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I referred last week to the manner in which Chandrika and her cohorts were promoting Reconciliation. In the nineties she and Mangala had embarked on the Sudu Nelum movement, which did not win hearts and minds but at least that functioned in areas which were supposed to have a majority mindset that was to be changed.

In time however the idea of Reconciliation through cultural activity became the preserve of the elite. As I noted when I took over the Peace Secretariat, vast amounts of money were given to those with good connections to produce propaganda supposed to promote peace. I used to call this the Dancing Butterflies syndrome, different coloured youngsters moving together so as, in theory at any rate, to encourage ethnic binding. Not entirely coincidentally, those who governed the funds awarded money to each other, Uyangoda being a principal culprit in this regard through the Social Scientists’ Association, while Young Asia Television was by far the largest beneficiary.  No one bothered to measure the impact of all this work, or rather of all this money for very little work.

Now the practice has begun again, and the elite have produced what is termed ‘A Conversation across Generations’, targeted at ‘bridging a gap between the generations – a gap of comprehension, a gap of empathy, of knowledge or perspective’. The technique employed was, it seems, to interview older people and create monologues from their memoirs.

I was invited to a performance of four monologues, and am very glad I went, since a couple were most entertaining. The most entertaining told us little about the past though, one being a wryly amusing account of an old lady trying to cope with the modern technology through which her children, now living abroad, try to maintain contact. Pia Hatch, daughter of two memorable stage stars of the seventies, Graham and Michelle Leembruggen, was delightful as an old lady not sure what buttons to push or how to deal with a Skype call.

The second lively performance was in fact a dialogue, between a lady who had been great friends with those who plotted the 1962 coup and her devoted manservant. His asides were most amusing, while Ranmali Mirchandani captured superbly the cocooned life of ladies of leisure in those distant days. I suspect nothing much has changed, except that they now have to jostle with those whose wealth is more recent to exercise influence with decision makers. Read the rest of this entry »


Doc 4When Neelan was assassinated, it was initially assumed that Jeevan Thiagarajah, a younger protégé to whom he had become increasingly close, and whom he had seen as his chosen successor, would take over. But Radhika came to a swift arrangement with Neelan’s widow Sithy, and between the two of them they ran ICES for the next few years. Sithy was given unlimited access to ICES funds and resources, and the finances suffered terribly. Radhika’s lame excuse when the problems were laid bare was that she had merely signed whatever the Financial Director laid before her, and it was only after she left that she realized he knew little about finance.

In 2006 Radhika took up a UN assignment but ensured that someone she had herself selected, Rama Mani, who was very much on the international NGO circuit, succeeded her as Executive Director. Rama managed to alienate most of the researchers at ICES and evaded queries about financial problems until finally Kingsley de Silva, who was still Chairman of the Board, dismissed her.

At this point all hell broke loose. Apart from the efforts at blackmail of Angela Bogdan, Radhika weighed in heavily from New York on Rama’s behalf, while Rama even got the UNDP Regional Director to sign a petition asking for her reinstatement. This turned out to be under false pretences, and he retracted apologetically, while in New York, after much complaining, Radhika agreed with the Secretary General that she would give up her continuing involvement with ICES, which she should indeed have done when taking up a UN involvement.

My own deep worry about ICES had begun when Gareth Evans, who had chaired the Committee that developed the R2P concept, had been invited by Rama to deliver the Neelan Tiruchelvam memorial lecture, and had engaged in wild attacks on the Sri Lankan government. Having refrained from any mention of who had killed Neelan, he basically suggested that the Sri Lankan government, while engaged in excesses in its efforts to suppress the Tigers, was essentially racist and becoming ripe for R2P intervention.

Gareth came to see me afterwards and I challenged his claims, in particular his assertions that there had been genocide and ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka, conditions which warranted exercise of R2P. The only instance of the former he could mention was what had happened in July 1983, and he granted that that was no reason for evoking R2P now. With regard to the latter, he could not remember his reasons for the claim, and had to turn to his assistant, Alan Keenan, who had worked for ICES and developed an insidious interest in Sri Lanka which he now exercised on behalf of the International Crisis Group which Gareth headed.

