GL and Sajin meanwhile failed to take things forward in the other area which had been entrusted to them, in that they brought nothing from the negotiations to the PSC. It became such a joke that even representatives of the hardline parties asserted this and said it should be wound up. This made sense for nothing of what we had discussed,the unexceptionable measures which the TNA had accepted in principle, and which could have been fleshed out by the PSC, a second chamber for instance and increased power to local bodies, the elimination as far as possible of the concurrent list, were not discussed by the Committee. Both Vasantha and I had brought these matters up, and it was clear that the more intelligent members of the Committee found them interesting, but there seemed massive resistance to any reforms. But in a context in which Sajin Vas Gunawardena seemed to be calling all the shorts, and given his control of both the Minister of External Affairs and the President’s son, so that the President himself seemed unable to move without his blessing, there was little hope of the regime breaking out of the straitjacket in which it was held.
Namal however, though he would not stand up against Sajin, did seem to have his measure, as was apparent in the brief period in which Tamara Kunanayagam was able to deal direct with the President while she was in Geneva. Her sudden removal was probably due to what she had discovered while she was there, and the realization that her direct link with the President would stymie the various stratagems that were laying the country low.
When she arrived a month before the September 2011 UN Human Rights Council Session, she was informed that Kshenuka had been negotiating with the American ambassador about a resolution to bring Sri Lanka before the Human Rights Council for an Interactive Dialogue. When she contacted the Ministry about this and instructions on how to respond, it was to find that they had no knowledge of such an initiative. However they did not seem to take it seriously, so Tamara called the President direct, and he asked her to fly to Colombo immediately for a briefing.
When she did so, she found the Foreign Ministry totally hostile, and furious that she had come to Sri Lanka without authorization from them. At a meeting where GL and Sajin were present she was given instructions that she should go back immediately, and not meet the President. Fortunately she had a ticket that could not be changed, and the Secretary to the Ministry accepted this position, so she was able to meet the President.
His anger about the acquiescence of Kshenuka in Geneva to what the Americans saw as a precursor to the war crimes resolution they had been contemplating was in marked contrast to the complacence of GL and Sajin. Whereas they had not reacted at all, the President’s instructions were clear, that there should be no negotiations. Tamara accordingly made the Sri Lankan position clear, and had enough support to ensure that the proposed resolution, and a Canadian attempt to bring the Sri Lankan issue to the attention of the Council, were dropped. But the American ambassador told her that they would get Sri Lanka the next time round. Since there was no official record of the discussions Kshenuka had had with them, and neither the President nor the Minister attempted to find out, Tamara had to work in a vacuum – not helped by the fact that Ksenuka and Sajin were in firm control of the Ministry and the delegation that was sent to Geneva, as well as the Mission staff that they took over on arrival, and treated her as an outsider at the next session.
She was able to understand something more of Sajin’s mentality when, after consultation with friendly envoys, she noted that the best hope for Sri Lanka to avoid censure was swift implementation of the LLRC recommendations, which had been published at the end of 2012. But Sajin informed her that the President had no intention of taking these forward. She mentioned this to the President when she was back in Sri Lanka for the 2012 Independence Day celebrations, and cited what Sajin had said, that he knew the President’s mind as though he were inside it, which led Namal to comment that this was exactly the sort of thing Sajin would say.
This claim may explain why the President’s explicit instructions, given in December, that an Action Plan with regard to the LLRC Recommendations be drafted, was ignored. Unfortunately it had been entrusted to Mohan Pieris and to Kshenuka Seneviratne, whose loyalties were not with the President. Tamara indeed suspected that Mohan was working with the West, and was speaking to them during the March 2012 sessions in Geneva. Certainly he raised the question of discussions with them even though the President had made it clear that there should be no negotiations, but while he may well have been undermining the stand Tamara, and GL too, had taken, the more likely explanation is that his opposition to the LLRC recommendations was because of his adherence to what he saw as the position of the Secretary of Defence. As indicated previously, that had led him to fail to convene the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC.
