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This false optimism, which is based on the assumption, which is quite contrary to the indications he has given, that the President wants to do none of the things he promised, has extended now to assuring him that all will be well after the Indian election, and we ourselves do not have to do anything to improve our situation. I am reminded then of J R Jayewardene twisting and turning in the years between 1983 and 1987 as he avoided action, and was forced gradually to concede, but always doing too little too late. So I wrote once that he assured us that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, during his discussions with India in 1986, but in the end the rabbit he pulled out of his hat was General Zia ul Haq. The idea that the Ministry of External Affairs has tried to convince the President that Mr Modi will play Santa Claus is preposterous, but I fear that that is the type of advice and advisors the President has to put up with.
All this is based on the assumption that somehow we can avoid implementation of the 13th Amendment. Because the advisors believe that subterfuge will win the day, no attempt has been made to analyse the 13th Amendment, see if anything in it is potentially dangerous, and then develop mechanisms to avoid those dangers. Instead we are doing nothing about the vast areas in which the strengthening of local administration – and concomitant local accountability – would immeasurably benefit the people.
The President I think understands this, for he was very positive about the ideas I suggested be discussed at the negotiations government had with the TNA. But the history of those negotiations makes it clear why we are in such a mess. The President put me promptly on the delegation when I pointed out there had been no progress over the preceding three months, and in the next three months we saw much progress, in part because I insisted on meetings being fixed on a regular basis. The government also put forward suggestions of its own, that I had proposed, whereas previously it had simply listened to what the TNA put forward, and then failed to respond despite promises.
Military intelligence understands well that the diaspora is not a monolith. Indeed my interlocutor noted that only about 7% of the diaspora were supporters of the LTTE. But this made it all the more culpable that government has done nothing about working with the rest, the more than 90% who have wanted only for their kinsmen who remained in Sri Lanka to enjoy equal benefits with the rest of the population. The LLRC recommendation in this regard, about developing a policy to work together with the diaspora, has been completely ignored. Instead those who did well in this regard, such as Dayan when he was in Paris, were the subject of intelligence reports that drew attention critically to their work with Tamils. The fact that in theory this was government policy meant nothing, since very few others were doing anything about this, and there was no coordination of such efforts in Colombo.
Excessive zeal on the part of military intelligence seems to have caused other disasters. We had an excellent High Commissioner in Chennai, but he was summarily removed because, it was reported, the security establishment had criticized him. Similar reports were in circulation about the withdrawal of our High Commissioner in Malaysia, though he himself thought the Minister of External Affairs was the real villain of the piece.
In Chennai, no efforts had been made to engage in the dialogue that the High Commissioner, who was Tamil, tried to initiate. When I spent a few days there a couple of years ago, with my ticket paid for, not by government, but by an agency that had wanted me in Nepal but was willing to fund a journey through Chennai, I was told that I was the first senior representative of government who had gone there for such discussions. The academics and journalists who attended the meetings were willing to listen, but soon afterwards the High Commissioner was exchanged for a Sinhalese, and the initiative stopped. It was only a couple of years later that government finally got round to inviting the senior newspaperman Cho Ramaswamy to send some journalists to report on the situation, which High Commissioner Krishnaswamy had advocated much earlier. What they published made it clear that we had erred gravely in ignoring his advice for so long. The obvious benefits of having a Tamil in station in Chennai, which without him even doing anything made it clear that allegations of systemic discrimination against Tamils were misplaced, never occurred to a Ministry of External Affairs which seems more keen to assuage possible ruffled feelings within Sri Lanka than develop and implement a foreign policy that would take the country forward.
To return to the fears of resurgent terrorism in the North, this would seem preposterous given the patent relief of the majority of the Tamil people that the terrorism to which they were subject is over, a fact the military obviously recognizes. But at the same time it is clear that the people in the North have aspirations that are not being addressed, and this contributes to resentments that could be taken advantage of. Instead then of actions that could contribute to further resentments, the Secretary of Defence should rather work on those who have not only failed to overcome resentments, but have contributed to exacerbating them. Many of the better informed military personnel in the North understand this, and are at a loss to understand the myopia of government in this regard. But sadly, excellent politician though he is, the President will not put his mind seriously to the problem that has arisen in the last few years, and the Secretary of Defence has not produced comprehensive intelligence reports that assess the real reasons for resentment.