Keenan sanctimoniously referred to the expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE, which had happened in 1990. Neither the date nor the perpetrators had been mentioned in Gareth’s speech, which made clear the sleight of hand involved. I mentioned that there was other shoddy work in the speech, and he agreed to respond when I had written to him about this, but needless to say, I never received any answers.

Interestingly enough I met Gareth again the following year, in Geneva, and I reminded him that he had not responded. He first claimed to have done so, and then changed his stance and said that he had been told I was a difficult person to deal with. I was flattered, that a former Australian Foreign Minister should be nervous of me, but I persevered, and he told me to write to Alan again with the questions. Obviously this time too there was no response. Read the rest of this entry »

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A couple of years back one of the more thoughtful of our career Foreign Ministry officials tried to put together a book on Sri Lanka’s international relations. This was an excellent idea in a context in which we do not reflect or conceptualize when dealing with other countries.

However it turned out that hardly any Foreign Ministry officials were willing or able to write for such a volume. Still, with much input from academics, the manuscript was finalized. But then the Minister decided that it needed to be rechecked, and handed it over to his underlings at the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, where it has lain forgotten since.

Recently I retrieved from my archives the two pieces I was asked to write, and am republishing them here –


Sri Lanka needs to be aware of both facts and principles in dealing with Post Conflict Reconstruction. The facts are simple, and we must recognize that the world at large is aware of them. First, we need aid and assistance for reconstruction. Second, that assistance will be more readily forthcoming if we make significant progress towards reconciliation. Third, reconciliation will be judged in terms not only of what government says, but also the responses of the Tamil community.

These three facts are I think readily recognized by government, and there is no essential difficulty about working in accordance with them. There is however a fourth fact that we need to bear in mind, which is that some elements in the international community believe that the attitude of the diaspora is the most significant element in assessing Tamil responses. This is potentially an upsetting factor, and we have to make sure we deal with it convincingly. Similar to this is a fifth factor, that assessments made in Colombo are often used by salient elements in the international community to judge what is happening with regard to reconciliation and the responses to this of the Tamil community at large. Again, this is a factor that government must take into account.

In one sense this should not be too difficult. A similar situation obtained even with regard to the conflict. We needed assistance to deal with the threat of terror, and in obtaining this we had to make it quite clear that we looked to a military solution only for military matters, ie the secessionist military activities of the LTTE. The solution to the problems of the Tamil community had to be found through negotiation as well as sympathetic understanding. We were also able to show that the Tamil community in the affected areas was not indissolubly tied to the Tigers, inasmuch as once liberated they participated actively in elections in the East, and they took the opportunity in the North (as they had done in the East, in a military campaign that saw no civilian casualties except in a single incident which the LTTE precipitated) to escape from the LTTE as soon as we were able to provide such an opportunity. The simple fact that many of the younger cadres disobeyed orders about firing on civilians, and came over willingly, makes clear the positive response of the affected Tamils.

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I was deeply touched last week, at the Reconciliation Committee meeting in Manthai East, when Father James Pathinather expressed appreciation of a position I had put forward, and said that it had required courage. I also felt very humble, for nothing I had done could come close to the courage he himself had displayed, in April 2009, when he tried to protect LTTE combatants who had sought shelter in the Valayanamadam Church.

He had been attacked for his pains by the Tigers. After he was gravely injured, and evacuated from the War Zone in one of the regular rescue missions we facilitated for the ICRC, the LTTE drove off those who had sought to escape from them by taking shelter in the Church. Many of those forced again into combat are doubtless among the few thousands who then disappeared.

The courage of those like Father James, who sought to stand up to the LTTE when it was at its most ruthless, should be celebrated by the Sri Lankan State. But we have completely ignored these heroes, who had an even tougher time than our soldiers who had to fight virtually with one hand tied behind their backs, given the use the LTTE was making of the human shields it had dragooned into Mullivaikkal. Those soldiers had at least the comfort of comradeship, whereas those who stood up against the LTTE inside the No-Fire Zone were isolated, and subject to enormous pressures as well as brutality of the sort Father James experienced.

