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The most telling attempt by the UN to send a clearly inappropriate person to Sri Lanka occurred at the beginning of the year, shortly before the Presidential election. This was a Nicholas Horne, another British citizen, though he seems to have spent much of his working life in America. His last posting, after a fascinating career, was in Afghanistan, where he worked with Peter Galbraith, the former American Deputy Head of the UN in that country.
This roused my interest, because it was Peter Galbraith who had been sacked by the UN after open differences with the UN Head over the Afghanistan election. Galbraith had believed the election was fraudulent, and that Karzai, the incumbent who was declared the winner, had cheated. He had said so openly, and also done much more. Recently there was a report to the effect that he had threatened Afghan officials if they released results favourable to Karzai.
Horne had resigned in high dudgeon in support of Galbraith’s stand. He proclaimed this proudly in the cv that was sent to us. I was astonished at this, since even the UN must have realized that we were in the throes of an election, and that someone as volatile as Mr Horne could prove embarrassing if he got it into his head that the Sri Lankan election was fraudulent. Since there was already reason to believe that those who wanted General Fonseka to win were getting ready to cry foul, it seemed at the very least odd that the UN wanted to send to Sri Lanka at precisely this time someone who could well think himself a hero if he lent grist to the opposition mill.
In the bad old days when Western diplomatic missions thought that peace could only be obtained in Sri Lanka through the efforts of their chosen Non-Governmental Organizations, the Germans set up an agency called FLICT, for Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation. It was managed by GTZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation, but also became one of the biggest beneficiaries of British funding.
What actually was done with all the funds poured into FLICT was decided by a Steering Committee which was largely composed of individuals who shared the view of their international paymasters, that the elected Sri Lankan government could not be trusted with the important task of bringing peace to the country. In theory there was consultation with government, but in fact it was because the Secretary to the concerned Ministry, that of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, realized that the Ministry did not have the capacity to monitor everything that was going on, and asked me to help, that I began to realize the enormity of the waste and worse of the entire exercise.
Ironically it was well after I had begun this series on threats to national sovereignty that I was given the news that Bradman Weerakoon had once again been elevated to the Board of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Naturally he was seeking re-election to that Board at the meeting of members to be held on May 25th. Equally naturally, the membership had been packed with more of his acolytes, including reportedly the gentleman responsible for some of the ICG excesses.
Bradman, as noted in an earlier article, had been the central figure on that Board who had fought, using every trick he knew of, to keep Rama Mani on, when she was engaged in her bid to apply R2P to Sri Lanka. Given Bradman’s patronage also of other Civil Society Organizations, even while being tied inextricably to the UNP, he could well claim to be the great spider that sat at the heart of the several interlocking webs that nearly succeeded in entrapping the Sri Lankan state. I suspect that towards the end of his series of machinations, he was not sure whether he wanted that emasculated state delivered to the UNP or the LTTE or what he saw as his allies in the West, or whether he saw them all as an indissoluble whole, with no distinctions that mattered amongst them.
His tentacles, it should be noted, extended even to the Government Peace Secretariat, in the last days of the ill-fated UNP government that lasted just over two years from the very end of 2001. I wrote about some of this in 2007, well before I knew what Rama Mani and ICES were up to, and followed it up with another piece early in 2008, when I began to understand more fully the sheer genius of the man in ensuring for institutions he influenced or ran lavish sums of money that were supposedly intended to benefit the Sri Lankan people.
In considering the individuals within the UN system who have tried to undermine the Sri Lankan government, and in the process also contributed to undermining the good work that the UN in general tries to do, we should look carefully at the various examples of what might be termed pernicious excess.
Most obviously we have those who have gone out on a limb, and been found out, so that even the usually complacent UN system had to deal with them with relative if still inadequate firmness. Prominent amongst these in the last couple of years were John Campbell and Bernard Dix. The latter in fact behaved badly openly only after he had left the services of the UN in Colombo, but then he turned up in Geneva where he was escorted round to various missions by Amnesty International. He did a sort of magic lantern show with slides, which were obviously not very revealing since we did not hear of them later. What gave them, and his critical narrative, substance was his status as an employee of the United Nations, which most regrettably Amnesty was selling for all it was worth.
I told the normally scrupulous Peter Splinter, head of Amnesty in Geneva, that it was really very naughty of him to make use of an emotionally overwrought individual who was in breach of his contract. Peter however seemed to think such conduct was not reprehensible. Fortunately the UN system disagreed, and the UN head in Colombo made sure that Mr Dix stopped using his position to advance criticisms that were fraudulent and proving an embarrassment to the UN as well as to Sri Lanka. Sadly the UN did not see fit on this occasion to issue a statement making its position public, but the system seems to have worked, for that was the last we heard about Mr Dix and his tale of woe. Doubtless he will be recycled elsewhere at some stage, not least because he had been taken into the UN system after a stint with Solidar, which was at the height of its influence at the time. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most disappointing aspects of some international criticism of recent events in Sri Lanka was blatant recourse to double standards. When anyone connected to government did anything that seemed inappropriate, the whole of government was promptly condemned. Entertainingly enough, given recent Western affection for Sarath Fonseka, his conduct provides perhaps the most obvious examples of this tendency – though I will confine myself here only to his pronouncements, which are clear enough and do not need further investigation.
