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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 www.priu.gov.lk. 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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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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Gareth Evans - a flamboyant and opinionated Gilderoy Lockhart

I have two questions based on the ICG report on women’s insecurity in the North and East:

1. The ICG is critical of the government for not doing enough to address the security concerns of women in the North and East, who face a “desperate lack of security”. How do you view this?

As yet another exampe of the tendentious nature on the ICG’s interventions on Sri Lanka. You may be remember the desperate efforts made by the ICG head, Gareth Evans, his sidekick in Colombo Alan Keenan and the latter’s old mate Rama Mani to suggest that Sri Lanka was a situation ripe for the doctrine of Responsibiity to Protect to be applied. Gareth declared that there had been ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka and, when I asked what he meant he asked Alan Keenan to explain (clearly

Alan Keenan - slimy, slithery Nagini of the forked tongue

he had no idea what was meant by the speech he unthinkingly delivered). Alan said – this was in 2007 – that he was referring to what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990. But the speech would have led one to believe that they were referring to what had happened recently with government responsibility.

I think we have to be very careful about what is happening now given that ICES, which was the chosen instrument for R2P, with Radhika Coomaraswamy and her protege Rama Mani pushing it is now going through yet another upheaval, the purpose of which is to

Ambika Satkunanathan ... another Radhika protege

install another Radhika protege Ambika Satkunanathan in the Director’s chair. 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. Now if Radhika – who has fallen out with the guy she claimed was responsible for the financial mess, and she only signed the cheques he put in front of her – succeeds in getting her way, we might have even more problems to face in the future, with ICG again leading the way with misleading claims.

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The BBC this afternoon requested a response to some questions arising from the latest report on Sri Lanka issued by the International Crisis Group. This had to be produced on a blackberry, since I was traveling, but given the reptilian viciousness of Nagini Keenan, who covers Sri Lanka for ICG (and the fact that he now twitters), it seemed best to provide some answers, however hastily. The three queries are each followed, in quotation marks, by the passage in the ICG report to which they refer, and then my responses. At the end I make a brief comment about another passage from the Report.

Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
Adviser on Reconciliation to the President

BBC – The ICG report says the SL govt has destroyed the LTTE by “adopting the insurgents’  brutality and intolerance of dissent”.  Please respond/comment.

The regime destroyed the Tigers by rejecting the more conciliatory approach of prior governments and adopting the insurgents’ brutality and intolerance of dissent.’

A most nonsensical statement. The more conciliatory approach of previous governments was traduced by the Tigers, who used this to build up their strength and broke agreements arbitrarily with exceptional brutality – the killing of policemen who surrendered and the massacre of Muslims in the East and ethnic cleansing of them from the North.

Sri Lanka is a parliamentary democracy which saw massive criticism of the government throughout the conflict in Parliament (including by LTTE surrogates the main Tamil political party finally parted company with after the destruction of the LTTE) and forceful attacks on government policies as well as practices by many media groups, some of which had nothing positive to say. This approach continues. Clearly Alan Keenan, who has been responsible for Sri Lanka throughout, and wrote the speech in which Gareth Evans had to confess he did not know the reasons for the generalizations he made, has no idea as to what totalitarian brutality means.

BBC  –  The report accuses the govt of making reconciliation more difficult by manipulating elections and silencing civil society.  Please comment. Read the rest of this entry »

The Executive summary of the latest effusion from the International Crisis Group makes interesting reading. It is supposed to be about ‘India and Sri Lanka after the LTTE’, but is rather a clarion call to India to become a tool of the international maneuvering in which the ICG engages.

The essential Western bias of the ICG is apparent in its failure to understand the basic principles which govern India’s relationships with its neighbours. First and foremost India does not want its neighbours to be used by other countries as a tool against India. Second, India has now established itself as the leading country in South Asia and, while it obviously will work together with all countries that do not try to weaken it, it will not become a catspaw of those countries and those interests that succeeded for so long in depriving it of its legitimate place on the world stage. Thirdly – and this is I think the most important legacy of the long, principled struggle it engaged in to gain independence – it values democracy and diversity.

The first recommendation of the ICG is that ‘India needs to work more closely with the United States, the European Union and Japan’. I make no criticism of Japan, given that in the salient period it did not really have an independent foreign policy, and I understand too that the European Union did not have a monolithic foreign foreign policy at that stage, and the attitude of individual countries was not always unfavourable. But India is not likely to forget the concerted efforts of the West to keep it under control in the past, beginning with the cynical determination to ensure partition.

