‘Success in War: My time at the Peace Secretariat, 2007-2009’

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Continued from yesterday

Presentation by Tamara Kunanayakam

On the occasion of the Launch of Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s book, Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa years on 18 February 2015

Rajiva Wijesinha provides a fascinating insider account of the first appearance of RtoP and how Sri Lanka was framed with the help of the “conglomerate of interventionist’ NGOs, who had been built up with foreign funds during the previous regime. Not surprisingly, the concept was introduced at the same time the LTTE was defeated in the East, also in July 2007, and by none other than the man who pioneered the concept, the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. Evans had been invited by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies to give the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture entitled “The Limits of State Sovereignty: The Responsibility to Protect in the 21st Century.” At the time, Evans happened to be President and CEOof the International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Rajiva reveals the existence of a veritable conspiracy. Allegations began to be fabricated for future use in a claim that the State was engaged in genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes or crimes against humanity, or other similar mass atrocity crimes. And so began the step-by-step building of a case that found its way into the notorious Darusman Report and then into the reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. That there was indeed a strategy to frame Sri Lanka became evident many years later, in 2013, when Sri Lanka was chosen as one of six countries for RtoP application by a US working group on “The United States and RtoP: from words to action,” which was co-chaired by former Secretary of the US State Department, Madeleine Albright, and US Presidential Envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson. Gareth Evans was part of that group.

July 2007 – Entry of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

It is in this political and military context that characterised mid-2007 that the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also paid a visit to the country. She arrived in July 2007, accompanied by Rory Mungoven. Rajiva’s describes in much detail the insidious role played by Rory Mungoven, who was known as an interventionist and had been a constant in the affairs Sri Lanka ever since his appointment as UN Human Rights Advisor following the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002. Before joining OHCHR, Mungoven had been Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch and Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International. He returned with Louise Arbour advocating the establishment of a monitoring mission in the form of a field office, which, elsewhere, had become discredited as channels for Western intervention. Mungoven was back again more recently, with the newest High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to discuss implementation of the controversial 2015 Human Rights Council resolution. In the 8th February edition of The Island, I wrote of the insidious role that had been played by OHCHR, and continues to play.

Defeat of LTTE – battlefield shifts to Geneva

One would have expected the venom to subside when the Sri Lankan leadership succeeded in defeating a formidable terrorist outfit, singlehandedly and without the need for outside intervention. Elsewhere, such a feat would have been considered laudable by the same Western powers. After all, fighting terrorism is their new battle cry.

But that did not happen, and the viciousness returned with a vengeance. A Special Session was attempted in May 2009to stop a final victory against the LTTE, but the West failed to mobilise the support needed. Rajiva reveals how already then, the West had been seriously contemplated a War Crimes Tribunal.

The West did, however, succeed in obtaining the Special Session they wanted a few days after the war ended, but not its outcome. Rajiva describes how the strategy adopted by Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Permanent Representative to the UN, Dayan Jayatilleke had proved effective in isolating the adversary. That victory demonstrated the importance of mounting a robust defence as a means of deflecting attacks. Had the team in Geneva remained passive, defeat would have been inevitable with a British-led draft resolution already on the table. Dayan’s strategy was to prevent the draft resolution from being taken up at all, and the only way to do so was to refuse to negotiate the text and to persuade enough members to make known that they would not support any move that would place Sri Lanka on the agenda. Rajiva describes how crucial to isolating the opponent was the close coordination between the Permanent Representative and the Peace Secretariat with its first-hand knowledge of the ground situation. This knowledge, combined with an understanding of the motivations and internal contradictions of the adversary, and the ability to recognise the community of interests with the developing world, was what had permitted the team to respond rapidly and aggressively to unsubstantiated attacks and to expose the duplicity of the Western power, thus putting them on the defensive and weakening their position.