The resentment of the people was apparent in the massive vote against government at the recent election to the Northern Provincial Council. The President knew that he would not win the election, and I suspect this was true of everyone in government, even though the Minister of Economic Development, who had been entrusted with the government’s Northern policy, kept claiming that the government would do well. Indeed his belief seems to have been sincere, since the resentment he displayed after the results came in suggested that he was deeply upset at the total failure of his strategy. It was he, the President had told Dayan, who had insisted that the poll be postponed, on the grounds that the work he was doing would win popular favour, whereas the Secretary of Defence had been willing to have the election much earlier. It should be noted then that the Secretary’s opposition to holding the election last year was based on practicalities, the certainty of loss, rather than intrinsic opposition to a Northern Provincial Council, which he had sensibly enough thought should have been constituted earlier. But sadly his reaction to awareness of increasing unpopularity was not to ensure measures to reduce that unpopularity, but to try to sweep it under the carpet by even going to the extent of challenging the President when he made it clear that he intended to abide by his commitment to have the election.
That the Secretary was right to have wanted to have the election earlier is apparent from the results of preceding elections in the North. In the first set of local elections government actually won some local authorities. In the Wanni, government actually came close to winning in two of the three areas that polled, and in one the combined poll for government parties exceeded that of the Tamil National Alliance.
I will return to the continuing failures of our foreign policy over the last five years, but first I should address the more serious issue, of how our military victory in 2009 has also been so thoroughly undermined. Five years ago it seemed impossible that the LTTE could be rebuilt, certainly not within a few years. But we are now told that there is a serious danger of an LTTE revival, and the more overt expressions of the security paraphernalia, removed to the joy of the populace after the war, have now been restored. Three individuals were killed recently in Vavuniya North, and we have been told of the seriousness of their efforts to revive terrorism, and this has led to checkpoints being reintroduced even in the East.
The story is treated with a pinch of salt in several quarters, with questions as to the failure of government to identify the policeman who was supposedly shot at, the absurdity of a terrorist hiding under a bed breaking through a cordon of police, the failure of the army which was in attendance in Dharmapuram at the time to deal with the problem, the ridiculousness of the suspects retreating to an area where the army was engaged in exercises. But there is no reason to assume the military have concocted the story, and indeed I was convinced of the sincerity of its representative who came to me with details of what was going on – though I should note that sincerity in those who believe a story is not proof of its actuality.
I do realise that there are now a range of elements in the military, and the enormously decent professionals who fought the war have less influence than those who follow the more occult practices of the West in countering terror. But even they must surely realize that what happened recently is an admission of incompetence greater even than that which created the Taliban and Al Qaeda as forces of immense power. My interlocutor told me that the vast majority of the people in the North were sick and tired of terrorism, and – as perhaps the only parliamentarian from the South who visits regularly for free interactions with the populace – I certainly believe him. But in that case, how on earth can there be a serious threat of an LTTE revival?
Five years ago, I spent the week of my 55th birthday in Geneva. I had been summoned there urgently, because some Western nations had been trying to get sufficient signatures to hold a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in an attempt to stop our imminent conquest of the Tigers. By the time I got to Geneva though, the danger was over, and there was much to celebrate. The superb diplomacy of Dayan Jayatilleka, our Representative in Geneva, supported admirably by the international coalition he had built up, had ensured that the West did not get the required number of signatures, and the danger passed.
By the time I got back to Colombo, we had registered an even more remarkable victory, in that the Tigers were finally destroyed. The last 100,000 civilians who had been held hostage were rescued, and it was reported too that Prabhakaran had been killed. The terrorism that had held Sri Lanka in thrall for 20 years had finally been destroyed.
But there was a postscript, for the West, or rather its more intransigent elements, did not let up, and they used all their muscle to get the missing signatures. I gathered that Bosnia was told that their bid for EU membership would be in jeopardy if they did not toe the line, and Azerbaijan was pursued with carrots and sticks like Edward Lear’s Snark. They succumbed, and once again I had to head back to Geneva for the Special Session, which took place on May 27th and 28th.
