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qrcode.26458058If G L Peiris moved only gradually into seeing his principal role as advancing the agenda of the Secretary of Defence, his intellectual counterpart in the inner echelons of government, Mohan Pieris, had from the start been associated with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He began his rise to the position of Chief Justice by being Advisor to the Ministry of Defence. His reputation at the bar, after he had left the Attorney General’s Department, rested however on his commercial skills, and his main use initially was to advise on arms procurement for the Ministry of Defence.

Gotabhaya had set up a dedicated agency for this purpose, and it seemed an extremely good idea in a context in which, for years, arms procurement had been a cash cow for favourites of the incumbent President. Jayewardene had set the ball rolling, with indulgence of his Secretary, a former very junior public official called Menikdiwela, whose son became a well patronized dealer in arms. Premadasa was exempt from this trait, but Chandrika Kumaratunga allowed free rein to the children of both her Secretary, another not very capable official called Balapatabendi, and her Secretary of Defence, a distinguished public servant called Chandrananda de Silva. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government took things a stage further, when the offspring of his Minister of Defence, Tilak Marapana, a former Attorney General, also got into the game.

Obviously dishonesty with regard to arms purchases also required the connivance of some serving officers, and there were many in the forces who believed that an unholy combination of corrupt civilians and military men were actually determined to keep the war going so they could continue to line their coffers. In this regard Gotabhaya was seen as a breath of fresh air, and the measures he took to ensure that money was well spent, and the forces supplied with both materials and motivation to take the war to a conclusion, was immensely appreciated. Mohan’s role then in the arms procurement agency set up through the Ministry was also highly respected.

Mohan indeed seemed a refreshingly decent addition to the team that went to Geneva during Dayan Jayatilleka’s tenure. I first attended sessions of the Human Rights Council in September 2007, when Mahinda Samarasinghe led a delegation that also included the then Attorney General, C R de Silva, and two of his brightest staffers, Yasantha Kodagoda and Shavindra Fernando. They seemed however conservative in their outlook, and were clearly not willing to move with regard to any of the issues as to which Sri Lanka was facing criticism. In particular, the Attorney General was not willing to bring a prosecution with regard to the killing of five youths in Trincomalee, in which everyone agreed that members of the Special Task Force (not an army unit, but belonging to the police) had been grossly guilty.

Mohan came to the next session I attended, and seemed infinitely more gentle. We knew that CR was due to retire soon, and Mohan was one of the candidates to replace him though, as he was seen as an outsider, this was not viewed with favour by members of the Department. However, given his very civilized approach to human rights in general, and his frequently repeated assertion that it would be a relatively simple matter to bring a prosecution, it seemed that he would introduce new and much needed liberal perspectives into the Department. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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