In September 2011, another failed attempt to place Sri Lanka on the agenda followed, this time with Canada acting as Washington’s proxy, give that the US was not a member of the Human Rights Council. I was then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva and found myself facing a furious US Ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, who exploded, “We’ll get you next time!” Six months later, the US, which had by then become a member, took the lead and two resolutions followed in 2012 and 2013, culminating in the notorious 2015 resolution that was adopted without a vote, because of co-sponsorship by the new pro-Washington Government in Colombo.

With this precedent-setting resolution posing a very real threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, the publication of Rajiva’s book is indeed very timely,

 False projection of Tamil reality – the Sri Lankan tragedy

An important aspect of Rajiva’s account is its exposure of the irresponsible and persistent projection by Sri Lankan politicians of Tamils as a homogenous group, not a heterogeneous community with its differences based on class, caste and geographic origin, and reflecting a diversity of social and political forces. The book is replete with examples of the heterogeneous character of Tamils in Sri Lanka and contains a catalogue of abuses by the LTTE against other Tamils showing they were the first and most immediate victims of its terror.

And yet, despite the obvious, all the protagonists in the Sri Lankan tragedy – the LTTE, successive Sri Lankan governments and Western powers – have all subscribed to this distortion of Tamil reality. Rajiva’s narrative shows how this false projection served in many ways to justify the policies of successive governments under the Presidencies of J.R. Jayewardene, Premadasa and CBK, resulting in the recognition of the LTTE as the “sole representative of the Tamil people ‘to the detriment of other political and social forces that could have represented a democratic alternative. Premadasa had even actively supported the LTTE against other Tamil political forces, who had come into mainstream politics following the 1987 Indo-Lankan Accord.

The 2002 Cease Fire Accord signed by the Ranil Wickremesinghe government under President CBK went so far as to recognise the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, a recognition that prevented other Tamil forces from complaining against LTTE abuses. And since the government did not complain either, there are no proper records of the horrors inflicted by the LTTE against the people that it claimed to represent. During this period, millions of rupees were given to the LTTE, channelled through the UN and authorised by the Government of Ranil Wickremasinghe. Despite ample evidence that the LTTE was arming itself and expanding its operations into new areas, the Wickremasinghe government continued to pretend that the CFA was working.

CBK was no different. She had shown readiness to negotiate with the LTTE on the basis of a controversial LTTE proposal for an Internal Self-Governing Authority, which, if accepted, would have given it totalitarian powers. She then signed the P-TOMS agreement, clauses of which were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In privileging the LTTE, CBK failed to talk to the moderate Tamil forces until after it was too late. By the time she put forward a package to appeal to the moderates, Neelan Tiruchelvam had been assassinated and the LTTE had gained full control of the North and also its politicians. To make matters worse, the UNP literally burnt that package in Parliament.

By projecting Tamils as a homogenous group, our politicians have, wittingly or unwittingly, aided the LTTE in gaining legitimacy as “the sole representative of the Tamil people,” and thereby also, validating its demand for a separate State. Rajiva’s account helps understand how the propagation of the false perceptionhelped frame a RtoP case against Sri Lanka, providing Washington the precedent it needs at the United Nationsto legitimise unilateral intervention under the controversial third pillar of RtoP.

The repeated references by successive Sri Lankan governments to the existence a so-called “Tamil Diaspora”, whether in a positive sense or a negative sense, only further reinforces this false perception, and unless we are ready to learn from the lessons of history, we will continue to be a divided people.

In my view, the false perception of Tamils as a homogenous community is what has been – and will continue to be – the paramount obstacle to achieving lasting peace and building a common Sri Lankan identity, one that is based on justice and equality. The fiction that the conflict was between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority may suit politicians vying for power within Sri Lanka,it also suits Western powers seeking to intervene in the country’s internal affairs, but it positively does not serve the interests of the Sri Lankan people, nor their aspirations for a society in which they have the sovereign right to determine their own destiny.

A challenge to re-appropriate our history

One cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of perpetuating memory. If we fail in this responsibility, we will risk seeing our history re-written by others. Rajiva’s book is a challenge to all of us to re-appropriate a decisive sequence of our recent history, and is a must read for each and every one of us!

Island 22 February 2016 – http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=140792