I was told recently by a diplomat that, amongst the worries in connection with the appointment of Mohan Pieris as Chief Justice, was the feeling that he had been put there to subvert any judicial process that might be implemented with regard to War Crimes. This struck me as ridiculous.
But it was also indicative of the deep distrust and lack of logic that bedevil our relations with the world. It is based on an obsession with War Crimes that is a creation of two equally pernicious initiatives. The first is the determination of the LTTE rump to avenge the destruction of their hero and the terrorist separatist agenda. The second is the cynical efforts of some Western politicians to use the charge to exert pressure on us.
As the LLRC report indicates, and all actual evidence suggests, if there were abuses, they were committed by individuals, and should and would be dealt with by military courts. Though it is claimed that we have delayed unduly in this regard, that is absurd, and those who complain know this perfectly well, given how long it has taken the British and the Americans to deal with abuses by their personnel. Of course our failure to act with regard to what happened in Trincomalee is another question, and our delay there is unacceptable, but that had nothing to do with the war, and did not involve the military.
Where we are at fault in not publicizing what we are doing. We should learn from what the Americans and the British did, and perhaps even emulate them in acquitting everyone except one suitable scapegoat – and the Americans avoided doing even that in the celebrated case of the team that cut off the thumbs of their victims.
The principal recommendations I sent to the President were based on 70 meetings over the year of District and Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees. Two meetings were held in every Divisional Secretariat in the North, excluding the Jaffna District, where four meetings were held altogether. There were 20 meetings in Divisional Secretariats in the East, in addition to meetings at District Secretariats and with the Governors of the North and East, who were extremely helpful.
I also sent some other recommendations related to issues raised at the various meetings of stakeholders that took place in my Colombo office. The most significant of these was the working group to prepare a National Policy on Reconciliation, set up following a discussion on Reconciliation initiated by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies. The group was multi-ethnic and multi-religious and included representatives of other political parties as well as Civil Society.
The initial draft was discussed at length with representatives of several political parties. They recommended consulting religious leaders and media and Civil Society personnel, after which a final draft was sent to the President.
The draft was welcomed by the various groups that participated in consultations related to Reconciliation. These included
- Civil Society Partners for Reconciliation – Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations which have worked towards reconciliation, along with diplomatic missions that have contributed actively to government approaches to reconciliation. Needs that emerged at Divisional Secretariat meetings and elsewhere were sometimes met by participants.
- Religion, Education And Pluralism – Representatives of all major religions practiced in Sri Lanka, who described interventions they had engaged in to promote fellow feeling and suggested ways of developing linkages. They sent the President a proposal about helping with teacher training in areas where shortages cause problems that inhibit communication across communities. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanetham Pillay, issued a critical statement on Sri Lanka. Unusually for the Ministry of External Affairs, there was a forceful rebuttal of this, written by the Acting Secretary, Ms Kshenuka Seneviratne.
I have been a strong proponent of prompt rebuttals of unfair criticism, but the Ministry had seemed to disapprove of this position. Often through former diplomats, as well as journalists connected to Ministry personnel, it claimed that Dayan Jayatilleka and I had engaged in megaphone diplomacy which had ruined Sri Lanka – even though it was under Dr Jayatilleka’s leadership that Sri Lanka had achieved its most substantial diplomatic victory in years.
That approach was denigrated and, ever since Ms Seneviratne replaced Dr Dayan Jayatilleka as our Representative in Geneva, the impression created was that criticism had to be taken lying down, and obsequiousness would solve all our problems. Though Ms Seneviratne’s successor, Tamara Kunanayakam, tried to defend the country forcefully, this was not to the taste of the Ministry and they came down on her like a ton of bricks.
This cannot have been a pleasant experience when ladies are involved. But seeing the volte face that has now occurred, Tamara and Dayan would doubtless be laughing, were they not deeply patriotic. As it is, they must be wondering what will hit the country next, given that Dayan’s and Tamara’s strategy of building up international support was thrown aside and we put all our eggs in one basket, described by one of the more aggressive of their critics as Sri Lanka’s ‘traditional liberal democratic alliance base’, by which was meant the West.