I was sent recently a link to a bizarre article headlined ‘Retired MI5 Agent Confesses On Deathbed: “I Killed Princess Diana”’. It appeared on a site called ‘YourNewsWire.com’ and was supposed to be written by someone called Baxter Dmitry – about whom there seems to be some controversy, in that there are claims that he is the same person as writes under other names too.

The article itself is not very plausible, though it is accompanied by a splendid photograph of an old man in a hospital bed. And another website called ‘www.snopes.com’ claimed ‘There was no truth to the story, which originated with YourNewsWire, a fake news site. As is often the case with fake news, the article lacked critical details such as when and where the confession occurred or how the purported assassination took place, and no other credible news outlet (or even tabloid) reported the story.’

This last is not quite true in that the ‘Daily Star’, a tabloid founded to match the ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘The Sun’, did report the story though it claimed that the story was found to be fake. But it gave no reason for this last assertion save stating that Snopes had said so.

All this is of a piece with the manner in which news is manufactured, not just for sensation and denigration of individuals, but for political purposes. We are all now aware of the lies that Tony Blair perpetrated so that he could support George Bush over the Iraq war. We are aware of the way in which Gaddafi was vilified with false allegations that he was planning a bloodbath in Libya, a pack of lies that was used by the West to perpetrate its own continuing bloodbath all over the Islamic world. We know of the false claims about Assad using chemical weapons some years back, when the UN made it clear that the likelihood was that these weapons had been used by the rebels the West was then backing.

More recently there was another allegation against Assad which led to Trump bombing Syria – even though now it is clear that it is the rebels who have access to chemical weapons, as a very recent article on the BBC makes clear. Quentin Sommerville records notes by a fighter in which ‘in the munitions section and in his own handwriting, he lists “chemical munitions” as a weapon. There’s been much debate over whether IS has used chemical weapons in Mosul. Here at least, we know they are trained and prepared to use them.’

But there has been no demand for accountability with regard to the public lies that have created so much mayhem in the world. Tragically the instruments which should ensure transparency, such as the UN Human Rights Council, are not functioning effectively, with many countries content to allow the dominant powers to lay down the international agenda. So it is that Sri Lanka is still being persecuted, while countries that have ruthlessly slaughtered civilians on the grounds that this is the only way to eliminate the terrorism – which they themselves spawned, so as to get rid of regimes they disliked – get away with increasingly crude crimes, concealed with increasingly sophisticated disinformation, and leading to an ever more dangerous situation for the world.

But of course we too are to blame for what is going on. The last government failed to counter the palpably false allegations against it, through a combination of arrogance and despair. Arrogance came from the assumption that it was invincible within Sri Lanka and therefore what was said in the world at large did not matter; despair because it felt that, whatever it did, it would not shake off the allegations.

This lethargy was also promoted by those elements in authority which thought subservience to the West the best policy. The manner in which Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were got rid of from Geneva makes clear how influential such reactionary forces were. And they were supported by the chauvinist element within Sri Lanka which abhorred Dayan’s commitment to the 13th amendment, and which simply would not acknowledge the international impact Tamara Kunanayagam was having. The chief international adviser to government at the time, Mohan Pieris, who completely upset the apple cart when he went to New York to negotiate with Ban ki Moon without the Foreign Minister being informed, had an endemic distrust of Tamils, which led to him for instance countermanding the President’s instructions that minority representatives should be on the committee to draw up an action plan for implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Given the way Mahinda Rajapaksa, who managed everything admirably during the war period, allowed other less capable people to destroy his achievement in the five years after the war, I used to wonder if he too suffered from what I term the ‘dodol’ syndrome, the collapse into lethargy that characterizes Chandrika Kumaratunga, a doughty fighter when at bay, but utterly useless in victory – as she is showing in spades now as it were.

But in Mahinda’s case I think there is another factor at play, something that increases my affection for the man even though its consequences were as disastrous as Chandrika’s bumptiousness. Chandrika thought she knew everything, and indeed has managed to convince herself of her overwhelming genius, as when she claims she was about to win the war when her Presidency ended. Indeed she probably now thinks the West has always adored her, even though in 2003 they hated her guts – as Ranil memorably observed when, coming back after Chandrika had taken over the Ministry of Defence and a couple of others, he declared that George Bush was on his side.

