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When 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 »
Dayan’s point then was that Lalith too was part of the group around Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, that had decided after the 2010 election that the President should not make too many concessions with regard to a political settlement. This did not mean Lalith would set himself up consciously against the President, as even Gotabhaya was to do with regard to the issues noted above. When he was ordered to move, he did so, as when he produced swiftly an Action Plan for the LLRC Recommendations, which Mohan had held up, presumably again on Gotabhaya’s instructions. But he did not see any need to embark on any initiatives on his own that would take forward the commitments the President had made with regard to devolution or accountability.
And on occasion he went even further than Gotabhaya in putting forward a mindset that seemed at odds with the official position of the government. Thus, at the launch of a book called ‘Gota’s War’, which suggested the primary responsibility of the Secretary of Defence for the victory against the Tigers, Lalith launched into a vast attack on India for its part in strengthening the Tigers during the eighties. And just before the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in 2014, having been sent to lobby in the West, Lalith attacked what he termed the excesses of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the eighties, and claimed that, were investigations of abuse in Sri Lanka to proceed, the IPKF atrocities too should be gone into.
Our High Commissioner in Delhi, the normally placid career diplomat Prasad Kariyawasam, complained sadly about what seemed an unnecessary alienation of India at a crucial time. He did not tell me who was responsible, but Indian officials were more forthright. When they brought up the question of criticism of the IPKF which had come to Sri Lanka at the request of the Sri Lankan government, and fought against the Tigers, they met the excuse I made, that there were extremists in the government who did not represent the views of the President, with the information that the assertion had been made by the President’s own Secretary.
If Lalith thought that this was a way of pressurizing India to oppose any resolution that referred to War Crimes, he obviously had no idea of the way international relations worked. But I cannot believe that he had so crude a view of the world. Rather it would seem that, like those in the Ministry of External Affairs who still resented the Indian intervention of the eighties, he thought that old Cold War Games could still be played, and we should affirm our commitment to the West by indicating how different we were to the Indians. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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.
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).
I have just been sent a typical distortion by Groundviews of what I said three years ago with regard to an Amnesty claim about cluster bombs. GroundViews declares that –
‘Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, in February 2009, called those in Amnesty International “lunatics” and their concern over the use of cluster bombs by the Sri Lankan army “rank idiocy”. ……What new levels of spin, deception, counter-claims, propaganda and hate speech through spokesmen, Ambassadors, advisors and other assorted apologists will the government employ to counter this damning new evidence of what can constitute war crimes by the armed forces?’
This is total distortion of what I said. The term rank idiocy was applied to a man called Jim McDonald who suggested it was possible that some lower ranks ‘used captured LTTE cluster bombs’.
I am grateful to Groundviews however for having, in their careful study of what I write, drawing attention to this article. It makes it clear that even Jim McDonald accepted that the LTTE had used cluster bombs. For him to claim then, in order to justify his determination to condemn the Sri Lankan forces, that what might have happened is that the Sri Lankan forces used captured LTTE cluster bombs is indeed the height of lunacy – which is perhaps even within Amnesty they began to tease Jim McDonald about his strange logic, and called him the ‘cluster bomb’.
It is useful, in the present controversy, to quote at length from my 2009 article. I should note too that several years ago I pointed out individuals who I believe had a destructive agenda. One was Rama Mani, who had to leave, despite the best efforts of the establishment trying to keep her. Sadly the advice I gave about Guy Rhodes and Gordon Weiss was not taken. It was much later that Wikileaks revealed that one of the principal sources of American charges against us was Guy Rhodes, and I suspect this fed into the contributions by Steve Rattner, who began by assuming that we were an apartheid state.
One reason I will not make a successful politician is that I have far too much interest in human nature. I find people fascinating and, when they are slightly unusual, I enjoy trying to understand what makes them tick, and how they perform in different situations, in comparison with others. Comparing their vision of their goals with what seem the actual goals, as well as the impression they try to create of those goals, is most illuminating.
I first properly came across Patricia Butenis at a Boxing Day dinner given by Paul Carter. If I recollect aright, I was the only one there from government, being Secretary at the time to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and having appreciated the introduction Carter had given me to the State Department Report on possible war crimes.
I spent much time talking to someone from Carter’s office who enlightened me on what seemed a strange association with the JVP. This came to mind later when I read the attack in 2011 on S B Dissanayake in the US Human Rights Report, which Carter had doubtless prepared. I was then about to leave early, when I noticed Mr
Sambandhan come in, and I thought I should wish him, since I have known him for longer almost than anyone else in active politics, since meeting him in my father’s rooms in Parliament in the late seventies.
He was out in the garden, closeted with Ms Butenis and with the EU Ambassador Bernard Savage, and as I approached them, I realized I was not wanted. Ms Butenis was barely polite, and Sambandhan perfunctory, but Savage I should note was very gracious, and did his best to make me feel not unwanted, though I realized I should leave as soon as it was possible to do so without being awkward.
I know I have a suspicious mind, but I was not surprised then when the TNA endorsed Sarath Fonseka, nor when Bernard Savage made an idiotic rejoinder to a query about Western support for Fonseka in
which he made his predilections clear, in suggesting that Fonseka’s candidature was on a par with that of General Eisenhower. I should add that, when later I remonstrated with Westerners about their support of General Fonseka, the Europeans in general made it clear that they had found him unpalatable, whereas the British, while asserting neutrality, indicated that they would not attempt to defend the Savage approach.
Still, I believe Ms Butenis realized that Sri Lanka was not quite as she had imagined it when she was sent here, and over the next year we worked together very well, since she like some other missions supported my efforts to bring together politicians of different parties to discuss issues in a social setting. I was surprised to realize that such gatherings were not common, and I believe my colleagues all found them interesting and productive, and the heads of mission concerned also seemed pleased that we could discuss things in a friendly manner. Read the rest of this entry »
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
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
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.
I am writing in response to criticism of me contained in Dr Saravanamuttu’s article in your newspaper this morning, arising from some reports in the Sunday Leader. His main criticism is that I took no action on the note about Sarath Fonseka I was given at the British High Commission, which he reports without adding the reasons I gave, which even the Leader was kind enough to mention.
I agree with Dr Saravanamuttu that the incident does raise moral issues, but taking action in such situations is never simple. Passing on such a note means that one takes on responsibility for the communication, and implies that one believes it should be acted upon. It was in this context that the Irudina for instance asked if I would be prepared to testify in a Court of Law once the matter was publicized, and I said that if asked to, unquestionably I would agree. I could of course only testify to what had happened, but any responsible authority would have asked my views on the contents of the note.
In the long and chequered history of Radhika Coomaraswamy’s relentless interference with Sri Lanka while an official of the United Nations, the most peculiar relates to the manner in which she protected Rama Mani from all criticism during her controversial headship of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
She had indeed to protect her even before she took office. Though she claimed that she ‘asked permission from the UN to be on the Board to hand over power, came to Sri Lanka in July 2006 and handed over power. I resigned only after that with the full knowledge of the UN’, she was still advising as to Rama Mani’s salary in August. She reminded ICES that ‘we must all recognize that Rama is taking a salary cut from $8000 a year to what we are offering’ and they ‘should adjust the contract to make it attractive for her’. Bradman duly trotted out Radhika’s arguments, and it seems they carried the day, for there is no sign during Rama’s tenure of the accountability or the concentration on fundraising that had been suggested by those at ICES who wanted value for the money they were pouring out.