued that laid down guidelines, but these involved military participation in decision making, and it was held up by a Supreme Court decision that it should be amended. When I took up the question with regard to the suggestions in that area of the Human Rights Action Plan, it was to find the Secretary to the Lands Ministry most understanding and anxious to move, but his hands were tied both by the legal question that had to be resolved, and the failure to move the very simple amendments to both law and regulations needed to get over the conflicting claims that arose when lands had been abandoned and occupied by others.
With regard to matters that were the actual concern of the Defence Ministry, Mohan had in fact been doing some work and, with regard to the most contentious matters in the recommendations, much had been achieved. These related to those in government custody, both the cadres who had surrendered after the war and been put into rehabilitation, and those who had been arrested before the conclusion of the war under Emergency Regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
There had been over 4000 of these in 2009, but during the war I had not thought we could ask the army to release them, given the wide reach and destructive impact of LTTE terrorism. However after the war ended there seemed no reason to keep anyone in custody on suspicion, and indeed the President appointed me as Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights to chair a committee to look into the situation. With excellent cooperation from the police and the Attorney General’s Department and the prisons, we managed in a few months to get the figure down to 2000, by the time I resigned, in February 2010.
Mohan I found had managed to halve that figure by the following year. He was also able to solve a problem that had arisen with regard to statistics as to those in rehabilitation, where those released and those still in rehab amounted to more than those taken in. It transpired that some of these had been taken to prison since initially it had been thought they should be prosecuted, but then it had been decided to release them after further rehabilitation. In addition, some of those who had been taken into custody before the war ended had also been transferred into rehabilitation.
Government had in fact decided to be far less hard on the terrorists than originally envisaged. At the time I was Secretary I was told that the surrendered had been divided into 7 categories, of which G would be released almost immediately. The bulk of the 11,000 taken in fell into categories D & E & F, and these would be released after rehabilitation. It was assumed that those in categories A & B & C, amounting to about 1000 altogether, would be prosecuted.
But two years later it had been decided to also release those in categories B & C, along with several of those taken into custody beforehand. But unfortunately government was not able to tell its story clearly, to establish the reasons for its actions, and to emphasize the inclusivity of the process it had adopted, without engaging in formulaic retribution. Thus, three years later, it had to put up with a lecture from the US Ambassdor on War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, about how we should have prosecuted more members of the LTTE. No one bothered to explain to him that, from the Reconciliation perspective, it was more important within Sri Lanka to engage those youngsters who had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE rather than punish them for what they might have done after long indoctrination.
Even though the process was lacking in transparency, which seemed essential given the criticism Sri Lanka was facing, Mohan certainly seemed to have done much, and I even persuaded him to meet leading Tamils, Sumanthiran from Parliament and Jeevan Thiagarajah of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, to explain the position. The meeting seemed cordial enough, but I was startled when one day Mohan called me and said that the Secretary of Defence had cautioned him about the meetings, and wondered whether Jeevan could quite be trusted. The reason given was that he was Tamil.
I was surprised, because the Secretary had met with Jeevan at the dinners hosted by the Norwegian ambassador and could have no doubts about his commitment to the country. But then I realized that the call had come just after one of those dinner meetings, and I realized that perhaps Mohan was not pleased that he was not invited to those meetings. It was by then gradually becoming clear to me that Mohan was not entirely transparent and that the disease the President had described, of wanting to cling to everything himself, was eating into him too.
Hostility to Jeevan, whether because he was Tamil, or whether what was seen as his influence with those in authority (he was also known to have lines of communication with Basil) led to Mohan letting his mask of urbanity slip. This was with reference to the LLRC Action Plan, which he had been put in charge of drafting, when the LLRC report came out in December 2011.
The President’s commitment to it seemed clear from the fact that – unlike with other reports such as that of the Udalagama Commission – it was promptly tabled in Parliament. It had been welcomed by most international observers, with the Americans being an exception. Sadly the TNA adopted a similar line and, like the Americans, stressed what they saw as inadequacies in the sections on accountability. But, apart from the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an NGO that received a great deal of Western funding and was seen as advocating an agenda of continuing hostility to the Rajapaksa government, all other observers were positive about the LLRC. Had it then been implemented swiftly, there is little doubt that many of the pressures Sri Lanka was to face would have been overcome.
But Mohan was the wrong man to entrust with the Action Plan. He did nothing about it, while concealing this from the President. I realized this when, in March 2012, I agreed to go to Geneva when the United States moved its first resolution against us. I had refused to go the previous September when the Canadians had tried to move against us, but was delighted to find that the new ambassador there, Tamara Kunanayagam, had dealt effectively with that attempt by obtaining support from many of those who had supported us in Dayan’s time. In this she was very different from her predecessor Kshenuka Seneviratne, who had left us open to Western attacks, and would probably have effected some sort of compromise which would have left us more vulnerable. The President I think realized this, and informed me that he was recalling Kshenuka, but he made the fatal mistake of allowing her to establish herself in the Ministry where, in coalition with Sajin Vas Gunawardena, she effectively sidelined the Secretary. Indeed soon after she came back, her acolytes in the Ministry claimed confidently that she was to be appointed Secretary and, though the President resisted this for some time, in January 2014 the appointment was made.
- Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sneezy (Part 1)
- Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sneezy (Part 2)
- Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sneezy (Part 3)
- Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sneezy (Part 4)