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One factor that emerged during the recent seminar on Defeating Terrorism were the very different interpretations of the concept of surrender. David Kilcullen declared at one stage that the strategy adopted by our forces ‘gave the Tigers no opening to surrender’. Rohan Guneratne pointed out that this was not the case, and indeed early on, in February, when the Co-Chairs of the Peace Process called on the Tigers to surrender, the Government would have certainly accepted this. What Government was insistent on, having repeatedly requested the LTTE to return to Peace Talks, was that any surrender be unconditional.

"I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim"

This reality the Co-Chairs seemed to recognize, and it led to great anger on the part of the Tigers. The Norwegian ambassador noted that their fury was directed primarily at the Norwegians, whom they accused of betrayal. I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim, but certainly the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, as represented by both Mr Hattrem and his predecessor Mr Bratskar, had no illusions about the brutality of the Tigers.  

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UN buildingThe revelation by the Darusman Panel that the UN had networks of observers in ‘LTTE-controlled areas’ has not received the attention it requires. The propriety of the UN setting this up needs to be questioned, inasmuch as it indicates what seems to be a parallel source of authority without reference to the government of the country.

The extract that refers to this network also records how it was formed: ‘An internal “Crisis Operations Group” was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the Group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by three sources or could have been double-counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni’.

The sweeping manner in which Government sources outside the Vanni are put on par with Tamil Net requires consideration in a context in which the UN is supposed to be working together with Government. Unfortunately this type of loose talk was encouraged by a lack of precision of the part of various agencies in Government. I have written enough about the battle I had almost single handed to ensure accountability to Government, only to be criticized for this even by people in government who thought I was upsetting good helpmates of Sri Lanka. So here I will only point out the effrontery of the European Union which had prepared ‘Modes of Operation for Aid Agencies’ which asserted that such agencies held the balance between Government and the LTTE. I got rid of this nonsense the week after I took over as Secretary, after which the Europeans lost interest in the Modes of Operation.

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Zurich, Switzerland.

There was much speculation some months back about the provenance of the meeting of minority parties in Zurich. The usual suspects were thought to be behind the event, with the usual suspicions. My own view was that the move was to be welcomed, because unlike in the past the balance of power at such meetings could no longer be held by the Tigers. Given the strength of mind displayed in resisting them by a host of others in the past, even while their backs were to the wall, I felt that the outcome could only help in promoting a united Sri Lanka. The initiative seemed designed to promote discussion as a method of reform, rather than violence, and it seemed that the forum would get this message through to those who had been forced into acquiescence with terrorism and efforts to subvert democracy.

I still think this positive approach may not prove mistaken, but I must admit to some worry when I saw the name Peter Bowling amongst those who had facilitated exchanges. We have unfortunately been here before. He was one of the leading instigators just over a year ago of the petition sent to the UN Secretary General that accused the government of all sorts of crimes in its efforts to suppress the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

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Radhika Coomaraswamy - appointed as Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, April 2006.

The effort by Gareth Evans to focus attention on Sri Lanka as a situation ripe for invocation of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect was not an isolated phenomenon. To paraphrase Lakshman Kadirgamar, if this particular frosting on the cake was prepared in London or in Brussels, from where the International Crisis Group functions, the cake was one that had been baked at home.

The guiding spirit behind the exercise was Rama Mani, who had been virtually imposed by Radhika Coomaraswamy as Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Radhika’s contradictory pronouncements about the suitability of capable Sri Lankan researchers at ICES, such as Pradeep Jeganathan, suggested a determination to keep ICES functioning in terms of her own vision even after she had resigned to take up her current influential position at the United Nations.

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Underlying the various efforts to interfere in Sri Lanka is a doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect. In what might be termed its pure form this was accepted by the United Nations some years back, and certainly, given the excesses that seem to have occurred in some countries, such a doctrine is understandable.

What it amounts to is that, when crimes against humanity are being committed, the United Nations has a responsibility to intervene, to protect those who might be victims of such crimes. The doctrine was formulated after the massacres in Rwanda, with references too to what had occurred in Bosnia. However, mindful perhaps of the manner in which particular countries had interfered with others, without ensuring a broad consensus through the United Nations, R2P was formulated so as to ensure thorough consultation and clear broadbased agreement. Thus, while it represented a shift from the doctrine of national sovereignty, which is the foundation of the UN system, there are safeguards to ensure that any violation of such sovereignty occurs only in cases of obvious breakdown of internal responsibility.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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