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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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Sir John Holmes -I did not say that I had not heard such allegations, but that I had not at the time seen significant evidence to support allegations which were being made by TamilNet and others…

One of the lesser known Agatha Christies, as I recall, had a rather strange title, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ The plot hinged on the fact that the parlour maid had not been asked to witness a will – the reason for this was that the man who made the will was an imposter.

I was reminded of this story when I read the Darusman Report and saw how it had left out the testimony of those best equipped to speak about what had happened in Sri Lanka. The records of the ICRC had not been considered, it seemed, nor the evidence of senior UN personnel as to their interactions with the Sri Lankan government.

The reason for this I believe is that senior UN personnel were usually very proper in their approach, as I noted in my dealings with them. There were a few exceptions, but these were people who had come from outside the system and saw their future too as lying in confrontation with sovereign states. Those who had worked in public administration or held academic positions in which they were authorities were much more straightforward. Thus Neil Buhne who was Resident Coordinator of the UN in Colombo, Walter Kalin who was Special Representative of the Rights of the Displaced and who had been largely responsible for the Brookings Guiding Principles on the subject, Adnan Khan and his predecessor who looked after the World Food Programme in Colombo, Tine Staermose of ILO and Dr Mehta and his predecessor of WHO, all saw their role as developmental and humanitarian, to work together with an elected government rather than in opposition to it.

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Heyns & Alston

In trying to understand the extraordinary performance with regard to Sri Lanka of the present and the last UN High Commissioners for Human Rights, I am reminded constantly of what I was told by the previous Indian Ambassador to the Human Rights Council. When we were discussing the excessive number of UN employees from the West, he noted that, apart from that community of interests, they most of them came from the same sort of background. Thinking in terms of the interests of the Non-Governmental Organizations in which most of their work experience lay, they were unable to understand the basic principles on which the United Nations were founded, which gave primacy to the sovereignty of its member states. Read the rest of this entry »

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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Rajiva Wijesinha

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