In both cases the President was in the dark about the failure to carry out his instructions. In March 2012 indeed he had suggested that the delegation take the Action Plan to Geneva, and was fobbed off with the claim that it was not complete – and though GL knew that nothing had been done about it, he did nothing to ensure that the President’s instructions were followed, perhaps because by then he too was of the view that it was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s writ that had to be followed. But this need not have been due to disloyalty, since Sajin could well have claimed that the President in fact wanted this, and all his talk of progress was a sham. In retrospect one can see why such a line came to be believed, even though I feel that, unless the President is a brilliant actor, and had lied throughout, the simpler explanation is that he was sidelined and then made to feel that there was no alternative, since his most loyal supporters were all of the view that intransigence was the best option for Sri Lanka.
But, though Mohan Pieris was probably committed to Gotabhaya rather than the West, the same cannot be said of Kshenuka. And, whether he shared her motives or was simply under her thumb as far as policy was concerned – Chris Nonis had noted early on that, whereas Sajin thought he controlled Kshenuka, she in fact controlled him – it would seem that the end result of his influence was that the Americans got what they wanted.
Evidence of further collusion emerged when the Americans finally presented the text of their March 2012 resolution. The Indian Embassy, which had had to change its stance, had then worked to negotiate a text that was less critical of Sri Lanka, and had informed Tamara when this was finalized. They said it was still confidential, but when Tamara rang GL to inform him, he was harsh with her, and said the text was now public. His claim was that it had been sent out by email to all Missions, but Tamara found that this was not the case, and was convinced that he had been given the text by those in the Sri Lankan delegation who were in contact with the Americans. But again this was not a matter that was looked in to later, and instead Tamara soon found herself sent away from Geneva.
The second great crisis Sajin was involved in (this time with a little help from Kshenuka rather than the other way round) occurred during the UN General Assembly Meetings in New York in September 2014. He assaulted Chris Nonis during a private dinner party, having the previous evening too tried to provoke an altercation at a dinner for many members of the delegation at a restaurant.
Chris had been hurt enough to go straight to a hospital and have himself checked out. He then went to the Waldorf, where the President was staying, and told him of the incident and declared his intention of resigning his position. The President said he would deal with Sajin, and seemed to make light of the situation, urging Chris to wait until he had returned from the UN.
Chris agreed, but while the President was away he wanted to make clear the seriousness of what had happened, and sought the only member of the President’s entourage who he thought would understand, his youngest son. He turned out to be in the gym, and when Chris went there he had the surreal experience of entering a space where the only other active performer was President Obama, on a treadmill, while the younger man was lifting weights.
Rohitha, as the boy was named, understood the gravity of the incident, and ensured that Chris saw his father when he got back, even though Chris had been told he was resting, before he delivered his address to the United Nations later that day. Chris found that he was still not willing to go into the problem, but told Chris to come with the entourage to hear him speak, and that he would then look into the matter.
Chris however understood that that would suggest he himself did not take the matter seriously, a view that would be substantiated by pictures of him with the rest of the delegation. So he wrote out his letter of resignation and handed it in, and then took the next flight back to London. However, with his usual restraint, he did not mention the incident to anyone else – and even sidestepped the issue when Hugo Swire, of the British Foreign Office, raised the matter at the Conservative Party Conference, and indicated that perhaps Chris would now understand why the British government had no faith in the Sri Lankan one.
The story only broke a few days later, in the ‘Colombo Telegraph’ website, run from London by a journalist called Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, who had already had his website blocked in Sri Lanka for his pains. However, while using material strongly critical of the government, he also used articles by supporters and, while the website was certainly not balanced, but rather excessive in every direction, he certainly could not be accused of any particular bias.
It turned out that the President had taken immediate measures to ensure silence within Sri Lanka about what had occurred, but once the story appeared in the ‘Colombo Telegraph’ there were no holds barred, and the whole matter came to light. Previously the President had ignored the letter of resignation, and there were half truths and denials initially when questions about this were raised. However soon afterwards the President accepted the resignation, driven to fury it seemed by strictures made by the Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith concerning the Pope’s proposed visit to Sri Lanka. The President had planned to take Sajin with him to the Vatican, and though the Cardinal obviously could not prevent this, he made it clear that Sajin would not be welcome at the audience with the Pope.