Several of his more idiosyncratic comments, about Sri Lanka belonging essentially to the majority community, about the politicians of Tamil Nadu being jokers, about the need to expand the army wholesale, had to be placed at a remove from government policy, even while not letting him down by suggesting that he was shooting his mouth off. Such explanations however failed to convince those who were determined to declare that the whole government suffered from chauvinistic majoritarian paranoia. The fact that the army was not expanded, that the concerns of Indian politicians were treated with respect (even while obviously they could not all be indulged), that anxious efforts were made to persuade all Tamil politicians to talk, in between the various luncheon appointments Mr Sambandan was making with Western diplomats, meant nothing in comparison with the pronouncements of the Army commander.
Conversely, when UN staff members launched attacks on the Sri Lankan government, they were supposed to be acting on their own. Even when the media cited them as though they had the full authority of the UN behind them, those in charge at the UN seemed to feel no need to repudiate their pronouncements. Gordon Weiss thus continued to perform as the UN’s principal contact point with the media even when it was crystal clear that he was conducting a crusade against the government. He was assisted in this, I am told, by a fellow Australian called James Elder.
After the diversion created by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s effort to distract attention from the actual ICES escapades, it may be useful to return to less purposive threats to our efforts to deal with terrorism. In this regard I should reiterate that I believe that the International Committee of the Red Cross is amongst the most innocuous of the agencies that engage with countries in difficult situations.
They are supposed to be apolitical, and generally they live up to this reputation. However they are sometimes dragooned into a political role, as when claims are made by some countries that assistance cannot be provided for rehabilitation unless there is a monitoring role prescribed for the ICRC.
In general this would not seem a problem. However, admirable though the ICRC generally is, at the beginning of 2009 they decided to engage in a political role in Sri Lanka, or what they themselves would term advocacy. They issued a series of bulletins, which sounded deeply critical of the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces, and naturally these were made use of by the Tigers and their sympathizers.
In the long and chequered history of Radhika Coomaraswamy’s relentless interference with Sri Lanka while an official of the United Nations, the most peculiar relates to the manner in which she protected Rama Mani from all criticism during her controversial headship of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
She had indeed to protect her even before she took office. Though she claimed that she ‘asked permission from the UN to be on the Board to hand over power, came to Sri Lanka in July 2006 and handed over power. I resigned only after that with the full knowledge of the UN’, she was still advising as to Rama Mani’s salary in August. She reminded ICES that ‘we must all recognize that Rama is taking a salary cut from $8000 a year to what we are offering’ and they ‘should adjust the contract to make it attractive for her’. Bradman duly trotted out Radhika’s arguments, and it seems they carried the day, for there is no sign during Rama’s tenure of the accountability or the concentration on fundraising that had been suggested by those at ICES who wanted value for the money they were pouring out.
Of the two separate attacks made on me by Radhika Coomaraswamy, I was obviously more hurt personally by her efforts to classify me as a racist. I believe this technique, which she has used on multiple occasions, not only against me but even against Tamils who cross her path, needs to be exposed in its own right. It is part of a demonizing othering that, if not challenged, will leave only Radhika and her friends as possible associates for those who believe in and promote pluralistic values for Sri Lanka.
But there was another peculiar aspect to her attack last week, which also needs clarification if only for the record. This relates to the incident which provoked her ire at the beginning of 2008 (even though it is now obvious that her demonizing of me had begun somewhat earlier, with what seemed the first signs of success for the approach Dayan Jayatilleka had employed in Geneva, and for which he had introduced me as part of the delegation to the Human Rights Council). Radhika came out firing openly as it were only when what was happening at ICES was questioned.
I am most grateful to Radhika Coomaraswamy for her little attack on me earlier this week, for it provides me with an opportunity to clarify matters about both her conduct and what went on at ICES in 2007. This is the more urgent in that, in what purports to be a justification of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, she launches two sideswipes, both deliberately targeting me.
The first is the claim that what was happening at ICES in 2007 was entirely innocent, and that I had engaged in ‘rantings and ravings about ICES and the responsibility to protect’ as well as ‘near racist constructions of Tamil “mata haris” even today’, all of this in terms of creating a ‘narrative for Sinhala nationalist consumption’. The language she uses is the substance of the second attack, designed to insinuate that I am racist, or near enough to racist.