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The International Centre for Ethnic Studies invited me recently to a seminar which was essentially on the post-conflict situation, though it had a more philosophical title, as is required to attract funding. I was pleased to attend, since I think one should engage with such organizations. Though I felt that for many years ICES had an essentially destructive agenda as far as this country was concerned, that seems to have changed with the appointment of a new Executive Director, who is certainly critical of government, but with I think no partisan agenda but only a commitment to ethnic pluralism as well as fundamental human rights.

This is Mario Gomes, whom I first knew as a protégé of Richard de Zoysa. I was reminded of this (rather sentimentally, a sure sign of advancing age) at the opening session, which I only managed to get to late since I was driving down from Vavuniya. However I managed to hear almost the whole presentation by Qadri Ismail, who was his usual iconoclastic self, demanding a stop to generalizations about identity. I would describe this as a quintessentially liberal position except that he would probably find the term anathema (I think he still sees himself as a socialist, though I can think of no one less likely to fit into any form of collective).

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Join us in calling on His Excellency The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to limit the size of the Cabinet to 20, with no more than 20 Cabinet Ministers and no more than 20 other Ministers of Junior Ministerial rank.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Short link –


I think it was Aristotle who noted that the roots of injustice lay in treating similar things as dissimilar, and different things in the same way. In line with this dictum we should recognize that the issues which trouble people in different parts of the country are different, and solutions should be specific to the problems under consideration. But, conversely, there are also some common problems, and these should be addressed in a consistent manner. Unfortunately we all tend to look on problems that affect us as particularly serious, and this can lead to injustice.

Thus over the last few years there has been much concern about those who were displaced in the North. Given the gravity of the problem, the indignation of the international community was understandable, though their failure to have addressed this issue when Tamils were being driven along by the LTTE to be used as hostages, as highlighted by Kath Noble recently, raises issues about their actual motivation subsequently. So does the fact that previously they by and large neglected the Muslims driven from their homes in the North. When the issue was raised, it was by hucksters such as Gareth Evans who used their suffering to claim that Sri Lanka was ripe for the implementation of his R2P doctrine. In asserting that ethnic cleansing had taken place in Sri Lanka, he – or rather his sidekick Alan Keenan, for poor Gareth confessed that he had no idea what he had meant by using the phrase about Sri Lanka – implied that this was by government, only to admit that they were in fact talking about what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990.

But in trying to deal with the enormity of what had occurred then, we have neglected the abuse of the Muslims of the East, which the LTTE had been steadily engaging in even before 1990. I was therefore startled, which is a reflection of my ignorance, by the assertions of Muslim leaders in Kattankudy about 65,000 persons deprived of their lands, for whom no remedial action had been taken. They noted that whole villages had been erased from the map, and that they were now confined to a tiny area – which was practically bursting at the seams, as was clear from the dumping of garbage which the Kattankudy Urban Council is engaged in, with no regard for health or safety or the inevitable destruction of water resources that such squalor will result in.

Participants at the meeting were also particularly indignant that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had ignored their plight. I wondered about this, given the thorough job the LLRC had done but, in looking next day at the Action Plan, I realized that the despair of the citizens of Kattankudy was understandable. The sole recommendation noted in this regard was to ‘Appoint a special committee to examine durable solutions and formulate a comprehensive State policy on the issue (of Muslim IDPs displaced from the North) after extensive consultations with the IDPs and the host communities’. Read the rest of this entry »

The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.

The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies. Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were denigrated as having tried to turn us towards what were described as virtually rogue states such as North Korea and Cuba.