Mahinda on the contrary was deeply diffident about international interactions, and therefore allowed those he thought more Westernized to dominate. Thus he claimed, when he asked me to go to Geneva and I said I had other commitments but recommended Foreign Service stalwarts – I mentioned the name of the then Secretary, Mr Amunugama – that they could not use English properly. He was fully in thrall then to the Colombo School Mafir, Ksenuka and Sajin, who used their relative sophistication to denigrate those from different backgrounds.

Mahinda fell for all that, and left foreign policy in the hands of them and the Pieris twins, a Royalist and a Thomian and a Josephian and a Ladies College product, who had in fact crept into the Foreign Service not through merit but through a personal favour to her influential relations. So those with better understanding of what the world was about, Dayan and Tamara and Aruni Wijewardena and even Palitha Kohona, were sidelined or shoved out. And even Prasad Kariyawasam was ignored, as when the letter Manmohan Singh sent before the 2012 Geneva session was not responded to.

But the decision to allow false propaganda against us to flourish was not taken at the top, even though the top allowed those who were in favour of such propaganda to flourish. Now sadly it is from virtually the top that the policy of propagating falsehoods emanates. The latest example of these that came to my notice arose in terms of what is described as ‘a contribution to the Government’s National Policy Framework on Reconciliation, which sets out to build on “common and shared multiple narratives among the communities of the country”.’

I had first heard of this approach to reconciliation when I was told a couple of years back that Chandrika’s reconciliation drive was finally getting off the ground through encouragement of English theatre groups to deal with the topic. I had long realized that Chandrika was not really interested in reconciliation, which she had decided, like everything else in her present state of mind, should be used to propagate her own vision of what has happened. Clouding her vision though is her bitterness against Mahinda Rajapaksa, as was clear from her response to the draft National Reconciliation Policy, prepared in collaboration with minority and opposition stakeholders. After a perfunctory reference to the draft, elements of which she said she might use (in her own policy which finally came out this year), she engaged in the usual diatribe against Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Clearly she believes that reconciliation requires vengeance, which is why the state as far as she and her acolytes are concerned should seek retributive justice rather than restorative justice – in marked contrast to what our Reconciliation Policy advocated. But in order to justify retribution on the scale she and they want, there has to be relentless insistence on crimes – which is why the government is now caught in a bind between those who are determined to punish and those who wish rather to heal

The President is obviously on the right side in this debate, and it seems now that Ranil, whether out of political expediency or similar regard for his future ambitions, is following suit. But Mangala, whose ambitions lay elsewhere, is still on the other track, and unfortunately government had already endowed with great authority others on that track, such as Ambika Satkunanathan, who is now a member of our National Human Rights Commission. I suspect that she got this as a consolation prize for not being appointed to run the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, a position for which Radhika Coomaraswamy had been grooming her some time back.

That I think explains the unsavoury manner in which the HRC was constituted, with the President having to acquiesce in the removal of Lionel Fernando who had initially been touted as its Chairman. Ambika having been elevated, she used the position recently to contradict what the President has clearly said – ‘The government had agreed to the participation of foreign judges in a war crimes probe in accordance with Oct 1, 2015 Resolution moved at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan says. She said so participating in a TV 1 programme yesterday. Asked by host Faraz Shauketaly to comment on foreign judges in proposed war crimes courts, Satkunanathan said: “it is something the government has agreed to as part of the HRC Resolution.”’

Recently the Vice-Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority was removed, it seems for having been critical of aspects of our probation system, even though everyone knows that system is in need of radical reform. But I do not suppose anyone will bring to the attention of the President what Ambika is up to, nor the baggage she brings to the exalted position she occupies.

In this context I can only reiterate what I wrote five years back, having previously brought up with UNDP representative Neil Buhne long before that the danger of the UN continuing to employ Ambika despite what I thought of as LTTE sympathies. Neil acknowledged that there had been a problem, but said he felt Ambika had got over all that. But I was not convinced, and I said as much in January 2012 – ‘Even worse than Rama Mani. Ambika had direct LTTE connections, which I brought up with the UN where she worked. They said she had got over them, it seemed to be seen as simply a youthful love affair with an LTTE representative, but I still thought that it was wrong of the UN to have her in an influential position during the conflict.

Ceylon Today 27 June 17 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=24186

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