That juxtaposition revealed very clearly where the thinkers in the Ministry of External Affairs, if that is an appropriate word, were coming from. Cuba, loathed by the United States, is a model as far as foreign relations are concerned, and we would do well to try to understand why internationally it gets support from almost all countries in the world except for the United States and its absolute dependants. North Korea is a different phenomenon, and the idea that Dayan or Tamara would advocate getting ourselves into that particular category is absurd. But, as far as the mandarins in the Ministry are concerned, there is no need to make distinctions; as J R Jayewardene advocated when he turned to the West after 1977, we should be even more bitter than the West is in denigrating its opponents.

That philosophy underscored his appalling attitude to India. The attitude of the United States to India then explained however our attempts to take on India, even though we should have realized – and the United States indeed make this clear to us – that they would not come to our rescue in the event of conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Australian1. How do you respond to the ICG report allegations that the impeachment and removal from office last month of the country’s chief justice constituted the completion of a “constitutional coup” which began in 2010 when parliament passed the eighteenth amendment, removing presidential term limits and handing the president responsibility for appointing judges, senior police and human rights officials?

As always, the ICG confuses various issues in its relentless campaign to denigrate Sri Lanka as a whole. The 18th amendment, while not ideal, was an improvement on the 17th, which confused two different constitutional dispensations. In any Presidential system the President does have responsibility to appoint, but ensuring consultation is vital. Unfortunately the consultation mechanism enjoined by the 18th amendment has been nullified by the decision of the 2 opposition members on the 5 member Council to boycott its proceedings after accepting appointment, thus permitting anyone the President suggests for any position to be appointed without question.

I thought the manner in which the Chief Justice was removed was regrettable, but she was certainly flawed, and I hope now I will get better cooperation in areas in the National Human Rights Action Plan in which she was not interested..

2. Has the government shown sufficient commitment to fulfill the recommendations of the LLRC, particularly in relation to investigating disappearances and evidence of child conscription, demilitarising the north  and reaching a political settlement that devolves some power to provinces? Could it do more?

The government has done a lot, and I attach the latest report, which is also available on Unfortunately the Task Force was headed by someone who did not devote enough time to monitoring and promoting action, though the Civil Servant involved did his best. Now the most senior Civil Servant in the country has been appointed to run things, and there has been a marked difference already in responsiveness to issues that those who want to see quicker action, including myself, have raised. It must though be understood that we have moved much more quickly in some areas than any other countries which suffered similar tragedies.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Soon after the New Year, the Human Rights Commission summoned a consultation  with regard to the recommendations made with regard to Sri Lanka at the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the Human tights Council in Geneva in 2008. This was a timely move by the Commission, and brought home to me how grossly we had neglected paying formal attention to the recommendations since their inception. We had after all accepted several of the recommendations made, and we had an obligation therefore to carry out our pledges.

The fault is mine even more I suppose than that of anyone else, since having been appointed  Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights in the middle of 2008, I continued in that position for well over a year after those pledges had been made. Though I think I did a little bit, and perhaps more than anyone else would have done, I should obviously have been more systematic. In mitigation however I should note that I had a massive problem with regard to one important area with regard to which there were several recommendations, namely the Human Rights Commission itself. We were supposed to get international assistance for this, but our principal collaborator in this, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, refused to recognize its status.

That this involved deceit and sleight of hand had been clear to me earlier, when I discovered that a UNDP sponsored report on the HRC had been suppressed and not shown to the Head of Capacity Building in Geneva. The line being pushed by critics of the government in Colombo was that the HRC was illegal, and this had been swallowed – if indeed he had not been responsible for propagating it in the first place – by an Australian (yet another to add to the serried ranks of David Savage and Gordon Weiss and James Elder and Peter Mackay) called Rory Mungoven who was in charge of the Sri Lanka desk in Geneva. He had previously been the representative of the High Commissioner in Colombo, and had no affection at all for our elected government.

I tried early on to engage with him, but found him a liar, and sanctimonious at that. When I asked him why he had not supported regional activities of the HRC, he told me that donors were not willing to contribute to the HRC as it was constituted, but a Swiss diplomat who was very helpful while also clearsighted about our shortcomings that should be overcome, told me that the Swiss had provided funds for the purpose, and they had not been used. Rory, I should add, had proconsular ambitions, and was one of those who told me the UNOHCHR could do a better job than the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at monitoring the ceasefire, on similar lines to Gareth Evans who thought that he would do a better job himself, as head of the International Crisis Group.

Rory’s successor was a much more helpful person but, typically, she was soon taken away and replaced by an American young lady called Cynthia Veliko. Cynthia, like Rory, thought her primary allegiance was to opponents of the government, but she was more gracious, and helped to set up a training session for police trainers, which was I think extremely helpful.

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While suppressing the evidence it had commissioned from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Amnesty produced yet another report to denigrate Sri Lanka during the sessions of the Human Rights Council, and has been actively canvassing against us in Geneva. Its normally urbane representative, Peter Splinter, has been scurrying around like a headless chicken, and using language that he would not normally stoop to.

I met him as I went to the Palais on the 14th, and he did not stop to speak, understandably so for he had a meeting with the Sri Lankan delegates led by Dr Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives who have been in the forefront of the campaign against Sri Lanka. Interestingly, when most people in Sri Lanka were positive about the LLRC report, it was CPA which followed the American line of criticism, which sadly the TNA also took up. While Peter was deeply upset about what he claimed was characterization of his friends as terrorists, and this of course is nonsense, the congruence of their agenda with that of the LTTE rump that has now come to the Palais in increasing numbers is truly worrying.

Peter engaged in his own insults when he described the session at which Jeevan Thiagarajah and Javid Yusuf and I spoke about taking Reconciliation forward as a Dog and Pony show. I do not think he intended any particular insult to Mr Yusuf, but it is this type of cultural insensitivity that Amnesty would have been careful about in the old days when people committed to Human Rights without a political agenda, such as Anne Ranasinghe and Javid himself worked for it.

The political agenda is clear in the latest report issued by Amnesty, with its claim that unlawful detention practices continue. In the past I used to think Amnesty was genuine in its commitment to human rights, and I have no objection to it drawing attention to practices it sees as illegal or improper. What I object to is its use of particular instances to engage in generalizations that shore up the impression it seeks to propagate, of Sri Lanka being a militarized state where abuses are the norm. I am sure Amnesty is aware of the vast number of deaths in police custody in Britain in recent years, and I am sure that it will draw attention to these, albeit less dramatically than it does to problems in countries it dislikes – but I do not see it claiming that such abuses in Britain are endemic and indicative of state policy.

The particular instances Amnesty draws attention to in its current assault are largely taken from the past. All case studies as far as I could see were of people arrested in 2009 or earlier, and several of them had been released. While I have no doubt that, like any country under threat from terrorism, arrests sometimes erred on the side of caution, several of the studies indicate that there was good reason for the arrest, ranging from the foreign national who came out to work in an orphanage, as he claimed, and was then recruited by the LTTE (whether forcibly or not is not indicated) to the cadre who had lied under interrogation about his work for the LTTE though he has readily admitted it to whoever interviewed him for Amnesty.

Amnesty also ignores the fact that, whereas we did have large numbers in detention in 2009, those have been significantly reduced. While at the Ministry of Human Rights we would urge that cases be expedited, we could understand that while LTTE terrorism was still an active threat in Sri Lanka, we had to be cautious. Shortly after the war ended however the President appointed a Committee which I chaired to ensure that cases were dealt with, and I had complete cooperation from the prison authorities, the police and the Attorney General’s Department. Though we would complain that this last was slow in dealing with files entrusted to it, the number was halved by the time the Committee ceased to function with the election of 2010.

Since then the Attorney General worked expeditiously to reduce the numbers, and the figure of 2000 cited by Ambassador Godage, cited in the Amnesty Report from the LLRC hearings, is now down to a few hundreds. It should be noted too that ICRC has been visiting such detainees since 2007. I remembered that we used to get reports when I was at the Ministry, but I checked again and ICRC has confirmed that its visits have continued throughout.
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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2017
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